Delaware’s white-toothed wonder may have been on to something when he advised his subjects to defend themselves with shotguns. Most of Tailgunner Joe’s reasoning was cynical claptrap: he wants you to only have a shotgun so the Jackboots can take you out more easily with their ARs. And the part about warning shots? Vintage Bidinsanity. But he was right about one thing: defensive shotguns kick ass . . .

In Praise Of The Humble Shotgun

The right shotgun can be the ultimate home-defense weapon. The shotgun’s main tactical disadvantages of limited range and modest magazine capacity aren’t critical concerns in a home-defense setting, and no rifle or handgun can throw lead downrange more rapidly than a pump shotgun firing buckshot. And that’s just a pump: nothing this side of a Minigun can ventilate a target faster than a semi-auto smoothbore.

What do you get when you multiply six rounds times nine .33″ buckshot pellets times 58 grains times 1350fps in a home-defense situation? A scene of destruction that’s hard to describe or visualize, unless you’ve read Massad Ayoob’s ‘Stressfire II: Advanced Combat Shotgun.” (I do hope you’ll forgive the slightly sloppy shooting; it was his first day out with his new Benelli M4. You’d be excited too.)

But Not Too Much Praise

Shotguns have many drawbacks in combat when compared to modern sporting rifles. They’re heavier and produce more recoil than 5.56mm-class rifles, and they’re all but useless at long range. They shoot heavy, bulky ammo and they don’t hold very many rounds of it. They also reload slowly, one round at a time.

These disadvantages have relegated the shotgun to a small role on the modern battlefield, but they don’t cramp your style when you’re defending your own home. Home-defense scenarios almost always involve brief firefights at short range, against small numbers of attackers armed with handguns. In these settings, the shotgun reigns supreme.

Pump Or Auto?

I won’t dump any dogma on you when it comes to the age-old pump vs. auto debate. If you have the money for an auto, make sure that your chosen buckshot and slugs cycle through it perfectly. Most guns like certain loads better than others, and you want your shotgun and your buckshot to be BFFs. If you have a pump, practice to make sure you don’t short-stroke it. That’s about the only thing you can do wrong with a pump.

There are so many good pump shotguns out there that I won’t even try to list them all. Best of all, most of them are so cheap you could buy three or four of them for the price of an entry-level AR right now. Mossberg 500s and 590s are cheap and reliable (and made in the US) and Winchester’s SXP is a more modern design with a rotary bolt and a shorter pump stroke. They’re each available in combo kits with short and long barrels for about $350. The venerable Remington 870 is more costly than either of these, but it still won’t break the bank unless you spend too much on a special ‘Police’ model.

Fifteen years ago there weren’t many choices for utterly reliable semi-auto shotguns (okay, there were basically two choices) but there are a few more now. If you can find a Benelli M4 or an FN SLP these days (and if you’ve got the coin) don’t let me stop you. The Mossberg 930 SPX is another competition-proven design that’s a good bit less expensive. Foghorn loved his 930 for 3-Gun shooting, before he joined Team FN and switched to the SLP.

The CZ 712 ‘Utility Shotgun’ shown above is an appealing prospect at less than $500, although I’ve never tested one and can’t vouch for its reliability. It has only a 4+1 round capacity, but gun forum gurus report that it accepts Benelli Nova/Supernova magazine tube extensions if you do the 922(r) compliance dance. (h/t to reader John Fitz, who informed me that 870 extension tubes will ruin the CZ’s threads.)

Unlike most defensive shotguns with short barrels, the CZ is threaded for (and includes) choke tubes. That’s not a frivolous luxury, because choking up your shotgun can shrink your buckshot patterns (and extend your effective range) dramatically.

My 12-guage 870 has an 18″ cylinder-bore barrel. It throws any charge of 00 Buck into a 15″ pattern at 15 yards. This pattern is just about ideal for home defense (because 15 yards is the longest indoor shot most of us could take in our homes) but it really limits its effective range to no more than 25 yards. Unchoked shotguns tend to spread their pattern by about an inch for each yard of distance to the target, so mine is fairly typical in that regard. Inside 15 yards, 00 Buck is a death ray. Beyond 25 yards, many of the pellets will scatter and miss a bad guy-size target.

