Home Defense Shotguns – What’s Myth and What’s Reality?

So many different myths and ridiculous notions exist about the shotgun as a personal or home defense weapon. This article is about why a home defense shotgun deserves a second look by many. 

For every single one of those unbelievable claims by forum “experts”, or guys who have managed to convince someone they know what they are talking about, against the usage of a Shotgun as a defensive weapon; there is a real, tried and true, and accurate reason in favor of using one as a personal home defense weapon. The shotgun is deadly, but it isn’t overkill.  

If you understand what is and what is NOT ACCURATE – A home defense shotgun almost always makes sense.

The results of misinformation can run the entire gamut; it’s important to be informed of the potential of a shotgun as a home defense weapon. You aren’t going to be “cutting someone in half” by using a home defense shotgun; you won’t be lessening your chance of survival by using 5 or 6 shells in a home defense shotgun instead of 30 5.56 shots from an AR-15. 

Products covered in this article if you’re interested:

Remington 870

Benelli M3

Mossberg 590

Lever Action Shotguns

Other Shotguns

Shotgun Ammunition

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security because of misinformation, and similarly, don’t be shying away from a home defense shotgun just because you heard something from a guy who knows a guy.

The home defense shotgun is not an isolated or fringe idea.  As a combat tool, the shotgun has a good track record both in military and civilian markets.  The versatility of a shotgun in using specialty ammunition is unparalleled in a civilian firearm.  You could conceivably stack your magazine tube to tailor your ideas to the situation at hand with the inclusion of non-lethal rounds; buckshot; fletchettes, slugs or tiny birdshot.  

That’s a lot of choice, and a valuable amount of customization, and it’s provided by the ammunition, not the weapon.  With a home defense shotgun, you are going to get the benefits of a widening shot pattern, a better swing with the use of a buttstock and a lot of lead transferred to the target.  You get a more foolproof solution to your home defense concerns. 

Finding the right home defense firearm is a balance of the proper techniques and tactical mindset, a good quality firearm, and excellent ammunition that makes the home defense shotgun a viable alternative to the “traditional” home defense pistols and carbines.  

In fact, the home defense shotgun isn’t exactly unpopular, but it HAS been negatively affected by media perception and armchair commentators on the internet of late.

AN IMPORTANT NOTE: some states and jurisdictions do not look favorably on specialty ammunition in “home defense” situations. Please be making ammunition decisions that are in-line with your area’s legalities – for instance incendiary rounds are generally off limits, etc.  

Our goal is to help you find the balance in choosing a good home defense shotgun; we want to emphasize the importance of training, tactics, selecting the right ammo and choosing a perfect firearm.  We also want to help you understand the mindset of using a home defense shotgun, to minimize concerns and maximize your ability to comfortably protect yourself and your family.

How to choose a Home Defense Shotgun

First things first: The size of the shell you’ll be wanting to shoot out of the home defense shotgun you eventually decide on, is the first part to determine. Whether it is a 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 20 or other size, will determine the availability for access to ammunition.  In reality, the popularity of the 12 gauge shotgun lends to a very available mix of loads, and gives you a great balance of power and price; availability and capacity.  

While it may seem (to the uninitiated) necessary to pick a 10 gauge for maximum stopping power, or a 20 gauge for lower recoil or even a .410 for other reasons, the 12 gauge is more powerful than a 20 or a 410, yet not as heavy recoiling as a ten gauge.  

The 12 gauge is about the perfect size for a home defense shotgun. The 12 gauge spectrum is full of loads that seek to provide a full service arrangement for your home defense shotgun; of all the shotgun gauge sizes, the 12 gauge offers the most flexibility in projectiles and load specifications. 

There are low power; low recoil; magnum; rifled slugs; small shotshells; buckshot; and hundreds of other options in the range, and the cross section of ammunition manufacturers is massive as well. The same cannot be said for some of the other gauges.

