Choosing a Shotgun for Home Defense


The excellent Remington 887 Tactical 12ga pump action shotgun

If your primary use for a firearm is for a home defense weapon, you should think about a shotgun as an alternative to a pistol.

A shotgun is very much more powerful.  It is also very much more intimidating – in other words, you might scare the bad guy so much that he runs away or surrenders and you don’t have to escalate matters to where you’re left with no choice but to shoot.  There’s nothing more likely to get a person’s attention than the unmistakable sound of a pump action shotgun being racked to chamber a round, ready to fire.

On the other hand, we should also tell you what a shotgun isn’t.  A shotgun is not a substitute for accuracy.  At typical home defense ranges (almost certainly less than 7 yds/21 ft) even a cylinder bore short barreled shotgun will have very little spread of the shot.  Assuming you’re shooting 00 buckshot, it will perhaps spread out so the nine or so balls would all fit within a 5″ diameter circle at 7 yards, give or take an inch or so, and if the range is shorter, the spread will be even tighter.

Here’s a great set of pages with photos of real life spreads – don’t look at the torso spreads, which were done at 15 yards, look at the head spreads which were done at 7 yards.

If or when you get your own shotgun, do your own testing to see how much spread you’ll get from the gun, with the rounds you expect to be firing through it.

A shotgun is just as dangerous as a pistol when it comes to the risk of missed shots going through walls, outside your home, and into your next door neighbor’s home.

A shotgun is also not as easy to carry around while you’re searching the house for a hidden intruder.  And – please!  Never consider searching through your house to actively find an intruder.  If you believe an intruder to be in the house, stay in your bedroom or other safe room, and call the police.  Get them to clear the house for you.  You only need a gun to defend yourself in your safe room if the intruder breaks down the door and comes at you.

A Mossberg 935 semi-auto 12 ga shotgun

Choosing a Shotgun

If you decide to get a shotgun, we recommend you get a 12 gauge pump action shotgun (cheaper than a semi-auto, less to go wrong, and allows you to make that lovely racking sound); get one that is chambered for 3″ shells (if you feel up to it, consider also the few models that can take 3 1/2″ shells), get one with the shortest barrel possible (legal minimum length is 18″) and with a cylinder or no choke for the barrel, then load it up with 00 buck (and if you can find ‘low recoil’ type shells, perhaps you might choose those for greater controllability).

What is choke?  It is a measure of how much the shot will spread, and how quickly, after it exits the barrel.  In sequence from spreading the most quickly to the least quickly, the types of choke available (not all shotguns offer all choke options) are cylinder (or no choke), skeet, improved cylinder, light modified, modified, improved modified, light full, full, extra full and super full.  Because you’ll be shooting at short-range, you want as much spread as possible.  Here’s a great page that describes choke in more detail.

If you’re considering a shotgun, then a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500 or 590 would be the models to consider.  Expect to spend between about $300 and $500 for a shotgun – yes, although bigger, they are not as expensive as a pistol.

Shot shells will cost you about $1 each if you’re buying 00 buck in 2 3/4″ sized shells, and more if you get the 3″ or the enormous 3 1/2″ shells.

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  One Response to “Choosing a Shotgun for Home Defense”

  1. The old school advice to pick the shotgun for “home defense” is obsolete. The old school advice was based on the notion that homeowners didn’t need to learn to use a shotgun–because they were already trained and experienced! Of course, that was back in the anti-war Twenties and Thirties and handguns were only good for “killin’ people,” but shotguns were valuable on the farm and in the sporting field.

    Today, ANY firearm requires appropriate training. You mention the tactic of forting up and yelping for help (good advice, but then that’s part of firearms training for the self-protection role). Getting a shotgun without getting trained is no wiser than getting a double action revolver without getting trained. You point this out with “A shotgun is just as dangerous as a pistol when it comes to the risk of missed shots going through walls, outside your home, and into your next door neighbor’s home.”

    And part of being trained with the long gun is hand-to-hand combat. Long gun retention is more difficult than handgun retention. Yes, you “shouldn’t” let the bad guys get that close–but if they’re inside your home with you, they’re “that close” already. Very few instructors cover long gun retention–the police would release their shotgun and transition to their sidearm. Oops! Somebody bought a shotgun instead of a handgun–it was “either/or” due to economics.

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