Ask Foghorn: Self Defense Shotguns

A reader writes:

I’m a new reader and was wondering if you’ve ever posted about home defense shotguns and what to look for when purchasing one. If not, would you be able to point me toward a few good resources, or perhaps do a post on this topic at some point in the future? I’m sure I’m not the only one with questions about this.

Personally I can’t imagine a better suited firearm for home defense than a handgun. It’s compact, accurate, and easy to maneuver around the house. But for some the shotgun is their firearm of choice, requiring less fine motor skill and easier to aim in a high stress situation. So today’s question: If I were to get a self defense shotgun, what would it be?

There are certain benefits to a shotgun for home defense. Buckshot is big benefit #1, placing more holes in the target in a shorter period of time and having a greater probability of hitting something vital and stopping the threat. Slugs are the other major benefit, giving not only the ability to hit a target at distance but also easily penetrate some forms of cover (walls, car windshields, etc) and create a massive wound channel. Maximizing these benefits is the key to using a shotgun for a home defense weapon.

Like most things there are a number of companies that have products that meet my criteria. So instead of just listing my ideal home defense shotgun I’m going to rattle off my “wish list” of features that a good home defense shotgun needs to have and you can decide what company makes the right gun for you.

Pump Action

There are hundreds of stories of home intruders being scared away simply by the sound of a pump action shotgun being racked, but that’s not the reason it makes my list. Making a loud noise gives away your position to the attacker and is probably one of the last things you want to do (but, if they already know you’re there, it wouldn’t hurt).

Pump action shotguns have a feature that makes them ideal: reliability. Semi-automatic shotguns may have increased in reliability over the last few years but when my life is on the line I want to know that the action is going to cycle and that next round is going to be loaded, and a pump action is the only type of shotgun that gives me that reliable cycle and can tell me instantly if the round didn’t seat. If anything goes wrong with a pump you’ll know it well before you try and pull the trigger, possibly saving yourself precious seconds to fix it and stop the threat in time.

Short Barrel

The shorter the better. 18 inches is the legal minimum length for a shotgun without venturing into $200 tax land, but if you have the time and the money it might not be a bad idea to get the stamp and break out the hacksaw.

Long guns have a disadvantage in close quarters situations because they give the attacker something to grab, namely the barrel. As soon as they get hold of the barrel they can make you miss or even try to take the gun out of your hands. That’s why I love pistols for close quarters situations — they don’t have that problem. Still, if the shotgun is your weapon of choice grab the 18″ or 18.5″ barrel versions.

Attached Shell Holder

Shotgun ammunition is gigantic. The only thing in my ammo closet that takes up more room is the .50 BMG rounds, and since ArmaLite politely asked me to return their AR-50 its going to be sitting there for quite some time. Due to their massive size you can’t really load all that many into the gun at one time. So if you get into a protracted gunfight you may very quickly become screwed. The solution is simple: keep extra rounds on the gun.

Why not just have some spare shells strewn about, you say? Because in the middle of the night if something happens where I need my gun I know exactly where it is and exactly where the extra ammo can be found. Keeping both together in one easy to grab package is essential.

The other reason for a shell holder is to take advantage of both buckshot and slugs. Keeping the shotgun loaded with buckshot is a good idea, as if you are attacked you’re probably going to need some “close range” power and that’s what buckshot is great for. But if your attacker starts shooting at you from a distance you’ll need to switch to slugs to engage them, and if you have some distance between you and the attacker you’ll have some time to make that swap. The only way you’ll have that capability is if (you guessed it) the shells are right there on the gun.

This is a feature that is probably easier to get after you buy the gun than it is to buy from the factory, so don’t exclude a shotgun just because it doesn’t have this in the box.

Pistol Grip

While the standard shotgun stock will work just fine a pistol grip makes the whole thing a lot more ergonomic. There’s no fancy explanation behind this criteria, I just like it. So there.

Full Length Stock

Some people advocate for shotguns that have a pistol grip and then no stock to hold against your shoulder, citing their increased maneuverability and shorter overall length. But you instantly lose an amazing level of accuracy for the average shooter the second that stock goes away. The full length stock on a shotgun not only gives the shooter more control over the gun during firing but can also be used as a blunt weapon in a worst case scenario.

Ghost Rings

Most shotguns sold use a “bead” sighting system. Sight down the top of the gun, put the bead on the target, and bye bye target. But sometimes you need a little more accuracy, and that’s where ghost rings come in.

A ghost ring sight uses a large ring at the back that the shooter looks through and a post in the front that the shooter aligns with the target. Not only are these more accurate than the bead sights but they’re often easier to use and faster to acquire than the other types.

I know what you’re thinking, and I’m thinking it too. “Hey Foghorn, it sounds an awful lot like the KSG is your ideal gun.” But it’s not. In the hands of our writers the KSG has proven to be a somewhat finicky shotgun, and the magazine switching capability (while increasing capacity) is one more thing to forget in a gunfight. While on paper a KSG seems like a great idea and the perfect weapon, just like with a number of other Kel-Tec products the quality and reliability often isn’t the same as a standard firearm.

