Whether you play popular first-person shooter video games, love exotic ammo, or just watched John Wick 4, you have probably seen the insane effects of the 12 gauge Dragon’s Breath round. It’s a special kind of ammunition called an incendiary round, made to set its target on fire. The effect is created by the magnesium pellets it’s loaded with, which can burn up to 4000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Before using these rounds, it’s important to know and follow the safety precautions. First off, these are not meant to be used in self-defense or for hunting. These are used more often for special effects or (rarely) training. The setting you’re shooting in also needs to be fire-resistant, as the flame can extend between 100-300 feet. If you’re not careful, you can easily set grass, brush, or trees on fire. It can also risk severe burns to bystanders if used incorrectly.
These incendiary rounds are based in principle on machine gun ammunition designed in WW2 to shoot down planes by setting their gas tanks on fire. In the 1970’s, the incendiary concept was introduced to the 12 gauge 2 3/4 inch shell. Although there are claims about the use of Dragon’s Breath ammunition for tactical purposes, the intended use is to ignite flammable targets and wow an audience.
Currently, you can buy 5 rounds of Dragon’s Breath for $30, though it does vary between the different companies that manufacture this style of ammunition. It’s common to see extra fees due to the danger of shipping it, so shop wisely. It’s so destructive it’s actually illegal in now restricted states as well as a few that are normally more 2A-friendly, such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, Washington DC, Iowa, New York State, Florida, California, Alaska, and Hawaii.
In pop culture, these rounds have a decent presence. They’re seen the most in video games—typically first-person shooter games. One of the most popular objectively is Call of Duty: Black Ops. There’s even an achievement dubbed ‘The Dragon Within,’ earned by killing ten enemies during the Defector mission. It can also be seen in Fortnite, Modern Warfare 3, Counterstrike, and Killing Floor. One less conventional appearance is its use in Rise of the Tomb Raider where Lara Croft uses a Winchester Model 1912 loaded with Dragon’s Breath rounds to work her way through enemies. These video game features aren’t always the most accurate–for instance, in Fortnite, its entire purpose is just to set the enemy on fire–though it definitely still looks cool on screen.
The Dragon’s Breath round is less commonly seen on screen, though it does make random appearances. It made an appearance in Falling Skies, season 2 episode 3 where Jimmy is seen using it with a Mossberg 500 shotgun. It also appears in John Wick 4 (2023). Without giving out spoilers, long story short Keanu Reeve’s (insanely skilled) character John Wick winds up fighting in an apartment, and the director thought this scene needed something, and at a spark of inspiration from the 2019 video game Hong Kong Massacre, Dragon’s Breath made its appearance. Chad Stahelski turned this once allegedly lacking scene into a visual extravaganza that has caught the eyes of viewers around the world–especially firearm enthusiasts. This scene was also almost cut apparently, who knew that a nearly unseen moment has become a fan favorite? Within days, or hours, of the movie’s release, the Dragon’s Breath 12-gauge ammunition began selling out quickly. So, the ease of getting it now may vary, but it’s still possible.
Fun Fact: contrary to popular belief, this isn’t Keanu Reeve’s first time using Dragon’s Breath. In Constantine (2005), Reeves plays John Constantine where the character ironically wields a mystical flamethrower of the same name with similarly explosive effects. It even gets mounted to the base of the fictional ‘Holy Shotgun’, though it does load golden 12-gauge shells.
So, as this ammunition has caught the world on fire, it continues to sell out as enthusiasts envy John Wick (because who wouldn’t). However, if you find yourself to be one of these people, keep in mind the proper precautions that need to be made. Understand as well that though the media may make this look like a great idea for self-defense, it’s definitely not. Proceed with caution, and have fun.
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For more information on 12 gauge defensive loads, check out Travis’ article on Federal FliteControl Buckshot.