A 12 Gauge Shotgun will “Kill” How Far?

Eric’s series on “How Far Will (Insert Caliber/Weapon Here) Kill” has been quite the learning experience. Using a 3/4″ in plyboard as the standard for a potentially lethal wound, even the lowly 22 LR stretches its legs hundreds of yards. Now, Eric and the IV8888 team tackle what might the the hardest to quantify, the shotgun.

The lowly scatter-gun is often thought of as only a close-range weapon. While true that one can argue that the “effective” range of the shotgun is low compared to a rifle, it does largely depend on the ammunition and sighting system used. For example, bird shot is long known to not typically cause lethal wounds to bipedal mammals at short range. Simply put, its too small and decelerates too fast to penetrate enough (unless one gets lucky on eyes, etc.) at longer range.

On the flip side, buckshot and slugs are known to be particularly brutal. Typical 00 buckshot is the rough equivalent of 9 – 12x 9mm bullets hitting a target at once and a slug is a a solid lead meat pulverizer. But, the question remains, how far can those “lethal” loads hit?

The results can be surprising. “Non-Lethal” bird shot is devastating in a compressed form, either in a cut-shell or within short range. Then there are non-surprising results where the buckshot maintains lethality (though an open pattern) at 50 yards.

The Slug? It can reach out and touch something albeit with some serious drop.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • Porty1119

    You really get a feel for the bad BC of the slug causing exponential drop at range. Foster slugs are really a 200yd proposition at maximum, which is still well beyond the average range of an infantry firefight.

    Next test: sabot slugs with a rifled slug gun.

    • Peatro Giorgio

      No real need to test Sabot slugs for shotguns with rifled bores . The vast majority of sabot rounds today aRe quite effective out beyond 200 plus yards . Take for instance a H&R single shot Ultra slugger shotgun I purchased for $199.00 verses A Tarhunts 12 gauge Bolt-action slug gun I bought for $1,890.00 7 years ago
      That H&R will place 3 Lightfield sabot slugs inside of 1&1/2 inches at 150 yards . The TarHunt, barely manages 2 inches groups with 3 rounds at 100 yards . I’ve actually taken 3 Bucks at over 175 ,225 ,an 250, yards measured with Lazer range finder..With my H&R an Lightfields sabot slugs . Harrington Richardson for those who are not all that familiar.

  • Joseph Chetwood

    A slug does have a sharp drop but still hits like a brick. Only having a 200 yard striking distance in exchange for the versatility of the shotgun is a good trade off. Buck shot, slugs of different types, buck & ball (from PDX1 loads). Makes for a potent system.

    • iksnilol

      Slugs at 200 meters is a bit optimistic.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Not really.

        Here’s a good ol’ Murican redneck numbskull hitting an 18″ plate at 200 yards. (Am I a bad person, that I laughed when he fired the gun before checking that his hearing protection was in place? Probably.)


        • Tassiebush

          I’m impressed with both the guy and the gun. To be fair he wore protection the first shot or so before it became clear he and the gun didn’t need protection while sharing such an awesome moment.

          • ostiariusalpha

            I’m sure he does the same with his intimate partners. ?

          • Tassiebush

            I reckon so.

    • MichaelZWilliamson

      Given most shooters’ accuracy, and the requirement to be in “imminent danger” to use deadly force legally, 200 yards seems plenty. If you’re dropping the bad guy at 300 yards, he better have a rifle or an RPG when the police look at him.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    I couldn’t finish the video! That was SUCH bad shotgun handling. Holy crap! Pocket loads with the firing hand, gun upside down fumbling, awkwardly running the Benelli action which is the gold standard for shotgun actions, zero follow through on shots where immediately after the shot he goes limp and tossed the gun into some wierd position, flings the gun up on his shoulder weirdly….. I don’t care who this guy thinks he is, that was bad gun handling – not unsafe – just bad.

    • De Facto

      Maybe shotguns aren’t his thing. I’m competent with pistols, okay with maybe two rifles, but have very little trigger time with shotguns so I doubt I would do better. It’s still nice to see the results of his testing.