If you want to know my ideal shotgun down to the make and model it’s a toss-up between the Mossberg 500 SPX and the Remington 870 Express Tactical. Both guns feature close to 18″ barrels, pistol grips, and ghost rings installed from the factory. The Mossberg firearm also includes a shell holder in the stock, so that might be something to consider when shopping for your gun.

If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email guntruth@me.com.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

89 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Self Defense Shotguns

  1. avatarDrew says:

    Folks might also consider the Armscor/RIA M5 High Standard clone. With a street price of $200 bucks, it’s easy to justify as a dedicated “single use” defense gun.

  2. avatarJeff O. says:

    I like the position of the safety on Mossberg 500 shotguns. It’s easy to visually confirm if the status of the safety, and easy to operate.

    • +1. For someone like me who’s right handed and left eyed, the safety on a Mossberg is just ducky.

    • avatarRob J says:

      I like it too but it doesn’t work well with a pistol grip. My first shot gun was a Mossberg 500, I have switched to the 870.

      • avataranona says:

        Have you heard about the carrier over shell problem with the 870? There’s an area in the pump cycle that allows the bolt carrier to override the shell. When that happens the whole gun is tied up and you have to be very careful to push the shell back into the mag to clear it. The older models were known for this problem, not sure about the newer ones.

        • That was a rare event at best, but Remington fixed that issue with a minor action redesign back in the 1980s. If you have an older 870, you can just drop in the new versions of the parts (sold as a kit, but you can often find the parts used for less) to perform the fix.

  3. And add a light. Chances are, if you need a defensive shotgun, you’ll probably need it at night, and handling a long gun and a flashlight at the same time is nigh-impossible.I have a Mossberg 500 loaded with #4′s locked up in my safe room, with a sidesaddle on it with four more shot rounds and two slugs. Out on the front of that gun is an Insight weapon light, and I have a pocket LED light nearby as a backup.

    I chose #4′s as a tradeoff between stopping power and overpenetration. Sure, #00 would be better, but my safe room is on the second floor, and I worry about pellets flying through the thin drywall and stucco of my home and into the thin drywall and stucco of someone else’s home.

    And regarding ghost rights: Two years ago at the Superstition Mountain Three Gun, I was able to ring chest-sized steel plates with full power slugs with my 500 with it’s plain ol’ bead sights out to 50 yards, standing offhand. My 930SPX has ghost rings, and I’m not sure I need them…

    • avatarRobert Farago says:

      I don’t think lights on shotguns are such a great idea.

      Most people point the light straight at the perceived target, which may not be something you want to shoot. It’s not a good idea to point the muzzle at something you don’t want to destroy (e.g. you daughter’s amorous boyfriend).

      Sure you can be trained to point the gun away from the target and use reflective light, but are you 100% confident you would do so in a self-defense situation? In the home, turning on the lights could work, too. Especially as you’ll be in a defensive position. Hopefully.

      • I don’t think they’re a great idea either, but I’m open to suggestions for alternatives, as is the entire firearms market.

        If the choices are a) confront something in the dark with a gun with no flashlight or b) confront something in the dark with a gun with a gun-mounted light, put me down in column B every day (or night, as it were).

        Yes, there is the problem with the muzzle sweeping stuff you don’t want to plug holes into, but after training with a handgun and a flashlight in the pitch-dark, I found it’s better to sweep a non-target and KNOW not to shoot it than blast away at something you really can’t see.

        I carry an additional flashlight as well, if for no other reason that if everything turns out to be a-ok, I don’t want to have to find my way back to the safe room using my weapon light.

        • avatarsdog says:

          what about a camping headlamp used in conjunction with an HD setup?

        • Maybe. Actually, that’s not a bad idea. I found that “head indexing” my flashlight (keeping in my off hand aligned with my jaw) was what worked best for me with my handgun at night, and a headlamp would be very similar to that.

          But.

          Putting on a headlamp is one more thing to do, and I imagine that if (God forbid) I need to use my shottie, I’ll need to use it rightthisverysecond. Not sure if taking the time to put on a light would be there if the balloon went up.

          My Mossberg is “cruiser ready”: Breechlocked, hammer down, chamber empty. All I need to do is unlock it (I have two small boys in the house) flick the light on with my weak hand (if needed), and rack a shell. Putting on a headlamp would take about as much time as putting a light in my pocket, so I’d probably consider that as a backup light, not a primary.

          I’m not looking to use the Mossberg as my “go-to” home gun: That’s my CCW gun or pistol in my GunVault is for. The Mossberg is there because here in Arizona, there is a very real threat of violent home invasion, no matter where you live, and I want the extra oomph of a long gun nearby.

