The Box O’ Truth #33 – Rock Salt in a Shotgun

Lots of folks ask me, “Have you ever tried rock salt in a shotgun shell? Would this be a good load for personal defense?”

We have seen it done in the movies. I remember an episode of “The Rifleman”, where Lucas McCain shot some bad guys with a load of rock salt. I never understood why, but guess it had something to do with script writers needing a new story line every week.

I’ve also heard that some folks used to use this load to run off “bums” and beggars in the old days, during the Depression.

So, would it actually work?

Only one way to find out.

I obtained a box of genuine Morton’s Ice Cream Rock Salt.

I will use some 12 Gauge Heavy Field Loads, which are loaded with 1 1/4 ounce of #6 shot.

First, I open them up and pour out the lead shot.


Then, I fill each shell with as much rock salt as it will hold.

I then re-crimped the shells and was ready to go.

I was immediately surprised at how light the finished shell felt.

It felt like it had nothing in it at all.

Shotgun pellets penetrate as a direct result of the “mass” of the individual pellets.

Since the rock salt is so light in weight, I am already suspicious that it will not penetrate much at all.


First, we set up a cardboard silhouette at 20 yards.

This is typical across-the-yard distance.

Here I am shooting it with the rock salt loads.

Here I am shooting it with the rock salt loads.

It only managed to make two slight dents in the cardboard.

Certainly not enough to break the skin on a human or animal.

We were interested to find that the report of the shotgun was about normal, but the recoil was almost nonexistent. None.

The lack of mass of the shot load meant no recoil.


How about 10 yards?

We will cover the target with a terry cloth towel to simulate clothing.


It made some very slight dents in the target and a couple of grains of rock salt stuck in the cardboard.

Continued below...

I doubt that they would have penetrated skin.

Ten yards is pretty close, but it didn’t do much.

The shot cup dented the cardboard, but did not penetrate through.

33-12We decided to try it at 10 yards without the terry cloth “clothing” to see if it would penetrate.


It made more dents in the cardboard without the clothes, but still, only a few grains of salt actually stuck in the cardboard.

Most bounced off.


One “problem” with shotguns is that, if you get close enough, any load will penetrate, at least a little.

Let’s try it at 12 feet.


The shot shell wad made the biggest hole in the cardboard target.

We also see penetration all the way through the cardboard by some grains of rock salt, but only by about 10% of the total load.

That might do the intended job of “burning” the “shootee”.

But that’s at 12 feet!


Well, before we quit for the day, how about at 4 feet?

Up close and personal.


The wad makes a big hole in the target, and a lot of the grains of salt go through the cardboard.

This finally looks like a shot that would cause a wound.

Maybe not death, but a “wound”.


Lessons learned:
  1. At 20 yards, you might scare a dog or some other animal, but you sure wouldn’t break the skin.
  2. At 10 yards, you might break the skin with a couple of grains, but nothing very serious.
  3. At 12 feet, you might get the desired effect, if the desired effect is to “burn” the target with the rock salt.
  4. At 4 feet, you might cause a wound requiring a visit to a hospital for a human, or maybe death to a small animal.
  5. Movie plots that show someone “burning” a bad guy at across-the-yard distances are hogwash.
  6. Rock salt makes a pitiful personal defense load, as if we didn’t already know that.

Got home and broke out the Tampax and soapy water, and got to work cleaning the barrel of the shotgun. I’m not going to take the chance of leaving salt deposits in the barrel.

I then ran very hot water through the barrel and dried it completely. Then cleaned and oiled it as normal.

I then returned the plated 00 Buckshot to the magazine. If I ever have to “burn” a bad guy, he’s not going to have any doubts or complaints about lack of penetration.

Shooting stuff is fun, even if it is something as silly as rock salt loads in a shotgun.

Thanks to Tman for the photo help.

8 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #33 – Rock Salt in a Shotgun

  1. yetanothertroper // December 24, 2015 at 4:03 am // Reply

    Rock salt, it should be noted, has the benefit that it hurts like hell if you get it in your eyes. So theoretically you could shoot it in your assailant’s face, if you’re not squeamish about that sort of thing. A full-length pump shotgun would probably not be the best for that, though.

  2. You more than likely used the smokeless powder that came with the shot shell, try the same amount of rock salt with 60 grains of black powder……………..

