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.