The Dragon’s Breath Nonlethal Home Defense for the DIYer, by AJS

Persons in their own home may encounter an intruder who intends to take what they have and do them harm. They might run away, if they could. What if there is no way out? They may have no choice but to stand their ground, and 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 body harm or even death. So what can these, who desire a nonlethal solution do if they have been forced into a confrontation when the time for talking is over?

A Home Defense Shotgun Load That’s Nonlethal

Imagine you are in your own home under threat by an intruder and you must survive the next two minutes and protect family members. What can you do? May I suggest a home defense shotgun load configuration that may deter intruders, even very nasty ones and even if there are several of them, yet 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 the “dragon’s breath” 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 buck shot 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 .32 caliber pellets actually makes a noticeable difference in recoil. One of the commercial manufacturers sells lighter loads with just that change; however, 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.

Lighter Loads

Anyway, 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 “flat landers” on small farms.

With a recoil only about a third (three pellets versus nine) 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.

Collateral Finding– Very Fine Oak Sawdust

However, the real point is the collateral finding, 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 peal carefully 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 (or flour, but I have not tried that) 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 use a small piece of tape to hold the crimped top down while handling. You might remove all the pellets and just have the sawdust in there, if for home defense rather than hunting.

The Name “Dragon’s Breath”

I will explain why I picked the name “dragon’s breath” in a bit. For now, just focus on the use of this potentially nonlethal load.

Be First To Shoot

In the tactical setting mentioned in the introduction, you are confronted with an intruder or multiple intruders 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 or even pointed at the floor in front of the bad guy, if you want, and you 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.

What If They Shoot First?

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 kill.

How It Works

This is how it works. 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 and 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, which for a fraction of a second 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.

It Would Send a Message

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 and maybe even at the floor and you pulled the trigger, even if you had only the sawdust or substitute flour, 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. If necessary, the second shell could have some pellets in it. But that may not be necessary under the circumstances that may be overwhelming.

Look For Stranger In Neighborhood

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.

What Else Would Work?

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

How about with a .38 revolver or bolt action center fire rifle load? Sure, it could work, but again it is a smaller payload. With a short barrel, like a .38 with a 3-inch barrel, the spray would be impressive. 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 and 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. This is all very technical stuff.

Anyway, you could put in the powder and then the sawdust. Then, instead of a bullet, push in a piece of used wine bottle cork and 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, it is 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.

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45 Comments

  1. I’d be really careful shooting ammunition like this in a revolver, or any firearm not having a closed breech. I’d be worried about the material leaking out of the cylinder / forcing cone. Sometimes the powder burn does leak from this area, I’d guess the same of this material.

    Less projectile weight = less recoil. Makes sense to me.

  2. Its the same as firing a warning shot, so no thank you. Deadly force is the proper response to home invasion. Besides do we want to possibly set fire to our own home? This product has no place in self defense imho…

  3. An interesting article that should produce a lot of thought and feedback. I think it would be a better solution to replace the 12 gauge with a 20 if recoil is unmanageable. I do not think it a good idea to use any improvised “incendiary” round inside the house. Perhaps a pistol caliber semi auto carbine would be a better choice. Sending a message? A home invader has already sent a message that he/she has no fear of you or the legal repercussions that would follow. To me, there can only be one answer to that kind of blatant aggression.

    1. So, a huge ball of flame, and maybe one or two pellets, or maybe rock salt, wouldn’t “stop the threat”? Otherwise everyone, even Granny should be shooting the biggest cannon she can.
      There is no “Warning” implied here, just stopping. Nobody ever said that Stopping = Killing.

  4. As a retired Deputy I am traned that when you present a firearm in any situation there is no pussy footing around. Elmer Keith always advised to “Use enough gun”. If the situation requires you to present a gun then remember General Forrest’s advice- “Be the firstest with the mostest!!!

  5. Putting the sawdust in the shot cup with the lead pellets might work but I don’t think I’d want to put sawdust down in the brass case of a pistol or rifle round that would mix with the powder. I don’t think you’d get consistent combustion and that might cause a spike in pressure, maybe even a ruptured case? Leave the sawdust to the shotgun shells…

    1. GotUR6, if you pack fine material on top of the powder (I use cornmeal when needed) to take up any extra space, you get more consistent ignition and more consistent pressure – safer and more accurate, IMHO.

  6. “You did not have to kill him, and yet he is likely discouraged and the fight is probably over, at least for now.”

    That right there would be my problem with this Theory. “At least for now…” if someone is breaking into your house they’re already a criminal and the criminal element doesn’t take too well to being deterred. Now I’m not saying that every single one of these people would come back to finish the job or to finish you off but I am saying that a fair amount of them would. At the very least it’s a matter of their criminal Pride or maybe now they’re just pissed off, either way I don’t want them come back. So if somebody comes into my house with any ill intent, they’re not walking out. Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6.