      • Uncle Festet

        I am the same way. Very convenient comfortable with pistols, I go very slow with shotguns b/c I know I don’t know what I am doing.

        • JumpIf NotZero

          Which is 100% OK…. Unless you’re making YouTube videos that are keenly demonstrating your lack of knowledge.

          I will continue to hold people in the spotlight to a higher standard than everyone else. The shotgun makes a fairly poor defensive tool, but highly versatile in other applications. I have formal shotgun training but I can see why a lot of people do not.

          All the same, the painful gun handling in this video could be fixed with a tiny bit of effort. Effort someone making videos about shotguns should put in.

    • Kent

      spoken like a real novice. All I can see in this video is a man observing all of the four safety rules, INCLUDING number three, which is seldom the case, even with experienced shooters.
      But, ofc, you probably missed the fact that a cut shell HAS TO malfunction because the entire hull will exit via the muzzle, leaving only the brass base in the chamber.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        You know that cut shells don’t necessarily malfunction right? It’s the rim that is extracted, not the hull. A hull-less shell should extract. In this case since it’s a gas gun and not an inertia gun, I think it was a short stroke…. But you’re the expert.

        And what rule is it that says it’s cool to toss the gun up on your shoulder and pretty much point it up range so you can talk at the camera?

        Its like when people post videos of flagging themselves with handguns. No one got hurt but that doesn’t means it’s OK.

        • Kent

          Well, I only qualify as “expert” with pistol and rifle, not being a real shotgunner at heart. I tend towards the one-shot-one-hit philosophy. But I have shot a few hundred cut birdshots over the years, and they seldom extract, and usually break open in the mag tube, so shooting them through a repeating action is a definite BAD idea(unless you LIKE cleaning tiny lead pellets out of your guns,
          Have YOU ever built and fired a cut shell? With no attempt to be insulting, the words; “A hull-less shell should extract”, would tend to say that you don’t really KNOW, but you think it “should” work this way… in “a lot of cases”… but….
          Training is all well and good, but it is NOT the same as actually having been there and done that before.

        • Doctor Jelly

          I’ve run a handful of cutshells for fun in a box fed semi auto, and at best, they are troublesome. At worst, complete failure to do anything.

          As to why they don’t extract properly, I do believe it’s due to the side loading of the hull during extraction. Yes, only the rim is needed to pull it out of the chamber, but once out, that brass has no reason to stay locked in the extractor claw (the claw doesn’t bite in, it just pulls, so when something pulls on only one side of another object, it tends to cause the pulled object to pivot). The only thing holding it there is the hull still sliding out of the chamber. Because the ejector nub (or whatever Benelli runs) is intended for full length cases, it is set too far back for what is left of the shell. Thus the remainder of the shell is pulled from the chamber, pivots or just falls loose from the extractor, and flops down where it wants. Shoot sideways (with the ejection port pointed down) and gravity will let it fall free probably every time.

          I tried to upload a couple photos (as a picture is worth a thousand words), but the system won’t recognize the formats it claims it does… If you want some photos to help clarify what I think the problem is, I can upload them to another site for you.

          • Kent

            This is my experience with them as well. They end up jamming the shell elevator most of the time. I’ve only use them in singles, doubles, and mag tubes, and they are a useless pain in tubes. Best out of a double gun, but I started with them back in the 70s out of single shots, because I couldn’t afford better guns or real slugs.

            I was only twelve or so, but we start carrying guns early here in Montana.

    • Captain Obvious

      So you took a class and are now a gun handling snob. LOL

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Haha, I do have formal shotgun training – and you know who doesn’t?

        I like that not being a clown, and being frustrated when you see someone handling something like one makes you a snob tho. Here I am thinking that people on YouTube who make their living off of videos like this should be held to a higher standard than the typical gun owner…

        But nah, done shooting? Time to toss that shotgun backwards on your shoulder and point it up range!

