12 Gauge Self Defense Ammo – Its a Wide, Wide World

Lets take a look at 12 gauge self defense ammo better known as tactical shotgun ammo.

This Federal Tactical 1 Buckshot 12 gauge self defense ammo
This Federal Tactical 1 Buckshot load uses buffer material and a FliteControl wad to keep incredibly tight patterns in a 12 gauge self defense ammo.


USA -(Ammoland.com)- Have you noticed the shift in perceptions over the past few years about defensive ammunition choices? Particularly with regards to tactical shotgun ammo for self defense, but I will get to that in a minute.

Not so long ago, 9mm was considered the minimum caliber for defensive use, and a somewhat sad compromise at that.

Well, if you can’t carry a caliber that starts with a four, then I guess it’s better than nothing,” was an all too common gun store conversation.

More recently, 9mm ammunition has been accepted as a great option for defensive handgun use. The FBI is switching to it, and they test the living snot out of their approved ammunition before even considering making a move like that. Heck, .380 ACP is carried by millions and considered a perfectly viable option too.

Why is this?

I think it’s due to the incredible advances in ammunition technology over the past decade. Something or someone getting shot really doesn’t care what caliber the shooter chose (although in my mind I think 12 gauge sounds worse than 9mm). What matters is whether the projectiles penetrate to a certain depth and expand (if they’re supposed to) on a reliable basis.

If a .40 S&W bullet penetrates 13 inches and a .380 ACP penetrated 13 inches, does it really matter what the original calibers were?

Sure, the diameter of the bullet is a little different. When they started their ballistic journey, the .40 measured exactly that – .400 inches in diameter. The .380 ACP started off with a diameter of .355 inches. That’s just a .045-inch difference between the two. To put that measurement in perspective, that’s less than the width of a dime. I just measured one on my desk at .052-inches. Certainly, that .045 of an inch isn’t going to make the difference between a Hollywood-style crash through a window “I got shot” scene, and a shrugged off irritation. Provided penetration is similar, they’re both going to be effective.

I’m not saying those calibers are identical, I’m just saying that technological advances in ammunition design have elevated the performance of lower caliber rounds to the point where they work pretty darn well. That’s born out by statistics that show relatively little difference among all calibers for important things like one-shot stops and number of hits required to stop an aggressor. All this minutia brings us to 12 gauge self defense ammo.

12 Gauge Self Defense Ammo

Before we get into the details here is my short list of go-to deadly and effective 12 gauge self defense ammo:

  • Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug
  • Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot
  • Winchester’s PDX1 Rifled Slug & 3 Buck Ammo
  • Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense

More recently, I’m starting to see serious ammunition development technology applied to the tactical shotgun ammo and smooth bore world too, and that’s a great thing. With the broad array of shotgun ammunition now available, we’re able to choose the specific performance attributes we want, because each of our circumstances is different.

Be wary of the person who tells you that such and such a shotgun load is the “only best way” without asking you about your circumstances and home environment.

For someone who lives on an isolated ranch, slugs may be the best bet while an apartment dweller may choose game loads with smaller pellet size. The right choice for any individual always depends on many different factors.

The good news is that when it comes to shotgun ammunition, we have more choices than ever before. There’s no “best” option. There are different options, with different performance characteristics, for different situations. Let’s take a look at a few alternatives.

Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

If you’re deciding between buckshot and slugs for your scattergun, you can have both in a sense. The Winchester PDX1 Defender Segmented Rifle Slug is a Segmented Slug that provides the direct aiming and range capability of a slug with some of the benefits of buckshot. The 12-gauge 2 3/4-inch version of this shot shell zips along at a peppy 1,600 feet per second. The one-ounce slug is pre-cut and designed to break into three more or less equal pieces shortly after impact with an organic target.

Winchester's PDX1 Segmenting Slug
Winchester’s PDX1 Segmenting Slug

I shot this 12-gauge self-defense ammo load into a Clear Ballistics Gelatin Block, and boy did it perform as advertised. As you can see by the photo, about three inches into the gel, the segments not only split but veered off in different directions. This action created four wound channels: a short three-inch deep impact area and three separate tracks from each of the segments. I weighed one of the recovered segments at 132.2 grains. That’s heavier than most standard 9mm bullets and you get three of them traveling in different directions. Ouch!!

