As mentioned earlier, the versatility of a shotgun is greatly influenced by the variety of shells available. 

Knowing about and understanding these various types of ammunition and their effects will equip you with the information you need to best prepare yourself to defend your home against threats.

When it comes to home defense, there are essentially two types of shells to choose from: slugs and shots. 

However, within each of these two categories (which are by no means the only categories available), there is a varied and extensive list of options.

We’ve included the basic need-to-know details for each of them below.


Slugs aren’t going to be the top choice for home defense ammunition, but it’s still advisable to have some at hand for certain situations. 

While we generally associate shotguns with shot (hence the name), slugs consist of a single projectile housed in the shell, almost like a giant bullet.

They have incredible stopping power at close range and can easily punch a sizeable hole through your target. 

One of the more likely situations you might need to use a slug rather than shot, in the context of home defense, is when neutralizing a target from further away, as mentioned earlier. 

In the right conditions, a slug extends the effective range of a shotgun up to around 100 yards, so you won’t have to switch weapons.

Another major advantage is slugs are effectively rifled, so they’ll spin (or, to be more accurate, rotate) as they leave the barrel of your shotgun. This makes them more accurate and gives them greater stability in-flight.

There are a few drawbacks you should be aware of, though. For starters, they can dangerously over-penetrate your target, especially at close range. 

This means they can easily travel through your target, walls, furniture, and anything else in its immediate path. 

When firing a shotgun loaded with slugs, it’s doubly important to remember one of the primary gun safety rules: to always know your target, what’s between yourself and your target, and what lies behind your target.

Additionally, because slugs are single projectiles that have no spread pattern, there’s less room for error when aiming. 

You should always strive to aim exactly where you intend your shot to land and not rely on any spread pattern to compensate, but this can be especially difficult in high-stress situations. 

Compensating for a small margin of error is, after all, one of the reasons shotguns are generally considered the best choice for a home defense weapon.


Shot is the gem of the shotgun’s ammunition options – once again, hence the name! 

This is also where we see the greatest versatility in the types of shotgun shells there are to choose from. 

There are literally thousands of options available, so it’s important to have a general idea of what they’re capable of.

The following table will help you understand the way the most commonly used shot sizes are classified:

Here are the best loads for your home defense shells: 

  • #1 buckshot – .30 caliber pellets ~11 pellets per shell 
  • #0 buckshot – .32 caliber pellets ~9 pellets per shell 
  • #00 buckshot – .33 caliber pellets ~8 pellets per shell 

Notice the number of pellets decrease as the size of each shell increases? 

Be sure to keep this in mind when choosing your shot! 

The fewer pellets shot at a target, the less chance there is for contact; especially after accounting for spread rate and the distance between yourself and your target.

This is why a #0 or #1 buck is the best recommended load for home defense use, with #00 coming in at a close third. 

They offer a great combination of stopping power and spread, especially considering a #0 buck fires nine .32 caliber balls at the same time!

It’s also worth briefly mentioning the other kind of shot, namely birdshot. 

Birdshot is significantly smaller than buckshot, will the pellets all being smaller than 0.20 inches each (remember: the #4 buckshot’s pellets are 0.24 inches in diameter). 

As the name implies, birdshot is primarily used for bird hunting. It’s not recommended to try using birdshot for home defense.