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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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