        • avatarGeoff says:

          I have seen small LED lights that attach to the bill of a baseball cap, might that be an option. Much quicker to put on than a stretchy headlamp band, and you can easily toss it off if necessary.

        • avataranona says:

          I’d recommend ‘cruiser ready’ with the hammer back,safety on. That way if the shottie gets grabbed, they have to dump the lock to cycle the action, and dump the safety. Hopefully giving you enough time to shoot them with your handgun.

        • avatarcwp says:

          I haven’t thought about this at any great length yet, but I have to say my immediate reaction is that I’m not enthused about telling a potentially armed intruder exactly where my head is.

      • avatarGuywithagun says:

        Good point. The solution there is one of those headbands with the flashlight attached. Now you can point your light and the gun in 2 different directions! Only problem is you have to wear that silly looking headband all the time. As a bonus, there’s the off chance that your attacker may just fall over from laughing at you for wearing one of those.

        • avatarsdog says:

          i’d rather look like a dork and identify what i am about to fire my weapon at before i do so.

      • avatarSteve says:

        Pick up your preferred home defense weapon in one hand, your flashlight in the other. Then go to the door to that leads from the kitchen to the garage (or any other door). Now try opening that door to check out what that noise was that went Crash-bang in the garage. Guess what, if you want to open that door, You have to put one item down.

        Try this once, and you will quickly see the utility of a weapon mounted light.

        With a weapon light you can run your gun and light with one hand (assuming its a semi-auto or revolver) and keep your weak hand free to do other very important things.

        ….Like:
        - the aforementioned “open doors”
        - Call the cops on your phone.
        - Fend off an intruder who jumped out and tried to grab your weapon (maybe you can, maybe you cant, but you are probably better off if you have at least one hand free to try)
        - shoo your kids back to their rooms.

        etc, etc, etc.

        Some other good reasons to run a weapon-mounted-light (ok WML from now on):
        - your light is Always with your gun. Not underneath your son’s bed because he likes playing with flashlights.
        - your batteries are less likely to be dead because the boy doesnt get to play with your HD gun, therfore he doesnt play with your flashlight and run the batteries dead.
        - Target identification is important. Really, Really important. Best to know exactly what your gun is pointed at.

        I agree that having a WML might induce you to point your gun at things you dont want to shoot…this is why you religiously train yourself to keep your finger off the trigger until you have a target.

        For me, a WML is the right choice, the benefits outweigh the negatives.

        • For me, it’s both.

          But then again, I’m from the “Suspenders, belt and duct tape” school of thought. :)

        • avatarDrewR55 says:

          And the benefit of not fumbling for you flashlight on the bedside tablet and knocking it over. There have been times I’ve reached for it in the middle of the night, knocked it over, and sent it rolling across the floor. Nothing worse then looking for a little Surefire flashlight when you’ve been woken up because something went Bump.

        • avataranona says:

          Don’t check the garage unless it’s attached to the house! In some states going out of the residence will make you the aggressor in the eyes of the law. In others there will be a question of if lethal force was necessary. After all, you vacated your home to confront an alleged intruder, diminishing your claim to self defense. Spend the $ and consult with a 2A lawer in your area. Have him put in writing what you can and can’t legally do in your state/city as far as self defense goes. Help your defense if you find yourself in a shooting situation; you had prior legal advise as to what to do.

      • avatarSid says:

        I think it is a hell of an idea to point the gun at my daughter’s amorous boyfriend. I will show him the spread pattern of the 00 shot and then explain that if he gets within that radius I will switch to slugs.

  4. avatarDw says:

    The Mossberg has an ambidextrous safety which important to think about if you are a southpaw.

    • It’s nice if you have both right- and left-handed shooters in your home. For just one or the other though, the 870′s safety can be set up for either righties or lefties.

  5. avatarRalph says:

    I can find very little to argue with here. While I also prefer a pistol for HD, the two shotgun choices that are presented are absolutely viable options. Both the Mossberg 500 and the Remington 870 are completely reliable and relatively inexpensive, and the 870′s longevity is legendary.

    My only quibble is that I would stick with 00 buck. Slugs are fine, but the short distance over which a home shooting might occur makes buckshot a better choice IMO.

    • I have slugs with mine because the local drug gangs have been known to use body armor.

      Layer up all you want. If it doesn’t go thru, a slug will still probably knock you flat.

      • avatarsdog says:

        hopefully bruise or crack a rib or two as well.

      • avatarRalph says:

        I’ve heard that a .22Mag will penetrate body armor. True or false?

        • avatarAnon says:

          I’m not sure about .22 Mag but .17 HMR will penetrate at least a level IIA vest.

        • avatarNate says:

          “Will penetrate body armor” is a pretty loaded statement. The old Type I armor probably wouldn’t stop a .22WMR. I’d guess that Level IIA would probably stop it and full Level II would for sure.

