Dragon's breath

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This article is about the shotgun round. For the cave in Namibia, see Dragon's Breath Cave. For the fictitious poisonous brew, see King's Quest V. For other uses, see Dragon's breath (disambiguation).
Dragon's breath at night

Dragon's breath is a special type of incendiary-effect round for a 12 gauge (18.5 mm) shotgun. Dragon's breath consists primarily of magnesium pellets/shards. When the round is fired, sparks and flames can shoot out to about 100 feet (30 meters), although some sources claim it extends to 300 feet (91 meters).[1] Dragons breath is normally chambered in 12 gauge 2 3/4" (18.5 mm × 69.9 mm) shot shell. The rounds are safe to fire out of an improved cylinder bore as well as a modified choke barrel, common on many shotguns.[2]


While its actual professional combat or tactical usage remains undocumented, the visual effect it produces is impressive and entertaining, similar to that of a short-ranged flamethrower or fireworks, making it popular among gun enthusiasts. Also undocumented, it has been claimed by enthusiasts that the rounds are often used as a distress signal, similar to a very short duration emergency flare gun, though some would argue a flare would be better fitted for such. The round has also been used for intimidation purposes. It may also be used as a less-than-lethal option for self-/home-defense, though the less-than-lethal aspect and safety are disputed, as the magnesium shards burn at approximately 3,000 °F (1,650 °C), which is more than enough to light a person, or house on fire. Compared to most regular types of shotgun ammunition that is mass-produced, the pyrotechnic shell is somewhat expensive, and can cost anywhere between $5–7 (USD) per shell,[3][4] depending on caliber and load. There is little or no record of its use in actual combat. Due to the shells being low-pressure charged rounds, it is not suited to be used in an auto-loading shotgun or semi-automatic shotgun; as it does not produce enough recoil energy to cycle the automated-action, causing the mechanism to fail to cycle.


Dragon's breath rounds are banned by law in most countries, due to their inherent fire hazard. Even in areas where the round may be shipped, an extra fee for hazardous materials may be charged.[5] It is heavily implied[who?] that Dragon's breath rounds qualify as "incendiary weapons" in Protocol III in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which would oblige party nations to regulate their military use, if any.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

Dragon's breath rounds appear in video games such as Deus Ex, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Payday 2, Fallout: New Vegas, Killing Floor, Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel as shotgun rounds.

In the FOX show Bones (season 8, ep. 19), Dr. Jack Hodgins suspects a dragon's breath shell could have caused the death of a former Marine sergeant, and the subsequent fire that destroyed the room around her.

In The Dresden Files, the inhuman assassin Kincaid uses dragon's breath rounds to kill Red Court Vampires.

In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines video game, an NPC character Mercurio mentions making himself a dragon's breath sawed-off shotgun for self-defense after being attacked by gang members.

In the TNT show Falling Skies, Jimmy uses dragon's breath rounds to kill two aliens while on patrol.

The popular youtuber FPSRussia has also made a video over-viewing and shooting Dragon's Breath rounds


  1. ^ http://www.americanspecialtyammo.com/12_Gauge.html
  2. ^ "Of Dragon's Breath and hammer-shells". TheFreeLibrary.com. Retrieved 2015-03-06. 
  3. ^ http://www.americanspecialtyammo.com/12_Gauge.html
  4. ^ http://www.ammunitiondepot.com/12-Gauge-Phoenix-Burst-Dragons-Breath-Ammo-p/pgw12pb.htm
  5. ^ "exotic shotgun ammo". Everything2.com. 2001-03-13. Retrieved 2014-02-07. 
  6. ^ "PROTOCOL III" (PDF). The United Nations Office at Geneva. 1980-10-10. Retrieved 2015-02-22.