Survival Shotgun Part 4: Understanding Loads

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By Mr. Smashy •  4 min read

Shotguns easily have the most possible different types of ammunition than any other gun. From buckshot and slugs, to non-lethal and everything in between, the survival shotgun is an incredibly versatile tool.

Understanding the various loads and their uses is important for any prepared survivalist.

Worth The Effort

Let’s be realistic about what the shotgun is and is not.  It’s no longer the king of the hill when it comes to Close Quarters Battle.  Terms like “street sweeper” and “room broom” get thrown around but for the pros, the shotgun has been relegated to specialized tasks like ballistic barrier breaching and less lethal munition deployment.

The carbine and short barreled rifle have taken over the realm once dominated by the shotgun.  The ergonomics of the AR-15/M16 and the magazine capacity, as well as the armor penetration and terminal ballistics make it a clear winner. Shotguns are not rifles.  But let’s take a look at what kind of diversity is available to the shotgun that makes it worth the effort in the first place.

Ammunition Diversity


From Law Enforcement reduced recoil to full power 3 1/2″ magnum loads, buckshot is a proven performer in soft tissue.  Most buckshot is effective out to at least 25 yards.


Usually 1 oz. “Foster” style slugs with rifling, or “rifled slugs”.  The rifling on the slug is meant to conform to the contour of the barrel and collapse if there is a choke on the barrel.  It does not impart any spin on projectile.

Slugs can be fired accurately, and with good effect on target, with a bead sight out to at least 50 yards, possibly 100 depending on load.  Slugs are effective on all mammals, including bear, that inhabit North America.  Slugs may be your best chance at defending yourself from aggressors using soft body armor.


Also know as “shot”, used for hunting and sport, smaller lead or steel balls from the size of a kosher salt rock to loads big enough for large waterfowl, rabbit, or coyotes.

Breaching Slugs

Compressed copper, steel, or zinc slugs that burst open locks and hinges with reduced risk of ricochet or over penetration.  Can be used on padlocks as well.  Not for a novice user, proper technique is required.

Less Lethal

Ranges from cheap rubber buckshot that can be skipped off pavement into a target or a crowd, to beanbag and rubber baton rounds that can have the option of leaving a UV marking dye.

There are also less lethal rounds that do not fire any projectile, like the ALS “Bore Thunder” which “produces a stun/diversion effect by using a flash with an extremely powerful concussion blast.”

Less lethal ammunition require practice and can be expensive.  But there are times when a less lethal round can cause a stop, enforce compliance, or provide cover for retreat when lethal force is not required or justified.

Survival Applications

In the survival toolkit, keeping a good supply of all these different kinds of ammunition is a good idea.  Even value packed sport loads can be useful in a survival situation for more than just game.

If you have no use for a #8 shot sport load, it’s possible to melt down the lead shot inside, use a slug mold, and reload them into a poor man’s slug.  Will it perform as well as a factory slug?  Absolutely not.  Will the homemade slug provide more stopping power than a dose of small shot?  Absolutely.

The process can upgrade your stopping power if all you can find is sport or game loads with birdshot, but you would really like a slug for self defense.  This processes is being used by people in countries where a shotgun and birdshot loads are the only available legal firearms to citizens.

In a survival situation, a shotgun and even mild assortment of loads can keep you protected and fed, and give you the opportunity to flee from a superior force.

Part 5

Part 5 – Shotguns Myths Explained

Mr. Smashy

Mr. Smashy has been shooting competitively for more than 15 years. Scouted from a junior club rifle team for the state team, he has won state championships in several events over his years. Mr. Smashy currently competes in NRA Highpower, USPSC, Action Pistol, among others. Mr. Smashy has excellent knowledge of US service rifles, reloading, and marksmanship. Read his full interview here.