Don’t Use Birdshot For Home Defense Includes Turkey Loads – USA Carry

May 28, 2024 | 0 comments

One of the most common “butwhatabouts” when it comes to the notion of never putting birdshot in a home defense shotgun is turkey loads. The idea, of course, is that turkey loads use a heavier shot and are (usually) loaded to higher velocity than typical game bird or target loads.

It’s bunk. Don’t use birdshot for defensive purposes, ever.

Birdshot For Home Defense Rears Its Ugly Head Again

There was a recent tempest in a tactical teapot when firearms trainer Greg Ellifritz put a picture on Facebook of a steel paperclip dented with birdshot taken at a recent class.

Naturally, he captioned it by saying that birdshot won’t even penetrate a paperclip, so you probably shouldn’t use it for defensive purposes.

The comments section lost its mind to the point where Ellifritz publicly swore off Facebook and said he was going to Patreon. Amidst the idiocy in the comments was the refrain that turkey loads will work, but standard birdshot is obviously inadequate.

You might say they were presented with evidence and still cried fowl!

It wouldn’t in the least. So, let’s get into why.

Heavier Birdshot Does Not Yield Sufficient Penetration

As many are aware, the leading ballisticians such as Dr. Gary K. Roberts and his mentor Dr. Martin Fackler were that buckshot was the superior shotgun loading for social purposes well over two decades ago.

Birdshot wounds are superficial; they tear surface flesh but otherwise don’t reliably penetrate deep enough to cause a disabling (or lethal) injury. The pellets just don’t have enough mass to retain sufficient momentum.

Gel tests on turkey loads more or less confirm as much.

In 2008, Robert Farago – then of The Truth About Guns – published a series of gel tests using shotgun loads fired from an 18-inch Remington 870, the exact kind of shotgun one might purchase for home defense.

Remington #4 Heavy Dove – no longer made, but likely close to today’s Nitro Pheasant load, a 2-¾ inch, 1-⅜ oz load at (factory claimed) 1300 fps – penetrated around 6.5 inches. Credit:

Kent 2-¾ #5 Tungsten Matrix (1-⅜ oz, 1375 fps) fared slightly better, at about 8 inches of penetration. Credit:

Farago highlighted the ragged, chewed-up exterior. As if the flesh of the gel was tore up, but the pellets didn’t penetrate deep enough.

Phil Bourjaily, shotgun editor at “Field and Stream,” got to spend a day or so at Federal’s underground ammo lab, publishing the results in 2013 .

Penetration tests were conducted at 30 yards, as that’s how Federal tests their game loads. However, it should also be said that 9mm is capable of penetrating 12 to 18 inches at that distance. Further, if Federal Punch – .22 LR – can penetrate over 12 inches at 40 yards…then birdshot not being able to penetrate to the 12- to 18-inch standard would likewise shut the door on the idea.

Part of his testing included two turkey loads, 3-inch 1-¾ oz and 2-oz loads of #5, which penetrated to depths of 4 inches and 3.65 inches, respectively.

By contrast, 3-inch 00 buck penetrated to depths of 16.84 inches and 14.62 inches. It turns out that buffered, plated buckshot patterns better and penetrates more deeply than unbuffered/unplated loads due to the pellets not deforming prior to exiting the muzzle.

Social shotgun experts have long recommended plated, buffered buckshot loads for defensive purposes for that exact reason so that’s hardly a shocker…but it’s also worth mentioning that one of the first people to publish that phenomenon was Bob Brister, Bourjaily’s predecessor.

A Turkey Load User’s Perpsective

As it happens, I hunt turkeys! I have used turkey loads in the field to kill things and eat them. So I have seen first hand what those loads are capable of.

3-inch #4 sure did for this spring tom.

The pellets that hit the bird don’t penetrate very deep. It’s enough to kill a turkey, but you only need a few inches of penetration to do that.

If #4 or #5 pellets penetrated as deeply as buckshot, every turkey I’ve ever harvested would have had all through-and-though wounds. I’d have never had to pick out pellets or worry about bloodshot meat.

Back in the real world, I lost one of the thighs from the tom in the picture as it was both bloodshot and rent to smithereens. I picked a few out of the left breast and even found some in the skin of the back of the neck.

In other words, #4 shot – even out of a 3-inch shell with the extra “oomph” – can’t go all the way through a 20-lb (ish) bird.

And more’s the pity; the thighs are my favorite part of the animal, especially for making cacciatore. But one digresses.

What do experts say about birdshot in defensive shotguns? That it only creates soft tissue wounding and isn’t a viable choice for home defense. Well, that’s exactly what turkey loads do to turkeys. It’s just that it’s enough to kill one.

So if the high-velocity, heavier shot loads for turkey hunting only penetrate enough to kill a turkey…exactly what makes a person think they’re viable for humans?

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