          It really doesn’t matter. Such a cartridge is far too underpowered for personal defense use. The same goes for 5.7x28mm FN and 4.6x30mm HK.

  6. avatarready,fire,aim says:

    mossberg 500 pump pistol grip/ standard stock….green laser attached to barrel with pressure on/off switch on the pump…..

  7. avatarJames says:

    I need a new shotgun for 3gun. Yes, I still love my 870.

    I seems the KSG would be ideal for courses of fire with high round count. Maybe when (if?) the kinks are worked out this would work well? Any range/competition reports out there? I haven’t seen any yet.

    • Keep in mind that Limited and Tac Optics are both 9 or less rounds in the scattergun, and if IIRC, Heavy Metal is 8. If you start a stage with more than that, you’re in Open, competing against the tricked-out Benellis and SLP’s with their speedloaders or the (occasionally working) Saigas and box magazines.

  8. avatarDerek says:

    “Pump action shotguns have a feature that makes them ideal: reliability. Semi-automatic shotguns may have increased in reliability over the last few years but when my life is on the line I want to know that the action is going to cycle and that next round is going to be loaded,”

    Oh jeez, Can-O-Worms time :)

    I will say that I’m pretty sure I’ve had more malfunctions in my R870 or Maverick 88 than I’ve had in my Mossberg 930. Granted, I’m fairly certain that every malfunction I’ve had with all three has been user induced; short cycling the pumps and not fully loading the shells into the magazine. I’ve gone through probably 600 rounds of birdshot, 100 rounds of buckshot, and ~50 slugs with the only malfunctions being me not loading the shell fully into the mag and a newbie friend loading a shell backwards into the mag lol.

    I don’t have any experience with other semis but unless the 930 is just awesometasterrific, I can’t say that one is more reliable than the other. In theory, sure. More parts, more problems. I get that. But by that same logic, no one should ever carry a semi auto because only revolvers can be relied upon. I don’t think it’s fair to say that every gun in one group is less reliable than every gun in another.

    • avatarMontesa_VR says:

      Yeah. If we should choose a pump action shotgun for reliability in a self defense weapon, shouldn’t we limit our carry guns to revolvers?

    • The only thing my 930′s ever choked on is Winchester Universal target loads. Everything else (game loads, target loads, full power and reduced power slugs, full power and reduced power buck) it’s chirped through with no issues.

    • avatarstyrgwillidar says:

      Amen on the short-stroking. Gun and shooter are a system. Without training, the human induced errors lower the reliability of the system more than the mechanical reliability between an auto/pump.

      Pump gets the nod from me for the ‘Murphy’s Law’ misfire you’re going to have on that first/second round in a real situation. (Murphy hates me)

  9. avatarChaz says:

    Pump action shotguns have a feature that makes them ideal: reliability. Semi-automatic shotguns may have increased in reliability over the last few years but…

    My latest shotgun is the Mossberg 930 Special Purpose “Home Security” model. It is a gas operated auto. Why auto? Because you might have to shoot it with only one hand. Why gas operated? Because a limp wrist hold won’t cause it to jam while an inertial action might.

  10. avatarTom says:

    I have had friends who let me use their Mossberg 500 Pump and it will work, the tang safety can be nice, but the gun cycles much rougher than an 870 and seems more flimsy than the 870.
    I own an 870 Wing Master with a 18″ plain police barrel and have been very happy with it, not sure about a Cerebus era one though. My 870 is wood stocked and has a magazine extension with a nylon shell carrier. The 870 alos has a thicker rubber butt pad installed.
    I also own an Ithaca 37 Turkey Gun that I am very happy with and consider it one of the nicer pump shotguns on the market. The Ithaca fits me like a glove and is very easy to load, cycle and shoot.
    I love the Browning BPS Pump shotgun and it is similar to the Ithaca 37, but the safety is tang mounted like the Mossberg.
    Another pump shotgun that gets high rating is the Benelli Super Nova as it is well built, great in the wet with its polymer stock, and has a recoil reducing system.
    The best source for shot gun info is Randy Wakeman’s Great Outdoors Site and he recommends the Ohio built Ithaca 37 for self defense.

    • avatarGeorge says:

      I’ve got the wingmaster too. It’s my ideal home defense weapon because, well, I already own if for other purposes. I find it to be very user friendly and highly accurate, although I almost never put anything but no. 9 through it so who knows… It’s still one of the best bargains on the market. I also own a number of rifles but would definitely not consider them ideal home defense weapons as the last thing I need is .30-06 rounds headed through walls.

  11. avatarTom says:

    In another thought, I think it is best to have both the pump shot gun and a revolver for home defense. I like the Ruger GP-100 as a supplement to the shot gun.
    The shot gun is more or less a static defense weapon where one would pick an area to turn into a channelized kill zone, while the revolver would be better suited for searching the house.
    I generally frown on lasers and lights as they are active energy sources which may attract attention and bullets. I usually prefer to have low lighting in the open areas of the house in combination with external lighting. I prefer the bedroom dark. I would try to illuminate the intruder as much as possible while shading myself as much as possible.

