Daily Archives: January 16, 2011

Q and A: What Type of Injury Results From a Shotgun Loaded with Birdshot?

Q: How long would it take a healthy 50-year-old man in excellent shape to get back home and be up and around and taking care of himself after a 12-gauge birdshot wound to the side of his chest? How much and what kind of damage would he suffer? Would he likely suffer arm damage, too? Would that part require physical therapy? Is three months reasonable?

A: A shotgun is not like a rifle or pistol. It fires shells that contain several small, round projectiles, called shot. The exception is what is called a “deer slug.” This is a single, large, cylindrical hunk of lead. It moves slowly and has tremendous “knock-down” power.

Shotguns come in several gauges. The lower the gauge number, the larger and more powerful the shotgun is. At the low end of the spectrum would be 410 and 20 gauges. Middle would be a 16 gauge. Larger would be 12 and 10 gauge shotguns. Where does this number come from? The gauge is the shotgun equivalent of a rifle or handgun caliber, which is simply a measurement of the barrel’s internal diameter. A shotgun’s gauge is a measure of the number of lead balls the diameter of the barrel that would weigh one pound. So, 12 balls the size of a 12G would be one pound while it would take 20 balls the size of a 20G barrel to weight the same.

The shot comes in varying sizes, which are classified by numbers 00 through 9. Double OO buckshot is large and is used for deer hunting. No.2 shot, which is approximately 0.15 inches (3.81 mm) in diameter is also used often for deer and larger animals. No.8 shot is 0.09 inches (2.29 mm) in diameter and it, along with No.9 shot, is used for dove and other birds–thus it is called birdshot. In between would be sizes such as No.4 shot, used for duck and geese, and No.6 shot, used for rabbit and squirrel.

Most of these “shots” come with a choice of “load.” The load is the amount of gunpowder packed into the shell. The more powder, the more power (muzzle velocity) that is imparted to the shot. Loads are typically light, standard, or magnum, in increasing order of explosive power. Duck hunters might use No.4 magnums, since ducks are tough and have thicker feathers, while a dove hunter might use No.8 lights. Doves are easier to kill and a heavier load and/or a larger shot might damage the flesh and render it unusable.

In your scenario, the nature of the injury depends upon the location of the wounds, the distance between the muzzle and his chest, the size of the shot, and the type of load used. As mentioned above, bird shot is typically No. 8 or No. 9 lights.

If your attacker was five feet away, the shot could do a great deal of damage. It could penetrate the chest wall, collapse a lung, damage his heart, and could kill him. If he survived, he would need surgery, several days in the hospital, and several weeks of healing. Very variable, depending upon the exact nature of the injuries he suffered.

If he were 50 or more feet away, the shot would likely embed in his skin and muscles. If he were 100 or more feet away, the shot would likely only enter the skin. In these situations, the shot would be removed in the operating room or perhaps the emergency room. He might be admitted to the hospital overnight for observation or even for a couple of days. He would be treated with pain meds and antibiotics and after leaving the hospital would rest at home for a few days but likely be none the worse for wear.

If the shot were from close range and directed at his arm or shoulder, it could severely damage the arm or shoulder joint and possibly the blood vessels in the area. This might require surgery of an orthopedic or vascular nature and a prolonged recovery period. In this situation, he would likely need physical therapy for a few weeks or months after his wounds healed. Again, depending on the exact nature of his injuries. For a damaged shoulder, lung, or heart, three months or longer to fully recover would be reasonable.


Posted by on January 16, 2011 in Medical Issues, Q&A, Trauma

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