View Full Version : The optimum H/D load....

Dave McC
November 9, 2001, 09:18 AM
It's been a while since this was kicked around, but I guess I've been fielding a query on this every two days, average. There's desperate times ahead, and desperate people around us. So...

Here's some opinions on this complex subject. Note that none are Writ on a Tablet of Stone by a Divine Finger.

The first consideration is the use environment. It's not so much rural/urban.It's what's likely to be hit by a stray or overpenetrative round. Some farmhouses still have exposed propane or heating oil tanks, sure wouldn't want a high penetration round going through those. I'm sure y'all can think of other probs.Remember, this is HD ammo, not riot suppression/outside ammo.

And, rounds that underpenetrate are turning over ALL their energy to the target.Back to this later.

Second consideration is the shooter. Sure, most of us here are Manly Men who love many ft/lbs of recoil caressing our shoulder. But we all live with folks who are not. And these spouses, SOs, offspring may need to shoot something, sometime, very, very much. Mrs McC stands 5" and a skosh and loathes shotguns. She does OK with handguns, but if I knew then what I do now, I'd have started her off better. 20-20 hindsight....

And even us Manly Men get faster repeat shots with lighter loads, something to think about before the home invasion occurs.

The lighter loads also work well for practice, tho "Duty" loads should always be part of a session. For example, shoot up a box of dove and quail loads for practice, and then use the "Serious" ammo that's been in your weapon since the last session. Once assured it works, clean the weapon and reload with fresh "Serious" ammo.

OTOH, the heavy, full power 00 loads and similar are excellent defense loads if the above criteria are met. The More Is Better Principle does apply some of the time.

The RR loads may be a happy medium. But, like most compromises, it handles the middle of the bell curve.Extreme circumstances call for extreme remedies.

Slugs have very little application for HD, some use for action outside. It's your call here also.
FYI, my HD 870 has a couple in the Side Saddle, just in case.

So here's what I think would be close to the optimum HD load in 12 ga, a specialty round very good for inside defensive work by a variety of shooters of various levels of expertise and strength. Note that nobody makes this round now, but someone sureasheck should....

First, let's note that lighter loads are easier to shoot. SO, let's drop the payload weight to 3/4 oz and the speed to 1000 FPS. This is very light for a shotshell,but does anyone think a 73 caliber projectile with about twice the weight of a 45 ACP hardball bullet at somewhat faster velocity would be ineffective? Free Recoil is about 9 ft/lbs, IIRC, compared to 30 some for a 9 pellet full house 00 load.

Second,while the most common shell length today is a nominal 2 3/4 inch to allow for a larger payload than we're talking, and more powder. It would be easy to make a load of 2-2 1/2" that fulfills the mission. One could then either have the same number of rounds stored on the magazine with less compression on the spring, or maybe even squeeze in one more round. This should still be long enough to feed OK through repeaters.

Third, one could "Tailor" penetration by shot size. A range of something like 4s to 9s would give different penetration levels, and one could pick the level one wants.Or, maybe 5 00. Ideally, the load would stop just inside the back surface of the target for maximum energy transfer.

And my personal solution? The HD 870 here is 6+1. I load the mag with 5, and kept cruiser ready with an empty chamber, safety on, and action locked closed. The mag has a pair of #8 trap loads first to be chambered,then Estate SWAT 00. The Side Saddle has more 00, and a pair of slugs. Total, 2 trap loads, 6 00, 2 slugs. More 00 is nearby.

Questions, comments?....

November 9, 2001, 01:06 PM
valued information from an experienced friend.

Thanks Dave.

November 9, 2001, 09:52 PM
Hey thanks for the great info! I have a Moss. 8shot 500A, 20cyl. bore. I use #4Buck 27pellet for HD.

Dave McC
November 10, 2001, 10:32 AM
Thanks, guys. I rather expected more discussion and input....

