Shotguns for Defense


Shotguns remain the very best weapon ever devised for static defense situations.  Meaning Home Defense or Security.  But we’ve seen a trend that has people moving away from the Shotgun in other situations.  Such as your Truck Gun or Cruiser Gun.  Police have turned to Rifles, and SBR’s are becoming the gun of choice for Truck Guns.  And depending on where you are – this might not be a good thing.

The popularity of the AR-15 is unquestioned.  It’s become “America’s Rifle”, and by Right, it should be.  The AR-15 in it’s Militant Form has been serving the Nation as our Military’s main battle rifle for over 40 years.  It’s cool to have an AR-15 and it’s cool to deck out that rifle with all sorts of add-on expensive parts and upgrades and components… and to make it so it doesn’t actually look like an AR anymore.  That’s for the Cool Guys… but is it for you?  Is a 3,000 dollar rifle what you need to defend the castle?   Really?    Do you need to reach out to 600 Meters with a glorified .22 magnum?  Maybe you do.
When I lived in Vernal, Utah I most certainly could use that range and precision accuracy for defensive use.   Maybe.  In some Red Dawn Zombie Fantasy.  In reality… my actual defensive needs were maybe 50 yards max.   That’s 00 Buck range.  If I had to extend – realistically I’d only need 200 yards.  That’s Slug range.   I’m talking Defensive Use… I’m not talking precision sniper Hostage Rescue use.  That’s for Police.  For my buddies in the Sheriff’s Department with the well zeroed heavy rifles.   I can’t justify defensive use 200 yards away.

Reality dictates I need to stop a threat that’s trying to come into my home.  And that’s where Joe Biden’s suggestion is actually a good one.  Just buy a Shotgun.  He was absolutely right.   And then he threw that out the window with the two blasts in the air and the shooting through doors thing.  But he was right about buying a shotgun.

Remington 870.  Mossberg 500.  One of those.  18.5″ Barrel.  Or if you get one that’s registered as a pistol you can get a 14 barrel for it, like in the photo above.  You don’t need a $2,000 Benelli M4… By all means, if you can get one, do it… but the mission is quite resolved with a 400 Pump Action.  Avoid the pumps made in Turkey by otherwise well known brands… Don’t cheap out on that brand new $299 pump.

I’d rather buy a well used Remington 870 than anything else… that’s just me.

Get some good 3″ hunting loads for it… not the super cheap #7 or #8 Shot loads… those suck.  Get some good loads.  And test the shotgun for reliability.  If it cycles good, and isn’t knocking you on your tush… you’ve got the weapon you need.   NOW the fun part comes in.  Now you get to go find all the different 00 Buck Loads you can find.  A box or two of each.  And find maybe 3 or 4 different Slug Loads.   Now go out and find some big boxes like appliances come in.  Draw a circle or Tape a paper plate on the box…. several of them.   And get to testing.

Patterning your Shotgun is like Zeroing your Rifle.  Find the load that your Shotgun likes the best – not the load You like the best.  There’s a difference.  If your load is giving you a pattern that is empty in the center – that is not your load.  You want a nice spread across your impact zone.  For the slugs, you want point of aim, point of impact accuracy and consistency.    Once you find the loads that your gun likes the best – That’s the ammo you go stock up on.

It’s unbelievable to me that guys will buy a brand new shotgun and then buy a couple cases of the cheap birdshot ammo… and that’s it.  If you are buying a gun to go break clays with – fine.  But for a shotgun you are going to defend lives with?  That’s irresponsible.  Take everything you do for gun safety and professionalism – and throw it out the window.  Your gun is untested and unzeroed = that’s a NO GO.  Yet you do that with your shotgun?    That’s a Fail.  You need to know how your gun performs with the ammo you are going to use for defense.  And seriously #7.5 loads that have Clay Pigeons on the box is NOT your defensive ammo.  Or else it shouldnt be.   Ever.  The smallest you should use for defense in any situation is BB Shot.  Even in an Apartment or close packed trailer park.  And even then, I’d suggest #4 Buck.  The shell should also be “High Brass”.  Trap loads have aluminum bases with very short heads… During firing in some guns, that little bit of aluminum will expand out and create a lock ring in your chamber making ejection very difficult or it could jam the gun, requiring some serious pounding to get it unstuck.   I’ve seen that in many shotguns using that cheap ammo.  You want big pellets and high brass.  And quite frankly, the bigger the better.  Police agencies across the nation and around the world who use shotguns, use 00 Buck for a reason.   Go ask your local Sheriff’s what they recommend for shotguns or what they use.   Some may use Regular or #4 Buck… I know some that used to use 000 Buck before switching to rifles.  But the great majority use 00 Buck.