  12. avatarMatt in AZ says:

    I’m a Remmy guy, but I am seriously looking at a Mossy 835 for a Turkey gun(+1 on the tang safety). One thing I have noticed on the newer/cheaper versions offered by both brands is that actions are extremely stiff. I am sure that if you cycle the action enough they will smooth out, I also suggest the sport/target loads for practice in place of buckshot, beats you both up less and at some places they are 20 bucks per 100. However, please remember that according to The Box O’Truth, “birdshot is for birds”and I personally use Federal Tactical low recoil 8 pellet 00 buck. In an apartment setting I would use a heavier-than-lead load in #4 shot and plan on using a controlled pair. Last thing, put a light and a shell carrier on your HD shotty.

  13. avatarConnectologist says:

    What, no wepon light – for home defense?!? That’s mandatory whether shotgun, pistol or long gun.

  14. avatarPhil says:

    wheres the love for the side by sides? i know they only take two at a time, but for reliability it doesn’t get any better. stoeger double defense, anyone?

    • avatarSid says:

      We keep reminding them. Too many mall ninjas and COD warriors. Too many “what if 3 guys break into your home”.

      I would have no problem or worries with a double barrel as an HD weapon.

    • avatarScott says:

      I’ve got one. Love it.

  15. avatarTarrou says:

    Question for the author regarding the assertion that pump guns are more reliable:

    I have no argument that they are mechanically more reliable, but the question that begs is whether they are more reliable as used in the field, and are they more reliable in any significantly measurable sense. Really, this is the same old argument of revolvers versus semi-autos, and I think semis have won that pretty handily. No reason semi shotguns should be any different. I actually carry a revolver, but I’d prefer a semi-auto shotgun to a pump for a couple reasons.

    One is that though the action is mechanically more reliable, it’s also easier to screw up under stress. I’ve failed to seat a pump fully in time to get a second pheasant a couple times. You can short-stroke a pump, failing to pick up a new round, etc. I’d think that under battle conditions, a semiauto would be at least as reliable as a pump, given human tendency to do wierd things. Most people aren’t going to put the thousands of hours necessary to truly train in.

    Second I mentioned above. A well-made modern semi-auto is the weapon of choice for most law enforcement and military. Whether pistol, rifle or shotgun. There’s a reason for that. All the nitpicking about reliability was well founded in the ’70s or ’80s. It’s not really now. Buy a good gun and feed it good ammo, and you should have no more issues with a semi than a pump.

    The differences between them are small, and if cost is an issue, I’d immediately recommend a pump. But if the best gun is what we’re recommending, I’m not convinced that a pump is superior.

    • avatarstyrgwillidar says:

      I agree with most of what you’ve said. However, military/LEO use of semi-autos was driven by ability to hold more ammo in the weapon and ease of reloading with detachable magazines. Relaibility trade-off is considered an acceptable risk- as you point out modern semis are incredibly reliable.Which makes the SAIGA 12 look pretty good as an HD weapon (unless you’re in CA where detachable magazine semi-auto shotguns are banned as assault weapons).

      ETA: I settled on modifying a Mossberg 500 with a Knoxx Sidewinder kit, gives me 10 round and 5 round detachable magazines on a pump. Kits aren’t sold anymore so today I’d settle on a Valtro PM
      http://www.valtrousa.com/shotguns.html

  16. avatarAD says:

    Here’s another, very experienced take on this subject. I’ve spoken to this gentleman on the phone, and took his advice. Works for me.

    http://thinkinggunfighter.blogspot.com/2011/01/some-insight-into-myths-about-shotgun.html

  17. avatarAharon says:

    I just moved into a charming old home built in 1910. It’s a classic yet the wood floors creak in many places when weight is put onto them. I’m concerned about giving away my location if I have to walk around to investigate a threat. Then again, I may just need to learn how to walk like Grasshopper did when he walked on top of the rice paper in the old TV show called Kung Fu. I could hole up in my room and await an intruder armed with my SxS 12g backed up with a sidearm. At least I’d go out with a bang.

  18. avatarElliotte says:

    When I took the class for my UT permit, one thin the instructors suggested, was to use a flashlight as a diversion if possible. If you’re in a bedroom hiding behind a bed, put the flashlight on the other end of the bed pointed at the door, that way if the bad guys bust in and shoot at the light, you’re not behind/near the light.

