Wound Ballistics of the Shotgun

At close range, the shotgun is the most formidable and destructive of all small arms. For birdshot and buckshot loads, the severity and lethality of a shotgun wound depends on the number of pellets that enter the body, the organs struck by the pellets and the amount of tissue destruction. Like handgun bullets, the extent of tissue destruction from each individual pellet is limited to that tissue they physically shred. Temporary cavities play no significant role in injury. This is, of course, not the case with rifle slugs which, like rifle bullets, produce injury both directly and from temporary cavity formation.

In rifled weapons, the weight of the bullet does not change no matter how great the distance. In contrast, in shotguns, as the range increases there is dispersion of shot with resultant decrease in the number of pellets that strike the target. Although velocity decreases with range in rifled weapons, this decrease is very little at the short ranges at which most killings occur. In contrast, the unfavorable ballistic shape of the shotgun pellet, combined with the lack of stabilizing spin, causes a rapid fall-off in velocity such that beyond a relatively close range, pellets have insufficient velocity to perforate skin. Thus, unlike rifled weapons, in shotguns, the range from muzzle to target is extremely important in determining the number of pellets that strike a body and enter it.

Larger sized shot is more effective at longer range because it retains its velocity better than smaller shot. Even then the term "longer range" is very short. Maximum effective range for hunting birds and small game with bird-shot is 45 to 65 yards. The maximum range that lead birdshot can travel, as calculated by Journee's formula (maximum range in yards = shot diameter in inches times 2200), ranges from 110 yds for #12 shot to 396 yds for BB shot. For buckshot, the maximum range is 528 yds for #4 Buck and 726 yds for #00 buck. The actual effective range to produce wounding in humans is considerably less because of the minimum velocity necessary to perforate skin.

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