The shotgun reigns supreme for defending your home. Period.
What goes into a home defense shotgun:
- Why The Shotgun?
- The Defensive Shotgun: A True Platform
- Sweetening Up The Stock
- Enhancing The Sights
- Building Up Body Armor
- The Gun Beside My Bed
- A Word About Ammo
I would never think of Bart Simpson in the same way again. Bart was displayed on a red T-shirt, and he wasn’t looking too good. The guy wearing the shirt was even worse. He had just taken a load of No. 6 shot in the upper left chest from roughly 15 feet away. He was justifiably shot while armed, invading an occupied home.
Working as a DNR Officer, I had stopped by to offer assistance when I heard it all on the radio. Now the guy in the T-shirt was slumped against the wall, head slightly tilted upward with a look on his face like he wanted to say something. But he was done talking in this world; he had just been shown that the shotgun is the best gun for home defense.
Why The Shotgun?
Why is the shotgun the best firearm for home defense? Two big reasons: range and firepower. Range is the distance between you and your aggressor — and home defense confrontations will sometimes be measured in feet, not yards. For our purposes here, firepower means how much hot lead we can bring to bear on the target in the shortest amount of time. No firearm yet invented is capable of protecting us better from anyone who has entered our home uninvited and intends to bring harm to you and yours.
How so? In short, it’s the type of ammunition fired by the shotgun. A typical 2¾-inch shotshell loaded with 00 buckshot will contain 8 to 9 .33-caliber pellets. If you fire three rounds in a home defense situation, you could be offering your assailant as many as 27 .33-caliber projectiles to consider. If you can deliver that much devastation in the same amount of time with a handgun or rifle, your name must be Jerry Miculek, and in that case, you certainly don’t need any advice from me or anyone else.
Another reason for using a home defense shotgun for this work is that many of us have a general familiarity with the weapon. Unless you’ve had adequate training with a handgun, most of us cannot hit the broadside of a barn with it, even if we are standing inside the barn. Hitting our target is simply easier with a long gun, more so with the shotgun. Patterns are tight at close range, even with short-barreled, tactical-style shotguns with little or no choke in place.
Still, the shotgun is more forgiving than the pistol or rifle in stressful home defense scenarios. A greater percent of the population has had some experience with the shotgun; you shot clays one time with a buddy, went pheasant hunting with Uncle Ed back in the day — maybe you handled the Model 12 Grandad kept in the corner at this house. The point is there are more of us, untrained, that feel more comfortable picking up a shotgun than a handgun. This makes all the difference when that thing goes bump in the night.
Remember, home defense might not necessarily mean confronting two-legged problems. Whether you live in the wilderness or the suburbs, having unwelcome animal visitors pay you a visit is fairly common. A rabid fox or raccoon can be easily dispatched with 00 buckshot. Black bears are abundant in many parts of the country now, and having one stroll through the yard or try to get in your house is not unheard of. Believe me when I tell you that a 12-gauge slug is great medicine on bears at short range.
Last summer I spent a week training with Alaska DNR, Fish and Game, USGS and others in a bear defense and awareness class. It was interesting to me that these Alaskans, who would often be working in remote areas, usually chose the same weapon many of us would for home defense: a 12-gauge pump shotgun with a short tactical-style barrel and extended magazine. The reasons for choosing this weapon are the same for the homeowner and the guy in the Alaskan bush — dependable operation, and massive firepower at short range if you need it.
In short, what the shotgun does better than any other firearm in a close-range confrontation is end the fight. Neither the rifle nor the handgun can do this as well in a home defense situation. The two drawbacks of the shotgun — limited magazine capacity and time needed to reload — are more than made up for with the superior firepower it delivers. (Reload time might now be a moot issue with the advent of the Remington 870 DM and the Mossberg 590M, both with detachable box magazines.)
The Defensive Shotgun: A True Platform
It seems many of us think only the AR-style rifles can be considered a firearm “platform.” The defensive shotgun in its simplest form might be a plain Jane pump-action 12-gauge. Think about a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500, standard stock, one simple bead on the barrel, bare bones — no frills. The shotgun in this form is absolutely capable of handling a bad situation with an intruder at your home. Can we make it better? Yes we can. Personal preferences and your wallet are the only factors limiting how far you want to go with additions and upgrades.
The stock on the shotgun is the place to start to make the shotgun a better fighting tool. Very few of us fit the standard, off-the-rack production model shotgun stock. Some form of adjustment to make the shotgun fit us better, which makes the gun more comfortable to shoot, (this gives us better accuracy) is usually in order. Many defensive shotgun instructors will advise you the stock on the fighting shotgun should be a little shorter than the one you use for wing shooting. We shoot these two shotguns differently. The fighting shotgun is aimed like a rifle, and a shorter stock gives you better control of the weapon and allows you to stay down on the gun easier.