When it comes to slugs, you want to use a Brenneke or Foster type slug.  Brenneke slugs have a drag device on the back of them… an attached wadding or plastic tail to stabilize the slug.  A Foster will generally be rifled and have a hollow base.  Either one is suitable for your smooth bore, and will be shockingly accurate if you do your part.

The Slug type to avoid in a smoothbore gun is a SABOT.  Oh, I know they look cool as hell.  But they require a Rifled Bore.   If that’s what you have – by all means… but we’re talking defensive smoothbores here and with those, a SABOT is useless.  They will be less stable, less accurate and they are going to tumble in the air before they strike the target and wont perform like a giant hollowpoint bullet.   You are wasting your money on those.  From all the testing I’ve done with common slug shells… overall the Brenneke type slugs are consistently the most accurate.  Especially in the 3″ loads.  Your shoulders may want something else.  2 3/4″ Foster type slugs from Winchester or Remington are common and do quite well.  Reduced Recoil Tactical Slugs kick a lot less and are just fine out to 100 yards.   But buy some different types and try them out.

The shotgun is much more capable than most guys think.

27 thoughts on “Shotguns for Defense”

  1. Well said, as usual, George. In a forum we both belong to I posted so of those “appliance box” targets with Federal Flite Control 9 pellet 00B and Hornady Critical Defense 8 pellet 00B using their version of the same wad.

    The results at under 50 yards are amazing. I think all 9 pellets were within about 4-5 inches at home defense range — 15 yards, with both loads.

    I also posted a target of regular Remington #1 buck which had all 16 pellets in a 12 inch grouping at 15 yards.

    These were out of a 20″ Remington IC barrel. I actually like the #1 better, I think, for shots that are likely to be even shorter than 45 feet. Inside my home, 30 feet would probably be more realistic, and at that range ordinary low cost and readily available #1 buck is very effective from that shotgun.

    If I recall #1 buck (,30 cal) is the smallest size that meets the minimum FBI criteria.

    You are absolutely right that you must pattern every shotgun barrel. Each will have its preferences.

    My handgun in my nightstand exists for only two purposes. One: to defend self or family if I have no other choice . Two: to get me to that shotgun, if I do have time.

  2. I like the Winchester Ranger low-recoil 00 buck; living in an urban area, longest distance I might realistically need to use it, the goblin wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between these and magnums. And these are a lot easier on the shoulder, and I can aim and fire a second faster. If they made them in #4 buck, I’d grab some.

  3. I went to an AR platform over a shotgun for the same primary reason police switched over, less risk of over penetration. I’ve fired buck shot, slugs and various 5.56 rounds through simulated walls. The results convinced me to give up the shotgun.

    The Hornaday TAP ammo I currently run does not pass through multiple exterior walls as buck shot can at short ranges or slugs can at greater distances. Living in the suburbs, it is a smarter choice.

    Several years ago an acquaintance discharged a slug in his home. It passed through the block construction of his home and the exterior brick facade. It traveled an additional 75+/- feet before blowing through the neighbors chimney/fire place and coming to a stop in the far wall of the den. Luckily no one was home or in the slugs path.

    The other advantage of an AR(or similar carbine), it is far easier for those of small stature to handle. While my 120# sister can handle a shotgun for the occasional trap session, the constant pounding will put most off of training with one to the extent of being able to run one effectively as a defensive arm. After a slew of work place and motorcycle/moto-x injuries, even I can’t run a shot gun too long before the pain kicks in. I can still run several hundred rounds through my AR with ease.

    1. TheIrishman gets it in one. I have nothing to add.

      AR beats shotgun for suburban home defense in pretty much every category save cost.

  4. Out of curiosity, how good is Hevi-Shot’s “Personal Defense” T-shot loading, stopping-power wise? Since I live in an apartment, I’m somewhat concerned about over-penetration with buckshot, which is why I have one round of the Hevi-Shot up first in the mag tube.

