Ammunition Review: Barnes Defense Buckshot

Ammo reviews can be difficult to do, what with all the gel blocks and other gear required for an objective evaluation. Shotgun ammo can be a bit different. Rounds like Federal’s Personal Defense with Flitecontrol are worth a look and comparison to competitors. What makes Barnes Defense Buckshot eye-catching is its cost of almost $4.00 per round. 

Barnes describes the new load as being “produced with the uncompromising precision and reliability” and having a price of between $17.99 and $21.99 for a five-round box. Most of the big box stores carry it and price it in that range. I’ve found it for $3.60 a round, but you have to do some looking. It’s safe to say that Barnes Defense is not inexpensive.

Given the options for buckshot out there, the price alone made me curious. What exactly does an almost $4.00 shotgun shell do? I don’t mind paying a premium for good defensive ammunition. That being said, my favorite defensive buckshot load is, without a doubt, Federal Personal Defense with Flitecontrol and I can find it for less than half that price. 

Four bucks a round is pricey, is it worth the squeeze? (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I was perusing my local Academy Sports recently, looking for a new pair of running shoes, and as always, I drifted through the ammo aisle. There I found Barnes Defense Buckshot on sale for half off. 

High brass is a promising feature. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Ten bucks a box — $2 a round — is a substantial saving, so just for fun, I grabbed a few boxes. The sale price put it in within my price/curiosity threshold, and if I can get some half-off high-quality buckshot, I figured I owed it to myself to give it a try. I wanted to see what $4-a-round buckshot does in the real world. 

Breaking Down the Cartridges 

Each box holds five 2.75-inch shells. They’re rated at 1,325 feet per second and each round contains nine pellets of OO buck. Barnes Defense are high brass rounds which will please owners of picky shotguns.

A 2.75-inch shell isn’t 2.75 inches until it’s fired and uncrimped. If you’ve compared different cartridges, you know that the length of different brands varies before they’re fired, and that can be problematic in some guns. 

It’s pretty standard for shotgun ammo on the outside. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Some shells are longer than others, to the point where a 2.75-inch shell may be quite long and can even reduce a shotgun’s capacity by a round. That’s not a problem here.

The Barnes Defense rounds fit perfectly in the tube, and a seven-round tube will hold seven rounds of Barnes Defense. It all looks pretty standard.

The crimp is solid, and the length is consistent. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I don’t care much for nine-pellet buckshot for defensive use. Nine-pellet buckshot rounds often exhibit what’s called a 9th pellet flyer. That means a single pellet frequently flies a fair bit away from the main group. That’s something to be aware of when each pellet is a .33 caliber projectile. 

To The Range 

I loaded the Barnes Defense Buckshot a round at a time and patterned them at 10 and 15 yards. Ten yards is within home defense range. Fifteen yards is on the far end, but still well still worth patterning. I patterned five rounds at each range. 

A six-inch pattern isn’t exceptional and isn’t worth $4 a round. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Sadly I was not impressed with the results. The ten-yard pattern was six inches wide. Not exactly impressive. At fifteen yards, the pattern opened up to 9.5 inches. Again, not particularly impressive. In fact, it’s downright poor compared to other defensive loads I’ve tested. Hornady Critical Defense and my favorite Flitecontrol produce much tighter groups.

At 15 yards I got a 9.5 inch group. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

In fact, I have some basic, garden variety Federal 2.75-inch buckshot. It’s nothing special, but at ten yards, the Federal load patterns at 3.5 inches.

As for those 9th pellet flyers, they occurred more often than not at fifteen yards with the Barnes Defense load. 

The Barnes Defense loads pattern more like what I’ve seen from cheap foreign-made loads, like Rio or S&B. It simply doesn’t pattern particularly well…or even above average. What about other factors?

The R&R Of Shotgun Rounds 

R&R for shotgun rounds means recoil and reliability. In terms of reliability, there wasn’t a single issue. Every round fired, ejected, and cycled without a problem. I fired them through my new favorite shotgun, the Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical, and every round fired and cycled. 

Can Barnes make good self defense ammo? (Travis Pike for TTAG)

In terms of recoil from the Barnes Defense rounds, it was exactly what you’d expect from a 1,325 fps shell. Recoil wasn’t rough or shoulder-pounding. It was fairly average and was easy to shoot rapidly without much muzzle rise. The Barnes Defense shotgun rounds performed as you’d expect. 

Overall the Barnes rounds fed fine and shot fine. But they were decidedly underwhelming for a round that costs four bucks a pop. The shuck-shuck noise of a punp shotgun is replaced with the ka-ching ka-ching of sending four dollars downrange with every squeeze of the trigger.

If this was your average 70 cents-per-round buckshot round I can get in my local big box store any day of the week, it’d be no big deal. Barnes Defense Buckshot performs much like that cheaper bulk stuff, but at $4 a round, you’re just not getting any extra bang for your additional bucks. 


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