        • Alex

          I think training is over rated. I do not find it necessary for the average gun owner to have training to be capable of self defense. What wins gun fights is probably shot placement. More than likely you wont ever face off with a tacticool criminal assailant. All the firearms training in the world probably cant teach you how to keep cool in a life and death situation. And the situations usually over in under 5 rounds.

          • Peatro Giorgio

            I not only Know but firmly believe you to be naively deceiving your self. Training sessions as well competition sport shooting Matches .In areas such as I.D.P.A other wise known As international defense pistol matches. As well many other combat styled matches. Where as one is under heavy stress can and will prepare you. For violent encounters. No they are not the same as real life situations. Yes you may act entirely different .But after formal training and many hours of practice one develops instinctive movements an skills. Practice practice practice ,train train train. One can never be to prepared. The average gun owner is most likely ill suited for most violent confrontations situations.

    • MrFN

      I can’t tell if you’re joking or not. I hope you’re not serious. He’s doing ballistic testing, with all safe measures in place (as someone else pointed out, all four rules in effect), so what does it matter that he’s not full 3-gun operating it “like a Benelli should”? It doesn’t matter. This isn’t some tactical drill, it’s a couple dudes with an M2 in Georgia testing load effectiveness. Jesus.

      • Bill

        As hard as it may be, I agree with JINZ, which is a really sketchy acronym when typed out. Sloppy handling leads to sloppy fighting. If you use EVERY opportunity to hone your skills, they’ll be a lot sharper. It may not be an issue if your adversary is a duck, but this is presumably about fighting with a shotgun

        • JumpIf NotZero

          Never miss an oppertunity to do it right.

          • Bill


    • Dracon1201

      Wow. Maybe you should watch a 3gun vid if you want to see someone “running the Benelli action.”

      This guy isn’t even trying to run it, he’s just shooting for accuracy off of a bench to prove a point.

      You obviously missed what this video was about.

      • Bill

        If the video is about shotgun lethality, handle it and fire it like you mean it.

        • iksnilol

          Tell that to ShootingTheBull410

        • Dracon1201

          That’s exactly what he is doing. He isn’t firing multiple rounds as fast as he can. It’s a board, not a combatant.

          • Bill

            I’ve never had to shoot a “combatant” but ever round on steel or paper is done with purpose. Should golfers use a sloppy swing if they aren’t playing for money? Does a bowler try out a new ball by just chucking it down a lane? Would you test drive a car without adjusting the seats and mirrors?

            Practice doesn’t make perfect: perfect practice makes perfect, or at least beats the heck out of sloppy practice.

          • Dracon1201

            This isn’t even meant to be practice, lol. It just shows you’ve missed the point. If he connects with the shots that’s all that matters, it shows his shooting form is good enough. Your anecdotes don’t apply, as people seem to have their panties in a twist over every move he makes, not just while he is shooting.

            Listen, here’s the challange; if you can do better and “work your shotgun” in your nitpicky manner, make a video connecting with slugs at these distances, otherwise chill.

          • Bill

            I “work your shotgun” every time I take it out, and instruct my trainees to do the same. Their lives, and the lives of the communities they protect, depend on them. Maybe an amateur reviewer can afford to be lackadaisical and “chill,” but when lives are on the line, do you want some one sloppy, or someone whose nitpicked themselves into doing it right, very single time they’ve picked up the gun.

            Firearms are serious business, and not the place to “chill.” I guess you must be happy when your dentist, doctor and lawyer are “just good enough:” they don’t need to be excellent.

          • Dracon1201

            Lives aren’t on the line, and this guy isn’t saving lives, fixing teeth, or actually doing anything important, so yes, it is good enough. Like I said, make your own vids if you want to show off your skillz.

          • Bill

            Now I know why the kids say “whatever.” You’re certainly right, he isn’t saving lives, nor doing anything important, so enjoy.

    • DanGoodShot

      Wow. Are you really that uptight? You must be a blast at social gatherings.

    • mxprivateer

      Be sure to post a link to your YouTube videos, can’t wait to see ’em!

    • progun2

      You didn’t have to watch it.

