• Home |
  • Best 12 Gauge Ammo For Home Defense: Protect Your Family

The Best 12 Gauge Ammo For Home Defense: Shotshells To Defend The Castle

The Best 12 Gauge Ammo for Home Defense

A 12 gauge shotgun is one of the best home defense firearms – and not because Joe Biden said so. I also recommend using a shotgun for home defense, largely because it reduces the risk of over-penetration through walls.

That just begs the question: What is the best 12 gauge ammo for home defense?

I’ve tested many shotshells over the years. I’ve found some that I trust in my shotgun, and many others I refuse to chamber ever again. To save your precious time, we’re only discussing the 12 gauge shells worth buying. Let’s get after it!

Our Top 4 Picks for 12 Gauge Home Defense Ammo

  1. Federal LE FliteControl 00 Buck - Best Overall
  2. Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil 1 oz. Rifled Slug - Best Low Recoil
  3. Winchester Super X #5 Shot Turkey Load - Best Value
  4. Federal Premium Copper-Plated 00 Buck - Most Versatile

Best Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense

Federal LE FliteControl 00 Buck - Best Overall


  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,325 fps
  • Projectile: #00 Buckshot
  • Shell Length: 2 3/4"
  • Pros

    • Trusted brand
    • FliteControl wad
    • Designed with law enforcement in mind
    • Works in all shotgun types


    • It needs a unique choke tube
    • Expensive

    Why We Chose It

    Federal Premium is an ammunition manufacturer trusted by countless shooters, hunters, and law enforcement agencies.

    They've gained a positive reputation through years of crafting high-quality ammo and exploring new ammunition technologies.

    The FliteControl wad is unlike traditional wads because it acts similarly to a sabot for a slug. The FliteControl wad holds the pattern tighter for longer distances, which increases the rounds effective range.

    This shotgun load was designed with law enforcement agencies in mind, which means you can trust it to be very effective in close quarters, as such is the case with home defense situations.

    However, there are a couple of drawbacks to this load.

    The first is it needs a special choke. Due to the unique wad, it doesn't perform well with most choke tubes. Luckily, many choke manufacturers, such as Carlson's and Patternmaster, make the needed choke tube.

    The second drawback is the price. These rounds are not cheap, but when protecting my family and myself, the price is the least of my worries.

    In my opinion, these drawbacks are minimal when you understand the increased performance you're gaining from the flight control aspects of the wad and functionality in any type of shotgun.

    Honorable Mentions

    Rio Ammunition 00 Buck is worth mentioning as a viable buckshot round contender. As a brand, Rio is often less expensive than other brands, which is also the case in this instance.

    Yet, just because you're not paying as much doesn't mean you're losing terminal performance or quality, as it reliably works in pump-action and semi-auto shotguns.

    The main downsides are these rounds have a rolled crimp, which means they are too long for shell carriers used in 3-gun competitions, and it also cuts down on the magazine capacity.

    The other downside is that the wad doesn't cover the shot, so your barrel will get dirty faster; but if you enjoy cleaning your guns, this isn't a big deal.

    Rio 00 Buckshot is reliable, has a good pattern, and is reasonably priced.

    If you're looking for a buckshot load with a few more pellets, check out Winchester Super-X 3-1/2" 18 Pellets 00 Buckshot.

    The longer shell has more room for the double-aught buckshot pellets and powder, so don't expect this to be a low recoil 12 gauge ammo for home defense because it will kick much more than the 2 3/4" shells.

    Longer shells are always more expensive, so if you're trying to be budget-friendly, I wouldn't recommend choosing 3 1/2" shells. However, these are worth looking into if you're needed more knockdown power.

    Searching for ammo with more knockdown power? Check out our Winchester 12 Gauge ammo or our Fiocchi 12 Gauge ammo page to get the best match for your needs.

    Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil 1 oz. Rifled Slug - Best Low Recoil 12-Gauge Ammo for Home Defense


  • Muzzle Velocity: 1,300 fps
  • Muzzle Energy: 1,642 ft-lbs
  • Projectile: Rifled Slug
  • Shell Length: 2 3/4"
  • Pros

    • Trusted brand
    • Designed for reduction of recoil
    • Multiple uses


    • Expensive

    Why We Chose It

    Hornady is one of the most trusted brands for self-defense ammo, with choices like the Hornady Critical Defense for handguns. However, they didn't stop with handgun ammo.

