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shotgun energy

Hardly anybody talks about shotgun muzzle energy, while many do with handguns and rifles. It’s kind of an apples and apple sauce discussion. The problem is that shotgun projectiles are mostly round shot or fat slugs that lose velocity and energy rapidly. Worse, they are also commonly little BBs that on their own have little mass to carry their energy past the surface of whatever they hit at a distance.

Nevertheless, I think it is useful to use muzzle energy to put things in perspective. Up close, at home- and family-defense distances, this energy can be really significant crime stoppers.

Useful defensive handgun energy begins around 9mm and 400 foot-pounds of energy. Newer .38 Special +P ammo just gets there.  Rifles almost all are in that range and go much, much higher.  The extremely popular .223 is around 600 foot-pounds and the hugely popular .308 is around 1,800 foot-pounds.

In household and neighborhood defensive distances, the shotguns compare very favorably in stopping power.

Unfortunately, far too often when shotguns come up, Mr. Prime-of-life Machismo shoves a 12-gauge in his wife’s small hands, tells her to put it firmly in her half-his-size shoulder and “learn to deal with the recoil”. He needs to spend some quality time with an 8 gauge or 4 gauge shotgun to appreciate what he’s asking. This video shows what that too often looks like.

What other choices are there?

The “tiny” 410 shotgun has a muzzle energy around 600 foot-pounds. While few people consider this light-kicking shotgun as much more than a kid’s starter gun, it can be a great choice for recoil-sensitive of all ages. Birdshot, buckshot and slugs are all available for the 410. With #4 or larger buckshot, this can far exceed the much-loved, manly .45 ACP and most normal handguns in power and effectiveness. And it is a relative pussycat to handle.

Coming up one notch is the 28 gauge. Still considered by almost everyone to be very low in recoil, it has a muzzle energy in normal loads around 1300 ft/lbs. Now we are talking DOUBLE the seriously macho .44 Magnum and well into the energy of mid-level rifle cartridges. Oddly, to me anyways, you can get highly effective #4 buckshot and slugs for the 28 gauge, but I couldn’t find larger buckshot loads advertised.

I have shot defensive shotgun practices against a hillside littered with clay pidgeons. In groups of mostly men taking turns with a 12 gauge pump and 20 gauge pump, the 20 gauge gets ALMOST ALL the exercise. It is easy to use, very effective, relatively gentle and just plain fun to shoot.

And look at the power it packs: Normal 20 gauge birdshot loads are 1276 foot-pounds. The Buckhammer slug load has a MV of 1500 fps and ME of 2236 ft. lbs. The 100 yard figures are 995 fps and 1074 ft. lbs. At close range, this is WAY past all normal rifle loadings. Men and women both can appreciate the ease of shooting a lot of practice rounds without tiring of the recoil.

I encourage husbands to “Put a shorter Youth stock on it.  It then balances in your wife’s hands just like the 12 gauge balances in yours.” And, as I said above, men and women find it just darn pleasant to shoot and absolutely effective for almost any situation the 12 gauge can handle.
mossberg-20-gauge-youthI say stop right there for home defense. A 20 gauge pump with a youth stock. I like Mossberg 500s, but have never heard of an unreliable pump-action shotgun. Get the shorter stock, 18″-20″ barrel and as long a magazine tube as you can get.. well, no longer than the barrel, but as close as possible to it.

Oh, I should mention those no-stock pistol-grip setups. They make wonderful movies, but if you find someone in the real world recommending them, Turn Off The Audio track, smile politely and send them back to their television and video games as soon as is convenient. The shoulder stock is a beautiful way to transfer that energy to your body. The wrists are not. Moreover, the aiming and control come natural from the shoulder and hardly come at all from the two-wrist pivot.

I will mention the much-loved 12 gauge. Heck, I still love mine and wouldn’t trade it for a 20 in spite of all I said above. The double-ought buckshot load carries over a ton of energy out 100 feet. Even the lighter 12-gauge slugs far exceed any common deer-rifle cartridge. Look at the information from some of the better slugs available:

These Remington Buckhammer loads claim the most impressive ballistics of the bunch. “The 12 gauge 2 3/4” load has a MV of 1550 fps and ME of 2935 ft. lbs. The 100 yard figures are 1145 fps and 1600 ft. lbs. Zeroed at 50 yards, the 1 1/4 ounce slug should hit 3.6″ low at 100 yards, so it is still a short range load. Naturally, they kick like the very devil in a shotgun of average weight.”

There you have a report from a manly regular shotgun shooter. Did you catch that “kick like the devil” part? So if you are into 12-gauge and NOT built like the wide-bodied football players, you really ought to experiment gently before going to the heavier slugs.

I’ll close with a summary chart and video focusing a bit more on my 20-gauge recommendation.

I spent quite a bit of time looking for this information. It was nowhere close to as easy to find as I anticipated.  I won’t promise it is perfect, but it is close and certainly gives you the idea for comparison sake. You may find an occasional listing outside the ranges below, but these are typical.

410 shotgun muzzle energy 400-900 foot-pounds
28-gauge muzzle energy 1100-1400 ft/lbs
20-gauge muzzle energy 1200-2200 ft/lbs
12-gauge muzzle energy 2000-3000 ft/lbs


The following video starts with advice from a man whose family is protected by large teams of bodyguards 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week SUPPOSEDLY giving expert advice on personal defense to women. (How can you tell when a politician is lying?*)

But what I really want you to notice are the short video clips of wives and girlfriends experiencing 12-gauge shotgun use for their first times.

GUYS TAKE NOTE: 120-pound women are built different than 200-pound men. Thank goodness, and think a bit past your ego.

12-gauge demo

*(His lips are moving)