November 10, 2001, 11:18 AM
I keep my benelli loaded with Remington Magnum 00 Buck. (Walls in my apartment are concrete so chances are very slim that someone else gets hurt.)
The reason why I use magnum loads is that I really want to make sure that the benelli cycles without a jam altough it is a very reliable gun.
This is especially important since I like to shoot PG only (I'm glad that I live to far away to be able to take your challange Dave! ;) )

Denny Hansen
November 10, 2001, 01:40 PM
While I appreciate the fact that over-penetration is on everyone's mind, IMHO too few people think about having to shoot through concealment (sheetrock walls) in order to reach the target. I load the tube of my 11-87P with an AVON round first up (think giant Glaser, and yes, it does cycle in my gun) followed by 00 Fed. Tactical. At HD distance, over-penetration concerns are minimized by 1) hitting the target and 2) trajectory, e.g. dropping to one's knees and firing upwards so that if the charge misses, it goes into the ceiling and not the next room or outside.

I, too, have a couple of slugs on my SideSaddle "just in case." Slugs are loaded base up and others base down so I can "feel" the difference in low/no light situations under stress.

Just my .02


November 10, 2001, 04:02 PM
Nice post. I used to be one that wanted the most power around the house. Now I just want maximum away from home. Recently moving into an apartment, my primary HD weapon is a single shot 20ga. I have one round of 3" magnum 1 ounce #2 shot (not buck) in the tube. If that doesn't settle the score, I have three ¾ ounce slugs and two rounds of #3 buck attatched to my stock (all 2¾" shells). I think in a 450 square foot studio I could handle just about anything that could be handled with that.

November 10, 2001, 04:13 PM
1st round up in the 870 is a #4shot Remington Heavy Game Load (hi brass). Next 5 are Winchester 9 pellet 00 Buck with 5 more 00Buck loads on the slip on ammo holder. So far out of patterning, the Winchester )) load patterned better than the Federal Tactical 00 load. Remingtons 8 pellet 000 load had a pretty good pattern but printed to the right of the target.

Dave McC
November 10, 2001, 08:10 PM
Thanks, folks....

Knut, I kinda wish you did live closer or another PG fan. No offense meant, but I'd love to get this out in the open and get some empirical evidence where everyone could see it.

Denny, your input is always welcome. I doubt that Avon round is necessary, but I'm sure you base your choice on good resoning. Here, I may need to shoot through my refrigerator, which explains the slugs. I do have some Fed and Winchester old duty ammo around, but I've not done any penetration tests to see if it's more or less penetrative than the Estate stuff. Sometimes higher velocity means less penetration, not more.

PF, a good rate of fire can be obtained with a single by hitting the latch, letting gravity carry the bbl down and ejecting the shell, loading with the support hand, and repeating as needed. A little practice, of course, is advised....

Great, Rob! You actually went and tested to get the best results. More folks should emulate you.

I'd rather have a load shoot to POA than have a somewhat better pattern....

November 10, 2001, 11:54 PM
That's exactly what I do. :) It's an old savage, but I use it for a couple reasons. First off, I don't have to worry about a magazine spring getting weak from leabing it loaded. It's like a loaded revolver. It never gets tired. The other reason is that when i open the chamber and drop the barrel, the spring in there is so stout that it kicks my spent shells back a minimum of three feet over my shoulder. That leaves plenty of room to shove a new shell in. ;) I also feel that although a pump or auto may reload a little faster, it will only be faster for your first five or so rounds. ;) A single shot can be fed an entire 25 or 50 round belt with consistancy.

Dave McC
November 11, 2001, 07:27 AM
Mag springs taking a "Set" may be an overblown prob,PF. However, it sounds like your tactics are OK.

In a crisis with a S/S, I'd keep round #2 in the fingers of my support hand. More than one round gets clumsy for me. YMMV.

November 11, 2001, 03:27 PM
Just as a side note. The #4 shot that I have loaded first, gives a very good "chest" sized pattern out to 7 yds or so.