    Hornady has successfully ventured into shotgun ammunition. The Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil Rifled Slug is perfect for those who find shotgun slugs uncomfortable to shoot because of all the recoil.

    While you will sacrifice a little muzzle energy and velocity for reduced recoil, the slug won't have any trouble penetrating the vital organs of bad guys.

    The Hornady Reduced Recoil Rifled Slug is an excellent defense load, but it can double as a solid hunting slug at close range.

    The biggest drawback is the price. Because they're designed for defense purposes and they're a reduced recoil load, they are expensive compared to other rifled slugs.

    Honorable Mentions

    The Federal Tactical Truball Low Recoil 2-3/4" 1 oz is a cheaper option. Rifled Slug. Its ballistics are identical to the Hornady Reduced Recoil load but at half the price.

    However, you must buy in bulk to get this price. The price doesn't reflect the quality of these rounds, as law enforcement agencies trust these rounds in training and real-world situations daily.

    Winchester Super X #5 Shot Turkey Load - Best Value 12 Gauge Home Defense Ammo


    • Projectile Type: #5 Shot
    • Shotshell Length: 3”
    • Payload Weight: 1-7/8 oz.
    • Muzzle Velocity: 1,210 fps


    • Trusted brand
    • Plenty of stopping power
    • Reduced risk of over-penetration
    • Decent price for personal defense ammo


    • Pricey compared to non-specialized shotshells
    • Heavy recoil

    Why We Chose It

    Winchester Super-X #5 Shot is the best value 12 gauge home defense load because it’s made by a trusted brand, quickly stops the threat, and is less likely to penetrate sheetrock.

    I’ve used a lot of Winchester ammunition over the years because it’s so dang reliable. When I pull the trigger, I expect rounds to go bang, and Winchester Super-X has done that for me in the turkey woods.

    I’ve also seen what it does to a tough bird, like a turkey, and I have no doubt it will stop a bad guy who decides to threaten my family without putting my loved ones at greater risk than necessary.

    While this ammo isn’t cheap like Federal Top Gun #7.5 Shot target ammo, it’s still reasonably priced. Shot size matters when it comes to home defense. You may just infuriate an intruder with #7.5 shot. You’re far more likely to immediately halt their advance with double-aught or a turkey load’s #4 shot.

    The recoil is the biggest downside of Winchester Super-X #5 Shot. Be prepared for it to thump your shoulder. I can shoot waterfowl loads all day and not have a sore shoulder, but I can’t shoot more than a handful of turkey loads without feeling it the next day.

    For those on a tight budget, Winchester Super-X #5 Shot is the way to go so you can protect your family when they need it most.

    Federal Premium Copper-Plated 00 Buck - Most Versatile 12 Gauge Ammo for Home Defense


    • Projectile Type: 00 Buckshot
    • Shotshell Length: 3”
    • Payload Weight: ~1-7/8
    • Muzzle Velocity: 1,100 fps


    • Trusted ammunition brand
    • Usable in more areas than straight lead
    • Less likely to penetrate sheetrock
    • Multi-purpose ammunition


    • Expensive
    • Lots of recoil

    Why We Chose It

    Federal Premium Copper-Plated 00 Buck is the most versatile 12 gauge ammo for home defense because it can be used for multiple applications. In addition to home defense, it’s great for deer and coyote hunting in locations where lead is prohibited (but do check your local laws first).

    Federal is a well-established ammo brand known for producing high-quality ammunition, and its shotshells are no exception.

    Unlike a slug, 00 buckshot pellets are less likely to punch through multiple walls and endanger your family. However, they are still capable of tunneling through sheetrock. Double-aught pellets are also great for ethically harvesting deer, hogs, coyotes and other game animals, so this ammo doesn’t have to just sit in your shotgun.

    The cons of this versatile round are that it has quite a bite of recoil and is very expensive. You must brace yourself and your wallet.

    The Winchester Xpert BB Steel Shot is a cheaper option with less recoil. It doesn’t have the knockdown capabilities of 00 buck because BB shot is smaller and also made of steel, which is significantly less dense (and therefore able to carry less momentum) than lead. I can attest that it holds a tight pattern out to 40+ yards, as I’ve taken many ducks and geese with these rounds with my semi-auto. If it were all I had, I wouldn’t hesitate to load it into my shotgun for home defense.

