Home Defense Shotguns: What You Need to Know

Fred Mastison, GetZone.com Contributor

home defense

“This is my BOOM STICK!” This classic movie line embodies much of what people see in shotguns. Few guns conjure up as much folklore and cliché as the shotgun. It has been a long time staple of those serious about home defense, but it shares an equal sized crowd of uncertain or fearful onlookers. They are loud, pushy and big. These three things have been a stopping point from keeping more people from adopting this venerable classic to defend their castle. With some training and understanding though, shotguns can quickly become your best friend. Let’s take a closer look at this classic blaster.

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Shotguns are a solid choice for home protection for a variety of reasons. The first and foremost reason is stopping power — real stopping power. This phrase is tossed around a lot but with a shotgun, it has real meaning. The chance of first or second round fight-stopping shots with shotgun ammunition is a reality. The baseline for stopping power is a round’s ability to penetrate a minimum of 12″ into a target. This is the general standard used by the F.B. I. Using #1 buckshot, a shotgun can deliver 16 pellets at high velocity into an intruder. These pellets combined have a surface area of 1.13 square inches and is equivalent to shooting someone 12 to 15 times simultaneously with a .32ACP or .380 ACP round. It is indeed a fight stopper. Simplicity of function is another reason shotguns are a good choice for home defense. With even simple training, a shooter can easily and quickly bring a shotgun to bear on an intruder in a home. As a long gun, it is easier to aim and keep on target than a handgun. This combined with some simple modifications, the shotgun can be a formidable weapon in close quarters.

It is the equivalent of shooting someone 12 to 15 times simultaneously with a .32ACP or .380 ACP round.

home defense
Fred with his Mossberg 590 all kitted up for some training — When we talk about shotguns we are talking about real “knock down” power.

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The curse of Hollywood is alive and well with the shotgun. The mythology surrounding this classical gun is almost comical at points and dangerous in others. Some of the myths are simple exaggerations of truth while others are utter fabrications. Let’s look at the top three.

You don’t need to aim a shotgun. Just point it in the general direction of your target and it will hit. While this is almost laughable, it is a commonly held belief in many circles. The shotgun is like any other firearm. In order for you to guarantee hits on target, you need to aim. Many a hunter and competition shooter can attest to this.

home defense
A properly set up shotgun makes a fantastic home defense weapon.

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Use birdshot because it will stop an intruder but not over-penetrate dry wall. This is wrong on both counts. Birdshot does not carry enough energy to effectively be used as a self-defense load. Additionally, birdshot does have the capacity to penetrate drywall — much to the surprise of anyone on the other side.

Racking a shotgun is the international language for “Get out.” Actually, it’s the international sound of “My weapon was not loaded.”  While some will argue the pros and cons of keeping a weapon loaded, it’s undeniably faster to bring into action if it is already chambered. Additionally, it’s a sure way to give away your location to an intruder.

How to make it better?

While out of the box shotguns can serve the purpose of home defense adequately, a few

home defense
With proper training, the shotgun can be an effective weapon for anyone.

modifications can elevate its effectiveness. In fact, I would dive a little bit deeper and say a gun dedicated to home defense can be drastically different from one that you use on the range or hunt with. You can and should customize your gun for the purpose it serves. In this discussion, we need to look at the two best options you have for shotguns. Other types of shotguns are out there but the two best options for home defense are either a traditional pump style shotgun or a semi-automatic model. Both have their own unique benefits and downfalls. The major difference is in speed. A semi-auto shotgun in trained hands can rain rounds into an adversary faster than they can blink an eye. While I have seen some skilled pump gun shooters run their guns fast, they would be hard-pressed to keep up with a semi-auto gun. The downside of these speed demons is they have a higher malfunction rate than their manually operated brothers. Regardless of the system you choose, you need to train with it and master its’ operation. Once you pick your gun, we need to make is fight ready.


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Let’s look at the top six things I encourage you to do to get the most out of your home defense shotgun.

  1. Light it up: One item I advocate on any home defense weapon is a light. You need to be able to confirm your target before unleashing lead down the hall. The tactical flashlight world is now huge, and everyone makes something for everything. One of the best is Surefire. They manufacture a fore grip for most shotguns complete with a built-in flashlight. Combined with pressure switches it is a very natural addition to the gun.
  2. See your sights: Low light sights are next on the list. As mentioned earlier it is important to get the weapon aimed correctly to improve your chances of hitting your target. Statistics tell us that this type of conflict will happen in low light and we need to be ready. I have found a ghost ring set up to be easy and fast to run. Add a luminescent feature to these and you are good to go.
  3. Add glass: One step above low light sights is an actual optic. A well-made red dot optic is an exceptional addition to a home defense weapon because it allows you to run the gun while still seeing both the target and the area around it.
  4. Saddle up: I encourage you to mount a side saddle on the gun to carry additional ammunition. One of the downsides of this great gun is capacity. Carrying extra rounds in your pajama pants simply isn’t an option.
  5. Sling it: While a “tactical” discussion erupts any time slings are suggested for home guns, I am a believer in them especially if you have kids. If you need to carry a child or use your hands you will need to be able to secure your weapon.
  6. Size matters: The final way to make it better is to shorten it. Most major manufacturers have a factory built short barrel version of their tactical shotguns. You can also contract with a gunsmith to shorten your existing gun. It is important to note a short barrel shotgun falls under some very specific ATF regulations. You will need to verify your state allows short barrels before you begin the long process of getting approved. While being a bit heavy on the paperwork side, the short barrel shotgun offers improved handling and manipulation in close quarters.

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home defense
In the test of speed, the semiautomatic shotgun reigns supreme but when it comes to reliability the pump shot gun rules the roost.

home defense

Your Own Boom Stick

The shotgun is a classic weapon that still serves a solid role today. Accessorized well and get as much training as you can afford.  The scattergun can be just the insurance policy you are looking for. As with all things, with knowledge comes power. This is even truer with the shotgun. With knowledge comes serious power.

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