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Buckshot is a type of shot which is designed to be used for large game. “Shot” is simply a term used to describe the small metal pellets packed into a shotgun shell. Larger pellets pack more of a punch, and may require a larger weapon, while smaller pellets are much weaker, and can be fired from smaller weapons. The type of shot required depends on the intended use; birdshot, for example, is very small shot designed to be used in hunting birds. Birdshot would be largely useless against larger prey, while buckshot could potentially vaporize a bird.
A shotgun pellet has a rather unique and interesting design. Unlike a bullet, which consists of a hunk of lead or other metal designed to very precisely penetrate a target, shot is designed to scatter, increasing the chances that something will be hit, while decreasing the power of the weapon used to fire the shot. Typically, shot is packed into a cartridge which also includes gunpowder and wadding; people can pack their own cartridges, or purchase them from companies which specialize in making ammunition.
The “buck” in “buckshot” is a reference to male deer, a very popular form of large game. Buckshot actually comes in a range of sizes, used for hunting an assortment of larger prey in addition to deer. Many police forces also use buckshot, in both riot control weapons and combat shotguns. The sheer size of buckshot makes it much more damaging, but not necessarily lethal, unless the gun is aimed properly.
Cartridges of buckshot are typically identified by a number, with most manufacturers making sizes 00 through 4. The smaller the number, the larger the buckshot. 00 or “double aught” is a popular size of buckshot, since its large size comes with formidable stopping power.
Buckshot is much larger than birdshot and BB shot, making it much more potentially dangerous. People who have been shot with birdshot generally live to tell the tale, although they may have a few scars to testify to the experience. A hit from a cartridge full of buckshot, however, especially at close range, can be fatal. For this reason, hunters who pursue large game are especially careful with their weapons, and they wear bright colors in the woods so that they are visible to other hunters, as no one wants to accidentally shoot someone else or be shot.
For those interested in home defense, going with a shotgun round can be a good choice. Buckshot -- often regardless of the size of the shot -- can do a lot of damage in close quarters and the shooter doesn't typically have to be as accurate as shot flies all over the place.
A nervous shooter does tend to simply "point and fire" rather than take aim before pulling a trigger. There is, after all, a reason that the Taurus Judge line of pistols -- revolvers that take .410 bore shells -- is so popular. A shooter who has a Judge or any of the many pistols out there that take .410 shells has all the advantages of a shotgun load without the inconvenience of toting an unwieldy, full sized weapon.