  19. avatarTarrou says:

    And that guy just straight up said “because I said so”. No offense, but I’m fairly well trained in MOUT and the like, and we don’t use lever guns because they’re more “reliable”. Is there something different about semi shotguns than pistols or rifles? The only thing I can think of is ammo, and given that most semis feed from a tube just like pumps, I can’t think of a reason why that would be a problem. If you’re going to stand there and say that a pump is more reliable, you need to back it up, because revolvers are not “more reliable” enough for police to carry, and lever/pump rifles are not “more reliable” enough for the military to carry. I’ve already outlined the weak spot in pump reliability, the operator. I can make a pump fail to feed/fire any time I like with a pump gun, it all rests on the shooter themselves. Under stress, I suspect a significant percentage of people would cause their own misfeed/fire. The semi, even if it does fail a tiny percentage more than a pump mechanically, might actually perform better because it removes the human factor. That is my hypothesis, anyway, and I haven’t seen much countervailing evidence so far other than bald assertions and appeals to authority.

  20. avatarmichael says:

    Can you operate a shotgun with one hand, if the other is disabled in a fight? Don’t think so. Still, shotguns are okay if you’ve barricaded yourself in your room after calling the police, which is a pretty good idea, and a lot smarter than leaving that secure place and searching for an intruder who may be waiting for you.

  21. avatarMark Buehner says:

    Not to nitpick, but isn’t it a good idea to examine the likelihood of certain features being applicable given the history of home invasion? Certainly its possible to be in a protracted gun fight in your home, of to be forced to shoot through walls or car doors, etc… but are those things happen often enough to justify them in your decision making compared to, say the deterrent effect of a pump action shotgun being racked, which got the short shrift? If there are hundreds of cases of this ending the altercation before it began… well compare that to how often a home invasion turns into an extended firefight, for instance. I’m not sure that really ever happens in reality.. or at least so seldom as to be negligible. You might as well consider the odds of being struck by lightning while brandishing a steel weapon compared to composite. It COULD save your life… but its very, very, very unlikely to.

  22. avatarArchaeopteryx says:

    A good basic exploration of the issues of the shotgun for self defense.
    The only thing I’d add would be…
    Go 20-gauge!
    Recovery time is faster, and the rounds are more compact.
    Many recognice the worth of the 20-gauge as a self defense arm, but limit that recognition to “women or small men.”
    I dispute this. Even with a big, hairy, muscular man (in my own case I’d add UGLY) the laws of physics dictate that shot recovery time is going to be faster. Yet the shot payload of a 20-gauge, being only modestly smaller than that of a 12-gauge,is still a devastating amount of self-defense.

  23. avatarScott says:

    If there’s a home invasion, how I was taught at least is:

    1) Phone to wife, 911, put it on speaker-
    2) Pick up weapon and announce loudly “911 has been called and I am armed, identify yourself or get out now”

    So as far as trying to be sneaky, that isn’t going to play. And I can’t barricade because I’ll be moving toward the kids to get them set down and safe. I have a teenager so I’m going to have a light. It’s going to be weapon mounted because I want a free hand. I’ll take my chances with someone taking a grab at my longgun vs a handgun in my home. (Technically I have both, but I’d grab the longgun first everytime).I’ve got a 500 and a Stoeger DD btw as bedside weapons. Plus a .357. I’d go for the Stoeger after my range time with both and hand the 500 to my wife.

  24. avatarstyrgwillidar says:

    “… hundreds of stories of home intruders being scared away simply by the sound of a pump action shotgun being racked, but that’s not the reason it makes my list.”

    Never understood this, how are they able to hear you racking the second round into the chamber after you’ve fired the first one at them? I think that loud noise would have scared them already if the associated buckshot didn’t kill them.

  25. avatarjim walker says:

    Something that is not given much attention is choice of caliber and ammo for HD….

    Because of all the phony gunfights on TV and in the movies these days, people don’t have
    a very realistic understanding what various ammo’s will do in a shotgun….
    A very good website run by a retired law enforcement guy tests lots of ammo and puts
    the results on his website…it is:

    theboxotruth.com

    He test penetration, accuracy, and pattern. He tests pistol, rifle and shotgun ammo…

  26. avatarWP Zeller says:

    Just to add- a very crusty, and I mean annoyingly crusty, old Chicago copper tells me that the only gun that worked every time in terms of stopping power was the 12 gauge 00 buckshot load.
    I’d prefer the handgun, too, for portability and speed of handling, but those nine holes in the practice target are hard to forget.

    • avataranona says:

      One of Mas Aoob’s books has an account of a goblin absorbing 3 00 buck loads before he stopped being a threat (NYPD shooting). They were all center of mass hits, too.

  27. avatarCarolina Dad says:

    One issue to think about is legal defense if you have to use deadly force and that depends on the laws in your state. The effect of buckshot blast from an 870 with a pistol grip is identical to the same round coming from my wood stock 870 turkey gun. However, it’s a lot easier for an attorney to defend me from a DA claiming I’m a crazed gun nut if I have a hunting gun instead “scary” gun in black plastic with a pistol grip, a magazine extension and a light (please don’t hate on me, I’m all for having the best tool for the job. I’m just worried about the average juror). Like Foghorn and Ralph say, I prefer a handgun for home defense, but the Remington is readily available if I have to retreat to a safe room.

