Every now and then it pays to take a look back at history and see what the old timers used in times of struggle. This is particularly the case when it comes to military engagements, civil defense and good old-fashioned self-defense. That being said, we’re going to take a moment to review one of the “oldy but goodies” from the 1776 era.
Coming to us by way of the American Revolutionary War, the buck and ball load was traditionally a .69 caliber round ball surrounded by three to six buckshot pellets. Specifically designed for maximum knockdown power at close range, this load was so effective that it was partly used for the psychological effect it left on the enemy. Closely packed troop formations were ravaged by this combination of spread and foot-pounds.
The design of this load was intended to provide its shooter with the spread of a conventional shotgun blast, combined with the knockdown power provided by the larger ball. Also used in the Civil War, primarily by Union soldiers during close-range engagements, the buck and ball load was issued in paper cartridges that included a black powder charge. The paper would be ripped open at the rear, the powder loaded first, then followed up with the leftover paper, ball, and lastly the buckshot. The buck and ball load is absolutely devasting at a distance of up to 50 yards. But it is not very effective much past that. Beyond that range, the buckshot does not have enough force to be lethal.
Another interesting fact about this load is that while American icons such as George Washington insisted that men equip themselves with the buck and ball, European armies did not adopt it because they considered it a dishonorable way of fighting. While the buck and ball load remained standard in the US army through 1845, it was phased out as longer engagement ranges became more common.
The modern equivalent of buck and ball rounds can be found and purchased (where legal) now in the United States. Winchester’s PDX1 12-gauge load is a good example of this. Centurion also has a shotgun round designed after buck and ball loads.