  7. I have to agree with the other comments. If someone has busted through my locks and ignored my alarm that was all the non-lethal message they deserved. Once in my home my only concern is ending the threat to my family in the most decisive means available. I do understand that there are people who just can’t bring themselves to take a life even at their own peril, so for those people I would recommend a safe room. I doubt that mentality would make much use of any deterrent weapon.

  8. I’ve loaded fine sawdust as well as flour. Neither would ignite from a normal shotgun powder charge. If you remember an old MythBusters show they couldn’t even get a chamber filled with the correct mixture of flammable gas to ignite with the firing of a semi auto pistol.

  9. well, in some states using anything but unmodified store-bought ammo against someone is illegal. something about “prior intent”.

    yeah I don’t like 12g either, but it might be simpler to use a 20 or 28 or even a .410.

  10. You can buy 12 ga buckshot loads that travel at 1145fps in different shot sizes and they are factory rounds, plus your homemade roads will blind your night vision at dark. If that load is to much a 410 pump or revolving Rossi shotgun would be next, 20 ga offers no advantage in less recoil than any of the above.

  11. There is already a commercially available shotgun load called “Dragon’s Breath” that has been around for a long time. It uses a magnesium load, and shoots out 25+ yards with flame thrower like effect. Easily searched for and found online or your local gun store.

  12. Ok I get it. Not wanting to take a life. Fine. In my opinion, it’s unfinished business. I don’t call nine one one, don’t do paper work or offer snacks and sing kumbaya. Even my close friends announce before they arrive, my neighbor, who is like a brother, has a key. He’s the only one who may come unannounced. Anyone else with bad intent gets the trapdoor spider treatment.

  13. A reasonable person must assume that anyone who breaks into an obviously inhabited dwelling with criminal intent has gone into the realm of home invasion. That would put the occupants in fear of grievous bodily harm and justify lethal force. Buckshot and hollow point damage is much easier to repair than torching a room or hallway. Probably easier to justify your use of force to an unsympathetic police officer or DA using commercially available ammo than homegrown ordinance.

  14. This seems to be of limited practicality in an actual home defense situation, but looks like it would be a lot of fun. However, the mad scientist in me does wonder (and I know this is a stupid question,) what would happen if you replaced the sawdust with magnesium? Does anyone know?

  15. 12 gauge / 3 inch / 41 pellets of # 4 buckshot… and consider that nasty old recoil a lot less of an “annoyance” than being shot or stomped to death by those nasty old home invaders, soon as they lose their sense of humor over having their eyebrows singed by a home rolled load that may or may not provide the desired results.

    If you feel a true need to go with non-lethal, rubber slug loads might be a better choice. If push turns to shove, they can become a tad more lethal the higher up you aim from the stomach area.

    Word to the wise: Exotic loads that can cause cruel and unusual injury / death to those “poor, misunderstood, home invaders” could very well inspire a liberal leaning prosecutor / court to put YOUR butt in jail or open to a civil action you’ll be paying for the rest of your life.

    Save the flashy home made loads for entertaining the kids and neighbors on the 4th of July.

  16. HMMM, interesting article. My Dad use to tell the story about my grandpa having some problems with “varmints “, and what he did was to reload some shotguns shells with rock salt. You have to remember that grandpa was the son of a homesteader ( 1876 ), and this probably took place in the late 1890’s or early 1900″s.

  17. Good article. However I do have to disagree with you on the utility of dragon’s breaths rounds for home defense for a few reasons.
    1) Using an incendiary round like dragons breath indoors could lead to you catching yourself or your property on fire. It does no good to scare the burglar away only to burn your own house down. You also have to consider that if you catch your house on fire you could catch your neighbors property on fire as well.
    2) Using dragon’s breath round in an enclosed space will definitely ruin your night vision. More so than normal rounds because it is intended to create a huge muzzle blast. Something else to consider on this note is that most homes interior walls, and in some cases ceilings, are white which will amplify that muzzle blast not only at the intruder but at you as well.
    3) Light rounds like dragon’s breath are, generally speaking, unreliable in semiautomatic shotguns. An important factor for those that use them.
    4) It really wont look good when you go to court and instead of shooting the intruder you burnt them alive, because your dragon’s breath rounds caught their garments on fire. The majority of people would consider that excessive force.
    Just my two cents.

    Regards,

    Jim k.

  18. […]

    Over 20 years ago I did business with a company called Rhino. They sold the infamous “Dragon’s Breath”, the so-called Rhino’s Fire Spewing 12 Ga. Round. This round was originally developed as an anti-terrorist round in Europe. It was advertised as “Rhino’s 12 Gauge Dragon Breath – expells a load of exotic, fast burning, high temperature metals 300+ feet down range totally engulfing your target in a momentary 4,000 degree fireball! Also known as the THREE SECOND FLAME THROWER! Use with extreme CAUTION!”

    And YES to “No One of Consequence”, this is what happens when you use magnesium!

    So I urge those of you who want to experiment with shotgun shells, PLEASE – DO NOT TRY TO RE-INVENT THE WHEEL! You are entitled to protect you and yours, and your property. They make mini buckshot loads for those of you who are “recoil sensitive”.

