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.

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.

26 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.)

    • Totally agree…my grandmother used to use this against bible thumpers and door to door solicitors back when I was a child…she lived in RURAL Mississippi and generally didn’t want anyone on her property that she didn’t know personally. The shell in the chamber was always rock salt. The next 2 or 3 were generally #4 buck and then she kept 00 buck in her side by side always. I would never even cross her mind to NOT pull a shotgun on a stranger. 🙂 I am a city boy so it always made me get a little weirded out…but when the police are probably 30 minutes away I guess you take precautions.

  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.

  9. Chris Snyder // May 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm // Reply

    Nothing sounds like a shotgun getting cocked – THAT gets a perp’s attention – firing it at someone lets them know you’re serious. Kids would find somewhere else to egg or steal watermelons, but for self defense it’s not good. THANKS for researching and posting this.

  10. Well ifin rock salt ain’t all that then what makes the best non-lethal shotgun ammo to use? Just your best chances of stunning them not killing them? Also, would this hold up in court?

  11. I think, to a certain extent, this proves what he thinks he is disproving. To me, the most likely scenario is you live on some sort of ranch/farm close to an urban environment, and you have a trespasser. Walk out to confront said trespasser with your shotgun loaded with rock salt. Say you’re twelve feet away. If, instead of moseying on as you desire, they make an aggressive move, you can shoot them, and where the the salt penetration doesn’t burn, the wad IS going to hurt like hell. If that fails to deter, and they continue to rush you, by the time you get your next shot off, realistically they have maybe closed to eight feet away. Now, more salt penetration, and the wad with cause more tissue damage. Okay, still no deterrence? Next shot is from four feet, if nothing else, raise the barrel for the head shot. It may not kill them, but it seems highly probable that they’ll be down long enough for you to call the authorities. Then, the fact you were using less-than-lethal ammunition, it seems highly UN-likely that you would be charged with any kind of crime. So from both a tactical AND legal standpoint, rock salt seems the more logical choice for home defense than buckshot.

  12. Leif Anderson // August 15, 2016 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    My Dad told me about his uncle using Rock salt shells on a guy that use to come around he did not want to kill him but once the salt gets in the wound it burns like hell and it just doesnt wash out. It wont kill, but it will make you think twice about coming around screwing with someone that might not want you there. He told me it was mainly used for catching someone with your wife as you could come in the house and shoot that bare rear end. Hey thanks for the info though.

    Think about this is someone breaks into your house and your doing a movement to contact. This would be a great way of stopping that person in your house or just use the real stuff. Thanks again for the demo.

  13. Shotgun blast of rock salt to the face would prove extremely effective self defense.

  14. So, Most commercially available shotguns have the benefit of single feed mechanism(IE you stick the shells in the weapon one by one, rather than utilizing a “magazine” or “clip”) common household defense practice with long guns, particularly shotguns, is to place one or two deterrence rounds(depending on your personal preference or patience) and one or more lethal rounds.
    While rocksalt isn’t as effective for immediate deterrence as bean bag or birdshot, the above stated psyche impact of a shotgun being pumped, is typically enough to deter any threat, let alone having one aimed, and discharged at you.
    If you have a rocksalt shell and it fails to deter, then your second shell is bean bag(or birdshot) and if by that point, your attacker doesn’t get the message, it means he’s either a real life(dead) winner of the Darwin awards, or he is reaaaallly determined to hurt you. In either sense allowing him to keep breathing would be counter productive to your safety or the safety of your loved ones.
    Also bear in mind that your deterrence shots will most definitely leave visible wounds…that coupled with your discharged rocksalt and bean bag shells should be all the indication law enforcement needs to validate that you were acting in self defense, and if it STILL goes to court, you have what you need to present a good case.

  15. We used to steal corn from a neighbors farm when we were kids until the farmer busted us. He blasted us with rock salt from his shotgun as we busted out of there. He just kept shooting and shooting and completely tore apart the ass of my jeans. The old man was a crack shot. I was picking salt out of my ass for a week. When my brother and I explained to my dad what happened he pissed himself laughing. It hurt like hell and he was shooting us from much further than 20 yards.

  16. What you failed to realize is you only use the largest pieces of salt when loading, none of the small stuff. Road salt works much better.

  17. there must be a trick to loading it. what kind of salt, how much gunpowder, or whatever. because one of my friends was running through a golf course in the middle of the night and did get shot with rock salt, 2-3 chunks did penetrate the skin on his ankle. don’t know the range but he wasn’t running right past the dude, I can tell you that. there must be something to it because it has been done. saw the results with my own eyes.

