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The Five 12-Gauge Loads Every Homesteader Should Own

The Five 12-Gauge Loads Every Homesteader Should Own

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The 12-gauge shotgun is one of the most common, most versatile firearms a person can own. The right shotgun can be used for everything from survival hunting to protecting the garden from critters to home defense.

The wide variety of ammo, ranging from powerful slugs to lightweight small game loads, is what makes this weapon so useful, and it should be in the arsenal of any homesteader or survivalist. But having the gun is only half the battle; you need to have the right ammo, and more importantly, the right assortment of ammo. With these five best loads, you will be ready for anything that happens on the homestead.

1. Slugs

Perhaps one of the most fearsome loads you can shoot from a shotgun, heavy slugs turn your shotgun into an oversized smoothbore musket. If you have a rifled slug barrel, you gain increased accuracy and a slight increase in range. Even with a regular smooth barrel, you can reliably take shots out to 75 yards or so. There are a great many slugs, ranging from the traditional rifled slug — contrary to popular opinion, the rifling doesn’t aid in accuracy, but merely helps size the slug through various choke sizes — to fancy copper and polymer creations. (Don’t shoot slugs through very tight chokes, because it decreases accuracy and can in rare instances blow up your gun.) One-ounce rifled slugs will do nearly all you want to do. The shotgun is a simple weapon; keep your ammo simple as well.

2. 00 buck

Packing roughly nine .33 caliber pellets into a shell (more with long magnum loads), this is the workhorse of self-defense and hunting ammo. Suitable as the name implies for deer hunting, and absolutely brutal in combat and self-defense, 2 ¾-inch 00 buck is a standard military and police load, as well as a go-to round for home defense.

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While not some magical burst of all-destroying lead, the 00 buck load will drop almost any game animal in the Lower 48 and pretty much any two-legged predator in its tracks. The smart homesteader will keep this close at hand for big game hunting and personal protection.

3. #4 buckshot

Used in the Vietnam War by the Navy Seals and others for its impressive ability to cut through heavy foliage and still drop a target, this is somewhat obscure but highly effective round. Delivering about 27 .24 caliber pellets, this cloud of high velocity lead is proven for home defense or hunting. This is my go-to choice for home defense, because I live in a close urban area, and I’d rather have smaller pellets than larger ones punching through my walls in case of a miss or near miss. Either way, my way of thinking is if it was good enough for the jungles of Vietnam, it’s good enough for the jungles of urban America. Shoot a couple of boxes and see if you aren’t convinced, as well.

4. Birdshot

There are several sizes, and you should probably have some of each. Use the smaller stuff on smaller game and the larger stuff when you need some reach-out-and-touch something. Ranging from the larger #6 to the smaller #8, birdshot is cheap, reliable and effective. As a bonus, it’s great for casual target shooting, teaching people how to shoot, and practicing with clay pigeons.

5. Non-toxic shot

In most places it is illegal to hunt migratory waterfowl with lead shot, and non-toxic shot is the next-best thing. Responsible hunters know that using non-toxic shot when hunting aids conservation and protects the wildlife we all enjoy. While it can be a bit more expensive than traditional lead shot, non-toxic shot is a must-have round if you hunt duck or geese, or simply want to stop filling your favorite hunting areas with toxic to wildlife lead. We are stewards of nature and owe it to ourselves and our children to hunt responsibly and ethically. Put some non-toxic shot aside, even if you aren’t required to use it. The land you keep clean may be your own.

Final Thoughts

My home-defense shotgun is loaded with #4 buckshot, and I’ve got ammo cans stuffed full of all sorts of 12-gauge ammo. It’s a mass-produced commodity and I’m not shy about grabbing boxes and cases when they turn up cheap. It is easy to put together the right collection of 12-gauge shells for your needs, and at a fairly low cost. Even heavy slugs and 00 buckshot can be had for less than a dollar a round, and if you handload, even cheaper. Having a 12 gauge is like owning five or six different guns, and all you have to do is change the load you are shooting. Much ink has been spilled over the notion of the “one universal gun” that can do everything, and I’d have to say based off of just these five simple types of shells, the 12-gauge shotgun isn’t too far from that mark.

Do you agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the section below: 

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5 comments

  1. Excellent post. Especially liked the inclusion of non-toxic shot on this list.

  2. what would be good for a 20-gauge shotgun?

    • All the loads available for standard 12ga are also available in 20ga. The ‘payloads’ will be lighter; that is fewer shot or pellets, in 20ga loads. The loads will perform the same functions, big game, self defense, hunting or target shooting but because the amount of shot is less by weight they will produce less recoil. For training purposes the lighter recoil will make the gun more accommodating to youths. You should be aware that 20 and 12ga can have several different chamber lengths, 2 3/4 in, 3 in and, for 12ga 3 1/2 in. The 3 and 3 1/2 shells are magnum loads and should never be fired in the shorter chambers, just like 357 mag and 38 special are not interchangeable even though the bullets are the same. The 2 3/4 shells can be fired in all chamber lengths.

      • .357 Magnum and .38 Special are interchangable in a .357 revolver. .357 cartridges are too long for the .38 Special cylinder and you can not close the cylinder on them. In my opinion you should always buy a .357 revolver for the greater knock down power of the cartridge but still have the ability to practice with the much cheaper and lower recoil .38 Special ammo.

        • Yes Mike, .38spl can be fired in .357mag chambers. I know; I’ve done that for years. And you’re right about the value of .38spl for practice and familiarization. But I was referencing the rounds not the firearms. For the rounds to be interchangeable the reverse would have to be true as well. Your socks are interchangeable, your shoes aren’t. I stated it that way to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding by persons less familiar with firearms.

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