Hornady Black Shotgun Ammo: Back In Black Buckshot

As a defensive shotgun fan, I constantly search for new defensive-oriented shotgun loads to test and evaluate. While everyone should try their defensive ammo, shotguns are more interesting in their loadings. Different loads perform differently, and it can vary widely between ammo choices. A 124-grain 9mm JHP from SIG performs relatively close to a 124-grain JHP from Speer. A shotgun buckshot load from Winchester performs vastly different than a Federal load. With that in mind, today’s ammo of choice is Hornady Black.

What’s Hornady Black

Hornady Black goes beyond 12 gauge. It’s a premium line of ammunition from Hornady. It mainly focuses on defensive ammunition, but match-grade loads exist, as do hunting rounds. The Hornady Black lineup is quite varied and uses reasonably fancy packaging to catch your eye, and the Black 12 gauge loads are designed for personal protection and police duty use.

Hornady black shell
The Black Shell is a premier defensive shotgun round

The Hornady Black 12 gauge load is a 2.75-inch shell with eight pellets. That’s a great start for a defensive load. We can fit one extra pellet in there, but it’s not worth it. When we shove nine pellets into a 2.75-inch round, we often get the 9th pellet flyer. That 9th pellet sits oddly in the wad and gets smashed on its way out of the gun. This often sends the 9th pellet flying outside the normal pattern of buckshot.

Eight pellets create a more predictable pattern that’s often tighter and much more consistent. Speaking of tight loads, the Black twelve gauge loads use the Versatite wad. This works identically to the FliteControl wad. It travels with the load and out of the barrel, and once the wad leaves the barrel, the wad deploys a set of brakes. This allows the buckshot to separate from the wad and travel to the target.

Hornady Black boxes with information
An 8-pellet, 1600 FPS round is certainly an interesting design.

The end result is a predictably patterned buckshot load. Hornady pulls no punches with this load. It’s a hefty 1,600 feet per second. The upside is that it will work in the pickiest semi-autos but will likely have some aggressive recoil. Hornady does use a high brass load which will also help with consistent extraction and ejection.

Hornady Black Vs. Critical Defense

What’s the difference between the Hornady Critical Defense and Hornady Black shotgun loads? Good question. There doesn’t seem to be one. It seems like Hornady released identical rounds and loads under two different lines. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I expected Critical Defense to be a reduced recoil load, but both are full-powered. The main difference appears to be the name typed on the box.

hornady black boxes ammo
The packaging is quite nice to be fair.

That, and Hornady Black twelve gauge seems to be a lot easier to find than Critical Defense.

Hornady Black In Action

To get a good perspective of the round’s potential through various types of shotguns, I grabbed a mix of different guns. This includes the Benelli M4, the Ithaca 37, and the Iron Horse Sentry 12. This gave me a semi-auto, a pump action, and a magazine-fed shotgun to test cycling, extraction, and ejection.

Hornady black in magazine
The ammo worked perfectly in mag-fed guns

Predictably we had no issues with the pump and semi-auto. These are traditional shotguns. We also had no issues with the Sentry 12. It fed from the mags with ease and ejected predictably without issue. The Black worked through each gun without any hang-ups. Working quick double taps and rapid strings proved to be a nonissue.

The Hornady Black loads are also uniform in size and not overly long. Shotgun shells are wacky when it comes to length. The length is 2.75 inches, right? Well, that’s the measured length after the round is fired. Depending on the crimp and design, shotgun two 2.75-inch shotgun shells can be different sizes prior to being fired.

Hornady Black in side saddle
Six rounds of Hornady Black buckshot is enough to get it done

The main problem is that some shells are longer than others, and in a tube magazine, that length adds up. In fact, it can often reduce the overall capacity by one round. Rio buckshot famously turns a seven-round tube into a six-round tube. That’s not an issue here by any means.

Blasting Away

The 1,600 feet per second rating gives you a good thump depending on the gun. Out of the Itahca and Sentry 12, it’s something you feel. Out of the gas-operated Benelli, the recoil was fairly mild and controllable. The pump guns will make sure you are using a good push/pull technique to counteract that violent recoil impulse.

With that said, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It’s not like a 1,600 feet per second 1-ounce slug. It’s just a fast-moving load of buckshot. The Hornady Black loads aren’t uncontrollable, but they tend to be slower without much benefit to the extra velocity.

test guns with ammo
I used a variety of guns to test the Hornady Black load

A round of twelve gauge buckshot at 1250 feet per second penetrates just as well as 1,600 feet per second without all the extra recoil. Both will adequately penetrate a human thread and shut them down. There doesn’t seem to be a benefit to the massive increase in speed. In fact, not only do you get more recoil, but you get a slightly larger pattern.

Patterns tend to be tightest with those low recoil rounds. It’s evident here when we compare rounds of reduced recoil Flitecontrol with Hornady Black. We are still getting a very tight load with Hornady Black, but it’s not as tight as Flitecontrol.

Hornady black shell vertical
The Hornady Black features a nice high brass rim.

Finding Patterns

At ten yards, the pellets are tight and consistent, with all of the pellets hitting quite close together with no noticeable flyers.

pattern of buckshot at 10 yards
At ten yards the load performed extremely well

At 15 yards, the pattern opens up a fair bit but is still controlled and tight when compared to basic buckshot loads. It’s adequate for home defense, without a doubt, and it tends to pattern very predictably and consistently.

It does pattern a good bit wider than Flitecontrol. There are many well-reputed shotgun instructors who like a little spread to their pattern, and if that’s your case, the Black load might be for you. If you prefer that slug-like pattern at close ranges, then Flitecontrol is going to be your round of choice.

black 15 yard pattern
At 15 yards the pellets are still fairly tight

Choices are what make this industry great. The Hornady Black load is a very nice defensive load. It’s reliable and consistent, it patterns tightly compared to the other 99% of buckshot loads out there, and it’s a consistent size. It checks most of the boxes for an excellent defensive load. The main downside is the recoil impulse, but we don’t use shotguns cause we are recoil sensitive.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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