Saturday, December 18, 2010

Birdshot is just for Birds!

The power of the internet is terrific. I knew right away that I’d get several “Birdshot if for little birds” and “look at the Box of Truth” comments when I posted about shotguns.
Guys, a couple things. The Box of Truth is fun and interesting, the name itself implies fact. The real truth though, is that The Box of Truth is just a couple guys that have fun shooting stuff, seeing how much sheetrock or bottles of water it penetrates, that’s as “scientific” and “Truthful” as it gets. That X caliber fired out of Y weapon penetrated Z amount of objects when fired from B distance is as far as it gets regarding facts. Everything else is pure speculation by the authors.
Example, and this is straight out of the Box of truth:
  “First, I shot it with my M-17 S&W, .22 LR HP. It penetrated 6 sheets and bounced off the seventh sheet. (FerFAL edit: True)
That would be the equivalent of 3 interior walls. (FerFAL edit :False)
And that's only a .22 pistol.”
Wrong. It only means that a specific gun firing a specific type of 22LR penetrated 6 sheets of sheetrock. That’s it. The equivalent of 3 interior walls is a grotesque simplification and it’s the readers fault if he assumes these are facts. In my case “interior walls” are made of ceramic brick and mortar. 22LR will barely scratch it. 38 Special 158 gr  Winchester whitebox soft points out of a 3” barrel revolver will penetrate one side but stay inside the hollow ceramic brick, not exiting through the other side. Yes, I know that for a fact in my particular interior walls. “That’s not true! The BOT says it will go through at least 3 walls and…” The guys from the Box of Truth shoot stuff and that’s it. I don’t like when they make generalizations such as the one mentioned above because they give people the wrong idea. It would be more serious in my opinion if they stuck to the facts alone and leave the assumptions of how much real walls it would penetrate or how it would do against people to people that do such research. 

It gets even worse when they start speculating about how calibers will perform against humans.  Birdshot is for little birds? Right. And 375H&H is for Elephants yet it will kill a human just as well. Wait, don’t even say it. Before you write a reply I have another little fact for you: 223 is a VARMINT caliber, for ground squirrels, gophers and crows (isn’t that a “little bird?”) yet 223 (5,56mm) is used all over the world as an standard infantry caliber. It not even legal for big game hunting in many parts of the world. Think about it. Its not considered legal for hunting unarmed 100 pound mammals in my country, yet it is used by the military world wide. 

When it comes to “birdshot”, the truth is that a 12ga shotshell packs a LOT of energy. Even an ordinary 2 ¾” 12ga packs around 3200 J. of muzzle Energy . No idea what that means right, you BOT lovers? :-) So as to begin to grasp the notion of how much that is, a 45 ACP Hardball that made the 1911 famous as a good stopper has 470 J and that’s enough to create hydrostatic shock. (in case you’re stuck in the 60’s and think Hydrostatic shock is a “myth”, read up
So give of take the silly “birdshot” packs at least 6 times as much power as 45 ACP.
Now, its is true that this holds true at very close range. Given that the average range of engagement is 6-7 yards, it is VERY safe to say that at indoor ranges as long as you do your part (hit where it matters) that “birdshot” will to its part.

I remember a friend of mine from school. She was about 10 years old, petite little thing,  and during a camping/hunting trip with her dad, her dad shot her with his birdshot thinking she was an intruder. The range must have been considerable because the pellets spread along half her leg and this was a hunting shotgun.  The scar left was gruesome but she did survive. Birdshot will not penetrate enough for defensive purposes after 15-20 meters (depends on shotgun, load and choke). At 6 yards? This girl would have lost her leg, ripped off her body.
Don’t take everything you see on the net as absolute truth written in stone, even if its called “The Box of Truth”. I’ve read that website for years and greatly enjoy it and I’ll keep reading it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a couple retired guys shooting stuff and having fun. They do sometimes makes inaccurate generalizations but that’s the readers fault, its up to you do read, research and come to your own conclusions.
Myself, I’ll take the word of the guy that shot a significant number of bad guys with that round and saw the outcomes of countless gunfights over the assumptions of people just shooting sheetrock. 

I take what I already know about the round, do a bit of research and then make my own conclusions.
My conclusion is that at 6 yards or less, that “birdshot” will put the bad guy down if you hit him in the torso/head, but as always, I also expect to need a quick follow up shot. At two or three yards, there will be little difference between birdshot, buckshot, and slug. Why even consider birdshot? Because at very close range it will still work just as well, but it has two advantages: 1) Less penetration in indoor sheetrock walls 2) Less chances of serious ricochet wounds. If you have sheetrock walls, buckshot will go through and is more likely to seriously injure people on the other side. If you have solid walls it may change trajectory back towards you or towards innocent people. That’s why in training you use birdshot. These aren’t a concern for you? Go straight for buckshot. I’m simply explaining why some people have a shell of birdshot as their first load, based on their circumstances and locations. But please, don’t repeat inaccurate statements such as birdshot is just for little birds. Its as inaccurate as saying that 223 is just for ground squirrels.
Thanks folks.

