There is no doubt that shotguns represent excellent home defense weapons in most every scenario. The modern 12 gauge shotgun in either pump action or semiautomatic form is a firearm that, due to the multitude of loads it can fire, is one of the most versatile firearms in the world. From bird shot to buck shot, from wax bullets to bean bags, from rock salt to slugs, there isn’t a weapon out there that can do as much as a shotgun can. On the downside, shotguns are universally limited in range, regardless of the load they fire, but that doesn’t hurt the shotgun so much in the short distances required for home defense.
While on the topic of loads, the slug inevitably pops up, and it is the shotgun slug we are looking at in this article. In existence for over a hundred years, the shotgun slug in a 12 gauge weapon consists of a lead projectile that usually weighs around an ounce (437.5 grains), making it far and away one of the largest projectiles fired through a firearm. Propelled at speeds of up to 1,800 feet per second, this massive piece of lead generates over 3,100 foot pounds of energy, which is enough to stop most anything in its tracks. By way of comparison, a .30-06 rifle firing a 150 grain bullet at 2,600 feet per second creates 2,250 food pounds of energy – a full 750 foot pounds less energy. On the flip side, the .30-06 is good to just about 1,000 yards, and a shotgun slug is really only effective inside of 100, but again, for home defense, we aren’t so much worried about long range. In fact, the last thing we want is a one ounce piece of lead flying for miles.
Shotgun slugs are typically rifled, and while novices suppose that the purpose for the rifling is to impart spin to the slug, the true purpose is to create a bit of airspace between the lead projectile and the barrel to reduce friction. Slugs use a different method of accuracy than spinning or rifling; they use a hollow in the rear of the slug to place the weight forward such that if they begin to tumble, drag will stabilize them.
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We feel that the best tool for home defense is actually a pistol, since most people are likely to have a pistol on hand rather than a loaded shotgun, and also, a pistol round (especially a hollow point round) will expand more, penetrate less, and therefore not go beyond the target it strikes. By contrast, a 12 gauge load of 00 buckshot fires nine perfectly round .32 caliber balls, which expand at next to nothing, and penetrate deeply, even clear through a target, and potentially beyond.
We like slugs for home defense, however, but not necessarily for use inside the home. How, then, can we harness the massive power of the shotgun slug as a home defense tool in a safe manner? It really depends on the situation, but here are some of our favorite uses for shotgun slugs in a home defense role:
- Against vehicular targets: Because of their light mass, most handgun bullets and some small caliber rifle bullets are dramatically slowed and even totally impeded by the average sheet metal found on cars. Even .223 Remington (5.56 NATO) has been found to dramatically lose its energy when passing through a couple layers of vehicle sheet metal to the point where it becomes ineffective. A shotgun slug, on the other hand, is massive enough that it can be fired from over 25-50 yards away and successfully penetrate both glass and sheet metal. Slugs won’t necessarily punch through engine blocks and disable vehicles, but they will absolutely rip through sheet metal.
- Against armored targets: While Level IV body armor (in the form of hard plates) will successfully defeat armor piercing rifle rounds up to and including .308 Winchester, and thus will easily stop a shotgun slug, the blunt force trauma that a slug delivers will seriously ruin someone’s day.
- Against unarmored targets 50 or more yards away: At 50 or more yards away, you are really exceeding most people’s ability to engage targets with a handgun, plain and simple. Also, at that range, most handgun bullets start losing their efficacy, yet at 50 yards the slug is going strong. It’s got plenty of energy, and the slug can be counted upon to cease its flight outside a hundred yards, meaning it won’t hit your neighbor’s house 200 yards away, unlike a rifle round.
Slugs are an interesting load for a shotgun, and of course, one that requires lots of practice. Make sure you set up targets at the distances you expect to engage them in, and then practice hitting them with slugs. You’ll be impressed at the size of the hole in the target; that much we can promise.