    (And four more rounds of Federal’s low-recoil “Tactical” 00 buckshot behind it, which in my Mossberg 500 – with its old-style 18.5″ smoothbored “slug” barrel – patterns almost as tight as a slug at fifteen yards. I figure that after that hypothetical first shot, my neighbors will be on the floor and hopefully out of harm’s way should worse comes to worst…)

    I’ve also gotten pretty tight (6″) groups with cheapo Estate 00 buck at 15 yards, which is good as it’s a lot easier to find that locally than the Federal Tactical.

      1. It’s certainly over-priced, which is one reason I only bought a couple boxes of it. 😉

        I’ve also found that it doesn’t pattern nearly as tightly as the buckshot loads I mentioned above, although at typical home defense ranges that probably won’t matter too much. Especially since I’d only be using it for the first shot.

  5. I believe that everyone should have at least 1 shotgun in their arsenal as they are the most versatile tool in the toolbox. On the used market a quality 870 or M500 can be had for a few hundred dollars. Brenneke slugs are extremely accurate out of a smooth bore and Fosters work great (until they hit something and tumble wildly). To expand on rifled barrels, they should be discouraged for defense and be used for hunting only. They are too specialized and are only good with sabot slugs. As soon as you try and fire any type of shot (buck or bird) and the rifling will throw patterns way out that will look like a donut. I do love my Benelli M1014 but a cheapie 870 can get the job done just as good.

  6. I use an AR for home defense for three reasons:
    1. It is what I know best. I’ve been shooting M16/M4/AR15s since the early 1980s. I never really used a shotgun until about 5 years ago. If someone breaks into my home at night, I want something that I can use without having to remember where something is to manipulate.
    2. As has been said up thread, worry about overpentration. I’ve seen the wall penetration tests with Hornady TAP vs buckshot vs. slugs. I’m a lot less likely to penetrate a neighbor’s home if I miss.
    3. My wife has shoulder issues that make shooting a shotgun not a good idea. So, we can both use an AR without issues.

  7. For those who are bothering to read the comments: Go Back and read the article post again. Then print it off for later review. Print a few copies, so you can share them with friends.

    Right here is the best advice on shotguns that you will get, short of taking a dedicated training class.

    Great article, George.

  8. I have a “Slappy” the couch gun, .12ga double that is a go to IF I know there might be trouble but that one word “recoil” makes the SG a poor choice (IMHO) for most folks home defense situations. Recoil will make them miss. I have taken novice shooters who could handle an AR fairly well try a .12 ga pump and Slappy. They most times will shoot it once and stop. Maybe the answer would be a .20 or .16ga? But then you give up power and range. I can put 5 rounds from my AR or AK (HP) into a center target a general pistol ranges in the time it takes to fire one .12 and recover.

  9. Actually, for those sensitive to recoil, you do not give up much with a 20 gauge, not at home defense distances.

    1. A 20GA has somewhere around twice the muzzle energy of a full house .44 magnum. Unfortunately, dedicated 16/20/28/.410 shotguns also tend to be lighter than their 12 gauge counter parts(the 16 usually being the closest). While recoiling less than a 12GA, they do still have a thump to them.

      20GA Briley tubes in a heavy 12GA double however have barely any noticeable recoil. That said, just due to the number of home invasions by multiple assailants, I personally would never use a 2 shooter when I have 15 rounds available in my AR.