November 11, 2001, 05:19 PM

Thanks for all of the info. You are a walking encyclopedia.

I ordered an 870 express w/18" barrell the primary fuction of which will be HD. Should be in soon. For myself and all of the other rank newbies here, what quantities of each of your suggested loads would you recommend that I keep on hand. I am a manly man, but intend to have my wife with me to be trained also, so a full range is probably in order.

Also, I believe I saw in another thread that you got your ammo from Natchez? Is this a local store a mail-order house or what? I live very close to you so if it's local, I'm there.


November 11, 2001, 07:33 PM
Here's a good, professional discussion about the merits of #1 buckshot for HD:


I like this topic.

November 11, 2001, 09:38 PM
does storing a shotgun with the hammer back and saftey on weaken the spring strength over time? I ask because with, say, my Winchester, you can't put the saftey on unless the hammer's back and the pump is locked.

It's just that ever since my hole in the wall incident, I don't quite feel safe with four rounds in the tube, chamber empty, and the pump free to manipulate...

November 11, 2001, 10:45 PM
Dave, I've had various loads in/on/around my HDSG over the years. At this point, the SG is kept cruiser ready and downloaded one road, and all rounds in the magazine and in the sidesaddle are Fed Tac (RR) 00, which patterns very tightly out past 25 yds. I have thought about keeping some slugs onboard, but for reasons that are probably the same as yours, I currently keep them in kydex 2-rd clips next to the SG but not on-board.

Anyway, the point here is wondering why you settled on the trap loads for #s 1 and 2? I've thought about having different loads from time to time but at this point feel that I don't want to have to do a lot of thinking if I reach for the SG, and I want to know that I've got adequate penetration. A tube full of 00 satisfies those requirements. My current thinking is that a different load isn't going to change how I use the SG in my home but might change effectiveness against an attacker. At inside-the-house ranges, of course, it probably doesn't matter either way -- the shot column is pretty nearly solid anyway. But if that's true, I figure I might as well keep it simple. Thoughts?

Dave McC
November 12, 2001, 05:41 AM
Doug,there's old threads on how much ammo to keep on hand, but succinctly....

I recommend 100 rounds of WIHTF ammo. And training/recreational stuff too. Nobody does well with a shotgun unless they practice, and the clay games, dove shooting,etc, are great practice and fun to boot.The practice stuff can be light loads, 1 oz field loads are a good choice.

Of course, economics come into this. I suggest getting your "Serious" ammo in a chunk, to get the same lot number for consistency's sake. Other ammo can be bought piecemeal, shoot a box, buy a box, or bulk buy to save some cash. A case of light field loads can run less than $4/box.

Those 4 box sleeves K-mart sells are often on sale at a good price. Natchez is mail order. Right now, the Estate SWAT 00 I like and bought from Natchez seems to be off the market.

Dick's,the aptly named sporting goods chain, still has the KO Brennekes around for about $2/5 pack.

Also, I'll probably be at PGC tomorrow morn, and Wednesday at noon at AGC, shooting trap. Come on down...

NC, agency and departmental shotguns are usually stored safety on, action open, so the hammer has to be back. Tower guns kept cruiser ready, same same. Spring set doesn't seem to be a prob even after a decade or so. My oldest 870 has been kept that way for most of the last half century.

J, #8 shot will overpenetrate less than larger pellets. Note the less. After a couple of shots, I may need to shoot through concealment, or my refrigerator. Thus the 00. A 1 1/8 oz trap load has long been my choice for doves and quail, so they're on hand. Anything up to 5s ought to do the job, tho.

Remember, inside the house means the shot hit the target inside the shot wad's cup. Results will be nigh identical until a hard surface like a wall intervenes. Then, little shot like 8s lose energy faster.

I do think all 00 is a sound choice. Mine is a minor tweak of same.