  3. That’s interesting. I suspect that the modern myth that rock salt is intended to burn like hell but not to cause serious injury is an exaggeration of the real, original purpose. We all agree that the whole point of using rock salt it to NOT injure the target, but mostly to scare him away. If you want to injure him, peppering him with birdshot will hurt, but rarely cause serious damage. No, my suspicion is that the idea of loading with rock salt was basically an old-school form of “blank shot”. You catch some kids stealing from your orchard late at night; unless you’re a seriously crochety old man, you don’t really want to hurt the little bastards, just give them a scare (nevermind that you don’t want angry fathers busting down your door when Junior comes home full of birdshot). Rocksalt allows you to blast off in their direction in a perfectly convincing manner; they can even see you pointing the gun at them, and hear the projectiles hitting the brush around them (simply removing the shot would probably make the report sound “off” and people would wonder, so using rock salt would make it sound convincing too). If anything hits them, they probably won’t stop to ask too many questions as to why it didn’t penetrate. Later on, someone got imaginative, and decided to tell everyone they loaded with rock salt because it burns like the dickens. Perhaps people learned the hard way on the occasions it DID penetrate. So, it was all psychological, although after a while, probably a lot of people loaded up with rocksalt fully believing the myth. They probably attributed their lack of success to bad luck, and vice versa to the running targets…but I bet in just about every case, the intruder DID run, and probably didn’t come back. Which was the whole idea. If you want defense, rock salt has never been intended for that…it was to scare people away without serious harm. A psychological weapon that works all the better because people believe it works. Most often, just telling everyone in town you kept a shotgun loaded with rock salt would keep your apples safe. Even if you didn’t, it allowed you to blaze away at intruders without fear of actually killing someone over some apples (or whatever). No, if you actually fear for your safety, real lead is what you want. If you just want to protect your property, it’s all up to you whether you really want to hurt them, or just make them go away (although like I said, in most cases, in a small town, just making sure all the kids THINK you have a shotgun loaded with rock salt was plenty). I always said that 90% of the value of a gun is deterrence, either because people know you have it and might use it, or because you’re pointing it at them and you might use it. The way I figure, the cases where you have to actually shoot someone are entirely regrettable and are to be avoided whenever possible; don’t hesitate when your life it at risk, but don’t shoot them just because you’ve been insulted, or they were stealing. But that’s just my opinion on the matter (and violent theft is another matter; if you inflict upon or threaten someone with violence, you automatically make yourself subject to possible violent response; it’s all up to the victim or whatever armed, law-abiding citizen who happens to be nearby.)

  4. I can’t tell what the difference between your homemade rounds and actual rock salt rounds is, but I can tell you that a butt cheek full of rock salt does its job well.

  5. When I was in my teens I lived in kind of a wild neighborhood in the Buffalo, NY area. We neighborhood kids were at that time going through a phase of throwing tomatoes at each other from ambush. Messy but fun, and sometimes painful, if you happen to get hit with a still green one. Of course tomato wars require tomatoes, and we were in the bad habit of sneaking into back yard gardens to steal them off the vine. Well, one night our luck ran out when we raided a particular garden once too often. The guy who lived there was waiting for us. He waited until we were up pretty close to his house before jumping up and pointing a double barreled shotgun at us. We immediately turned tail and ran but didn’t get three feet before being bowled over by a blast from that gun. We got up and ran, hit the back fence and were gone into the night, but spent a very unhappy hour or so picking rock salt out of our clothes, hair and, yes, skin. It didn’t penetrate deeply at all, but it sure stung like heck. We never went back to that yard, or any other yard ever again. Lesson learned: You can’t talk to a man, with a shotgun in his hand…I’ve been law abiding ever since.

  6. Old Southern Boy // February 25, 2016 at 8:20 am // Reply

    Reminds me of a sugarcane field near my house. We were told the farmer would shoot us with rock salt so it kept the kids away.

  7. I have several loaded and secured guns in my home. I keep the left barrel of my double barrel loaded with a bird shot shell and my right barrel loaded with a #00 buckshot shell, just in case.

  8. I can see a rock salt shotgun working on one urban pest up here; deer that get into the back yard and strip out all the hedges and make vegetable gardening impossible.
    The problem, of course, is that discharge of a weapon in the city tends to bring out the SWAT team.

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