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Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer

05 Jul 2018
@ 05:50 am (GMT)

Ryan Nafe


I realize that this is a question about shotguns and not rifles, but I couldn’t think of a better sub forum to post the question in. So here goes:

I have recently been doing a bit of searching for information on the killing power of 12 gauge buckshot on animals like deer in the 150-225 pound range. There are a very high number of people online (take that for what it’s worth, the plural of “anecdote” is not “evidence”) reporting one-shot kills on these animals from 0 - 75 yards with various kinds of buckshot, and I found this somewhat surprising and very interesting.

I have a hypothesis about why this type of ammunition is reported to be so effective:

- The multiple-system trauma caused by a solid hit to the vitals by 9 - 15 individual .33” round balls at 1,000 - 1,300 FPS causes the same type of responses that an appropriate fragmenting rifle bullet would at long range/low velocity: rapid spike in blood pressure, overload of nervous system damage signals, and the accompanying shutdown of the brain, however temporary.


- Do any of you think there is reason to think that’s at least a viable hypothesis, or is it not in line with the physics and biology involved?

- Have any of you made any observations that could shed some light on why it appears that buckshot is so effective on medium game within its range limitations?

Thanks guys.


05 Jul 2018
@ 06:37 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Hi Ryan, that is a fair assessment.

The one issue I have with buckshot is that at times, bleeding can be slow. Therefore, although game may go down quickly, if the animal is not finished off with a knife, the animal may soon recover, escape and go on to suffer a slow death. The further you shoot beyond around 25 yards, the greater the risk of poor results. Penetration can also be quite limited.
05 Jul 2018
@ 08:57 pm (GMT)

Mike Davis

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
yes AND no
Ive shot a couple of goats
1 x140lb boar
1 yearling red

quite a few wallabies

with buckshot...#00 so its about .32 calibre and 9 balls per load

the first goat was through and through broadside chest shot AND IT WALKED AWAY.......fell over 20 yards further on and I was so shocked I skinned it to find out WHF had happened..... all 9 balls had gone through lung area but behind leg died for sure but put me off.

the boar was bailed by my heading dog...broadside at under 10 yards and only a single pellet actually went in..... finished the job with a solid when dog rebailed it again

the red yearling was in paddock one night when we were out shooting hares,the farm worker gave me the nod so when it tried to scoot past us 30ish yards infront I headshot it..then gave it 2nd one quick smart....not one of the 18 balls were below mid neck.

you get a few holes but very little shock as they are going too slow,if you hit nerve centre head/neck/spine they go down quick otherwise you are reliant on hitting lungs etc and as its basically poking holes 1/2'' wide through it bleeds but not fast.

with wallabies its great at below 25 yards and gives you SOME chance of a fluke hit at past 50 yards
on small animals like these (thin skinned light boned about size of family dog) you are heaps better off with #BBs or #2s as you get multiple hits and good penertration....the effect of a close hit with hot load of #BBs is devastating to say the least...steel loads are just as if not more potent than lead at sub 25yards due to larger faster payload....

at sub 25 yards I wouldnt hesitate to head/neck shoot a deer, side on aiming for the crease would be more certain if slower, the advantage of the smaller shot (I include #7 buck here) over buck shot proper is the multiple wounds giving MUCH higher chance of striking something vital....a typicle 9 ball buckshot pattern is getting iffy at 25 yards....think dinner plate or bigger depending on choke used and if you have been good Lad and done pattern testing to find out what works IN YOUR GUN as they are all different,eg one will like 2 3/4" loads and another will prefer 3" and some like fibre wad others a plastic one...... you HAVE TO buy and try till you suss out what works or you risking blown patterns and wounding animals.
I love using my shotguns but for animals other than birds a rifle is a much better bet
one final note a rifled barrel on shotgun works really well with sabot type loads but not so much with rifled slugs..the two riflings can argue who is boss...... with buck shot or bird shot it is hopeless and makes beautiful doughnut shaped patterns 6-8 foot around at 15 yards with stuff all in the centre.
06 Jul 2018
@ 06:45 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Ryan, please pay close attention to Mike's statements, this is good info, reality as opposed to internet hype. Take note of Mike's comments on slow bleeding and poor penetration echoing my own statements, also his comments on pattern testing.

Again, very good observations- actually looking at the damage and penetration. As I said, even if animals go down due to multiple nerve hits, they can recover and with a slow bleed plus poor prenetration, it can lead to a very slow kill.

Somewhat of an irony, our cops used to use OO buckshot. Good for close quarters work but with a chance of recovery for the offender if bleeding could be staunched. Good spread for a nervous shooter and I suppose a keen eye could keep shots low to buckle legs. But the shotguns were taken away because someone deemed them offensive in appearance. So now we have the black rifle. Certainly has more reach but its is no fun to use at night with peep sights.
06 Jul 2018
@ 12:03 pm (GMT)

Bryan Webster

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Pay heed to what Mike and Nathan have told you. Past 25 yards a lot of animals will be wounded. Over the years in large timbered areas with trees 100 to 150 feet high, where a rifle was hard to hit with, I shot several thousand wolves from helicopters. Using the shotgun and shooting down improved the killing effect, hitting effective areas from above. That was effective and the animals ranged from 65 up to 160 pounds or more and are tough and alarmed.

