What Is Snake Shot and Does It Work?

Imagine you’re walking outside. Maybe you are fishing, camping, hiking or just taking care of some business on your property.

All of a sudden, a venomous snake seemingly appears out of nowhere. You feel threatened, so you pull out a revolver, take aim, and pull the trigger. But you miss. You shoot a second time and miss again. At this point the snake may retreat, or it may just get more pissed off.

The third shot hits its mark, and you don’t have to worry about that particular snake again. If only there was a better way to ensure you hit your target on the first shot…well there may be.

In this article, I will be discussing a product called snake shot and covering:

  • What it is
  • How it works
  • It’s effectiveness
  • Pros and Cons
  • FAQs

What To Know About Snake Shot

What is Snake Shot Ammo?

Snake shot may also be referred to as rat shot or dust shot, but to better answer this question we first need to talk about handgun ammunition and shotgun ammunition.

Handgun Ammmunition

45 acp

Ammunition that is used in a handgun is typically called a cartridge. It consists of a piece of brass filled with gunpowder and a primer at the bottom. A single bullet sits on top of the brass.

When the firing pin hits the primer, it creates a spark that ignites the gunpowder, which creates a small explosion that propels a singular projectile, the bullet, down the barrel.

The key takeaway here is that shooting a singular projectile makes hitting a target more difficult.

Shotgun Ammunition

shotgun shells

Shotgun ammunition is referred to as shotgun shells. There are different types of shells, but I will be focusing on the most commonly used kind, which fires shot. The principle for how a shotgun shell is fired is the same as handgun ammunition.

The difference is that instead of shooting a singular projectile, a shell is filled with pellets, or shot. If it helps, you can think of these as a bunch of tiny bullets.

Pellets, or shot, come in different sizes, and how much shot is in shell depends on it’s size. The smaller the shot size, the fewer pellets in the shell. The larger the shot size, the more pellets there are in the shell.

For example and on average, a #1 shell with 1 oz of shot has about 75 pellets, whereas a #5 shell with 1 oz of shot has about 157 pellets in it.

When a shotgun shell is fired, the shot travels down the barrel similar to a bullet. But soon after the shot leaves the barrel, it begins to spread out, which covers a larger area.

This is why shotguns are so popular for hunting, like duck hunting. The shot covers a larger area than a single bullet. This makes it much easier to hit a target, especially if the target is moving.

How Does it work?

Snake shot is basically a shotgun shell that has been scaled down so that it can be used in handguns or in other smaller caliber platforms.

This allows a person to carry ammunition that is similar to a shotgun shell. Snake shot/rat shot won’t provide the same power that a shotgun shell does, but it will provide better patterns at close distances.

Even at close range it can sometimes be difficult to hit small game, small pests, or venomous snakes, with popular handgun calibers (45 acp, 45 colt, 9 mm, etc.). But a firearm loaded with a variety of ammunition gives the shooter more options to choose the right ammo for the situation.

Is it Effective? My Experience With Shooting Snake Shot

I have used snake shot before in a revolver, but I have only done so at the firing range. I have never used it against anything living. From my limited experience, the effective range was about five to ten feet, which is very close range. Once I started going past ten feet, the pattern spread out a lot and only a few pellets were hitting the intended target.

Years ago, I had talked to several people who were experienced with shooting snake shot, both at the range and at other threats.

Most of them agreed with my experience at the shooting range and that snake shot was meant for very close range.

Outside of the shooting range, they found snake shot to be helpful and effective at dealing with venomous snakes, pest control, hunting small game, and even as a self-defense round against larger threats.

One person was surprised by a poisonous snake when they were inside of their barn. Small critters love to hide out inside barns, and being surprised by such a snake in a tight location wasn’t very comforting.

He was carrying a revolver loaded with rat shot and dispatched the snake with one round. He was thankful that the shell had such a tight group of pellets, otherwise he most likely would have had to fire more shots.

However, when it comes to larger threats, snake shot should be viewed more as deterrent rather than an effective self-defense round. The small shot and limited range isn’t likely to neutralize a larger threat, but it may make them think twice about advancing.

This is why some people will carry a firearm loaded with these shot shells in their “garden guns.” It gives them ammo for snake defense and other vermin while they tend to their chores.

Pros and Cons of Snake Shot


  • Easier to hit targets
  • Effective for snakes and small pests
  • Less lethal option for larger threats
  • Good ammo for “garden guns”


  • May not be as effective and generally not as likely to be lethal against larger threats
  • Can be hard on a rifled barrel


Does snake shot ammo come in different sizes?

Yes, but the shot shells most commonly come in .22 LR with #12 shot.

Can snake shot shells only be used in a revolver?

No. Snake shot/rat shot commonly comes in .22 LR, which can be used in guns like a handgun, rifle, and other long guns.

Is snake shot ammunition good for self-defense?

From my experience and hearing other’s firsthand accounts, snake shot can be used for self-defense at very close ranges when dealing with snakes and other potential threats that are small. Just remember that it is not going to have the same power or effective range as a shotgun.

How do people carry snake shot?

If the firearm they are carrying holds more than one round of ammo, a shooter will usually have the firearm loaded with larger calibers as well as one to three rounds of Snake Shot.

Final Thoughts

Call it snake shot, rat shot, or dust shot, these shot shells are intended to kill snakes and deal with pest control at close range. From everything that I have heard, they are effective at doing so.

If you expect to be dealing with such problems when you are out and about, having your firearm or “garden gun” loaded with at least one of these shot shells may not be a bad idea.

Thanks for reading, and stay prepared.

Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land, and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually, he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. In 2019, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. His second book, Paracord Projects For Camping and Outdoor Survival, is scheduled to be released on March 2, 2021.

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