Note the three different wound tracks in this Clear Ballistics gelatin.
Note the three different wound tracks in this Clear Ballistics Gelatin.

Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot with FliteControl Wads 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

The Federal Premium buckshot loads that use FliteControl wads are a freak of ballistic nature. If you want precise and predictable patterns for whatever reason, these could be your best option. I’ve shot them at silhouette targets from 50 yards and all pellets stayed on the target. At closer ranges, the pellets make one giant hole. You still gain the benefits of multiple simultaneous projectile impacts but maintain control over where exactly those pellets will go. You can literally make consistent head shots within 25 yards with this 12-gauge self defense ammo.

Shooting 12 gauge Self Defense Ammo
Federal Premium Law Enforcement Buckshot: If you want a predictable and tight pattern, this is hard to beat this 12-gauge self-defense ammo.

If you look for these, be sure you’re getting the versions marked with a “FliteControl Wad” logo as Federal makes buckshot loads with and without these wads. The 00 buckshot pellets are amazing but don’t forget the #1 buckshot version. It’s hard to find but offers 15-pellets of .30 caliber shot in a standard 2 3/4inch shot shell. It also comes in a FliteControl wad version so those pellets will go exactly where you intend.

Federal Premium Tactical with FliteControl wad 12-gauge self defense ammo.
Federal Premium Tactical with FliteControl wad 12-gauge self-defense ammo.

Winchester PDX1 Rifled Slug / 3 Buck Pellet 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo

Winchester’s PDX1 Rifled Slug & 3 Buck Ammo is a different approach to the segmented slug idea where you use both a slug and 00 buckshot pellets to create multiple impacts and wound channels.

This shell (12-gauge version) is loaded with three 00 buckshot pellets underneath a one-ounce rifled slug. Yes, you will know when you torch one of these off. On the other hand, unlike the segmented slugs, this creates four unique impact points and four separate wound channels.

The combination of a one-ounce slug and three 00 buck pellets makes a formidable payload.
The combination of a one-ounce slug and three 00 buck pellets make a formidable payload.

I tested this 12-gauge self-defense ammo on the range at a distance of 15 yards and found a wide dispersion pattern. The three pellets spread out in equidistant fashion and impacted near the edges of a 20-inch target. That’s pretty aggressive in terms of pattern spread. Depending on your requirements, this can be a great thing. For indoor distances, you will, in fact, get a good size spread of projectiles.

At longer distances, you better be darned sure where those three pellets are going, as each is basically a .32 caliber bullet.

This load is a great example of why you need to consider your environment before choosing your ammo. This 12-gauge self-defense ammo can be fantastic for situations where the range will always be measured in feet, but dangerous at longer distances because you don’t know where your shots will end up.

The Winchester PDX1 Rifled slug and pellet combination will spread into a wide pattern quickly, so use this 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo appropriately.
The Winchester PDX1 Rifled slug and pellet combination will spread into a wide pattern quickly, so use this 12-Gauge Self Defense Ammo appropriately.

Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense

Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense
Hornday 12 GA 00 Buckshot Critical Defense

“Available in a convenient 10-piece box, these Hornady Critical Defense Shotgun rounds are a premium-quality example of home or self-defense ammunition from Hornady. Each 12-gauge slug measures 2 3/4 inches long and delivers a muzzle velocity up to 1,600 feet per second.

These Hornady Critical Defense Shotgun slugs deliver the perfect combination of reliable functionality and consistent performance in 12 gauge self defense ammo – just what you need in a defensive situation. These slugs are perfectly loaded for both pump and semiautomatic shotguns, and they incorporate Hornady’s innovative Versatile wad technology to ensure a tight shot pattern and knock-down power.”

We’ve barely scratched the surface with some of the more interesting 12 gauge self defense ammo choices.

When you get into calibers like .410 for shotguns or shot-handguns, there is plenty of innovation too. We’ll take a look at some of those in a future article.

About Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

AmmoLand Editor Comments:  This article was updated to reflect changes in product improvements / availability of 12 gauge self defense ammo 10/31/2017.