Barring that I had extreme success using a 7x57 scoped rifle on larger numbers of wolves at ranges in more open areas out to 300 yards and as close as 10 yards. I used the rifle on lakes and open alpine areas and observed no issues at all.

There was no doubt the shotgun had its place as indicated above but for a person hunting big game like deer from the ground they are handicapped both by range and effective killing in that often not enough pellets from the 3 inch magnum would be enough to avoid wounding. Here in BC we do not allow the use of shotguns for hunting animals like moose for obvious reasons, being mostly toomuch wounding even at closer ranges.
07 Jul 2018
@ 01:35 pm (GMT)

Jim Moseley

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
I started at 9 years old with a 20 ga. double barrel with #4's and killed a dozen deer. Changed to a Browning Sweet 16 at 11 years old and killed at least 175-200 deer using #1 buckshot. Kept my shots under 40 yds with most being in the 20 yds range. Now technology has made dramatic changes to buckshot. Two young guys in Georgia, USA that make buckshot from pure tungsten which will extend the range to 60 yds. BB's are the equivalent to 000 buckshot and with a 2 oz load at 40 yds you have some shot making complete pass thru. With that many pellet your will have hit every vital also. Their main market is turkey hunting loads of #8 and 9's with an effective range of 60 yds.

09 Jul 2018
@ 04:11 am (GMT)

Ryan Nafe

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Excellent stuff, guys. Thanks a bunch.

Based on the above information I’d say that if I wanted to try it then I’d have to change the location of my hunting spots so that there’s a very high likelihood of the animals being at or under 25 yards. Not easy to do on my property since it’s mostly mature hardwood forest, but I’ve been planning on making a stand this August that’s specifically for short-range engagements so I can do handgun and archery from it.

If I do decide to use some of it I would absolutely do a lot of patterning with several types of ammo. That’s something I do with my shotguns by default, regardless of the type of animals I’m intending on shooting. Understanding the pattern produced by a given combination of gun, choke, and ammo is something I’d place on the same level of importance as knowing the trajectory of a rifle setup.
09 Jul 2018
@ 12:05 pm (GMT)

Ryan Nafe

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
How would 12 pellets of 00 buckshot at 1,300 FPS compare to a .357 125gr. Speer Gold Dot at 2,200 FPS? The target is a 180lb. Whitetail at 20 yards distance.

09 Jul 2018
@ 12:33 pm (GMT)

Bob Mavin

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Hi Ryan
I was culling problem Rusa Deer in a vineyard at close range, Started out using a 357 mag rifle, Haven't tried 128's, 158gn was better than 180gn pills but still unreliable unless everything was perfect.
I use a 358 Winchester, 225gn Sierra Game Kings at around 2500fps , it does the job very well
10 Jul 2018
@ 08:49 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Hi Ryan, the gold dot is too tough for this low energy level. The Sig cartridge (edit -sorry assuming Sig with regards to 125gr GD) and the ammo are designed to address multiple problems - 1, accuracy (low recoil) under rapid fire, 2. Gun size and all day carry weight, 3, Ammo capacity, 4. Barrier penetration, 5, (and note this is last on my list) terminal performance. It is very hard for a bullet / cartridge maker to balance all three, something has to give.

When hunting, there is no need to return fire under pressure, you do not need a small gun, or high capacity. Everything is different. If you want to test your .357 just to see what happens then sure, do it, but use a different bullet. Otherwise, if you are wanting optimum performance, find yourself a Model 29 .44, the 240gr XTP and be done with it. A nice gun, nice trigger, long sight radius, shoots straight, hits hard and has an iconic history.

10 Jul 2018
@ 08:55 am (GMT)

Nathan Foster

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
Again, for some reason I keep thinking Sig. Please refer to my KB research on the .357 Mag for in depth info. The 125gr .357 mag rifle loads go well at 2200fps but it does pay to avoid core bonding and stick to lighter body weights.

Will quit now before I get any more mixed up on folk's questions today / barrel lengths and cartridges.
11 Jul 2018
@ 03:36 pm (GMT)

Shawn Bevins

Re: Terminal Performance of Buckshot on Deer
There was a time in our area that buck shot was the go to ammunition. I clearly remember many whitetail deer needing a a second shot to finish them off. At that time, most shotgun slugs were less than accurate hence the use of buckshot.. Fast forward a couple of decades and we have saboted slugs being shot out of rifled barrels with very good accuracy.

The only thing we can use buck shot on is predators at this time. If I am calling in thicker cover, I will use a shotgun with #4 buckshot. It can be quite effective out to 30 yards on coyotes weighing in the neighborhood of 40 lbs. Shooting in this cover can be considered snap shooting. My biggest gripe is the groups benefit from a longer barrel which isn't the best thing in heavy cover. I have called coyotes in heavy cover only to discover them grinning at me 20 yards away. Quite the rush and glad I had a shotgun at that time.

I have found not all buckshot is equal. I find the buffered shot groups better at a set distance of 30 yds. Each gun patterns different with different ammo. Much the same as a rifle's ability to shoot tighter groups with a specific bullet. [b]


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