Edited to add: I found this, also in the Box of Truth. This is downright negligent:

"In fact, tests have shown that even #4 Buckshot lacks the necessary penetration to reach the vital organs. Only 0 Buck, 00 Buck, and 000 Buck penetrate enough to reach the vital organs."

Unless you plan to shoot some morbidly fat circus freak, #4 buckshot will reach vital organs and will most likely kill you. In fact, this is the load of choice the instructor I mentioned earlier keeps ready for home defense.



Jason said...

Sorry, I've seen birdshot get stuck in target-holding clothespins at a mere 7 yards. Very little penetration. Any gun is better than no gun, but if I've got a choice, I'll stick with 00. And I do.

Bones said...

The problem with the entire body of research surrounding hydrostatic shock and ballistic pressure waves it that at best it is an unpredictable phenomenon.

Numerous cases involving victims surviving shootings by every caliber (including rifles) attest to the fact that there is no such thing as a magic bullet or magic caliber that is guaranteed to stop a bad guy every time.

Argue about caliber all you want, the bottom line is for self defense you shoot to stop the threat and keep shooting until the threat stops.

Anonymous said...

Ferfal, much of the reason why smaller / lesser powered rounds are used is to purposely not kill the opponent. Dead is dead - just leave them there and retrieve later.

Wounded take up far more resources. First, have to be evac'd to a medical facility (using gasoline medicines and peoples time). then take the time to convalecence them back to health. Uses up the enemy resources much faster.

Then there is the much lighter - easier to carry firearms. That too is part of it.

EN said...

I knew I would get some flack over that statement. Go look at pix of anyone shot with birdshot and 00 buck. at close range you will not see much difference. #7 shot will remove flesh and bone, just like 00 buck. However, at 35 ft you will see a different. But so will your neighbors, and that's a big consideration with me.

Look at actual shootings. That will tell you the most. Then everyone should find an abandoned stucco farm-house and run your own tests. That's what I did. I have complete confidence in the #7 shot and almost none in pistol bullets below .44 mag. But I'm not shooting any .44 mag and above in my house. But each to his own.

FerFAL said...

Hey EN, about 44 magnum, during a robbery close to the gunstore where I go, a would be robber got shot in the stomach with a 44magnum, he RAN for a couple blocks before he got caught. No caliber is 100% 1 shot stop.


EN said...

I didn't mean to give the impression that I would use .44 mag. I was mostly speaking to that magic "penetration" that some here are concerned about. I used .44 special in a lever gun until recently but it also over penetrates too much and doesn't do much better than .45 auto in real shootings.

A friend I played football with in college was shot 3 times in the back by his girlfriends dad with a .44 mag revolver. I don't know what kind of bullets were used but he ran 100 plus meters, and called for an ambulance from a phone booth. He was alert and awake until they put him under at the hospital. He has no disability.

I've seen this same thing happen with 30-06 bullets, although, this guy eventually died. In the end nothing is closer to magic then the 12 gauge, but like I said, I'm sure there are cases where it didn't work and we all need to plan for that.

As for #4 buck, it got serious use in Vietnam with Army Engineers, NCOs and Marines. At the average firefight of 25 meters it was completely possible to get between the pellets of 00 buck. Not so with #4 buck. I'm not sure if they still use it, but US Navy Seals also used it in Vietnam and found it a much better stopper than 00 buck. And just so we're clear, I carry #7 shot in the gun and #4 buck on the gun. I also have a ziplock bag of five slugs within easy reach. But if it gets that crazy I'll use the pistol to fight my way to the bedroom safe and we'll up the ante.

To be honest, I concentrate much more on thoughtful tactics in and around my house. So maybe no caliber is that important. The shotgun is proven in real life (at close range) while everything else has been known to fail spectacularly. However, even if I was armed with nothing but a bolt-action .22LR you don't want to break into my house, and I don't care how you're armed.

FerFAL said...

EN said... ""A friend I played football with in college was shot 3 times in the back by his girlfriends dad with a .44 mag revolver. "

Her Dad didn't exaclty like him, did he? :-) Sorry for the joke, man that sucks.
Still, it proves yet again that you can't expect much from any caliber. I'm sure it hurt like hell though and your frined was VERY lucky to survive. 44 magnum is no joke, no matter what ammo you're using.