Also, In a home defense scenario, so long as you practice a bit, recoil will likely be less of an issue than it seems on the surface. 

Part of the equation we mentioned above which leads to the perfect balance in the quest for a home defense shotgun is gaining the understanding and selecting proper and specific loads and ammunition.

It’s not just a matter of plug and play with shotgun loads and home defense shotguns.  You have to determine the best possible load and usage in your unique situation.

Typically you will see #12 shotshells (the smaller diameter pellet variety) up through a buckshot load.   Double ought or “00” Buckshot and Triple or “000” are considered to be the bigger loads (outside of full slugs) in a standard load of “00” you’ll find about 10 (usually between 8 and 12) distinct shots inside of a cup of shot.  Each of the projectiles weighs around 50 grains and has a .33 diameter: quite a punch.  That’s roughly equivalent to 6 shots from a 9mm if you count lead on target.  What other civilian firearms can boast that kind of single shot firepower?

Many internet forum “experts” try to convince the lurkers and the uninitiated that smaller loads are ineffective against certain criminals, like those wearing heavy clothing, or under the influence of drugs. 

Let’s talk about this for a while, because it’s a common misconception and one which is unfathomable to those who are actually in the know. I can assure you: no one, regardless of drug use or criminal intent wants to be shot by a home defense shotgun.  They certainly don’t want to be shot by a home defense shotgun at the 12 feet they are likely to be engaged at, inside of a home.  

Furthermore, when was the last time you saw a person run towards a shooter after the trigger has been pulled on a home defense shotgun?  A well trained person would probably be able to kill a threat with non lethal munitions at the distance engaged inside of a home.  The amount of force put off by a shotgun shell is immense.  

The point? Don’t believe number 8 shot can penetrate a leather jacket? Line up two leather jackets and put them in front of a 5 gallon jug of water and then tell me number 8 shot is going to bounce off of someone.  I’m willing to bet my house that the 5 gallon jug explodes violently at 30 feet, let alone 12-15 feet.  Let’s talk using logic.  Disregard ridiculous claims and look at reality when you see fools piping off about terminal ballistics that sound too good to be true. 

It’s possible there is one or two isolated incidents where a thug was wearing a heavy jacket and a #8 shot didn’t kill him.  The same thing happens to flocks of birds all the time: shots can be misplaced. Shot spreads; it can be obstructed or deflected; it can be defeated by substantial body armor.  At 12 feet, when you point a 12 gauge home defense shotgun at someone the MOST likely result is complete destruction of a 6” zone of flesh and organs, regardless of the shot size. 

A #8 shot pattern is between 6 and 8 inches of spread at around 35-40 feet.  That means that in the worst case scenario, in a home defense situation, where you are shooting someone with the same sized load at 10-12 feet, the spread will be a highly concentrated mass of lead dispersing between 1.5” and 4.5” and leading to one hell of a deterrent. Anyone care to disagree with me?  I’ll provide the leather jacket, you just have to stand there and look pretty.     

Being able to handle your weapon in a confined space is of the utmost concern, and you will want to be working with an easily maneuverable home defense shotgun. The overall length of a home defense shotgun must not be less than 26 inches; similarly, the barrel on a home defense shotgun must not be less than 18”.  

That’s ok, because I am advising you to use a buttstock (a short one at that) and also an 18” barrel, so you should hit those mandates easily enough.  It is a home defense shotgun after all. You aren’t buying it specifically to look cool (though sometimes that is the result).  Use that purpose built firearm the way it was intended.  

Don’t try to be persuaded that a pistol grip alone will suffice on the butt end of a shotgun for real accuracy.  If you don’t like not having a pistol grip, guess what? We think you should buy one WITH the buttstock attached too.  Buy a short one, make it a decent and lightweight version by a good manufacturer and practice with it. 

Just because that tiny scattergun on Bigballzz79’s forum signature looks cool, doesn’t mean it’s practical.  The point of a home defense shotgun is versatility and knock down power in an intermediate and close range, the full buttstock will help deliver that result.   