Master Blaster
November 13, 2001, 10:55 AM
I dont own a shotgun but I am considering purchasing one, The 870 seems to be the gun of choice.

Everyone likes 12 guage but what about 20 guage?

Quote from earlier in this thread:


First, let's note that lighter loads are easier to shoot. SO, let's drop the payload weight to 3/4 oz and the speed to 1000 FPS. This is very light for a shotshell,but does anyone think a 73 caliber projectile with about twice the weight of a 45 ACP hardball bullet at somewhat faster velocity would be ineffective? Free Recoil is about 9 ft/lbs, IIRC, compared to 30 some for a 9 pellet full house 00 load.

Would what you describe be a 20 guage instead of a 12 guage gun?

Why not a 20 instead of a 12?

Could I hunt, skeet shoot, and use a 20 guage for home defense all with less recoil and better accuracy?


November 13, 2001, 12:26 PM
"Why not a 20 instead of a 12?
Could I hunt, skeet shoot, and use a 20 guage for home defense all with less recoil and better accuracy?"

Master Blaster,

if you are going to get a shotgun go with the 12. no flame intended to men with 20's, but they are more for young people or women, JMO.

recoil will be noticably less with the 20 and you can use it for the same purposes. as far as accuracy goes they will be practically the same, but the 12 will pack a bigger punch.


Al Thompson
November 13, 2001, 12:35 PM
Stinger, seems to me to be a case of how much is too much? The 20 here in SC has worked well on deer - IMHO it would work fine for SD/HD.

Ayoob made the point that no matter how good you are with a 12, you'll be better with a 20.

The question then is - is the 20 adequate? I think so.


November 13, 2001, 02:59 PM
I don't see any problems with a 20ga. I got both of mine because the price was right. Prices are about equal between 12ga and 20ga ammo. The only downside to 20ga IMHO is finding factory shells larger than #3 buck or slugs above ¾ ounce.

Dave McC
November 13, 2001, 03:04 PM
The biggest advantage of the 12 gauge over the 20 is ammo availability and selection. Local stores here may carry buck in 000 down to #4, the 20 has only #3. Slugs are the same, the 20 gauge stuff might have 3 or 4 brands, but there's at least 6 or 7 12 gauge slugs at the chain stores here. Gun shops are about the same.

The 20 will work fine, in fact the load I posited would be similar to a 28 gauge field load.

And, there's no ammo cost savings in going to a 20. Most 20 gauge costs at least as much as its 12 gauge equivalent.

Most 20 gauges run 1/2 lb lighter or more than their 12 gauge brethren. This is not all good, felt recoil climbs as weight drops, all else equal. The 870 Youth Express 20 gauge I got for the kids is a vicious kicker with heavy loads, the smaller butt concentrates the kick and the slightly lighter weight means somewhat more free recoil.Upside, while it's close to weight and overall length to Frankenstein, my 21" bbled parts 870, it handles more like an M-1 carbine than a shotgun. Good for tyros, pixies, kids, and seniors. Also for "Serious" shotgunners who need something one of the above can shoot also.

I do know or have known some Narcs who use 20 gauge 870s or 1100s as raid guns, and prefer them.
None,IIRC, are dedicated shotgunners off duty.

November 13, 2001, 10:51 PM
I like my Mossberg 500C 20 ga. The #3 buck patterns well, and the stock holds some slugs if needed. I also have, and practice with a Mossberg 590. It is probably more effective, but the 20 will do the job.

November 14, 2001, 05:59 AM

Great post, well thought out and concise. What else should we have come to expect?

I am with you 100% regarding the HD considerations you posted. As always, each of us may have particulars that warrant deviations from the norm you and I and most others have to ascribe to. What surprised me was how little your setup and ours differed. Maybe you are starting to rub off on me?:p

I tend to load the 870 (7 shot tube) with two rounds of #6 lowbrass birdshot up front, followed by four rounds of reduced recoil 00 buck or S&B 12 pellet (they call it 00 but I consider it 01 buck). As you mention, the female companion here is the consideration given for the lighter loads, coupled with reduced recoil for myself (distances less than 35'). Additionally, the birdshot comes into play should dispatching a varmint take center stage on the property. Differences in weapon condition is the action is closed, chamber empty, safety off. Do you see any drawbacks to this configuration?

