I've been surprised to have had several guys contact me and ask me about snakeloads in a pistol as a defense load.

One guy said: "My step-Dad assured me that .38 Special shotshells are the BEST for home defense and NOTHING else can come close. He didn't elaborate on why. Maybe he thinks it is for safety reasons. I was wondering if you guys could do something on shotshells for pistols? Thanks."

Well, it just so happens that I'm going to the range today.

First, let's look at these loads. You can buy factory shotshell loads for pistols, but I like to roll my own. I load both .38 Special and .44 Magnum shotshells.

I have used these shells as snake medicine on hunting leases here in Texas where we had problems with rattlesnakes that wanted to share our blinds with us, or that wanted to hang around the yard of the house.

They work great on snakes.

Speer makes empty shot capsules for reloading in both calibers.
You can see one main difference in the shotshells; their relative size.

I have loaded them with shot as small as #10 shot and as big as #8 shot. Smaller has a denser pattern, while bigger hits harder.

Speer recommends 5.5 grains of Unique in the .38 Special for 1128 fps. They recommend 7.5 grains of Unique in the .44 Magnum for 1254 fps.

My experience is that they both work well for snakes, but the .44 has a much better shot pattern.

30-1To load the shells, I take the empty capsules and place the shot in the capsule.

30-2.... then seal it with the plastic plug.


Keep at it until you have enough to reload a batch.

You resize and reprime the empty brass as normal, charge it with powder, and place the shotshell in the case.

It is seated on the powder and crimped tightly.

You're ready to go.

30-4Notice how deeply they fit into the case.

30-5The overall length is very important, as they must fit the pistol's cylinder.


First, let's see how they work on snakes.

Here's a target and we will be shooting at around 8 feet with the .38 Special out of a snub nosed revolver.


As the shot capsule goes down the barrel, the rifling tears the plastic capsule and it comes to pieces upon exiting the barrel.

Here's the result on the target.

Here's the result on the target.​

Looks like 17 hits, counting the base plug.

Then we will try the .44 Magnum out of my S&W Dirty Harry pistol.

Same distance, 8 feet.


It did a fine job.

49 hits, plus the base plug.
I can tell you from experience that a snake shot with these rounds is a dead snake.

And with the .44 Magnum shotshells, the snake looks like it was run over by a Big Mac truck.

But how deeply do they penetrate?

Even big Texas rattlers are usually not more than a couple or three inches thick, and their vital organs are only an inch or so deep.


They penetrate enough to ruin a snake's day, but how about a bad guy?

Having experience with these rounds, I knew that they would not penetrate a gallon of water, which is 6 inches thick.

So, I brought a couple of Coke bottles filled with water to see if they would penetrate the 4 inch thick Coke bottles.

First, the .38 Special.

30-11It ventilated the first bottle, just fine.


But when I turned the bottle around...

It failed to go through to the back.

That means less than 2 inches of penetration into flesh.


How about the .44 Magnum?


Tman caught me busting the jug.​

It also only penetrated the jug, but did not completely go through.

Plenty of penetration for a snake, but not nearly enough for a bad guy.

If a bad guy is trying to kill you or a family member, the last thing you would want to do is make him "madder".

And stinging him with these tiny shot will only make him mad. It will not STOP him.

To do that, you need a well-designed JHP (Jacketed Hollow Point) round.


Some have suggested shooting a bad guy in the face with hopes of blinding him, but this is a bad idea.

You might not have a shot at his face, but even if you did, blinding a bad guy would only open you up to law suits.

If you have time to shoot, make it count. Use a modern, well-designed JHP and shoot for the center of his torso or head, if that is the only shot available.

If you or your family members lives are at stake, this is no time to be playing around with weak and ineffective snake loads.

Use the best available loads. Your life depends on it.

Lessons learned:

  1. Snake loads are great for their designed purpose... Shooting snakes at close range.
  2. They are poor "Stoppers" against bad guys, due to insufficient penetration.
  3. Use modern, well-designed JHP rounds for personal defense.
  4. It's fun to shoot snakes.