Will a Standard Bulletproof Vest Protect Against a Shotgun?

When searching for the right bulletproof vest, it is important to know which types of guns and ammunition the vest can protect against. So, will a standard bulletproof vest protect against a shotgun? A standard level IIIA bulletproof vest can only protect against certain shotgun loads. It will likely stop birdshot and smaller shot loads; however, buckshot may penetrate depending on the distance.

A standard bulletproof vest will not protect against shotgun slugs. While this basically sums up the answer to the question, there is still plenty to know about bulletproof vests and shotgun ammunition that could be very helpful. Read the article to find out more so that you are fully prepared to protect yourself. 

Can a Bulletproof Vest Protect Against a Shotgun?

When you want to buy body armor, it is critical to know exactly what your body armor can protect you against. A standard bulletproof vest, which is classified as a level IIIA, can protect you against a shotgun. This, however, depends heavily on the type of ammunition that is being used for the shotgun. Some types of ammunition can go completely through a standard bulletproof vest, while other types have a wider spread, which in turn spreads the force out over a larger area. 

Luckily, as long as you have, at the very least, a level IIIA bulletproof vest, you should be protected from most bird and smaller shot sizes, especially at anything more than a few yards. However, larger shot sizes like buckshot and a slug will very likely penetrate a standard IIIA vest at gunfight distances. The amount of force those projectiles contain is beyond the protection IIIA vest can offer.

Also, remember that all the force of that lead has to go somewhere—even if it doesn’t penetrate the vest. Any hit you would receive from any gauge shotgun could still cause severe trauma even if the shot didn’t pierce the vest because shotguns impart an extreme amount of blunt force no matter the gauge.

12 Gauge Shotgun vs. Bullet Proof Vest

Don’t Forget the Spread

Remember that a standard bulletproof vest only covers a portion of your torso and back. So, if the spread of the shot is wider than that, then fragments will hit unprotected parts of your body. This is most important at longer ranges, but depending on the length and choke of the shotgun barrel, there could be significant spread at even short distances.

Levels of Bulletproof Vests and Shotgun Protection

There are several levels of bulletproof vests that we will quickly go over so that you know which type would be the best one for you. The standard bulletproof vest is a level IIIA, which is the lowest level that is recommended.

Here are the levels of bulletproof vests and what they protect against:

  • Level I- This vest protects against small caliber rounds: .38 and .22 caliber. These are not common calibers; therefore, it’s not going to do much against shotgun shells.
  • Level IIA- This vest protects against 9 mm rounds and .40 Smith and Wesson. As mentioned, it will stop smaller types of shotgun shot, like birdshot. It may protect against buckshot at longer ranges, but should not be relied upon for that purpose.
  • Level II- This protects against the same as level IIA but has the ability to withstand damage from 9 mm rounds that are traveling much faster. Also, it protects against .357 magnum rounds. It would provide a higher level of protection than IIIA, but a shotgun could still penetrate with the right shot.
  • Level IIIA- This vest has the protection of level I through II plus protection against .44 magnum and .44 caliber rounds.
  • Level III- This vest protects against rifle rounds and has hard metal plates. This is where you want to begin if you want complete protection from all types of shotgun shots. It will likely be able to spot a slug, even, but there will still be a significant blunt force trauma.
  • Level IV- This vest protects against armor piercing rounds but will cause more restriction to movement.

These are the basic levels for bulletproof vests. If you want protection against all types of shot from a 12 gauge shotgun, level III is the best minimum. A level IIIA vest may protect against most shot types at the proper range, but should not be trusted against buckshot or slugs.

What is the Minimum Level of Protection to Protect Against a Shotgun?

The answer to this question can be a bit complicated. This is because there is not just “a shotgun,” and there is not just a bullet. Shotguns have different gauges, ranging from .410 to 4 gauge, with 12 gauge being the most common. With shotguns, the lower number gauge means the more powerful the shotgun is. There are also several types of ammunition that can be used with a shotgun.

  • Birdshot- Each birdshot shell is filled with small pellets and has a small spread. A vest will easily stop birdshots, but the spread could cause some of the pellets to hit skin. Luckily, birdshots will not likely go completely through the skin because they are meant to cause harm to small animals.
  • Buckshot- Buckshot shells have pellets that are bigger than the pellets that are in birdshot shells, which means they can cause more damage than birdshot. 
  • Slugs- Slugs are the most powerful shotgun ammunitions. They are covered in copper and filled with lead. With their mass and speed, a rifle level vest is needed to stop them effectively.

Technically, a level I bulletproof vest could prevent birdshot from penetrating through the vest. However, it would be completely ineffective if a slug is used as ammunition. The minimum level of protection you need to protect yourself against a shotgun would be a level IIIA. Even though a level I could stop birdshot from getting through to your skin, it is not a common type of shot that would be used for a situation involving humans. Level III can stop a slug from piercing through the armor, but the power from the slug can cause bruising, broken bones, and in some cases, internal bleeding. Your best bet is to not go lower than a level IIIA bulletproof vest for protection against lower-powered shotgun shells.

3A Body Armor vs.12ga. Buckshot and Slugs.

Can a Bulletproof Vest Stop a Buckshot?

As mentioned earlier, a level IIIA bulletproof vest is the minimum amount of protection you need to protect you against a shotgun. It was also mentioned that a level I vest could prevent birdshot from piercing through a bulletproof vest. So, can a bulletproof vest stop buckshot? The answer is yes. A level IIIA can likely stop buckshot from going through the armor.

Buckshot, though, has a widespread and much bigger pellet than birdshot; therefore, if you are hit with buckshot, the area that is protected by the bulletproof vest will safe from penetration, but the areas that are not protected could be severely injured. Buckshot is more powerful than birdshot and was designed to kill larger animals. A hit from buckshot could cause heavy damage from just the blunt force trauma. Still, if you do get hit with some buckshot, then you’ll be happy you had your IIIA vest on.


In conclusion, there are several different levels for bulletproof vests that determine what types of ammunitions and guns the vest can protect against. When you are looking to buy one for yourself, it is important to know which vest will protect you best. Since there are different variations of ammunition and gauges for shotguns, it would be wise to go with the option that can effectively protect against a powerful gauge and a powerful shot, which is the slug. Level IIIA is the absolute minimum amount of protection you would need.  If you went any lower than the level IIIA, then you could definitely be putting yourself in serious danger.


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Kevin was born and raised in Texas and loves all things tactical. His hobbies include shooting, hunting, rock climbing, and hiking with his dog Jax.

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