Normally, I load 2 rounds of #4 Remington high brass (as Rob96 says he does) followed by 4 rounds of full house 00 buck or 01 buck 2 3/4" when it's just me, leaving one slot open in order to sleeve a birdshot load or slug (this is still possible if S&B buckshot, known for it's additional length, is kept to four rounds in the tube, maximum). Like yourself, I keep a few slugs hung on the firearm proper, just in case. Also, I keep a bandolier with extra buckshot at the bedside should things protract (damned scary if I ever really think about it).

I practice a lot with what I keep in it for HD and am having her get acclimated. Patterning has demonstrated effectiveness with the RR and S&B buck loads out to 25 yards (okay for non-buffered shot). Birdshot is naturally less. I still have not obtained any Estate shells for evaluation. Eventualities. Is their length more consistent with standard shotshells?

I also returned one of my Wingmasters (the HD one) back to the original stock from the Remington factory overfolder to ease her use with it. The sharp recoil of the metal buttplate was making her gun shy. Lowest common denominator. I understand and respect your sentiments regarding those abominations, but I simply have to have a pistol grip with rifle sights. Perhaps you could recommend a folder (side or top) with better handling characteristics than that which I am employing?

Also, have you done anything to improve the Remington safety on your 870's? I find the small trigger guard button "odd" after using the Mossberg 500 series for so many years. Would a larger replacement one help or be problematic?

As a twist, what say you about ammunition selection for a double barrel or over under?

Thanks for taking the time to address some of the most important issues regarding the shotgun in the self defense role. My belief is that the shotgun, employed correctly, is the most effective home defense firearm available. Your post assists those who opt for one to get to the point regarding ammunition selection.

Ah, were ammunition manufacturers listening to your insight on 2 1/2" shells (I am assuming they would work in the 870 - those little Aquila monsters sure didn't!). A tailored shell line made for home defense and the potential for higher capacity (+1?) in a reliably feeding package. Ramp up costs would be a bit chilling, initial costs prohibitive? Still, the payoff might well be worth it considering our present state of economic affairs if costs were comparable.

Should some manufacturer ever take up the idea and make it a commercial success, you can always claim you thought of it first!

Dave McC
November 14, 2001, 07:19 AM
Erick, that 20 gauge Brenneke round's an excellent deer round. I've Brenneked a few deer with them, and seen others taken. Results are quite similar to 12 ga performance. Trouble is, that's one good choice, where 12 ga users have many.20 ga Forster styles seem to fall under some kind of threshold, the blood trails are longer.

Thanks, Jager. A couple of responses to your questions, starting with safeties and safety.

Firs,t I'm no fan of bighead safeties. Anything easier to take off than standard is easier to get knocked off by accident. However, I've been using the standard ones since about the time Mastodon went on the Endangered Species list, and those of us who aren't living fossils may find these an advantage, especially in short time frame scenarios. Since they're not terribly expensive, a test costs little.

I post my HD 870 with the safety(a misnomer of course)on because....

1, it's my old professional way of storing.

2, it's harder for kids and irresponsible adults or intruders to make ready to fire.

Stored "Cruiser Ready", a pump requires several different moves to be ready to fire, that are almost impossible for the ignorant to do quickly, but the cognescenti can do in a twinkling. Try it yourself. With a weapon KNOWN TO BE EMPTY, have someone time you from pickup to dry fire. Unless one's truly spastic,it's around 2 seconds at most. Now make it safe, and hand it to someone not familiar with shotguns. If they've got it snapped under 30 seconds, the first pitcher's on me.

