At this point, you might be thinking, “He's using the words precise AND shotgun in the same sentence? Is this guy nuts?”
Well, that depends. I’m talking about whether a shotgun can be “precise” or not. We won’t discuss my sanity just yet. The potential precision of your shotgun depends on careful matching of your particular gun, choke tube (if applicable) and ammunition. And when I say careful matching, I’m not talking about specifying a brand of ammunition. I’m talking about specifying a brand, shot size, shell length, and velocity / power factor - basically all the things that uniquely define a particular box of shotgun shells.
Since we’re talking about precision, we’ll limit this discussion to buckshot. Whether for hunting or home defense, the right buckshot, matched to your gun, can yield some shocking results.
I recently attended an abbreviated tactical training program hosted by Beretta Defense Technologies. One of our half-day drill down sessions focused exclusively on obtaining maximum performance from the Beretta 1301 Tactical model shotgun. You can read full details from my previous look at this gun, but for purposes of this article, know that the Beretta 1301 Tactical features an 18-inch barrel and a pure cylinder bore. That’s right, no choke tubes to “narrow the pattern.”
During the class, we used Federal Premium 9-pellet buckshot shells with FliteControl wads. This is important as the ammo allowed our 1301’s to do some pretty amazing things.
Intrigued by our drills in the class, I rounded up some of the Federal FliteControl Buckshot ammo for myself and spent some quality time at my home range with my Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun. My goal was to see exactly how precise and accurate my shotgun could be at various ranges. For the record, I duplicated my tests with two varieties of the Federal Premium 00 Buckshot FliteControl ammunition: the 8-pellet and 9-pellet 2 ¾ inch shells. Remember, I’m using a stock Beretta 1301 Tactical with a short barrel, cylinder bore, and no choke tubes. Since my tests were about precision, I used an Aimpoint Micro T-2 red dot sight on my 1301 Tactical for fast and consistent aiming. That’s a highly recommended pairing by the way.
At 5 yards, or 15 feet, both 8 and 9-pellet loads made single holes about the size of a shotgun slug or the size of the fiery hole at the end of my shotgun. The wads even went through the same hole. It was as if I was shooting a .72 caliber rifle. There was no pattern or pellets flying in random directions, just a large hole.
To me, this distance is perhaps the most relevant of all tested. If you keep a shotgun next to the nightstand for home security, odds are that if you ever have to use it indoors, the threat could easily be 15 feet or closer. Just consider the size of a standard room in your house.
At 10 yards, or 30 feet, this gun and ammunition combination still delivered single, large holes with both 8 and 9-pellet buckshot loads. The holes were only slightly bigger than those made in the target during my 5-yard tests. Even the wads followed the tightly packed shot pellets through the same holes.
At 15 yards, I started to see individual pellet holes in my targets. The 8-pellet load delivered 3 ½ inch groups while the 9-pellet load delivered 2 ½ inch groups. As a visual, think about the size of a baseball and that’s about it. I think that’s still exceptionally precise shooting with a shotgun.
At 20 yards, my 8 and 9-pellet pattern sizes were 7 and 7 ¼ inches respectively. My Beretta 92 FS handgun easily covers all of the pellet holes.
Even 25 yards downrange, the combination of my Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun and the Federal FliteControl buckshot loads yielded just over 8-inch patterns.
During the class and subsequent testing back at home, I gained a whole new level of appreciation for the versatility of a shotgun. Certainly the myth of “not having to aim a shotgun” is a load of bunk, but I knew that before. What surprised me was the ability to make very specific and precise shots with buckshot loads at home defense distances.
They key, of course, is the selection of the right ammo for your specific gun. So far, the Federal Premium FliteControl buckshot loads seem to be dominating the market for tight and repeatable pattern sizes. Don’t take my word for it, however. You absolutely, positively have to test your gun and ammo combination - a lot - before you rely on any degree of precision from your shotgun. As an anecdotal example, I fired some standard buckshot loads at the same distances and the patterns were noticeably larger, even at the 5 and 10-yard ranges.
While this rule applies to any combination of gun and ammunition, practice and testing are critical. Every projectile that goes down range is your responsibility, so be sure you know how your gun and ammo combination is going to perform before you rely on it for home defense.