BUCKSHOT 101, by Dave McCracken
During the English Civil War in the 1600s, Cromwell's Arquebusiers used "Divers Small Schotte or Pistole Balles" in their matchlocks for close quarters battle, as well as a single large projectile of near bore diameter.
Later, during our own Civil War, "Buck and Ball" loads in old muskets helped give places like Bloody Lane at Antietam their names.
Earlier use of multiple pellet loads is probable, the effect of multiple hits has remained a constant since gunpowder was invented.
Nowadays, if you have a shotgun you plan on using to defend yourself, family and community, it's probably best charged with buckshot.
These days, large shot used for hunting medium game and for defense are called buckshot. A primary use in America was hunting deer. Writers like Archibald Rutledge, Nash Buckingham etc, wrote exciting stories about thick cover deer hunting with shotguns and large shot.
Currently in the US, Buck runs from about .23 caliber for 4 buck to .36 caliber or so for 0000.
The most common used is 00. Double Ought is .33 caliber and starts off at 9 pellets in a 12 gauge shell and going up to 15 in 3 1/2" magnums.
For the record, 15 pellets in the real world do little more than 9.
Can you say, "Overkill", Boys and Girls?
Some reduced recoil loads use just 8 pellets of 00. And, I've experimented with ultralight 6 pellet 00 loads. These last work just as well for inside the house. The reduced recoil stuff patterns tightly in most cases, a good thing.
1 buck is a quite useful size also, and the biggest size available for the 16 gauge. Some 20 gauge ammo is loaded with 2 buck, but 3 buck is more widely marketed and used.
Some 410 buck loads are out there, with 2 or 3 00 pellets in them, but these are not very effective and usually pattern terribly.
Still, most buck used now is 00 and used in 12 gauge shotguns. It's quite effective for close quarters defense in almost any conditions.
1 buck retains almost as much mass (needed for penetration) and has a higher pellet count, but 00 sells 10 times faster. Tradition and track record account for that, in my opinion. Testing has indicated that 1 buck may be where the lines for penetration and pellet count cross on the graph.
Most deptartments and agencies use 00, but the FBI used and still may use 4 buck, which they tested and decided on in the 50s. I believe their concern was with overpenetration, always something to think of.
Buck is also used in deer hunting, oft with dogs and in thick cover. It has little use for game much larger than whitetails. Wild hog hunters learned a long time ago that slugs beat buck all hollow on stuff weighing more than 300 lbs and inclined to bite back.
African Pro hunters often used SSG Buck(Similar to 000) for wounded leopards and such, but not for lion.
Some Southern deer hunters have worked up custom handloads of hard buck that pushed the envelope on distance limits and knockdown power, sometimes using 10 gauges and buffered loads carefully worked up to maximize effect.
Still, 50 yards is about the max distance buck should be used under any circumstances, and 25 is more realistic for most conditions and opportunities.
Like other pellet loads, patterning is crucial. I can double or halve pattern size in one 870 here just by swapping loads. While what works well in one shotgun often does well in others, vagaries are common and we HAVE to know what our load of choice will do under real world conditions in our shotguns.
As I've often written before, a home defense load is best patterned at the longest possible shot opportunity in your house plus one yard as well as at 25 yards or so. Look for a spread of less than 15", the average width of the human torso at center mass.
As for what size, that's your choice, but 00 is hardly ever a bad idea.....
Dave McCracken has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.