Buckshot comes in a lot of different flavors. There are the generics that are basically a stack of lead balls in a plastic shotshell. There are loads that utilize special features like hardened pellets or buffer material to try and give more consistent patterns. There are other loads that use specially designed wads to deliver tighter downrange patterns. The wad technology has really just been on the scene for the last decade or so, but why would someone want a tight patterning buckshot?
The biggest reason, in my mind anyway, is increased practical range. We all know that we are accountable for everything that leaves the muzzle of our firearm, be it a pistol, rifle, shotgun, or pea shooter. With wider shot patterns, it is harder to be accountable for everything when using the firearm off the range. In an uncontrolled setting, our backstop becomes our bad guy (h/t to 360 Performance Shooting). We need him/her to stop all of our bullets. That is one of the reasons why things like JHP ammunition exist. With a shotgun, it is easier to accomplish this with a tighter pattern. We have to be careful about thinking about our bad guys like we do targets. There are no guarantees of full frontal, or unobscured targets. It is likely that we will not have a clear shot square to our target, which significantly reduces our target area, even at close range.
With enough range increase, we can almost eliminate the use of slugs in most circumstances. Obviously, there are instances where a slug will be required, but instead of worrying about transition to a slug at 10 or 15 yards, we can now stretch our practical buckshot range to as far as 25-30 yards in some cases. This saves us time in a fight, prevents us from having to accomplish relatively complex manipulations under extreme duress, and reduces the cognitive load by eliminating a variable under most circumstances.
Usually the argument against a tight patterning buckshot is that having such a tight pattern minimizes the ballistic effect on target. I give you exhibit one, a shot of Federal Flite-Control 00 buck on ballistic gel from brassfetcher.com
As you see in the video, the shot load is still really tight when it hits the block, but it quickly disperses shortly after impact. So just because a load patterns really tight, that doesn’t necessarily mean it maintains that same pattern size after impact.
The other argument is that a wider pattern makes it easier to get some kind of hit on a moving target, and any hit is a check in the right box, even if it is otherwise marginal. I don’t disagree with that really, but I think using a wider patterning buckshot in an attempt to just hit, also means I have stuff going past my intended back stop that I am responsible for. While perhaps rare, that can be problematic. It might be true that a wider pattern helps us hit a moving target, but a wider pattern also helps us miss, and my default setting is that missing is less than favorable. There might be circumstances that cause that to change, but in general, that is where I start at.
To summarize, this is why tight buckshot patterns might be preferable.
- Increased practical range, reducing need for making a transition to a slug in the middle of a fight.
- Reduced likelihood of a miss at the most common distances.
It is not without costs though, so each person has to weigh the options and come up with their own reasoning for the direct they choose to go.