That sucks, because those pellets aren’t just a lost opportunity to stop an intruder: they’re potentially lethal projectiles flying downrange toward innocent life and property. The right choke can narrow those buckshot patterns by half, and extend the safe and effective defensive range to 40 yards.

Ammo And Accessories

Birdshot can kill instantly at hand-to-hand distances, but it won’t reliably incapacitate an adversary who is more than a few yards away. Go ahead and shoot mountains of it in practice (it’s cheaper than any centerfire handgun ammo) but don’t carry it in harm’s way. Birdshot is for the birds; bad guys get buck and slugs.

Nine pellets of 00 buckshot at about 1350fps is the traditional defensive buckshot load, but any buckshot will be devastatingly effective within 25 yards. My home defense shotgun is loaded with #4 buckshot because it has a good combination of pattern density and penetration, but less chance of blasting through multiple walls and doors.

Slugs are vastly overpowered for home defense; they can blow straight through a bad guy and continue through several walls and doors behind him. They’re not as forgiving of imperfect aim as buckshot is, but that shouldn’t effect you because you need to train and practice until you hit center-mass with every shot. The main benefit of slugs is that they extend a shotgun’s effective range out to 50 or even 100 yards. Even with smooth bores and a simple bead sight, shotguns can be surprisingly accurate with slugs.

And speaking of sights and accessories, there are a few toys you’ll definitely want for your defensive shotgun.

  • Elastic buttstock shell carriers are really cheap, and they mitigate the shotgun’s limited magazine capacity. ‘Sidesaddle’ shell carriers do the same thing better, but they cost more.
  • Extended magazine tubes can give you 2,3 or 4 more rounds to work with, depending on your barrel length.
  • Large-aperture ‘Ghost Ring’ sights are a great feature (or a great addition) for any defensive shotgun.
  • A mounted weapon light is almost a necessity for a home-defense shotgun, because when you’ve got both hands on the shotgun you won’t have any hands available to hold your flashlight. Hopefully the home invaders will illuminate themselves while you hide in the shadows, but you can’t count on it.

I don’t use or suggest putting optics on a shotgun, although YMMV. Only high-quality red dots (and the budget Bushnell TRS-25) will survive the shock of buckshot and slug recoil for very long. Except for the Bushnell they’re all fairly expensive, and they don’t add much accuracy at home-defense distances anyway.

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and I guess Tailgunner Joe was (at least partly) right about shotguns.

58 Responses to Defensive Shotguns: Was Tailgunner Joe Biden Right After All?

    • AA-12 is an amazing beast. Too bad, it’s only available for LEO/military. I would like to see a version of it on the market.

  1. He advised everybody to get a shotgun. That’s good advice.

    Then, he advised everybody, when threatened, to discharge all their ammo randomly into the air. That’s egregiously irresponsible, astonishingly stupid, tactically grave and in most residential areas, a felony.

    But that’s just Joe bein’ Joe.

    • The concept of using a shotgun for home defense is a good one but emptying it out is not. Poor old Joe comes from another age and in his befuddled state is probably returning to his roots. In the good ol’ days the idea of “warning shots” was fine – both by civilians and police – and Biden has simply shown how out of touch he really is. Following his advice today (with the added risk of “blasts” into the dark) will bring the SWAT team to your door with a lawsuit to follow. Interesting how the lapdog press has ignored/covered this, can you imagine the reaction if Paul or Rubio had said something of this sort?
      I wonder if part of our problem with our supporters is that so many of them are simply living in the past with long ago aquired guns (and even ammo) who simply don’t realize how many more laws and regulations are now extant and still believe that behavior of that sort is still OK.

      • Well, I can’t defend Shotgun Joe… but it’s like my daddy says, double barrel is better than NO barrel… and if that’s your smoothbore of choice, practice practice practice… because the good news is you can’t shortstroke a double barrel shotgun, but the bad news is you need to practice lots to make fast enough reloads to count. Think you can’t? Watch some of those cowboy action shooters.