    Carry on…..

  19. You only have to go to You Tube to see how fast things will get out of control when you use Dragon’s Breath. If you wish to burn your house down, go ahead. If you are worried about home defense, vis-à-vis recoil, damage, etc., then do not use a firearm. Collateral damage is a given when you shoot inside a house. If you are that worried about safety or damage, think outside the box and defend your space without a firearm.

  20. HJL and JW, R:

    I am stunned that you would allow this post, at least without one of your well placed disclaimers. This is an accident, a lawsuit, and likely a jail sentence waiting to happen. Pure negligence to even attempt to create a weapon designed to maim rather than kill. Tort lawyers will line up to take the case if someone ever shoots this silliness at a poor, downtrodden, just tryin’ to feed my family, person of disadvantage.

    In Oregon, as Pat Cascio can attest, this would be a Class C Felony under ORS 166.382:

    A person commits the crime of unlawful possession of a destructive device if the person possesses:

    (a) Any of the following devices with an explosive, incendiary or poison gas component:

    (A) Bomb;

    (B) Grenade;

    (C) Rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces;

    (D) Missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce; or

    (E) Mine; or

    (b) Any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into any destructive device described in paragraph (a) of this subsection and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled.

    As referenced, the “missile” would be the wad and charge of powder/sawdust/pellets.

    Don’t try this at home folks!

  21. Specialty ammo from AmericanSpecialtyAmmo.com like this I would only use if TEOTWAWKI and WROL happened and I was on guard at the perimeter and the “Zombies” were about to over run us. A few specialty rounds could demoralize them until reinforcements came.

  22. Can someone with more Google Fu than I cite a case where the use of custom ammo resulted in a conviction? Or was even brought up?
    iirc, this is an urban legend started by Mas Ayoob.
    (who imho, needs some actual street cred)

  23. I may have missed it, but the invader could sue the preps out of you for making him Pelosi and Schumer his pants!

    Stick with full buckshot loads of at least #1.

    And stay away from birdshot for home defense. Learned that from a rabid coyote I had to put 30 rounds into at 10 yards. Had it been buck or slug, 1 maybe 2 rounds would have been needed. Only thing in my favor was a Saiga 12 with 10 round mags.

    I built my house with gas traps at the entrances. Both doors are able to be sealed off from the rest of the house by 1″ thick plexiglass barriers. One barrier automatically seals off the door after the intruder enters. Then I can turn on the nitrogen, and wait until he passes out before shutting it off. Then I go in with scuba gear and cuff him up, squirt some O2 in his face, and call police. All you have to do is drop the O2 level to 11% and the body shuts down immediately to conserve O2. With this system, I could capture a SWAT team, weapons and all, and not fire a single shot! However, DO NOT PLAY WITH THIS, unless you know what you are doing with gasses. It’s easy to go from knocking someone out to killing them.

  24. First, not having a lethal response to a home invader is irresponsible. If they survive, they can sue you and win in most states.
    Second, you’re dealing with someone who has no compunction about invading someone else’s home while they are in it. If you don’t kill them, you greatly increase the odds that they will kill you!
    Third, setting off an incendiary round inside your home makes you especially stupid.

    I usually come to this site for good advice, but articles such as these make me wonder whether I should continue with my daily visit. It is grossly negligent to publish articles that have the potential to injure people.

  25. I too am also interested in my survival not their’s. But…….In a TEOTWAWKI situation you just scared the perp away so he can come back better armed. If you just injured him/her you will be treating him/her.
    If not a TEOTWAWKI situation you could end up in court explaining why you” just wanted to hurt them a little bit” with an experimental load you thought up yourself.

  26. If the intruder, by being in your home illegally, has met the threshold of justified use of deadly force in your state then you need to exercise it or surrender to whatever happens.
    If you use a modified round like the one described you will be listening to the intruder and his attorney make the case in court that you are the bad guy.

  27. “This is all very technical stuff.”
    Except that none of the technical stuff you mention is right. Dumping out a particular weighted load and replacing it with an unequal load is wrong. Using this load in a revolver depending on the cylinder gap might not be a good idea. Shooting flame throughout your house is a bad idea. Sealing a cork to the case isn’t very technical either. Shooting out my food source (flour) as mentioned doesn’t seem to be sound advice at all.
    Why do all this when there are a lot of LTL commercially loaded rounds available and/or rubber bullets that can be loaded yourself from again commercial sources?
    The danger of you engaging someone breaking into your place who is willing to hurt, rape or kill you with a poorly constructed LTL round is extremely unsound advice. You can find yourself in a gunfight with LTL rounds real quick. Remember that tactical teams always cover LTL with lethal backup when being deployed too. I know how anti-law enforcement this place is but you can’t ignore what works.
    I can go on but it seems that fortunately the majority of the readers here either question this or outright reject it as anything serious, researched or even real. This is so bad and so dangerous the post should have been never considered and then deleted immediately.

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