Countless hours have been spent arguing what makes the “best” home defense gun. The reality is there is not a single gun that meets the requirements of every person and household.
Frequently, when talking about home defense guns, the shotgun is brought up first. The shotgun can make a very good home defense weapon, but it does have limitations that should be carefully considered.
Shotguns offer devastating stopping power. From a 12 gauge shell, a homeowner can put nine 00-buck (.33 caliber) pellets into an assailant with each pull of the trigger. While this is not guaranteed to stop a determined attacker, it is certainly an attention getter.
By comparison, a 9mm pistol fires a single .355 caliber bullet at typically slower velocities than the shotgun. You would have to pull the trigger nine times on a pistol to put the same kind of stopping power into an assailant as a single shotgun shell.
But there are a number of drawbacks associated with the shotgun including recoil, size and unrealistic expectations regarding performance.
Shotgun recoil is stout. A smaller statured shooter is less likely to want to shoot a 12 gauge pump. The very thing that makes the shotgun so effective — power — is the same thing that makes people shy away from using it.
Shotgun recoil can be tamed in a variety of ways. For example, consider using a 20 gauge instead of 12 gauge shotgun. A 20 gauge shotgun loaded with #3 buck (20 .25 caliber pellets) is nearly as effective on human targets in across-the-room distances as a 12 gauge loaded with 00-buck, but has significantly less recoil.
Also, the use of a semi-auto shotgun can reduce felt recoil since the operating system uses some of that energy to eject and chamber shells. Moving from a 12 gauge pump to a semi automatic 20 can really change a reluctant shooter into a willing one.
If you decide to go with the 12 gauge shotgun, consider using the reduced recoil loads offered by most manufacturers. These loads have been used to great effect by law enforcement agencies, with no noticeable loss in terminal performance. In other words, less recoil but same stopping power.
A Knoxx recoil reduction stock from BLACKHAWK! significantly reduces recoil. As a former cop, I carried a shotgun in a patrol car for more than 10 years, and I state without any hesitation that the Knoxx stock is the best accessory ever designed for a combat shotgun.
Size matters in two important aspects: length of barrel and length of pull.
The length of the shotgun barrel typically ranges from 18” to 28”. Anything shorter is illegal without the proper tax stamp from Big Brother.
A long shotgun barrel, such as would be used for wing shooting, is difficult to tactically maneuver through a house. I would never suggest leaving the relative safety of an entrenched position to go looking for home intruders, but reality is you may have to move from your room to go protect your children or other family member.
An 18” – 20” barrel is optimal. If you have a shotgun with a longer barrel, you can easily purchase a second barrel that installs in about five minutes. When you get ready to go hunting, simply swap the barrel back. Shotguns are very easy with which to work.
Length of pull refers to how a long gun fits you. If the size of the shotgun is wrong, you are going to be less accurate and it will be more difficult for you to work the slide and other controls on the gun.
While aftermarket stocks like the Knoxx allow for an adjustable length of pull, another option is to purchase a youth-sized shotgun. These shotguns have a shorter stock for children learning to shoot. The great thing is, these same guns work very well for many women and smaller statured men.
A side benefit for the youth guns is they often times are slightly less expensive than their larger cousins.
I cringe every time I hear a gun store commando telling a novice shooter “With the scattergun, all ya gots to do is just point it in the general direction and pull the trigger. You ain’t gotta aim.”
Bovine manure. Shotguns come with a sighting system for a reason. At typical house distances (down the hall, across the room), the shot pattern is going to be very tight. If you do not aim, you will miss.
If you don’t believe me, carry your shotgun out to the range and shoot man-sized targets at five yards. The hole it makes will be impressive. But, you will notice that there is very little spread of the pellets. In other words, if you don’t aim, that tight group of pellets is likely go go somewhere other than the intruder.
The Magic of Racking a Shotgun
Another piece of gun store hero advice goes something along the lines of “The sound of a 12 gauge being racked will cause the assailant to wet himself and run, you’ll never have to shoot.”
Much like the previous statement, this piece of ‘wisdom’ is better used for fertilizing vegetables than for self defense.
I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life dealing with the criminal element. Today’s criminal is a predator who is not scared of a homeowner merely making noise with a shotgun.
If someone comes into your home to do you harm, racking the shotgun will not scare them away. Through rage, socialization or drugs human predators are frequently incapable of feeling fear or compassion. Making noise will not likely stop an attacker. Lead will.
This is My Boomstick
The shotgun offers a lot of advantages for a home defense gun. They offer exceptional stopping power, are relatively inexpensive and they are pretty simple to operate.
However, the shotgun is not a perfect tool. Your circumstances and needs may dictate an alternative weapon to the shotgun. But finding the proper shotgun for your needs and a little planning, the ‘old smoothbore’ can be an extremely effective tool for protecting you and your family.
Remington 870, model 24591 – This is a 12 gauge shotgun built on the famous 870 action, but with a few nice upgrades. From the factory, it comes with the Knoxx recoil reducing stock, a Wilson Combat ghost ring rear sight and a XS front sight post. MSRP $986.
Mossberg 930 Home Security, model 85320 – This 12 gauge is a reasonably priced, reliable semi-auto shotgun. No frills, just business. With a 4+1 capacity, front bead sight and Mossberg ambidextrous safety, this shotgun is easy to run and easy on the wallet. MSRP $612.
Remington 11-87 Sportsman Youth – As a compact, easy shooting shotgun, it is tough to beat the Remington 11-87 Youth. A semi-auto chambered in 20 gauge, this shotgun has a 21” barrel and a adjustable pull of length, meaning you can fit the firearm perfectly for the shooter. MSRP $804.
Federal Power-Shok 20 Gauge, #3 Buck – Full power, yet easier shooting that 12 gauge, these shells load 20 #3 buck pellets and launches them at 1200 fps. The tight patterns mean a devastating impact on any unwanted house guests. Expect to pay around $4.50 for a box of five.
Hornady Critical Defense 12 Gauge 00 Buck – Designed specifically for personal defense, these reduced recoil loads from Hornady feature eight 00 buck pellets moving at 1600 fps. Street price is about $9.50 for a box of 10.