Disclaimer: I am not an attorney nor an expert. This should not be taken as legal or expert advice. Get specialized training before using less-lethal ammunition and any action taken is at your own risk. You probably shouldn’t be using this kind of ammo against humans unless the world has really ended.

A friend who recently retired from law enforcement and I were discussing the pros and cons of less-lethal shotgun usage by the average citizen. In defensive situations, outside of very rare one-offs that are unlikely to occur, we couldn’t think of a single good example. Where it would be useful always required that the SHTF already, things were very dangerous outside, and there was no rule of law (or police). Then, and only in stand-off type situations, did we deem their usage conceivable.

Normal times or SHTF times, you are likely not going to be dealing with suicidal subjects or with persons resisting arrest. You will be concerned with shooting bad guys or driving them off. A less-lethal shotgun is in the “drive them off” tool box. If you are planning for SHTF and especially if you have a defensive group drawn up for your neighborhood or homestead, why not put another tool in your toolbox?

I am going to focus my scenarios on a without the rule of law situation (WROL), that is, there are no police to respond and no courts to prosecute you. If there are, they are totally ineffective to help you, deter the bad guys, or come after you for using excessive force. Wider use of less-lethal ammunition may be made where it is necessary or desirable to kinetically dissuade someone but not kill them. Further discussion regarding WROL employment of less-lethal weapons can be found in my book Suburban Defense.

In WROL, less-lethal shotguns should only be employed when a lethal shot would be justified. This covers any potential legal ground as well as moral grounds. Because the weapons are still firearms and may kill, you need to treat firing a less-lethal shot just as firing a lead one.

There may be a rare circumstance when killing the person is legally justifiable, but not desirable, and it is tactically permissible to use less-lethal force. Lethal cover (another person with a deadly firearm aimed at the target) must be present and ready to stop any deadly threat. Typically, in ordinary life less-lethal ammo usage should be avoided.

Less-lethal force is not a substitute for lethal force, when morally and legally justified. I envision it being used when the attitudes of your homestead, neighborhood, or community may make it difficult to outright shoot someone. Mowing down a crowd of rioters, even if they deserve it, presents a lot of problems. You may also feel bad shooting a really determined and desperate father stealing from your garden. If a 12 gauge rubber slug can send them away and keep them away, it helps avoid you being labeled a murderer or war criminal.

Violent crowd control

  • Single projectiles (slugs, bean bags) against individual point targets, i.e. a specific person who poses as a threat, like an instigator.
  • Rubber/plastic shot against the crowd itself or multiple individuals closely clustered together.
  • Any projectile can be used indiscriminately in final protective fire (or FPF—shoot everything) to prevent being overrun or in an extreme contingency.

Non-immediate threats

  • A deranged person or someone who is holding a weapon at the ready (slung/holstered gun, a sharp object far away) that needs to be disarmed and kinetically dissuaded, but shooting them is not preferable.
  • An unarmed (or possibly armed) trespasser who refuses to leave.
  • An aggressor who continues to approach.
  • Someone who is trying to get through/around defenses.
  • As a humane warning shot to a desperate person before lethal force is used.


The less-lethal bearer should not have a lethal firearm at the ready; lethal weapons need to be holstered or slung out of the way. He should not be trying to juggle an AR-15 and a less-lethal shotgun. If at all possible, the less-lethal bearer should not also be armed with a lethal shotgun, nor should he have any lethal shotgun shells on his person, to avoid mix-ups.

“Less-lethal ready/up!” is the announcement the less-lethal bearer is in position and ready to fire.

“Less-lethal, standby!” is the incident commander or primary team member delegating the authority to fire. It also serves as a warning to those around that a less-lethal weapon will be fired.

“Less-lethal out,” should be yelled and/or radioed after the shot or string of shots so distant team members know what happened.

Other variations can be used as long as they are clear and unambiguous. Additionally, the type of less-lethal ammunition can be substituted for specificity, i.e. “bean bag.” Note that circumstances may necessitate immediate deployment based on the less-lethal bearer’s observations of the situation. Good communication should be maintained with the details for the need of the weapon going out so that upon hearing a gun shot, distant team members don’t mistake it for an incoming shot.

  • Ensure lethal cover is present and ready in case lethal force is needed.
  • Take into consideration the clothing, equipment, and build of the target, as well as their position, their actions, and any persons in close proximity to them.
  • Utilize cover and concealment as you would engaging with a lethal weapon.
  • Maintain a minimum stand-off distance from the target and any other hostiles to prevent the barrel from being grabbed. Minimum recommended engagement range is 10 feet.
  • Each shot should be assessed individually as to its effectiveness. This may be a split second judgement based on what is observed through the sight picture.
  • Psychological effectiveness of the projectile may be heightened by simultaneous use of pyrotechnics or distraction devices.
  • Expended projectiles and empty shells should be collected.
  • As these are low power rounds, there is a non-zero chance of projectiles becoming lodged in the barrel after multiple shots. Barrels should be inspected and cleaned as part of the after-action process.
  • Do not attempt to reload and reuse expended projectiles.

Aimpoint: lower center of torso (belly) or more specifically the belt line to the navel.

Aim for large muscle groups, abdomen and below. Arms and legs should be avoided when in proximity to vital areas. The preferred dorsal target area is the legs (away from the lower spine).

Avoid: head, neck, sternum (upper chest), spine, kidneys, and genitals. When firing at the target from behind, do not aim for the center of the back due to the risk of spinal cord damage. Firing at bare skin should be avoided when possible.

Do not fire at pregnant women, young women, or the elderly if at all possible.

Do not fire a target who may fall from height or into dangerous areas.

Minimum safe range: 5 feet

Minimum recommended range: 10 feet

Optimal safe minimum range: 21 feet

Maximum recommended range: 50 feet

Optimal engagement distances: 7-25 yards

Average maximum range: 40 yards

  • Self-defense and justifiable homicide laws should be obeyed as much as possible.
  • Force should be proportionate to the threat and used sparingly as a last resort.
  • Aimed weapons should be used directly against specific persons who are engaged in actions that pose an immediate threat of death or serious injury.
    • In WROL, this could be expanded to agitators and serious property damage. In this case, the danger posed may be more theoretical than immediate.
  • Less-lethal rounds can be used judiciously to discourage certain individuals from crossing barricades or engaging in actions that may escalate the risk of death or injury.
  • Firearms used indiscriminately should only be used against crowds as a last resort to disperse mobs, stop rushes, or against concentrations of rioters who are presenting the greatest threat.
  • Do not put yourself or other “good guys” at undue risk trying to employ less-lethal rounds.


Now in ordinary life you’re probably never going to use less-lethal ammunition against a human. I would recommend against it, actually. If you’re going to shoot them, make sure you can legally use lethal force and preferably use lead to make sure the threat is stopped. If you aren’t going to shoot them, it’s easier and less legally risky to punch them, shoot them with a Taser, or give them a face full of OC spray. But then again, the Second Amendment was written for those outside contingencies.

About the author: Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County (CA) Sheriff’s Office and is a student of emergency response, disasters, and history. He is the author of several post-apocalyptic survival novels about nuclear war, EMP (Hard Favored Rage and Blood Dimmed Tide), and the non-fiction Suburban Defense guide.