The Dragon’s Breath: DIY Nonlethal Home Defense, by A.S.

People in their own homes may encounter an intruder who intends to take what they have and do them harm. They might run away if they could. But what if there is no way out? They may have no choice but to stand their ground.

Unfortunately, many people in a situation like this are reluctant to use deadly force even if they stand to lose their possessions and possibly sustain personal bodily harm even death. So what can they do if they have been forced into a confrontation when the time for talking is over? You are in your own home and you must survive the next two minutes and protect family members.

I suggest a home defense shotgun load configuration which may deter intruders, even very nasty ones and even if there are several. Yet it could save you from having to use deadly force — at least at first.

You might consider using the “dragon’s breath” device which you can make yourself as it is not available in stores. I happened upon it while experimenting with shotgun reloads at my local range. As I am old and feeble now I find the noise of a large report and the kick of a full 12 gauge recoil to be increasingly annoying. So, I have been experimenting by reloading full buckshot with lighter loads. I would use the same primer and powder measure but use less mass for the business end. It is interesting but even removing just one of the nine 00-size buckshot .32 caliber pellets actually makes a noticeable difference in recoil. One of the commercial manufacturers sells lighter loads with just that change but you pay more for them because of the extra effort of taking one pellet out I suppose. I have tried those and I think my way is better as I take out one, two, or maybe all of the pellets. I have a choice.

During my experiments, I got all the way down to just three of the nine pellets in the shell casing and still had good pattern results at 25 yards. It should be noted that most deer that are shot with shotguns are at about that distance and three pellets in the chest cavity will do the job. So, it is even a good deer hunting load for flatlanders on small farms.

With a recoil only about a third (3 pellets, versus 9) of normal it also makes it easy to be ready for a follow-up shot if necessary. There is much to be said for lighter loads with less recoil.

But the real point is the collateral finding which resulted from what I used to take up the extra space in the load. I used very fine oak sawdust as I was doing a lot of hardwood work in my shop at the time. If you bought a box of 00 buckshot in 12 gauge you can just carefully peel back the crimped end and dump out as many of the pellets as you care to remove. I was suggesting that since there are nine and you only need maybe three, dump out the six extra and fill the space with sawdust and really pack it in so the pellets don’t move around. Then re-crimp the top. You might put a felt tip pen mark on the crimp so you remember it is a light load. Maybe a small piece of tape to hold the crimped top down, while handling.

You might remove all of the pellets and just have the sawdust in there, if for home defense rather than hunting. I will explain why I picked the name “dragon’s breath” in a bit but for now, just focus on the use of this potentially nonlethal load.

In the tactical setting mentioned in the introduction, you are confronted with an intruder(s) in your home. You can’t escape. With your trusty 12 gauge shotgun which you keep handy for such an occasion, you take aim even if only in a general direction even point it at the floor in front of the bad guy if you want and pull the trigger. Do it right away. It is very important that you shoot first. In home defense, it can be a serious mistake to assume that if you shout a warning or some such notification that the bad guys will get scared and run away. Hey, they are already in your house. Or worse, what if they shoot first? Studies show it is four-to-one in your advantage to shoot first. Remember this is potentially a nonlethal load so if you are reluctant to kill at least scare them so maybe you do not have to. After you point and pull the trigger the shell goes off and sends the pellets (if any) and sawdust down the barrel pushed along by the plastic cup wad and sleeve of the shell’s powder load.

Upon exiting the muzzle the pellets go to the target unabated but the sawdust sprays into a big cloud and catches fire from the hot burning powder gasses pushed through from behind. A huge six by six by six foot cloud of yellow-orange looks like the fourth of July even in daylight. It makes a bit of an echo secondary explosion as well. Try it outside just at sundown for an incredible display.

You can imagine that if a bad guy(s) was at the end of the hall and advancing toward you when you aimed even if just in his general direction maybe even the floor and you pulled the trigger, even if you had only the sawdust it would send a message that they should go away by the same way they came in.

It will probably singe his eyebrows and hair and if he forgot to wear eye and ear protection, probably a lot more. His ears will be ringing so he is not going to hear anything you say. So don’t say anything, just assess the situation. You did not have to kill him and yet he is likely discouraged and the fight is probably over at least for now. He may clear the area rather quickly. But if necessary the second shell could have buckshot in it. But that may not be necessary under the circumstances which to him may be overwhelming.

When the neighbors come to see what the noise was about you can tell them to look for a stranger in the neighborhood, probably dazed and with smoldering clothing. Then call the police. You may have to fill out an incident report so there may be some paperwork, but you don’t have a stiff on your hands, which would be a great deal more paperwork. Also if it was just the neighbor coming in to tell you he was returning the lawnmower he borrowed you have avoided an embarrassing situation with that first load being the nonlethal one with just sawdust.

You might be wondering if it would work with a 410 shotgun. Sure, but since you are starting with a much smaller volume with just three pellets to begin with, you might have the first load just sawdust but the second one of just one pellet and the rest sawdust.

One of the other old gunners at the range I visit every week was saying he used to load rifle cartridges with the prescribed power measure then take up the space from the powder to the bullet with sawdust. That kept the powder all packed back by the primer. He thought he got more consistent performance this way as the powder was always back by the primer instead of shaking around in the empty space which allowed for reaching a higher pressure faster and more consistently. All very technical stuff. Anyway, you could put in the powder then the sawdust then instead of a bullet push in a piece of used wine bottle cork then seal the top with a drop of nail polish. That is how I waterproof my primers when I reload. The bullet casing for a revolver or bolt action rifle would be much smaller of course. So, less bang for the buck but it would work. There are alternatives but the easiest one is to buy the shotgun buckshot and uncrimp, empty pellets, fill with sawdust, recrimp, and mark.

I picked the name “dragon’s breath” as I heard it from an investigation into an old folk tale. Apparently a long time ago and in a far-off place the locals in a village noticed livestock missing and assumed it was the work of a large snake that was known to inhabit a particular cave. A search party went to the cave with burning oiled rags tied to sticks as a torch for light. Upon entering, a very large snake was startled and he farted. The methane from the fart and the decaying remains of prey was ignited by a burning torch and there was a fire ball. The villagers turned and ran until they could no more. Upon collecting their thoughts and comparing their stories they concluded it was a fire-breathing creature. Hence the legend of the fire-breathing dragon. Anyway this is what one scholar thinks is the actual happening that generated the tale. I thought it a good name for this situation.

This name is not to be confused with the frozen dessert with a similar name.

If you are reluctant to kill somebody even if they would do you harm and take your possessions, consider the “dragon’s breath” alternative. Maybe you don’t have to kill them. You will likely discourage them. You may singe them a little. After the experience, they probably will not bother with you again. Word will get around and they will leave you alone for easier pickings. That is really the point, isn’t it?