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September 28, 2007

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Shotguns and Cats

Many Gun Shots readers commenting on the post Pick Your Gun said the firearm they’d like to sight down during a tiger charge is a shotgun loaded with buckshot.

While at one time a shotgun was thought to be a good choice when pursing a wounded leopard in heavy cover, nearly every Professional Hunter I’ve spoken with about this said they would choose a rifle over a shotgun without question.

Step up in size to a lion and I suspect the percentage of PH’s who’d pick a shotgun for this work would drop to zero.

Though the topic of tigers never specifically came up--after all, tigers charge hunters as often as Hillary Clinton practices double-taps--I seriously doubt any PH who wasn’t suicidal would willingly use a shotgun to bring down the world’s largest cat.

Joe Coogan, who has been a PH for 24 years, put it this way when asked about appropriate charge stoppers for dangerous game: “A shotgun is not the thing to use under any circumstances.”

John Snow



Okay, cool. So PH's don't like to use shotguns. Did you bother to tell us why?

B. Cameron

David: a quick bit of math and research makes it pretty clear. "Stopping power" is a function of energy, plain and simple. A 12ga shotgun, even shooting a sabot slug, has about 3000ft-lbs at the muzzle, and drops off rapidly to 2300ft-lbs at 100yds. A .416 Rigby - arguably small for dangerous game hunting - has over 5000ft-lbs at the muzzle.

The more you put into a beast, the more likely it's going to stop, right now, right there.

Most people think "shotgun" for close-range defense because it's a quick-handling weapon. With some practice and the right stock, a rifle can be just as effective.

John Snow

David: The reason not to use buckshot, in a word, is penetration. In order for a firearm to be a light’s out option with dangerous game you need your projectile to track through the animal in a straight line, a line that hopefully intersects with the central nervous system. The pellets in buckshot simply don’t have the sectional density required to smash through bone and muscle to reliably reach the brain and spinal cord of a charging animal.

As a real world example, consider this: Doug Howlett, our deputy editor, has been hunting whitetails with buckshot for more than 30 years. At less than 20 yards he says you’ll sometimes—and only sometimes—see shot that passes all the way through a deer standing broadside. At 40 yards, forget about it. While the buckshot will kill the hell out of a deer at that distance, the point is that the shot doesn’t penetrate anywhere near the way a rifle bullet will—especially the way a solid would, which is what most PHs would recommend in our hypothetical tiger charge.

Dr. Ralph

I have read many tales of lion hunts... the PH's carry the $150,00.00 .470 Nitro Express Holland & Holland double rifles (it makes you feel better about their fee) and the Afrikaners have twelve gauges for when the feline gets up close and personal. Your scenario was sitting atop an elephant and claws and teeth were in your face. I stand by my $75.00 Savage.

Dennis L. Crabtrey II

I also agree with the shotgun but not plain lead buckshot maybe steel or copper, if a 470 isn't available, but a 416 Rigby is certainly NOT arguably small for dangerous game, except elephants up close. Is someone loading something like the barnes X in slugs now? I heard they were loading copper black powder 45 caliber bullets in 20 gauge w/ sabots. Something tough like that in 12 gauge 3 1/2 would be great at 10 yards and less especially in a double or Benelli SBE II.


I agree that a rifle has more stopping power than a shotgun at 100 yards, but we are talking about a charge here. A big cat is not particularly tough skinned like, say, a cape buffalo or an elephant. It would seem to me that a pump shotgun with 1 round of 00 buckshot followed by 4 slugs would be adequate. However, I speculate, because tigers are sparse here in the midwest.


You likely are not going to have the time to get off more than a shot, MAYBE two before the cat is on you. Often times PH's have to follow a wounded cat into thick bush. They are lucky if they get any warning before the attack. A large caliber double with big night sights is the best solution in this scenario. You have the best chance to put two large, heavy, fast moving hunks of metal into the cat before he rips your throat out, and you bleed to death.