        Speaking of practice, depending on what you want and how you want it, I would recommend the Mossberg 500 over the 590 in terms of flexibility. I have a 590 and it really doesn’t pattern birdshot well at all, so practice with it is… difficult. Had I purchased a 500, I could have picked up a choked barrel for it and taken it to the trap range any time I liked for a couple strings of practical moving target engagement. the 590 is only available in cylinder bore, is not threaded for chokes, and throws birdshot like congress spends money (widely and ineffectually), but on the positive side, it seems to eat buckshot or magnum slug rounds like a fat kid with candy, and is rugged enough that I can beat someone to death with it if I don’t have time to reload, and the bayonet lugs aren’t just a cosmetic feature.

        • Most 590 barrels have more than enough meat to be drilled and tapped for chokes.

          I’m about to get my HD 590 drilled and tapped with the intent to put an IC choke in there for exactly the problem you describe.

  2. I would suggest a Benelli M2 over the M4. Much lighter and cheaper(almost 1/2 the cost). One reliable shot gun that you left out 15 years ago was the Beretta 390. Unfortunately it is limited to 4 +1 rounds because you cannot expand the magazine tube due to the gas system.

  3. Glad to see the bit thrown in about chokes. I’m holding out until I can get an 870 express tactical. Has ghost ring sights, a rail, and factory +2 extension, but the threaded choke seals the deal for me. That and the mag tube extension make up for the 100 dollar price increase.

  4. Of course the ideal Joe Biden Home Defense Round would be just powder and a wad since there’s no need to have any shot when you’re just firing it to make noise anyway. More environmentally friendly too. And less recoil for the ladies on the balconies. Man, so many great selling points – I can’t believe the ammo manufacturers’ marketing departments aren’t all over this.

    • Best of all, it is cheaper and can be packaged for sale in smaller cartons. Remember, Biden recommends discharging both rounds from your double-barrel shotgun into the air, presumably out of compassionate sensitivity, so you can avoid injuring any intruders. You won’t need to have any more rounds on hand to reload, since now you’re only swinging your shotgun as a very long, heavy, expensive club.

  5. Twice a day, maybe. But Joe’s comments about a blast from a double barrel shottie scaring off an intruder will land you in jail in my part of the country, and may get you killed if the BG realizes that you just emptied your two-shot Biden special, sending pellets around your neighborhood instead of a shorter trip to the BG’s center of mass.

    Biden’s ignorance, as with most anti’s, is appalling. It would be laughable if the issue weren’t so serious.

    • Yea not only does he recommend shooting off into the air but he also says he lets his wife, A WOMAN, use a firearm. I mean you never know when women are gonna feel like they are gonna be raped and “pop off a round”, he is just full of bad ideas.

  6. In a very specific role, yes, shotgun is king. But Joe Biden is still a moron.
    Seeing one too many westerns as a kid does not make one a firearms or self defense expert.

  7. You forget the “Slow Joe” only wants you to have a side by side shotgun he wants to ban pump and semi auto shotguns. And what he told his wife and other to do still is illegal in his state.

  8. I am not a soldier or cop. The shotgun fullfills my need for heavy hitting firepower at close ranges at a very reasonable price. And shotguns are rarely in short supply. I prefer a pump gun myself, but i saw one of those 930’s at a local GS recently for 550 and gave it a long look. I may break down and buy it or one like it.

    In my yoot I lived in the country. I was once blessed to have free run of an old farm house slated for a controlled burn by the local volunteer fire department. Before they had their training day myself and the owner of the house took time and guns to see what shooting in a house was really like.

    Eye opening experience. The shotgun, regardless of shot size, punched large ragged holes through any doors and walls with ease. Our longest shot was in the staircase from the second floor landing to the front door. It was a solid wood door and anybody standing on the front porch not wearing kevlar would have been fvcked. At our longest shot the patterns were about the size of a fist.