    • avatarJRr says:

      As Maj General “Howling Mad” Smith said in Korea: “Retreat Hell! we’re just attacking in another direction.”

  28. avatarJB says:

    For some reason, people are in love with the idea of an intruder being scared off by the sound of a pump action. I have heard this idea expressed more times than I can count, usually delivered with a confident tone and a satisfied smile, but usually about a hypothetical situation or a third person story. I have no doubt that the sound of a round being chambered has scared off some bad guys, but why is the weapon in the story ALWAYS a pump shotgun? My semi auto makes a similarly unmistakeable noise when the action closes, and I would imagine an intruder in somebody’s home would be highly attuned to the sound of a pistol slide being racked as well.

  29. avatarPrince Krackpotkin says:

    Put me down for a Mossberg 12 ga. extended mag, folding stock w/extra rounds attached and light. For ammo I use a “buck & ball” round — one 65 cal. round ball and 6 .30 cal. buck, which combines the advantages of slug and buckshot, plus being surprisingly accurate. My .357 S&W revolver is a backup in case of malfunction (rare) or running out of ammo. Few people can use a pistol effectively at night in a home defense situation, the chances of an extended firefight are vanishingly rare, and a 12 ga. puts ‘em down every time.

    • avataranona says:

      Practice opening that folding stock in a hurry. Flailing about a folding stock that acts like a cheap lawn chair is not what you want when seconds count. Your defense weapon has to be ‘good to go’ as soon as you pick it up. You won’t be the last to forget to open the stock in an emergency. Took mine off and sold it. Went back to a standard stock due to just such a circumstance. In my case; a fast breaking assault on a neighbor.

  30. avatarPete says:

    410 may be a bit wimpy, but there’s a LOT to be said for a Judge.

    • avatarArchaeopteryx says:

      Pete, I’ve seen autopsy photos of a person shot with a .410. Range was described as “approx six feet.” Even a half ounce of birdshot, which the load was, makes an awful mess of a human being.

  31. avatarChurchSox says:

    I don’t know as much as the author about the guns. But I spent several years covering criminal courts. What I kept hearing from prosecutors and defense attorneys was that the more exotic the weapon, the harder to convince the jury that you were the victim. “Never go to trial with a black rifle” was how one defense attorney put it. If that’s the case, it seems best to go with wooden furniture and blue steel, if you have a choice. After you beat the threat, you have to beat the rap.

  32. “But if your attacker starts shooting at you from a distance you’ll need to switch to slugs to engage them…”

    Damn, how long is your house?

  33. avatarSome Guy says:

    I just don’t see using a .357 in a home defense situation. You’re too liable to hit something several blocks away. It’s shotgun or .45.

  34. avatarLou Gots says:

    No pistol grips on a Mossberg. Not ever. Tang safety.

    A full-stock Mossberg is my first choice at home. “Turkey Special” 18.5″ barrel. 3 inch, 1 7/8 oz. BB shot.

    I keep a Mossberg Mariner.. 22 inch, rifled barrel, on my cabin cruiser. Sabots

  35. avatarnotahack says:

    I agree a hand gun is first choice, pump a second, but if the zombies are restless I am reaching for my Saiga 12. 10 to 20 rounds of 00 12 gauge buckshot is comforting. AK47 reliable too as long as you use a shell with enough gas, i.e. no cheap skeet rounds.

  36. avatarGilligan says:

    Some time back I remember reading a recommendation of 20 gauge in a semi auto shotgun because of the reduction in percieved recoil and quicker follow up if needed.

  37. avatarCincinnati Bob says:

    I prefer the Mossberg 590 because it mounts a bayonet….you know, in case you run out of ammo.

  38. avatarJameSmace says:

    Houses have 3 to 6 yard ranges so what is this talk about smoothbores with slugs or OO buck!?!!

    Think 12 gauge, # 4 buck and rifled barrel. The rifled barrel will give a 6′ pattern of 54 buckshot at 10 yards.

    That is some coverage.

  39. avatarS.Lynn says:

    I love my Remington 870. It’s comfortable, fits well beside my bed. My son liked it well enough to buy one as did several co-workers (all of us women) for home protection. We’ve been to the range enough to be able to take care of ourselves and not rely on the proverbial “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away” living out in the countryside where the minutes are actually 45 minutes to an hour.

  40. avatarohdailey says:

    and what about the marine’s choice? just purchased a benilli M4. i think it looks mean enough to detract would-be intruders even in the dead of night…

  41. avatarMuggins says:

    I bought a used 870 Wingmaster rather than a new 870 Express for home defense. I shot thousands of rounds at the trap ‘n’ skeet range with my dad’s ol’ 870 Wingmaster, and don’t recall any loading or firing problems. If I have to reach for a gun, I want to minimize the doubts. I have my doubts about a gun that is cheapened, like the Express. I agree with most of the comments in this string, but am of the opinion that when deciding upon the home defense weapon, the weapon one is most familiar with will probably be the best option. Other factors would be the weight and strength of the user. For example, a woman would want a lighter weapon and less powerful a round to reduce recoil, than a man.