    • Peatro Giorgio

      I wouldn’t call Benelli’s the gold standard for shotgun actions. They may be your preference. . But I’ll Take a Remingtons 870 ,1100 or 1187. Any day followed by a Moss berg over what I consider a piece of crap Benelli any day.

  • M.M.D.C.

    “…when someone commits suicide they have a lot of burn marks around…” – makes hand motion around mouth. UGH.

  • Rick O’Shay

    Can someone explain why cut shells don’t cycle properly? Would a pump action negate the cycling issue? This was a very interesting video in terms of performance, and I have to admit I’ve never heard the concept of cutting shells to turn a birdshot shell into a slug of sorts. It makes sense, but it never crossed my mind.

    • MrFN

      I would think the tearing off of the front 60% of the shell would make the extractor override the rim, but I don’t know. Pump with a strong extractor should be fine. Aguila mini shells don’t cycle well through semis, figure it’s the same thing.

      • Rick O’Shay

        I figured the Aguila minis didn’t cycle well because they weren’t strong enough to make the blowback function properly.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        I can’t imagine why it would tear past the rim, how the hull would effect that at all.

        If anything I think it’s a really heavy load (a big slug) but still with a bird shot charge behind it. Since it should have a decent recoil, I wonder if intertia guns would cycle them better?

    • Tassiebush

      Cut shells are quite fragile

    • Kent

      The reason they are called “cut shells” is because to make one, a sharp knife is used to cut almost all the way through the plastic hull, right above the brass, from both sides. This makes the shell too fragile to function through a magazine, but the now very fragile hull will break apart at the cut line when fired, thus sending the entire hull(sans brass base) downrange as a one piece slug consisting of; shot, wad, and the plastic part of the hull. All of this will hit the target as one mass, which then breaks into its many parts, expending all of its energy more rapidly than a real slug, meaning a more powerful impact, but less penetration. And also, as in the vid, less accuracy than an actual slug. The shot column, wad, and hull must all swage down as they leave the muzzle, meaning more deformation and less accuracy.
      I was surprised that they made a hit at a hundred yards. I’ve used quite a few over the years, but always inside apx. 15 yards. I won’t call any video phoney w/o evidence, but I think I might just test the 100 yard accuracy part for myself.

      • Nimrod

        Call it luck but hits at 100 yards with cut shells is possible.

    • Doctor Jelly

      I do believe the issue has to do with the lack of a hull. On a normal shell the extractor pulls the rim out of the chamber, and puts side load on the spent hull. Now the hull is dragging down the chamber wall which helps keep it in line with the bolt until the open end of the shell clears the chamber , and the brass base hits the little ejector. The ejector causes the shell to pivot out of the extractor and go sailing clear of the action. Without the hull on the cut shells, the extractor pulls back on the brass, but as soon as the brass clears the chamber it begins to pivot out of the extractor as the only thing holding it in place is said extractor. Thus it never makes it to the ejector nub to fling it free and ends up just sitting in there, not caught in the chamber or extractor anymore, but not free of the gun.

  • How did he determine 3/4″ plyboard as a standard for this? Seems like a poor simulant, even on a budget.

    • Dracon1201

      He mentions in earlier videos of this series that the 3/4 inch plywood is a WW2 technique for measuring lethality.

      I agree, it isn’t the best, but I don’t want to be the one making a block of ballistics gel the size of a bathtub.

      • Um, sure, but it would seem quicker and possibly even cheaper to me to fill up a big clear tub with water. At least then there would be some basis for comparison to gel and tissue.

        Plyboard isn’t bad, though – at least you’d know that if something went through the board it’s still dangerous; it just seems like it would give us less information than other mediums.

    • Tassiebush

      It’s a stand in for the old pine board measure.

      • I guess? Most of the sources I am familiar with used pine boards as barrier simulants, not lethality standards.

        • Tassie is talking about old school pre-gelatin measures.


        • Tassiebush

          I am trying to recall where I read it but it was a quaint lethal penetration level measurement that if an inch of pine board could be penetrated it was just enough to be lethal on tissue. I think I encountered it in the writings of either Rex Applegate kill or get killed or perhaps Fairbairn or Sykes shooting to live. It’d be anything from 50 years to much older.

