Shotgun patterns have been on my mind since attending Rangemaster’s excellent shotgun instructor class in Nashville two weeks ago. I was honestly a bit shocked that many of my fellow students didn’t really understand the differences in buckshot patterning at various differences.
I patterned three different common 00 Buck defensive loads out of my Beretta 1301 shotgun with an improved cylinder choke. Each of the individual bullseye targets on the paper below measure nine inches across. I fired rounds at five, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 yards. There was a massive difference in pattern size and density across the different loadings.
First, let’s look at Federal’s standard (non-flight control) nine pellet 00 Buck load. It kept all the pellets in the nine-inch circles (roughly the size of an adult male’s chest) out to 15 yards. At 20 yards, the pattern started to open wildly. Only seven pellets hit at 20 yards. At 25 and 30 yards only four pellets hit each target. Fifteen yards is the max range you can shoot this load and still get all hits on the target. If you use it beyond 15 yards, you’d best have a very safe backstop because lots of those pellets won’t be hitting the bad guy.
I then patterned Hornady Critical Defense eight-pellet 00 Buck. The Hornady load has a wad that is similar in design to the Federal Flight Control wad. It is widely thought of as the load that makes the second tightest pattern behind the Federal Flight Control product.
This one gave me a bit of a surprise. On the five-yard target (top left), I had a nicely centered pattern of #4 buckshot loaded into a shell labeled 00 Buck. Poor quality control is endemic among all the big name ammunition companies. I was expecting a one-hole group at five yards and I got a pattern that was six inches across. It would have likely thrown pellets out of the circle at 10 or 15 yards. And this is the stuff they are selling you for self defense purposes.
The Hornady patterned tighter than the normal Federal above. All eight pellets stayed on the target out to 20 yards. At 25 yards, five pellets hit in the rings. At 30 yards, four pellets remained in the circle.
Finally, I tried the Federal Flight Control eight pellet 00 Buck load. This one has the reputation for being the tightest shooting load on the market, and rightly so.
At both five and 10 yards, there was a one-hole group. All eight pellets stayed in the circles at every distance out to 30 yards. In fact, there were very few differences between the patterns fired at 15 yards and those fired at 30 yards..
Do you see why folks choose the Federal Flight Control loads?
One caution. Every individual shotgun barrel is different. These are pretty standard findings, but your individual gun may perform very differently. It’s very important to pattern each defensive shotgun with the load you plan on using.
For those of you “I want the widest pattern possible to increase chances of hitting a moving attacker” crowd, I am going to try to convince you that you are wrong.
Let’s look at the 15 yard targets (middle left) for each load. That’s about the longest shot most of you will make indoors in your house. It’s also the farthest distance that all loads had all hits in the scoring rings. The pattern sizes only vary about an inch in diameter across all three loadings. Do you think having a one inch greater pattern size is really going to help you hit a moving attacker? Not likely.
Now look at the 25 and 30 yard patterns. The widely patterning shell puts half its payload out of the target area there. One inch bigger pattern isn’t likely to help you win a gunfight at 15 yards, but the same load could get you killed if your conflict occurs at longer range. Pick the tightest shooting loads for your defensive shotgun.