    • Excellent first-hand experience, jwm. I’m personally a big fan of a moderately choked pump throwing #4 or flight-control 00 buck. In my personal opinion, shotguns are a great “gateway” gun. There are a variety of ways to tame recoil, and they are very forgiving at close range, building user confidence.

      Out of curiosity, how old was the house you and the owner were in? I ask only because building materials, wall thickness, insulation and the like have changed over the years.

      v/r
      Badger 8-3

      • Badger 8-3, The house was an old, 1890′-1900 farm house. Very well built with electric and indoor plumbing added in the 1920’s. A lot of wood was used in construction and the walls were Lathe? I believe is the term with thick plaster over the wood. No hollow doors or lightweight anything. I helped carry the salvage out, which included a cast iron claw foot bath tub.

        The outer walls were double layers with a space between for insulation which was saw dust. No insulation at all in attic or roof. This was a farmhouse in eastern Kentucky and as was common in that area the property had a natural coal seam that provided free coal for heating.

        We took a selection of the guns in common usage at that time, the 70’s and when the salvage was done we played . If memory serves we had a 12, 16 and .410 gauge shotgun. .22 rifle and pistol and .38 revolver.

        Many of my life experiences have convinced me that in what would be a legal DGU for a citizen the shotgun is the supreme choice.

        • jwm: Thank you for the reply. Your comment is quite telling, that house being more than 200% sturdier than any house built within the last 20 years. Funny enough, I have a good amount of kin scattered through the holes and hollars of Eastern Kentucky, Letcher, Harlan and Pikes, to be specific. Good folk.

          Even though I’ve witnessed it on multiple occasions, the short-range firepower of a shotgun still impresses me. I’ve never felt undergunned with mine next to the bed as I sleep.

          Oh, and a nod of respect towards the 16ga…always had a soft spot in my heart for those. Probably because it’s the first shotgun I ever fired. Shame it never became more popular.

          v/r
          Badger 8-3

        • Badger 8-3. Forgot to add that there was no sheetrock anywhere in that house. As for the 16 gauge, I considered it the perfect all around hunting gun except for geese. For whatever reason the 16 was never given a 3 inch chamber and in America we like our horsepower and the word “magnum.”

  9. I had a Remy 870 pistol grip with Lasermax & with slugs it would punch out a nice group at 40 feet. There was no way you would miss & no way the BG was not going down, Randy

  10. “The shotgun’s main tactical disadvantages of limited range and modest magazine capacity aren’t critical concerns in a home-defense setting”

    That depends on how many people are invading your home. I’ll stick to 30 round magazines.

  11. The shotgun’s main tactical disadvantages of limited range and modest magazine capacity aren’t critical concerns in a home-defense setting…

    Wait, I thought gunnies needed high standard capacity (30 round) magazine because we *might* face more than one bad guy in a home invasion. Now you tell me that modest (WTF?) magazine capacity is a “tactical disadvantage” but not a “critical concern”. Because I really don’t see any other way to deconstruct the quoted sentence.

    Sure glad folks around here are focused on ears and eyes (see last night’s FPS Russia IGOTD award). Would hate to disrupt the show for anything of importance.

    PS – Keep on keepin’ on with the divide and conquer. Thanks.

      • Shotgun is a great tool for self defense, but like any toolbox I want a hammer, a saw, a couple of screwdrivers, pliers, a wrench or two…etc. One tool does not work for every job…:)

        AND…I don’t think you or Tailgunner Joe or Daddy O has the right to tell me which tools to keep in my toolbox…:)

    • In a prolonged firefight with dozens of adversaries, a shotgun’s 8-round capacity, slow reloads and bulky ammo are a real disadvantage against their selective-fire assault rifles. In a short engagement with a handful of lightly armed robbers, these factors become much less significant. And at close range, the decisive stopping power of buck and slugs at short range means you’ll only need one decent hit to incapacitate an intruder. Even non-center mass hits with buckshot can be fight-stoppers.

      So yes, the shotgun’s battlefield disadvantages become less important in a home-defense setting.