Moving on, Estate SWAT buck seem to be the same length as an AA trap load. Rather than a larger capacity with a 2 1/2" shell, I see a bit less pressure on the mag spring, tho these last incredibly.

And one's SO should be trained with shoulder arms as well as handguns. Bitter experience prompts this, Mrs McC fired a shotgun ONCE, long ago when we first got involved. She gets out on occasion with a handgun, but is adamant about not shooting shotguns.

The prob common to all folders I've seen has been a smaller butt area. This concentrates the kick. It'll add a bit to the length, but try the double sticky sided Neoprene I mentioned elsewhere, with a thin leather cover to add some cushion. Or, add a bigger, quality pad and leave it "Proud" of the stock. It'll look odd but work to reduce felt recoil.

That Remington folder is the one( albeit improved) we had for the rapid response vehicles. Folks got their cheeks cut with the first ones, and heavy buck loads were most unpleasant with a butt suitable in size to a BB gun. That side folding Choate looks to be a better choice, but maybe someone with real experience can chip in here.

That Choate PG equipped full stock has its fans, this may fill you bill nicely. Contrary to my opinion about only PGs, I see little pro/con about
full stocks w/ PGs. If it works for you...

BTW, a field load of 6s suffices for raccoon sized critters up to maybe 20 yards. At 10, it opens them up like there's a zipper built in.

November 14, 2001, 11:14 AM

I kind of mentioned this in another folder. I have the Mossberg Persuader. It is supposed to have self-defense design.

Does anyone have any insight about this model?

Thank you,

November 14, 2001, 12:32 PM
Remington Sprtsman 12 pump (pre "express model" blued instead of parkerized)

It wears a rifle sighted deer berrel with the rifled tube in it.

As Dave has often said "breath mints fired out of a 12 gauge are lethal at 20 feet" ;)

I usually put a #6 2 3/4 pheasant load or a #2 3 inch magnum high brass laod in my shotgun. Why? the 3 inch #2 is only usable for turkey and I have a couple of boxes of it laying around.

I keep a vest full of shells around, loaded with buckshot and some slugs.

No fancy folders, no lights, no neoprene, no plastic.

Dave McC
November 14, 2001, 02:22 PM
Michael, while the Mossberg is not my first choice, it's a good shotgun. I doubt it'll hold up as long as an 870 will, but we're talking generations of shooters here. Your grandchildren may think it's a little loose, rather than your great grandchildren.

Rob, I've got a few boxes of turkey laods around too, even have some Nitro #2s from before steel shot. They'd do also, if I ever run out of Tic Tactical loads(G)...

November 15, 2001, 05:09 AM

Having looked at the larger safety, I assumed it would be too easy to inadvertantly switch off. I'll take your advice and remain factory. Too old to switch from the familiar now anyway.

Thanks for the timely response.

November 15, 2001, 08:57 AM
At what point would you take the intruder's life?


Dave McC
November 15, 2001, 09:22 AM
Michael, at whatever point it's obvious they need stopping, in order to protect oneself and others. When stopping the perp becomes more important than whether said perp live or dies, then it's time, IMO.

Use of Deadly Force issues can be a quagmire. In some areas,it's OK to employ DF to protect property, not in others. And some "Sheeple" Govt officials can make life difficult for someone who acts righteously, but not as a victim.

On the positive side, most perps are taking the easy way. That's part of why they're perps.In the face of armed and determined resistance, they tend to leave. Note the "^Tend". Nothing is life is certain, which is why we have WIHTF guns in the first place.

In about 1971 or 2, in Venice Ca, an 870 helped me convince two socio-economically disadvantaged minority group members that breaking into my apartment in the wee smalls was not only illegal, but a really stupid idea.No shots fired,no further action needed. Once they saw the shotgun, they fled.

On another day and time, racking a shotgun loudly stopped a prison escape attempt right then, tho I do not say this will happen every time.