If you have been around the defensive shotgun scene for very long, you have probably heard of Federal’s Flite Control loads. We have even written about them here. Federal is the true king of the defensive shotgun ammunition hill. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other contenders that might be good enough though. Maybe call it the worst of the best, or something like that.
That is where Hornady’s buckshot loads tend to land. Hornady actually uses a wad design that is very similar to Federal’s Flite Control wad, Hornady just calls it Versatite. Rumor is that Hornady and Federal both licensed the design from the same person, but execute it a little differently which ends up yielding different results.
Critical Defense, And All Its Siblings
Hornady has a few buckshot loads available in their various product lines. There is Hornady Black, American Gunner, Critical Defense, and Varmint Express buckshot loads available on the commercial market. Then a couple of Hornady TAP loads on the law enforcement market just to confuse us a little more. The most frequently seen on the shelves of the local gun shop though is probably Hornady Critical Defense 00 buckshot.
For the most part, all of the Hornady buckshot loads share the same basic construction. They are all 2-3/4” 8 pellet 00 loads except for one (Varmint Express 3” load), they all use the same Versatite wad, none of them are buffered, and all except one (Varmint Express 3” load again), use plain lead pellets. The biggest difference between all of the 2-3/4” loads is velocity, and whether or not they have flash suppressed powder. In the case of Critical Defense, it is a full power (mega power?) load with a flash suppressed powder.
The Pattern Target Tells The Story
In my experience, in the handful of guns that I have patterned Critical Defense 00 loads in, it will give me about a 4”-5” pattern at 10 yards, and about an 8” pattern at 15 yards. Now, the tricky thing about shotguns is that they all don’t shoot the same, and past performance in one gun, is not a reliable indicator of future performance in a different gun. To know for sure how it would work for you, you would have to pattern it in your gun.
The Good Side
Even though pattern performance may not get Hornady Critical Defense into first place (more like third or fourth), there are some other things it has going for it, namely availability. Even before 2020 rolled around and tossed everything on its head, it was easier to find Critical Defense buckshot in local shops and big-box retailers than it was the Federal Flite Control loads. Still, now, I can periodically find Critical Defense buckshot at some of the better stocked local shops, but I haven’t seen Flite Control loads locally in what seems like a lifetime. Even among online retailers, Critical Defense seems to be readily available more often than not.
The Bad Side
Critical Defense packs a nice wallop. The one thing I wish Hornady would do with their Critical Defense load though is make it lower recoil, aka lower velocity. They have other full power 00 loads for those that need it, most purpose-built defensive shotgun loads are low recoil for a reason.
On the box, it says 1,600 feet per second muzzle velocity, but Hornady uses a 30” test barrel to get their velocity numbers. In actuality it runs just over 1,400 fps out of an 18” or 20” barrel, like what is found on most defensive shotguns. That is still about 100 fps more than the on the box velocity of a “standard velocity” buckshot load, and probably close to 120-150 fps over actual velocity out of the same barrel length. If someone isn’t used to it or have the proficiency in technique to mitigate the recoil, it makes training/practice with the load a struggle. Outside of just being uncomfortable, it likely has a negative effect on the quality of the pattern as well. It will probably run the most finicky semi-auto shotguns out there on the plus side.
Critical Defense 00 wouldn’t be my first choice, and probably not my second or third choice either, but it does still pattern better than most generic buckshot loads in most cylinder bore guns. If you are willing to put up with the heavy recoil, it is probably worth a try, just keep your eye out for when the better stuff comes along.