  18. You might want to talk to the two kids that got shot from about 15’or less in Michigan in 2007. Trent Gardner got 40 years for shooting the kids. one went right thru the torso of a 10 year old boy, and I heard the other kid had the plastic wad stuck between her skull and skin on her head. both were in critical, but survived. I believe there are a lot of other factors that may make a salt round more or less lethal. lead is about 14 times more dense than salt, so at longer ranges it salt shouldn’t be very lethal. but at close range even blanks can be lethal. Humidity can cause the salt to clump up, grade of salt, type of wad, powder type and load amounts. Barrel lengths and chokes. I think there is too many factors that would affect a test like this for anyone to generalize that rock salt rounds are less than lethal. But it looks like he had fun doing his test. And found the article very entertaining. Thank you,

  19. Just thought I’d comment that as a boy my dad used to take used empty shotgun shells and fill with rock salt and okra seeds for warding off strangers and wild animals without harming them. The points on the okra seeds would break the skin and the rock salt would add motivation to the offender to get the “@&$?!” Out of dodge and licking their hides in the process.

  20. Kitsune-chan // February 12, 2017 at 5:24 am // Reply

    Birdshot is better than rock salt. Bean bags are even better. A 2 shot taser is even better than bean bags, but only when used when a 12g with bean bags or rubber pellets are in arms reach.

    Tens of thousands of volts all controlled at your finger tips SHOULD be enough to deter an intruder. That is, if all he had in mind was robbery. The embarrassment of soiling him or herself would add to the fact.

    Now, if the intruder was intent to harm, a taser wouldn’t phase him or her. If the perp got up after 5 seconds of super high voltage, he’s in for trouble cause you’d still have the 12g with Birdshot to irrigate his or her body with.

    A lot of victims that have been hit with birdshot tend to have multiple pellets still inside their bodies. That means if the perp ever goes in for an MRI, they will feel the birdshot moving around and wish they never would’ve broken into that house in the first place.

    Lead isn’t very interactive with minor magnetic fields but something as large as an MRI would certainly cause definite discomfort.

    So, it all depends… Risk your life to take the perp down non-lethally, or not risk your life and put them down for good and hope you’re a good shot in times of stress and a super rush of adrenaline. Otherwise you might just injure the perp, and end up with him winning a civil suit case and make you pay for all his medical costs due to the injury.

  21. Guy over on island of Kona, Hawaii supposedly killed someone using rock salt (he claims) back in October 2016.

  22. Tony Myrick // May 26, 2017 at 4:05 pm // Reply

    Hey dipstick.
    A real country boy would know that rock salt for sending off neighbor bulls or the neighbors dog or anything that needed a attitude adjustment without death. TV shows and fantasy are one thing the real thing is know what your talking about to begin with.

  23. The rock salt cartridges that Railway Caboose drivers used to shoot at hobos and kids that threw rocks at trains. Is exactly the same thing that you’re shooting. The only difference is is that you didn’t put yours in a wad or a bag. That way the mass and weight stays in force and then disintegrates at full speed in the air. Giving plenty of penetration power. Trust me I’ve got an old pair of Swiss cheese Levi’s and scars on my ass cheeks to prove it!

  24. Nice article, I enjoyed it and the comments…
    To be more accurate you should have spoken to an old timer who’s used this method more than a few times in his life and learned how to do it right through experience…
    Here in the Appalachians (east KY) the rock salt method is/has been used more for large animals that are a nuisance than trespassers. A whitetail in your garden, a wild horse in your apple orchard, etc. A person sneaking around your house or moonshine still down by the creek – that’s more serious and calls for a more serious response that leaves zero room for doubt (“I’m not telling you to stay away, I’m making sure you can’t come back”). In my mind anyone ever shot at with salt in these parts just got lucky cause the homeowner only had his gun loaded with salt for the animals and/or it was the closest gun he could get to.

    There are a few tricks to the method, some already mentioned in the comments…
    1) Use only pea sized or bigger chunks of salt, the smaller pieces down to dust size just don’t hold up and don’t deliver the intended effect on target.
    2) For more distant targets wrap the shot in linen or other thin cloth so it travels further as a single projectile before breaking up.
    3) Load your shells a couple months or more before using them, the humidity will harden the charge more and more with time. A couple drops of water on the wrapped load when loading will also work.
    4) Experiment with different powder loads and at different distances to find the range that you need with the highest power before breaking up or spreading too much (similar to finding the right choke)

    Also anyone who advertises the fact that they have a rocksalt loaded scattergun around town is probably looking for its deterrent value towards kids and not true criminals, as not knowing that the guy with the 12ga pointed at you has it loaded with salt is a much more frightening scenario than knowing that if he pulls the trigger you’re not going to die is. And then you hear the shot and you’re not dead, thinking you just got very lucky and better run away fast, not that that dumbass has salt in his loads and you’ll just come back tomorrow night to steal that chainsaw from the shed…

  25. Maybe this is just my relative lack of experience talking, but what’s noteworthy getting the same report with less recoil? Same primer, same boom… lighter load, lighter kick. I’m sincerely asking, as I may require some edification from more seasoned shooters: is there some variable at work here that I’m failing to consider?

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