Anonymous said...

I know that this post mostly deals with the stopping power of buck shot vs. bird shot. I personally, if the risk of over penetration were not a concern, would opt for a 30-30 lever marlin. It's a lot easier to handle than a shotgun, has the same capacity, it's fast or faster to cycle, and who can argue with the stopping power of the 30-30.

gallo@gta forum

Mark said...

One of my major complains is you keep assuming this magical distance of 6 yards. Sure, it's the average. The problem is, with bird shot, if they happen to be further away, you're not shooting to kill, you're just shooting to wound when a round of buckshot would have done the job.

Would you put the first round of .22 in your glock because if you shoot someone with it from 6 yards away they'll die, or would you stack it with JHP of a larger caliber so as to assure consistent damage regardless of the range?

FerFAL said...

Hi Gallo, if overpenetration was a real concern, I wouldn't go for 30-30 in a lever action carbine. Its a hunting round and it does penetrate a lot. in fact, its the ballistic eqivalent of the 7,62x39mm, caliber of the SKS and AK47. Rather than a lever action rifle, you will be MUCH better served by an AK47 semi auto and you can still find them for 400 bucks.


FerFAL said...

Hi Mark, everything I say here will depend on you situation and location. If you dont have kids running around your home so that you worry about ricochet, your walls aren't thin or your house is big and will invovle greater probability of longer shots, then your strategy will be different. All I meant with this post is that for indoor shots (measure your house and check how many 10 yard shot you have, most houses arent that big and rarely have such distances)birdshot will stop your attacker if you do your part and always understand no round is %100 stopper.
22LR is a poor stopper no matter what distance, while n1 birdshot at indoor ranges is an end game round. If you take a close quarter or tactical room clearing class you see this very clearly. Ranges are usually 3 or 4 meters, across the room range. Unless you have long corridors as in appartment buildings, that's the range you're working with and avoiding knoking the barrel against the walls as you move around is a greater concnern than your 12ga shotgun round not getting the job done.
Again, will depend on your situaiton and your enviroment/location, but as a rule of thumb, for indoor ranges birdshot and buckshot stop about the same and deliver similar energy on target. Even LTL ammo would make a mess at 2 or 3 meter range.


Joseph said...

Currently, my Maverick 88 shotgun is loaded with reduced recoil 00 buck 12 gauge. I live in an apartment complex, and overpenetration is a concern. I'm currently rethinking that loading, though. One thing to remember, is that birdshot is somewhat less expensive than #4 buckshot and larger. For legal reasons, it would be unlikely for me to engage someone outside unless they were shooting at me; in that case, I am going to go to cover and let them run off. Most criminals, even shooters, in the US are not going to stick around for a shootout in a home invasion.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate the background info and situational awareness.

Agree 100% that Birdshot will kill if shot placement is correct. So will most any other penetrating round.

Regarding #4 buckshot (NOT 0000 buckshot!!!), more instructors I talk to are recommending it over 00-buck as a reasonable trade off between patterning, lethality, and penetration at CQB distances.

Put simply, #4 buck does a better job at room to room distances than 00-buck due to having less "fliers" and will NOT over penetrate.

With ANY shotgun load, it is critical that you pattern it with a range of ammo at distances that you are going to be using it at indoors.

Clint Smith in his videos goes through this at length to describe.

The cheap Wolf 9-pellet 00 buck has a very poor pattern compared to Federal flight control buckshot. Each gun IS different in how it will pattern.

EN said...

"Each gun IS different in how it will pattern."

Good point. I use shotgun ammo that's been tested in my 870. Both my sons have 870s and one of them shoots differently with my favorite loads and he doesn't use it. Once again, we need to test what we're shooting in shotguns because no ammo shoots the same. I shoot Federal #7shot in my 870 but it patterns different in one my son's gun. I also buy 25 round boxes and shoot ten in each to make sure it's the same before I use it in the house. I don't assume that it will pattern the same out of each and every box from the same manufacurer.

EN said...

BTW, my choices are based on my situation. I live in a 2 br 1 bath house. It's not large and I know it well. I also know where my neighbors are and need to worry about that. If I lived in a 20 room house made of stone with long hallways, big open spaces, and no neighbors, that would change everything.

Cybrludite said...

The bad guy doesn't have to be a circus freak, he just has to b turned sideways to you. If someone's shooting at me, the last thing I'd want to so is face them squarely like a standard B-27 100m silhouette target. The FBI requirements assume the bullet has to get through a bicep and/or half the width of the other guy's torso before it'll hit something important. It may be that you'll be lucky enough to catch them unawares as they're coming down your hall with no cover & no time to duck, but that's not the way to bet.