  42. avatarsimulationist says:

    cartridge holder attached to receiver = snag point for extra ammo you probably won’t need. Pistol grip = encourage you to try and shoot from the hip or otherwise off the shoulder, good way to miss even at close ranges. Go to range and see what the spread of a buckshot pattern is at within a house distances, 10 yards at most. Smaller than you would think. Don’t believe the hype. Light, to my mind that’s a must have, can’t ever pull the trigger w/o positive ID.

    • avatarSwen Swenson says:

      Good point on across the room shotgun patterns. I’ve patterned my home defense 12 guages and with cylinder bores I get about 1″ of spread for every yard of distance. Don’t think for a minute that “you can’t miss” with a shotgun. At across the room range you’ll be getting a 2-5″ pattern so you’d better be aiming. On the other hand, a load of double ought center mass at close range is going to make a glorious mess.

  43. avatarSwen Swenson says:

    Mossberg 500 and Remington 870, eh? Those are my choices as well. I second Carolina Dad and ChurchSox regarding the Ugly Black Gun. Anyone considering a firearm for self defense should read Massad Ayoob’s books on the topic and he stresses throughout that the legal inquisition can be more harrowing than the gunfight itself. Best not to give the prosecutor any ammunition. That definitely depends on the jurisdiction though.

    One tip on the 500 & 870, once a round is chambered the slide is locked until the hammer drops, so when you shoulder the gun pull it hard back into your shoulder with your off hand on the slide. That accomplishes two things, pulling it hard into your shoulder helps control the recoil and the instant the hammer drops the pump cycles. Do try this at home (check the magazine and chamber *carefully* to insure the gun is unloaded and then point it at something you wouldn’t mind destroying) and you’ll see what I mean. With this technique and a bit of practice you won’t be giving up much, if any, speed to an autoloader.

    Sights? I prefer the guns with “deer gun” sights, because you can easily replace them with tritium sights, which are worth every penny in low-light conditions. There’s a big area of twilight where you can still see and identify your target but can no longer see those flat black sights, and the goblins tend to come out at night.

    Magnum handguns are a poor choice for home defense in my not so humble opinion. Have you ever fired a full-power .357 or .44 mag indoors without plugs and muffs? I have. I’ll never, Never, NEVER make that mistake again. The muzzle blast will peel paint and even with plugs and muffs the flash can blind you in low light. I suspect that’s one of the reasons the .45 ACP is so popular, it won’t leave you blind and bleeding from the ears.

  44. avatarmpw280 says:

    Winchester Model 12, if you like the 870 and the 500 why not use the real thing? Second is that the 12 will fire on close when you hold the trigger down, just like the Model 97 from which it developed. The 97 was used in the trenches of France during WW I to great effect and the 12 will do the same thing. Find an older 12 in marginal shape and take the barrel down and then get used to using it in tight quarters and using the fire on close option. mpw

    • avataranona says:

      And that slam fire ability can get you into all sorts of legal touble if you have a prosceutor that is anti-civilian gun owner. Won’t take much to convince a jury that you have an ‘illegal’ gun. How? Multiple shots with one pull of the trigger gets you into a grey area with ATFE’s definition of an ‘automatic’ weapon.
      The U.S, military decided that they needed an trench warfare weapon that could be useful elsewhere on the battlefeild, and adopted the Thompson subgun.

  45. avatarBillB says:

    There is no doubt that a shotgun is a fearsome weapon especially at close range.But the negatives are also worth mentioning for anyone considering one for home defenseThe shotgun works best for a barricade position . Any long gun makes it difficult to1. Open Doors 2. Hold flashlight 3. manipulate light switchesAs mentioned above; There is a myth that “you can’t miss” with a scattergun because of the pattern of the shot. But at most home defense ranges the shot (and the wad) are likely to go through one ragged hole with little/no spread even if you choose your loads carefully20′ is a pretty big room and unless you and the bad guy are backed against the walls you will be MUCH closerAlso, while a full length stock is definitely preferable to a pistol grip, the LOP on most guns makes it hard for anyone with less than orangutan arms to easily manipulate the slide while maintaining their shooting position

  46. avatarLB says:

    Why not a Taurus Judge revolver (3″ barrel) loaded with .410 gauge 000 buckshot, and a couple of slugs?

    • avatarRyan says:

      I’m interested in getting a Judge for home defense. Having said that, racking one with a pump action is, as an acquaintance put it, international language for “get the !@#$ out of my house.” Very timely example here.

    • The most effective thing you can load in a Judge for social work is a .45 Colt slug. So, why not just get a standard revolver and be even better off?

      Just because the .410 is a shotshell doesn’t make it anywhere near as effective as a 20ga or 12ga.

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