    While it packs a punch and is expensive, Federal Premium Copper-Plated 00 Buck is the all-around most versatile 12 gauge ammo for home defense. Don’t hesitate to grab a box or two today!

    Saving Money on the Best Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

    Shotgun shells used for personal defense are expensive; however, there are several ways to save money.

    Buying Bulk 12-Gauge Self-Defense Shotgun Shells

    When you buy bulk 12-gauge ammo, sometimes you can save $0.15 per shotshell. This is a significant savings if you practice often and burn through ammo.

    The amount of savings will depend on the brand and amount of ammo you purchase. Purchasing 250 rounds will save you more money per round than buying 20 shells at a time. However, buying 1,000 shotshells will give you more significant savings per round.

    Reloading Shotshells

    Shotgun shells are reloadable, which means there's an opportunity to save money by reloading instead of buying factory ammo.

    This costs more money upfront because you have to purchase the reloading equipment and supplies, but once that initial cost is over, the amount of money you save depends on the speed at which you can pump out shells.

    If you can't find the perfect home-defense round, you might try crafting your own by handloading.

    To double up on your savings, try buying shotgun shells in bulk and then reloading them!

    12-Gauge Ammo Types for Home Defense

    There are various types of projectiles in shotgun shells. There are two primary types I consider home defense rounds and a third that can be used if it's all you have on hand.



    Buckshot is by far the best home defense load because it's less likely to penetrate, you have multiple projectiles to increase your chances of hitting your target, and it's reasonably priced.

    There are different shot sizes of buckshot. Double aught or 00 Buck is most people's preference; however, don't be afraid to go with smaller pellets because there will be more per shell.


    You might be thinking, what do those little slimy creatures have to do with shotguns?

    No? That's just me?

    Well, they don't have anything to do with shotguns, but a rifled or sabot slug does, and they make good personal defense rounds.

    A rifled slug has the rifling on the slug instead of the barrel. The rifling causes the slug to spin, making it more accurate.

    The sabot slug has a plastic case or sabot around it that causes it to spin in a smoothbore shotgun; there's much debate as to which slug is best, but many consider the sabot slug to be technologically superior.



    Birdshot is not a recommended load for home defense; however, if it's all you have, use it, especially if it's a turkey load.

    Birdshot has much smaller pellets than buckshot; therefore, it doesn't have the same stopping power, but if you have a good choke that keeps a tight pattern, birdshot is deadly, especially at close range.

    Shot size selection will be the primary determining factor of the knockdown power of birdshot. The smaller the number, the larger the pellets. For defense purposes, choose the smaller numbers or BB.

    Parting Shots

    Choosing the best 12-gauge ammo for home defense doesn't have to be overly complicated. You should make an informed decision, which you've made by reading this article, but in the end, you should test out several different brands and projectiles to determine which you like best.

    Stay safe!

    Frequently Asked Questions

    The team at Ammo.com has gathered and answered many of the most commonly asked questions regarding the best 12 gauge ammo for home defense.

    What is the most powerful 12 gauge shotgun shell?

    A 3-1/2” Magnum 12 gauge shotgun shell is the most powerful.

    What is the difference between 00 and 000 buckshot for home defense?

    The difference between 00 and 000 buckshot for home defense is significant. 00 buck (0.33” diameter, ~53.8 grain weight) is a smaller pellet than 000 buck (0.36” diameter, ~70 grain weight). That’s why 000 buck hits harder – although fewer pellets can fit in a shell.

    What is the best birdshot for home defense?

    The best birdshot for home defense is BB or BBB.

    Are Birdshot Loads Good for Home Defense?

    Birdshot loads are good for home defense if you use #4 – F.

    What is the right buckshot for your home defense shotgun?

    The right buckshot for your home defense shotgun is 00 buckshot.

    Are Mini Shotgun Shells Viable for Self-Defense?

    A mini shell (1-3/4”) is viable for defense under two conditions: it is loaded with buckshot or a slug, and it is fired in a shotgun that is capable of cycling it.

    What kind of a shotgun shell is best for self-defense?

    The kind of shotgun shell that is best for self-defense is turkey load or 00 buck.

    Wes Littlefield
    Written by
    Wes Littlefield

    Cartridge Recommendations