What do you really need to make this home defense shotgun theory a reality?  Well you need a flashlight that attaches to the firearm so you don’t have to remove your hands from the furniture of the shotgun.  Buy something that has strobe capabilities and a huge amount of light output (lumens), to help distract your target and help you determine the whole picture in an instant.  

As far as the gun is concerned: you need one that will work the first time; every time.  You want a gun that you are familiar with and you want a gun that is easy to render safe as well as lethal.  

You need experience with your home defense shotgun, and you should not take the training for granted, learn the ins and outs of your home defense shotgun and show the other people in your home how to use it if appropriate. You don’t need the extra frills necessarily, but oftentimes they don’t hurt you.  

I would suggest no sling, no high profile sights, no lasers and nothing extra to snag around the action area.  That said: red dot sights might be helpful and extra speed loading equipment, ghost ring sights and an extended magazine tube or magazine could be good additions to your home defense shotgun.  

It goes without saying that you should avoid holding extras in your hands; instead, opt for factory installed or high quality aftermarket accessory rails, but do so in moderation.  Your goal is to have functionality not detrimental failure via a snag on the corner of the wall as you come around to the kitchen to surprise an attacker/intruder.                                                                                                   

What style of home defense shotgun will you choose?

A pump gun capable of handling any type of load you can dream up?

An auto loader which will be a bit more finicky, but after finding a load that works well, will save you precious time and silence to more easily introduce the element of surprise?

A break open two shot side by side coach gun?

A couple makers even make a lever action shotgun for use as a home defense shotgun.

The Remington 870 and the Mossberg 500/590 are good solid choices, both on target for the money.  Mossberg just came out with their “Flex” modular furniture system and the Remington is America’s most beloved shotgun used everywhere as a law enforcement breeching weapon and a home defense shotgun by an incredible cross section of the population. If you are looking for a pump home defense shotgun, you can’t go wrong with either.

You might instead like the idea of faster follow up shots and easier middle of the night action manipulation by going with an autoloader, but it’ll cost you considerably more.  Most autoloaders are about twice the price of similarly equipped pump guns, and despite their continued use as a home defense shotgun, they tend to be a bit more finicky, so you’ll need a bit more time to find a good load before you start protecting your castle with it. 

You’ll need to spend additional time with the autoloaders as well, to get to know their behavior and the gas system adjustment.  Once you dial in the ammo and get it functioning to your standard, you can go on auto pilot because autoloaders are a dream to shoot in stressful situations: point and shoot.

Like the old west style of the Wells Fargo coach guns? The two shot double barrel is usually more than enough for a single intruder or bad guy, and with the proper training and mindset, as well as good reaction times under duress, you could potentially be right at home with multiple attackers/intruders. Jeff Cooper was a big advocate of the “Lupara” which equates to the old wolf guns of Italian shepherds. We call it a coach gun here in America, but it’s the same deal.

You might also consider a Lever Action Shotgun – something that has returned to the market and – we’re here for it!

Some Conclusions about Home Defense Shotguns

I have for years advocated the use (I use one personally) of a Benelli M3 convertible home defense shotgun, which employs a hybrid design to allow a pump and an auto depending on what you want to do with the firearm. Once you learn the system, you can’t buy better versatility or compatibility. 

Many people will opt out of purchasing such a weapon because of the complexity of using one, but if you are serious about owning a high end home defense shotgun, this is one that should be on your shortlist.

The guy coming through your front door won’t care what it is that kills him, and you have nothing to prove.  

What’s important is that you identify your wants and needs, and set about obtaining a suitable partner in the home defense shotgun realm.  

At that point, get some training, put some hours in at the range with your final choice, and get some set ideals and protocols about what you will do and how you will react during a home invasion, or during a major event where you will use your home defense shotgun. What matters is that it works for you and that you aren’t afraid to use it. 

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