A Critical Look at Hornady’s Critical Defense and BLACK Buckshot

In a recent blog post, I wrote that I wasn’t really sure the difference between Hornady® Critical Defense® buckshot and Hornady® BLACK buckshot. Specifically, I was curious if the BLACK ammo used the Versatite™ wad, since both loads seemed to offer similar performance. Dr. Sherman House from the Civilian Defender blog suggested in the comments that I cut open some shells to find out. Recently, I took his advice and did exactly that, and I took photos to document my findings here.

According to the packaging, both are 12 gauge 2 3/4″ 00 buckshot with eight pellets with a muzzle velocity of 1600 FPS.


With the exception of hull markings, externally the shot shells appear identical.

Both shot shells weigh the same. (Note that I used a simple kitchen scale to obtain my measurements, so there are some inherent limitations in terms of both accuracy and precision.)

I used a pipe cutter to cut open the shell. (Pro tip: If you ever try to do this, it works better with the pipe cutter closer to the shell base than it does with the cutter placed near the crimp.)


The pellets in both shot shells are similar in weight… this isn’t surprising since they are both eight pellet 00 buckshot. The 0.85 oz reading is for the Critical Defense®, and my scale kept fluctuating from 0.85 to 0.90. I think the observed difference between the two is probably due to individual variations in pellet weights, as each pellet did not weigh exactly the same. Again, the limitations of my scale made exact measurement difficult.

This is fairly representative of the weight of an individual pellet, but if you do the math, you can see how eight pellets weighing .10 ounce won’t add up to .90 ounce.


The only other subjective observation I made here is that the pellets from the Hornady® BLACK shot shell appeared somewhat more “shiny” for lack of a better descriptor. I ascribe nothing to this observation, as it could be anything ranging from a different lot of pellets to oxidation.

Here we have virtually identical powder weights and appearance.

And here is the answer to the crux of my question… both Hornady® Critical Defense® and Hornady® BLACK appear to be loaded with an identical wad. Same weight, same appearance, and virtually indistinguishable.

So is Hornady® BLACK buckshot the same product as Hornady® Critical Defense®, with a different box and marketing? I can’t say for sure, but it sure looks like it. They both cost the same. They pattern similarly as well.

What’s the bottom line? They both perform well out of my gun. I would depend on either for home defense without reservation. And I strongly suspect that they are the same loading with different markings. From my perspective, I prefer the packaging, marketing, and perceived value of the Hornady® BLACK line of ammunition, but that’s just me. Indeed, I suspect that buckshot isn’t the only example of duplication in the BLACK lineup. Either way, it’s good ammo.

As always, thanks for reading. If anyone has any requests for different shot shell dissections, post in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

11 thoughts on “A Critical Look at Hornady’s Critical Defense and BLACK Buckshot

  1. Time to pull powder charges and weigh and compare. Or call it good enough, as you seem to have luck from two seemingly identical loads with matching performance. Good stuff sir and thank you for putting in the work.


    1. There is no difference in any of it and never has been. Only the change from early 2000’s Hornady TAP line with out a Versa-tite wad to the newer ammo listing lines that all have the Versa-tite wad and then another change in 2016 when they changed the versa-tite wad to work in full choke guns so they could load it into birdshot loads for Turkey and Coyote. This effected the Buckshot cause they could not afford to run 2 different versions of the Versa-tite wad like Federal does in there product lines. Federal offers 2 types, Long and short range. Buckshot by federal with Flight-Control only has the older style Flight-Control wad that works with Cyl-Bore chokes well. Hornady could not do this as it’s to expensive on them so they cut Superformance, Zombi Max, and TAP-LE from the line. Replaced them with Critical Defense, and Black………..while changing the Versa-tite wad in all loads to work with full choke guns. This pissed off the guys that had older TAP-LE Versa-Tite stocked up but ran out. They bought Black thinking it would pattern as good……..it does not at all replicate the older Superformance or TAP-LE pattern tightness. Thus Hornady actually fucked themselves but tried to keep it hush hush as they made a lot of $$$ off fools buying both Names or many names of the same exact #00 9 pellet 1600 FPS buckshot loads.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Travis, well that would certainly explain why Hornady ammuntion patterns better out of my 870P SBS than Federal Flite Control does, given its fixed modified choke. I was not aware that Hornady had redesigned the wad to work with full chokes, but it makes sense.


  2. More Hornady Junk. 20 name changes and finally the still don’t get it…………..1600 FPS 8 pellet #00 is that no matter what you stamp on the box or the shell. Yea there was a change once…………..many moons ago the Company Federal licensed Hornady the Flit-Control wad!!!!!!!!!! Many a gun guru seen the mystery and magic there in of the Hornady Magic shells………….ohhhhhhh ahhhhhhhhh they all cried!
    Hornady to seen the light, no longer would they have to load and market 3-4 different versions of Hornady TAP or Tacticool, or Critical Farts for Defense. They could simply change the whole line and stuff a Federal Flite Control into every shell or load and call them new fancy names…………the gun gurus again went ohhhhhhhh and ahhhhhhh and they had much new things to play with. All was well in the pattern paper community until……………………….The Zombi invasion came……….Hornady had to do something, no one would survive this massive invasion of the undead so in there ultimate wisdom and super massive gun vault knowledge they unleashed the dreaded Zombi-Max upon the horde of unsuspecting consumers! It slowly but surly ended the massive wave of zombie consumers as each one realized he had been dooped into buying yet another Hornady 1600 FPS 8 pellet #00 buckshot load that was much like the one’s before it all the same as the others!!!!!
    So we come to the end of the tale……………many loads and zombie consumer hordes latter only to find that Hornady has once again done the exact same Marketing gimmick as they always do………..change the name on the box and they will buy more and more and more of it……….they can’t get enough of it…….change the name to dirty Tampon removal Buckshot and women might buy it to! LOL
    Guys come on before Black in the old days 15 years ago it was Hornady TAP 8 pellet #00 1600 FPS with the regular ole Hornady plastic Versa-lite wads. Then Federal licensed the Flite-control to them, they started putting it into Superformance, Zombi Max, Critical Defense, and TAP and all were 1600 FPS 8 pellet #00 loads. Everyone got mad cause they got fooled into buying them all and trying them……..you know some of you did this rather then read or check or use common sense or use a flash light on the shells at the store. I know guys with 1000 rounds of TAP-LE Versa-tite who bought boxes of Critical Defense thinking it was something different. It was not. They key give away was the 8 pellet 1600 FPS listing the whole time. The only change ever made was the change to the versa-tite wads and they changed the versa-tite wad design again in 2016 to be able to load it into Hornady birdshot and varmint loads to work in full chokes. This is why your new Critical and Black wont pattern as good in your cyl bore guns as did the older TAP-LE or Superformance from 2010


  3. I spoke with a technician at the Hornady plant
    In Grand Island, Nebraska. He stated that the
    Critical Defense shot shell is the only one approved by the FBI and that production
    Line is so very very carefully and continuously
    Inspected it’s unbelievable, but they have to
    Do that for the FBI’s government approval.


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