    • DanGoodShot

      I can’t say where this methodology originated but it is one I have seen used quite frequently.

      • Kent

        I don’t know how far back it goes either, but a 3/4 inch board was the standard of the day in the days of Lewis & Clark, and how they demoed their Geradoni to the various tribes they encountered, so it goes WAY back….

    • It’s not meant to be a simulant, per se, but it is a handy reference point for comparison; it would be a more useful Bubba Standard if it came with some kind of test to determine how much impact energy across a given cross section it typically takes to punch through, though.

  • Critter

    Elmer Keith already did this with a .44 Mag with a 4″ barrel, fixed sights, at 500 yards. The lead bullet went through several inches of oak planks.

  • DanGoodShot

    I don’t know why but I really enjoyed watching that.

  • Tassiebush

    Interesting but not surprising about buckshot lethality being present after patterns become too wide to be useful. I recall reading the idea that police could deploy a pair of shotguns to cover a threat at 100yards so their patterns combined provide adequate density where one alone could not be confident of a hit.

  • FarmerB

    Didn’t mention chokes at all. You put a tight choke on that #6 or the buckshot and it’ll be effective at longer ranges. Interesting to play around with a shotgun and chokes at short range and see how devastating they are.

  • Charles

    I gotta wonder whether the cut-shell decision(heh) might be best ONLY with a modified -or- straight cylinder bore? Since no choke that I’m aware of was ever intended to pass a load consisting of -shot/wad/shotshell casing- the whole idea sort of unnerves me.
    Sure seems like a possibility for a high-pressure circumstance. And many shotgun barrels aren’t touted as being extra-ordinarily impervious to abuse and the aforementioned over-pressure situation(s).
    I for one, value my scatter guns more than to stuff over-diameter loads down the pipe for shits&giggles.
    One’s got to wonder why there are all those bulged barrels floating around with no explanation as to “why?”, it just isn’t so easy to equate them ALL to steel shot fired through unrated barrels and the like.

  • Phil Elliott

    Several years ago a Criminal Suspect was killed when a Shotgun was fired at him with 00 Buck, It was determined that the range was 90 yds. 1 pellet in the back of the head.

    • Bill

      That’s luck. For a LEO to take a shot with buck at 90 yards could potentially be irresponsible, depending on the environment, due to the fact that there is no way that all the pellets will hit the target, and the absolute certainty that they will hit something; with my luck it will be a toddler’s eye.

      • Phil Elliott

        That was 40 plus years ago and it is my understanding that it was an open field he was running into.

      • Peatro Giorgio

        Contact Breiley coke tube manufacturer. .Try 65 yard 18 inch circumference 9 of 9 double O buckshot rounds all in that area .Yea you’ll pay for the tube but it is worth it .

  • adverse4

    The guy can use whatever he wants.

  • L. Roger Rich

    Some states you can only hunt deer with a shot gun. 50 to yard 100 range with slugs.

    • Peatro Giorgio

      50 to 100 yard maximum range was in the days of the old pumpkin ball load . Foster slugs, Brenneckies slugs have greatly improved an Exstended their useful range. Foster out to about 125 to 150 yards Brenneckies 150 an a little beyond . Rifled Barrels, with sabot rounds . Now Exstendeds those ranges out to 250- 275 yards..an a bit father

  • Jamie Clemons

    Wrong bird shot can be quite lethal and quite devastating at 20 feet. It will penetrate plenty far at close range to be deadly lethal.

    • Peatro Giorgio

      Jamie You ate absolutely correct
      .#4,#5 Bird shot will penatration 12 inches into the human upper torso at over 45 yards .. I’ve witnessed a Upland bird hunter kill his Black labadore retriever at over 45 yards with a mixed hand load of #4, & #5 The number 4s went through an through . Killing that beautiful dog . We were hunting wild Pheasant in open country where the birds would flush well oUT of range of #6 – #7&1/2 .