The Box O’ Truth #3 – The Shotgun Meets the Box O’ Truth

I didn’t want to slight the shotgun lovers by not carefully researching what a shotgun will do as far as penetration.

The shotgun is a Mossberg Maverick, 12 Gauge, with a 19.5″ barrel, no choke. Typical of “combat” shotgun dimensions.



The Box O’ Truth is loaded with 12 sheets of 5/8″ sheetrock, backed up by a jug of water to try to “catch” anything that might penetrate all 12 boards.

It is backed-up by a wall of bricks.

3-2I tried a variety of different shotgun loads. 

This is the first shot.

This is the first shot.

This load was Remington 2 3/4″, #4 Buck, 27 pellets.

It penetrated 6 sheets and bounced off the 7th sheet.

Notice how the wall “collapsed” under the shot.

This is the damage to the sheetrock.

This is the damage to the sheetrock.

All shots were from a measured 12 feet from the muzzle to the first wall.

Notice that there is an approximate 3 1/2 inch spread.

We will discuss this later.

I then shot a load of Winchester 2 3/4″, #1 Buck, 16 pellets.

This round penetrated 6 sheets and bounced off the 7th.

Just like the #4 Buck.

This is the entrance wound.

This is the entrance wound.

I then loaded a round of Remington 2 3/4″, 00 Buck, 9 pellets.

This load penetrated 7 boards, 3 pellets went through the 8th board, and one pellet was stuck in the 9th board.

This is it.

This is it.

The pellets were pretty badly deformed.


Notice, again, about a 2 1/2″ spread from 12 feet.

Also notice the big hole caused by the shot cup.

This is the entrance wound for the 00 Buck.

This is the entrance wound for the 00 Buck.

It was time for the Rifled Slug.

I bought some Remington “Slugger”, 1 ounce, Max load, 2 3/4″, “rifled” slugs.

This is the Box O' Truth getting killed.

This is the Box O’ Truth getting killed.

The slug penetrated all 12 boards.

The first one barely penetrated the water jug.

I shot another one, and it actually bounced off the water jug.

This is the entrance of the slug into the 12th board, along with the expanded slug.

This is the entrance of the slug into the 12th board, along with the expanded slug.

Lessons learned:
  1. After doing additional tests, I now feel that this test had a flaw. Having the sheetrock pieces so close together allowed them to “stack up” and gave a false result. By spreading the sheets out, like in a home, we found that buckshot will penetrate 4 walls (8 sheets of sheetrock)easily.
    To see the results, please see, Rifles, Shotguns, And Walls.
    The slug penetrated all 12 boards.
  2. Once again, please notice the size of the entrance spreads….2 1/2″ to 3 1/2″. Therefore, anyone that says, “With a shotgun, you don’t even have to aim. Just point it in the general area of the bad guy, and you can’t miss”, does not know what they are talking about.
    You can very easily miss with a shotgun. You must aim to hit your target.
  3. The slugs were “bad” penetrators. By that, I mean that they will penetrate several interior walls. If you have loved ones in your home, consider this as you select your home defense weapon.
  4. I “racked” the shotgun several times during the tests, and no bystanders lost control of their bowels.

Conclusion: Racking a shotgun will not make the bad guy faint.

Frankly, I was surprised that the shotgun did not penetrate more than it did. I had been led to believe that they penetrated more than a .223 rifle or a 9mm or .45 ACP. Such was not the case.

Amazing what you can learn by doing a little testing.

Birdshot as a Defense Load

I have had a lot of questions, summed up as follows: How effective is birdshot (#4, #6, #8, etc.) as a defense load?

We have done tests with various birdshot loads. Birdshot penetrated through two pieces of drywall (representing one wall) and was stopped in the paper on the front of the second wall. The problem with birdshot is that it does not penetrate enough to be effective as a defense round. Birdshot is designed to bring down little birds.

A policeman told of seeing a guy shot at close range with a load of 12 gauge birdshot, and was not even knocked down. He was still walking around when the EMTs got there. It was an ugly, shallow wound, but did not STOP the guy. And that is what we want… to STOP the bad guy from whatever he is doing. To do this, you must have a load that will reach the vitals of the bad guy. Birdshot will not do this.

In fact, tests have shown that even #4 Buckshot lacks the necessary penetration to reach the vital organs. Only 0 Buck, 00 Buck, and 000 Buck penetrate enough to reach the vital organs.

Unless you expect to be attacked by little birds, do not use birdshot. Use 00 Buck. It will do the job.

