Rat Shot Yay or Nay For Self Defense

Rat shot for self-defense? Travis tackles this most unusual question.

Recently a friend purchased an S&W Bodyguard .38 Special revolver, a fine little gun that’s plenty modern but also affordable, reliable, and easy to conceal carry. I opened the cylinder to unload the gun to dry fire it and found a round of rat shot mixed in with his rounds of 158-grain JHPs. My question to him was, “Why do you have this?”

His answer was simple. “It’s for my first shot.” I still sat with a dumb look on my face. My friend isn’t a dumb guy. He’s a Marine who has been in a few firefights. That wasn’t a good enough answer for me. He explained that his idea was that the first round acted as a quasi-warning shot, and he could more easily hit the threat with a round that fired more like a shotgun. While I can see his logic, I realized he needed a little education on why this is a bad idea.

In doing so, I realized that this could be a good educational opportunity for everyone. So the question is. Is rat shot a good choice for self-defense?

When to Use RatSshot For Self Defense

Are you shooting rats? Then yeah! Use rat shot. I’ve killed a great many rats as a kid. I ran my own mini business helping farmers kill rats in their barns. I used a Ruger 10/22 with rat shot and killed hundreds of the vermin.

If you are hiking or in the great outdoors in general, packing some heavier snake shot might not be a bad idea. Although avoiding snakes is pretty easy and the route I’d suggest, if you can’t, you can’t.

What About For Anything Else?

For anything weighing more than 24 ounces, it’s a big no. Rat shot doesn’t effectively penetrate to reach the vital zones to stop a threat. It’s such a light loading of shot that it will essentially pepper the skin with very limited penetration. When being attacked, a second shot isn’t guaranteed, and if you are in a fight for your life, don’t waste time with rat shot.

My friend says it will be easier to hit an attacker with rat shot, and maybe that’s true, but so what? If the hit doesn’t have much effect on the target, then it really doesn’t matter. You need active and effective shots to stop the threat.

But I Can Blind Them!

A shot of rat shot to the face could certainly blind some poor soul…but why? If you can put a shot into someone’s eye, it might as well be a.38 Special JHP. That will stop the fight pretty decisively.

It’s Non-Lethal!

Well, maybe, I’d hesitate to assume anything coming out of the barrel of a gun is nonlethal. An actor once died when he jokingly fired a blank into his own head. With that in mind, it doesn’t matter. Legally it will be considered lethal force regardless. This means your life will have to be in danger in most states to use your firearm.

You can’t just shoot someone for feeling scared with rat shot and assume everything will be hunky dory. It won’t be. Lethal force is lethal force regardless of its effects on the body.

Well, Rats

Revolvers already have fairly limited capacity. Why reduce your capacity by 20% to carry a round of ineffective ammunition? Pack a solid defensive load in a reliable holster. It’s as simple as that. Rat shot is named because it’s for rats. While you might have to deal with some vermin, they likely won’t see rat shot as a means to stop them.

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Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record-setting 11 months at sea. Travis has trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines, and the Afghan National Army.

He serves as an NRA-certified pistol instructor and pursues a variety of firearms-based hobbies.




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4 thoughts on “Rat Shot Yay or Nay For Self Defense”

  1. I am looking for ,what you have in 38, to work in a 45acp cartridge . Have you got it ,,or do you know where I can get it .?

  2. Shot a skunk at about 10 feet with a “rat shot” load, and it almost got me sprayed! Another person had a .410 shotgun and killed that darn skunk. If a “rat shot” round won’t stop a four-legged skunk, how effective would it be on a two-legged varmint? Did swapped out the 7 1/2 shot for the #1 buck (~.30 caliber ball) handloads. Out of a snub nose .38, those 3 #1 buck balls were way more effective. Think more like 3 .32 ACP slugs at once. A rabbit hit at ~15 feet with the buck load was so torn up, couldn’t save enough to eat it. As a side note, long before there were modern style bullets available, it was common to “hot load” .38 wadcutters to use in snub nose revolvers. The wadcutters were much better performers than the police service accepted 158 grain round nose bullets, even in the typical 4″ service revolvers. Using commercial “rat shot” is worse than using a .25 ACP. At least with the .25 ACP, you might get lucky, and the person you shot may not realize they were shot. Me – Now I stick with 110 grain Critical Defense rounds. After all, it’s the 2020’s.not the 1970’s.

  3. Nope, you’re overlooking a couple of factors.

    First, it’s a lot easier to hit your target (in this case an aggressor) with rat shot, and any hit is better than a miss, because . . .

    Second, people who are shot tend to stop what they’re doing regardless of how much physical damage the shot does. In fact, it’s rare for one shot of any ammo from a .38 to be physically incapacitating.

    Most effective self-defense shooting stops are psychological rather than physical, so you might as well make your first shot the one most likely to hit the aggressor. Then, if the aggressor persists, your follow-up shots can be the real, deadly thing.

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