  10. While I have an 870 near my bed with Hornady Versatite 00B, I have to disagree with MOST people that think to use them as their home defense guns. An AR is a better HD gun for every reason that matters, perhaps save one. (saved for last)
    First, as mentioned, 00B will penetrate. If you miss your assailant (and odds are that you will) those pellets will continue for a surprising distance, and if you have kids or even neighbors, this is a very real concern. This can be mitigated through the use of smaller shot, but now you give up something else such as lethality (birdshot), commonality (T shot or BB’s), and availability (the almost mythical #1B Federal Flite Control stuff).
    Second, the recoil of a 12GA varies somewhere between decent to monumental depending on the ammo and the stature of the shooter, and even the training of the shooter. This is significant not just because of the shock in the “heat of the moment” but in that a person will not practice with “that old shotgun that kicks like a mule”.
    Third, the gross misconceptions on the part of probably 75% of shooters about the performance of shotguns can fill an encyclopedia (if anyone used encyclopedias anymore..). Their mythological capabilities encourage every myth from the “point and shoot” to the “rack it and run” mindsets, which is all that many shooters buying their first home defense gun can seem to remember.
    Fourth, the ammo capacity of even a gun with an extended mag is only 8 rounds, and in an environment where misses are likely and multiple assailants are more common, several rounds on target are VERY desirable. This leads into..
    Fifth, a pump shotgun is NOT an easy gun to run. For many of the above reasons, they are often hard to get hits with, and furthermore even for an experienced user, reloading is a slow and complicated task. I can attest that while training Navy shooters, the weapon with the biggest failure rate would be the venerable 12GA. It’s loud, it hurts, and it’s complicated to keep fed.
    Now, they hit HARD and for an experienced user they are a VARY viable tool, but their single biggest “pro” is that they are imminently affordable. They can be had for $350 (or less if you try) whereas even a bargain AR is in the $600-$800 range. Throw in the cool-guy stuff (after all, if you don’t look cool, you’re half a man..) and now it’s north of a grand. Despite this though, an M4 type AR is probably the ultimate HD weapon thanks to the ammo being devastating to BG’s but breaking up in walls, being easy to shoot well, and having dozens of rounds on tap. It’s easy to run AND easy to refill. Buuuut, it’s pricy. I for one (remember my HD gun..) had to sell my AR during the recent run in order to cover some bills, but thankfully I CAN run an 870 and for the reasons listed above I don’t feel undergunned although I recognize that I’m “making do” until I can throw down on the Daniel Defense that has been my “Elanor” for some time.

  11. Forgive me if this seems argumentative. It is not intended to be.

    With respect, I don’t think my 12 gauge 20″ IC tube is nearly as loud as my 16″ AR15 carbine. And, I would suggest that the ability to bottom load more shells from a six shell side saddle between engagements, topping off as shells are expended, if there are multiple engagements, is actually an advantage over having to pause to replace an empty magazine at perhaps an inopportune moment. And my extension tube holds 8, so my total load is 9.

    My HD shotgun is not a pump. It is a Remington 1100 semi-auto, which I would also argue has been proven to be as reliable as the typical AR15, also a semi-auto. Because it is gas operated, there is some reduced recoil, both from the powering of the action and because the recoil is spread over a longer period of time, and it is simpler to operate and keep on target under stress than a pump might for some.

    Others may cringe here at the suggestion, but I do have a tactical light on that shotgun, an EOTech/Insight tape switch operated light. It is a momentary on with a red laser (which can be optionally deactivated). While not a fan of red lasers for most purposes, it does allow that shotgun to be used from any angle or position, if need be. It would not ordinairly be deployed, but it is there and it is sighted in properly if I should need to squeeze that tape switch.

    I like my AR15, but it would play a secondary role, even with multiple intruders, inside my home. Frankly, when my life and that of my family is on the line, I do not care about over penetration. I know my home. My wife and I are the only occupants. I live in the country on 20 acres and my nearest neighbor is well beyond buckshot range. For me, it’s a no brainer. George is right.

    1. Well with respect Mississippi, George is “right” in your particular situation. All the other comments not with standing…

  12. Guess I’m a little weird and very lucky.

    I don’t plan to get a lot of shotguns because I’m more into IPSC pistols so I jumped on the chance to get a Benell M3T (top folder) when a friend was letting it go for 1/3 the cost.

    Yep, this police duty thing is my home defense gun. The wife and daughter have a .38 and a tacticool rimfire respectively.

    The M3T is a heavy and overbuilt shotgun that can do semi-auto or pump. I prefer the semi-auto mode with the 00 of my choice, slugs are in the side saddle. If I ghost load it, I can have a total of 8+1. Need more ammo? I’ve got a 50 round bandolier thats easier to put on than any chest rig. A tactical light, sling, and ammo velcroed to the shotgun are my only other accessories. I don’t intend to clear rooms, but its good that I can defend our large bedroom indefinitely.

    Normally its not a good idea to go for this type of shotgun, but I like the fact that its incredibly durable and reliable. All this is possible because I got it really cheap. The dude who sold it to me? He always gets a cold drink from me.

  13. Why the birdshot hate? I get the point about cheap and/or weak ammo but what about quality reliable heavy field loads?

    I’ve seen penatration testing by ProArms and on that seem to show birdshot as more than adequate at home defense range. iirc, proarms even validated it with 20ga.

    What am I missing?

  14. This is the perfect shotgun for small women like me, it is easy to use. Thanks for the tips about ammo, I did not realize that I needed to use ammo that the gun likes, not what I like.

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