But doesn’t 00 Buck penetrate too much in interior walls to be a “safe” load in a home?

Yes, it does penetrate a lot. But any load that is going to be effective will need to penetrate walls to have enough power to penetrate bad guys. If our only concern was to be sure we didn’t penetrate walls, we would use BB guns. However, BB guns will not stop bad guys.

Therefore, we must use loads that will STOP bad guys, and this means that they will also penetrate walls. So, be sure you hit the bad guy and do not shoot into walls where loved ones are on the other side.

When To Use Birdshot

A friend of sends this:

“I saw a gunshot victim, about 5′ 10″ and 200 lbs, taken to the operating room with a shotgun wound to the chest. He was shot at a range of six feet at a distance of just over the pectoralis muscle. He was sitting on his front porch and walked to the ambulance. We explored the chest after x-rays were taken. The ER doc had said ‘buckshot’ wound, but this was obviously not accurate.

It was # 6 shot. There was a crater in the skin over an inch in diameter. When the shot hit the level of the ribs, it spread out about five inches. There was ONE pellet that had passed between the ribs and entered the pericardium, but not damaged the heart at all. As you say, ‘use birdshot for little birds.'”

12 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #3 – The Shotgun Meets the Box O’ Truth

  1. We’re a group of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community.
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  2. I would just like to thank you for putting this information out there. I am a single lady who had her front door kicked in by an intruder in the middle of the night which caused me to go out and purchase the Mossberg 500A home defense model with the standard 18.5″ barrel and was under the false assumption that the 000 buck would spread out about twelve inches or so at about 12 – 15 feet. And that simply “racking” it as you say would likely cause them to flee. By knowing this information I feel a bit less safe but am definitely more prepared to know how to proceed if ever the situation arises in the future.

  3. One forgets that when shooting a shot gun, you shoot for the face, trying to blind the person. If you were to be intent on shooting the criminal in the torso then you should empty your 5 rounds in his torso and he would not be up walking around as the cop noted.
    Shoot for the face with a shot gun, EVERY person hit in the face with a shotgun blast is done for, plain and simple.
    Proper self defense includes being calm and thinking before one shoots.

    • The only problem with that is that a person’s face isn’t as big as their torso, and so with shotgun spread, you’ll have a lot of pellets that are going to miss. That’s fine if you live alone in the woods, but in a suburban or urban neighborhood, especially if you have family in another room, you have to worry about that. You may save your life, but if it penetrates a wall and injures or kills somebody else, you would then realize it was smarter to aim for the torso. Not to mention if you were to kill a neighbor, family member, etc. because of that penetration, though you didn’t know they were going to get hit, you would be charged for criminal negligence or involuntary manslaughter.

  4. Maurice de Sully // March 3, 2016 at 12:27 am // Reply

    Suggesting that “racking” a shotgun would have the same impact on people watching a test as someone stumbling around your house in the dark seems like a painfully ridiculous argument.

    Is there some backstory to this?

  5. A friend of sends this:

    “I saw a gunshot victim, about 5′ 10″ and 200 lbs, taken to the operating room with a shotgun wound to the chest. He was shot at a range of six feet / at a distance of / just over the pectoralis muscle. [How’s that again?]

  6. I have a bandolier with 50 rounds of 12 gauge next to the Benelli Supernova Tactical with tac light and laser. I have some #6 shot in the bandolier just in case! I also have 3 1/2″ 00 Buck for the really big bad guys or bears. 18 pellets. 2 oz. 7 1/2# gun. Recoil is somewhere between a 458 Win mag and a 458 Lott.

    You can’t trust those little birdies!

  7. Sorry but I have to disagree with a lot of what I just read. First and foremost the ar guy saw a man shot at 6 feet with a shotgun and he is still walking, not likely. A rubber bullet at 6 would put em down for the count. As for the small shot, I have seen deer dropped in their tracks at 30 yards with #6 shot. I shot one two years ago at 50 yards with #4 buck, it stumbled 20 yards and fell.
    At 30 feet or less as home defense would be would one instance where size doesn’t matter.

    • Chitownlawdawg // February 21, 2017 at 12:46 am // Reply

      Ponch you’re wrong. The human body can take an incredible amount of damage and having been witness of several first hand accounts I can completely fathom the events transpired. Of all the common calibers in use, I’ve seen at least one gsw victim suspect hit by it. 00 buck in shotguns for finalty.

