The shotgun is one of the oldest and most popular weapons for home defense. There are few weapons as powerful as a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun firing buckshot or slug rounds at close range. What about the shotgun makes it worth considering instead of, say, a handgun or rifle?
Why the Shotgun?
If you’re contemplating purchasing a firearm for self-defense, you may be asking, “Why a shotgun?” Handguns and rifles have their place in home defense planning, but the shotgun is a versatile and powerful weapon that warrants consideration.
A shotgun has stopping power. If you need to stop a criminal assailant, the shotgun is one of the most effective small arms available due to the ammunition used.
However, there are other reasons to consider a shotgun for home defense:
In some jurisdictions, magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition and semi-automatic centerfire rifles, such as the popular AR-15 pattern, are restricted. However, in these locations, local laws rarely specifically address a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun.
High-quality pump-action and double-barreled shotguns are among the least expensive firearms available. If you’re on a budget, a shotgun can be a cost-effective home-defense weapon.
Shotguns are among the most popular weapons in the world. Spare parts, accessories, and ammunition are generally available. If you invest time training and practicing with your shotgun, you’ll know you’ll be able to transfer those skills to other weapons with ease.
Drawbacks of Shotguns
No weapon type is perfect, and you’ll need to evaluate your needs and preferences when choosing a shotgun for home defense.
Shotguns can recoil more heavily than many centerfire defensive rifles, requiring the use of recoil pads, muzzle brakes or ported and extended chokes, and proper stock selection.
A 20-gauge shotgun or gas-operated action can reduce the recoil for shooters, ensuring less flinching that could affect the shooter’s aim.
Shotgun shells take up more space than handgun and rifle cartridges. If you need to carry spare shells, you will be unable to carry as many rounds for the same volume and weight. However, for home defense, this may be of limited importance.
If the rounds in the magazine are insufficient, a side saddle can add another three to six.
Hollywood typically depicts the spread of buckshot as fan-like, destroying everything in front of the muzzle. The reality is that, while shot pellets begin to disperse upon exiting the muzzle, spreading outward, at close range, the spreading pattern may be the size of an apple.
Nevertheless, training and practice with shotguns are essential to achieve accurate results, regardless of the ammunition type.
Shotgun Ammunition Explained
Shotguns fire several different types of ammunition, but the three most common types are:
Birdshot pellets are designed primarily to hunt waterfowl and upland birds and shoot aerial targets, such as clay discs. Although gun owners sometimes load their shotguns with birdshot to reduce interior-wall penetration, birdshot is generally unsuitable for self-defense.
The pellets do not reliably achieve sufficient penetration to disrupt vital organs and major blood vessels, producing comparatively superficial, although grisly, wounds.
Buckshot pellets are designed for hunting and self-defense. Buckshot rounds are the most suitable ammunition type if you keep a shotgun in the home for protection. The most common buckshot sizes are #4, #1, and #00 (pronounced “double aught”).
#4 buckshot consists of .24-caliber pellets weighing 20 grains each. In a standard-length 12-gauge shotgun shell (2¾”), #4 buckshot charges yield approximately 27 pellets.
#1 buckshot pellets are .30 caliber. weigh 40 grains each, and yield approx. 16 pellets.
#00 buckshot pellets are .33 caliber, weigh 54 grains each, and yield approx. 9 pellets. This size is commonly used by law enforcement and is highly effective for most defensive and tactical applications.
Slugs can be divided into two types: Rifled slugs designed for smoothbore barrels and sabot slugs designed for use in rifled barrels. Rifled slugs are akin to heavy, flat-nosed lead bullets. Sabot slugs are sub-caliber projectiles enclosed in discarding envelopes.
In the context of urban and suburban home defense, slugs are usually too penetrative. If you live in a rural environment and need a weapon to penetrate cover, slugs are ideal.
Different Types of Shotguns
To find the best home-defense shotgun, it’s important to evaluate and experiment with various makes and models. Some popular choices include:
Remington 870 Express Tactical
Introduced in 1950, the Remington 870 is one of the most popular shotguns on the U.S. market. A classic pump-action shotgun, the heavy steel receiver is strong and durable, and the cross-bolt safety catch is located behind the trigger guard.
The Express Tactical has an 18.5” barrel — ½” more than the legal limit — and a magazine capacity of six 2¾” 12-gauge shotgun shells. The barrel includes the Tactical Rem Choke, which is extended and ported. The dual action bars, a Remington trademark, ensure smooth cycling, preventing the action from binding.
Mossberg 500 Tactical
The Mossberg 500 series is the primary competitor to the Remington 870. Introduced in 1960, the Mossberg has a comparatively lightweight aluminum-alloy receiver and an ambidextrous safety catch. The 500 Tactical is a rugged, reliable, and simple shotgun, which is why it’s remained so popular over the years. It’s also a cost-effective option for the budget-conscious shooter.
Winchester SXP Defender
The Winchester SXP Defender uses a four-lug rotary bolt and inertia-assisted cycling to ensure you’re able to place more lead on target in less time. The SXP Defender’s standard magazine capacity is five shells, plus one in the chamber.
Winchester uses a special type of recoil pad that moves the comb away from the shooter’s cheek while absorbing the blow to the shoulder to control the recoil.
Aside from pump-action shotguns, there are also semi-automatic weapons, which typically use gas or recoil to cycle. The Benelli M2 uses the Italian firm’s trademark inertia system, a type of recoil operation, allowing it to cycle with a variety of different shotgun loads. Some shooters may find the recoil stiff, however.
If you’d prefer a gas-operated shotgun, the Remington 1100, introduced in 1963, is one of the most widely used and popular examples on the market. Many shooters report that gas operation reduces the apparent recoil of the shotgun, allowing for improved handling and less fatigue. If you’re sensitive to recoil or need to share your shotgun with members of the household who are, consider a gas-operated weapon.
Every Long Gun Needs a Sidearm
At We the People Holsters, we value all firearms, including shotguns. When you need to carry a handgun as a companion to your shotgun, we provide a wide range of high-quality holster options made in the U.S.A. We use thermoformed Kydex for a perfect holster fit, ensuring your firearm is securely retained at all times.