Sweetening Up The Stock
An AR-style adjustable stock can be the answer. Mesa Tactical makes several versions; one is the LEO Telescoping Stock conversion kit, which gives the shooter a collapsible, AR-style stock with a pistol grip and an optional hydraulic recoil buffer. Another is the High Tube Stock Kit, which includes a Picatinny Rail that mounts directly from the stock adaptor to the top of the receiver, giving a platform to mount whatever type of optic you might choose.
Enhancing The Sights
After the stock, sights on the shotgun should be the next consideration. As noted before, the defensive shotgun must be aimed, and XS Sights offers Tactical Shotgun Ghost Ring sights. This set includes a green tritium front sight and two, interchangeable, fully adjustable, rear ghost ring apertures to accommodate long- and short-range shooting. Steel wings give added rear sight protection. The dovetailed front sight fits the factory sight ramp with minor fitting. For a defensive shotgun, mount the larger aperture ring for short range and forget about the smaller one. These sights are available with and without the wings on the rear sight; I prefer the one without wings for faster target acquisition.
Building Up Body Armor
In reality, gunplay in a home defense arena will rarely entail more rounds than what your shotgun will hold, but do you want to bet your life on that? A sidesaddle on the gun ensures the additional rounds will be there if you need them. ATI (Advanced Technology International) sells a wide array of aftermarket add-ons for shotguns, including a TactLite Shotshell carrier, which holds five shells, attaches to either side of the stock and has a Military-Grade Synthetic construction.
The Gun Beside My Bed
I’m not one of those people to expect everyone else to like what I like. Preferences in food, politics, music and guns are entirely up to you. I also think it is best to keep things simple, and the shotgun I’m going to grab if the Boogie Man comes around is a Remington 870 Express Tactical model. An 18 ½-inch barrel, an extended magazine allowing seven rounds in the gun and XS Ghost Ring sights give this shotgun all the essentials I want on a home defense shotgun. If you said you would want basically the same gun but it would have to be a Mossberg Model 500 or 590, or a Benelli Nova, I would very much understand. To each their own.
My preference for the 870 is not hard to figure out. Years of hunting with the 870 and then having one issued to me for many years as a police officer gave me a lot of familiarity with the Remington. The key here is having confidence in your weapon, knowing that it’s up to the task you’re going to ask of it and being familiar with the gun. You should know where the safety, action release, trigger and loading port are and be able to work the action of the shotgun, load and unload it blindfolded.
A Word About Ammo
Like any firearm, shotguns are only as effective as the ammunition you feed them. In matters of home defense, whether to load birdshot, buckshot or slugs has been debated more than where Jimmy Hoffa is hidden and has paid the rent for several gun writers. Our greatest concern with firing a shotgun in the house is, of course — too much penetration.
If we have to pull the trigger, we want to penetrate the intruder but not go through a wall and strike a family member. The list of variables in these situations is endless, and you can “what if” yourself to death. Let’s try to keep things simple.
Unless you find yourself in some extreme circumstance — like dealing with a grizzly bear that gets in your house — for anything inside the home let’s take slugs off the table. Have a slug in your ammo carrier if you want. Now you must choose between buckshot — usually 00 size or something like No. 4 buck — or birdshot, say No. 6s or No. 7½. If you’re very concerned about penetration to other rooms, go with the birdshot. Why? Because at short range, it’s not going to make much difference. If you don’t believe me, try this:
Measure the length of your living room or bedroom. Go to the range and post a target based on those measurements, and fire away with a load of 00 buckshot. Now do the same with a 7½-shot dove load. Unless you have a really big house, the patterns are going to be very similar at short, in-home distances.
The lesson is this: At short range, birdshot is very devastating. In a typical 2¾-inch 12-gauge load of No. 7½ shot, there are about 350 pellets. At close range, these pellets are tightly bunched and hit with an effect more resembling a slug than birdshot. Once the shot starts to spread a little, the small pellets are less likely to penetrate walls.
Remington’s Ultimate Defense buckshot load comes in a managed recoil version and less recoil will always result in better accuracy. Federal makes two buckshot loads in its Premium Personal Defense line — the 00 load has 9 pellets in the 2¾-inch shell, and the No. 4 buckshot load has a whopping 34 pellets. Again, pick your poison.
Thankfully, most home defense confrontations end without shots being fired. Many perpetrators flee or simply give up when they see the homeowner is armed. If you ever find yourself in this predicament, I hope you’re armed with a home defense shotgun — and I hope your guy doesn’t have on a Bart Simpson shirt.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.