    • Iv been hit by 40mm rubber slug rounds from a less/none lethal gas gun setup using shells co2 powered that deliver about 12joule and that didn’t drop me.

      Iv been shot with rubber bullets at point blank range as well as diminution’s the slug hurt but i just moved for cover i wasn’t so hurt i couldn’t react or shoot back (police training as opfor)

      He’ll iv been hit with swords and polearms as a reenactor and none of those with moderately powerful swings dropped me and all hurt more than the less lethal.

      To stop a threat you have two options 1. Make them incapable of continuing the attack or 2. Make them mentally incapable of doing so.

      Physical incapitation requires either massive amounts of physical trauma meaning they can’t move to attack. Spine hits, chest wounds or shots to the pelvic floor work for that by affecting movement or ability to breathe.

      The mental incapacitation varies but serious blood draw and pain work well.

      A rubber slug will just piss most people comfortable with violence off same with a very small light wound and birdshot because it doesn’t penetrate deeply enough to do more than superficial tissue damage is going to do so.

      The problem with relying on the ‘iv been shot’ mental takedown is that if your attacker on drugs or angry or in any number of altered states they may not even notice that they’ve been hit until the brain catches up or they have their pain threshold breached and birdshot won’t reliably do that because due to light weight, small caliber, and a poor BC because of the shape it doesn’t penetrate well birds with hollow bones require less force to cause serious blunt force trauma too so they excell at that plus we use birdshot because it doesn’t cause massive tissue damage and Ig we are shooting a hostile we WANT as much tissue damage as possible

      The ONLY thing id be 100% comfortable saying would be likely to be a single shot stop with a shotgun is a slug but again depends where and how it hits.

      It’s why people who are taught to engage hostile targets train for multiple shots even with long arms and many of the shots they train for are for targets that EITHER are stops via loss of body control or through a physical damage preventing movement.

      E.G the Mozambique drill, or the failure to stop drills which are two to the chest and then one to the head to prepare for targets wearing armour or chest shots that don’t end the fight or the modified failure to stop which is Chest, Chest, pelvis pelvis which uses the cracking of the pelvis (preventing a hostile from moving) to end the fight.

      The SAS train for a two through the mouth technique with pistol caliber carbines ending the fight by severing the spinal cord going through a weak point in the body to deal with the lack of penetration of a pistol round.

      When engaging you cant rely on the psychological effect of a gun or a gunshot to stop someone. People don’t drop after being shot once like in the movies. Look up the west Hollywood shootout the hostiles had long term lethal sounds but they continued to fight for hours because of their mindset.

      Shot guns re a great option if you need a cheap home defense gun that you can yes for hunting as well if i could only have one gun it would be a shotgun as its the best all rounder but if i have the choice for SD and HD Il specialise

      Their a great budget option BUT you need to train and train and train because it has limitations and issues as a platform you have to understand and be comfortable that you can manage those limitations in a gunfight

  8. Don’t aim for the face people. Please and thank you. Shoot center mass. Former VP Dick Chaney shot a 78 year old man in THE FACE and NECK with birdshot (probably # 7 or #8 shot since that’s what you typically use for quail and other small game birds) and the man lived. Cut open a #8, 2 3/4 shotgun shell and see for your self. This is not “bad guy” ammo. You shoot to stop the threat. You don’t use bird shot unless you are hunting . . . Oh I don’t know, birds?

  9. I realize this is an older post but I have recently read it and as always I love your content. As a military medic, ER / critical care nurse / paramedic, I’ve seen my fair share of gunshot trauma. As a note, one of the most serious close quarters / close range shotgun injuries involved what I suspect was #7 target loads. During a drug-deal-gone-wrong, a home invader took both barrels of a cutdown 12 ga to the abdomen from the resident sleeping on the couch. Barrel length was estimated at 14 inches. Range was approximately 3 feet. Wound diameter was approximately 16 inches. Shot penetrated to the spine, and perforated the inferior vena cava, aorta and iliac arteries. I found both shot cups in the abdomen at approximately 4-6 inches of penetration. The victim arrested on scene, was resuscitated in ER, but died in the OR. The surgeon commented that given the significant degree of vascular, bowel and spinal trauma, the victim was unlikely to survive to hospital discharge even if the surgical team was able to repair all the damage. As far as shotgun wounds go, other than a point blank, self-inflicted wound to the head (12ga, buckshot, no head), this was by far the worse. The victim was obese and total tissue penetration perhaps equalled 20 inches. Perhaps near point blank ranges are the one time when bird or target loads can be devastating.

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