  12. Well a shotgun with a detachable magazine partly compensates for fewer rounds. Wish there was a wider choice though- as I understand it the Baikal is no longer imported and Knoxx took their sidewinder kit off the market (this converted a mossberg 500 to accept detachable 5 and 10 round magazines), leaving just the Saiga 12 semi-auto where it is legal and the Valtro PM 5 pump as far as I know.

    • Saigas are great if you can get them to work. I love mine but never recommend them to friends who aren’t comfortable doing some home gunsmithing.

      • I had heard their was a startup company selling Saigas they tuned for greater reliability. I live in CA though so would have to have a bullet button installed which would negate reloading during an hd incident. I went with the Sidewinder mod and have found it reliable but now parts will be a challenge if it breaks.

  13. The 712 is one CZweet shotty. Ask the man who owns one. 🙂

    However – Read this because it is important.

    When (not if) you install the mag extension on your 712 you need to get one made for a Benelli Nova/Super Nova and not the 870. The 870 extension isn’t threaded correctly for the 712 and it will only screw onto the existing magazine tube a few turns before it binds up. You can force it on and make it work and that is why the misinformation of the 870 extension is propagated. But it won’t be right and you will bugger up the threads of everything involved.

    This is the mag extension you want.

  14. Standard “hunting” 00 buck shells have a velocity of 1350-1500 fps.. This is big time overkill and over-recoil unless you really are out hunting.

    For home defense something like Rio Royal buck 00 “police loads” are a better idea. Police loads are less powerful (1200 fps) to minimize over penetration and remove a lot of the nasty recoil you get from a pump action 12 ga. or 12 ga. double.

    • I have a Remington 11-87 because an autoloader has reduced recoil. It kicks less than my 308 bolt gun. With its 26″ barrel it is not a particularly good home defense shotgun. I have 21″ rifled barrel but you can only effectively use bird shot. I haven’t had the opportunity to pattern #4.

  15. i believe in having assorted ammo on the stock of your shotgun. you have any situation covered. 1 round of 7and1/2 bird, 2 #4 buck, 1 OO buck, and 1 slug. you should be set. (and always backed by a 9 and or a 38)

  16. The effective-range thing with a cylinder or modified choke isn’t a problem at all.

    Indoors or 20m: transition to the 4-5 slug shells from your buttstock or sidesaddle carrier

    Also: it’s “gauge”. There is no such word as “guage”.

  17. I believe he was aiming his shot gun like a rifle and was not just blazing away. No, Biden isn’t even a stopped clock.

  18. Shottys have two downsides — they’re much clumsier than handguns in tight spaces and they need two hands. The upside is that looking down the barrel of a shotgun is a life altering experience and a blast of 00 buck is life ending, either from the 8 or 9 lead balls or from a heart attack.

    • Another downside is complexity…at least with a pump gun. If you don’t train with it, you’re just as likely to short stroke it during a gun use as you are to fire it.

      There is something quite satisfying about chambering a round in a 12 gauge though…and definately crime deterring too…

  19. Don’t give joe any credence. He’s a fool who’s advice is likely to get someone thrown in jail, or worse, killed.

  20. Well, I have a 930 SPx, Rem 870 and Benelli Super Sport. My 870 has a 3 1/2 inch chamber, which is great for big birds but takes longer to rack rounds. The 930 works with birdshot, tactical buck, magnum buck, and magnum slugs. I have buckshot in the tube and slugs on the buttstock carrier. That’s quite a beast. The downside is that the package won’t fit in my nightstand.

    I really can’t recommend the 930 SPX enough – particularly with the extended mag and ghost rings sights. I’ve shot the Benelli m4, which is sweet, but costs double. If you have a friend with a 930, give it a try before spending big bucks on a Benellit or going with a slower pump gun or low capacity double. That’s my $.02.

  21. “Elastic buttstock shell carriers are really cheap, and they mitigate the shotgun’s limited magazine capacity. ‘Sidesaddle’ shell carriers do the same thing better, but they cost more.”
    Can someone explain how the sidesaddle shell carrier is better? Is it just more sturdy/solid?

    • Abq, the side saddle puts the shells closer to the action. Makes a reload a little faster. I use the butt stock elastic because it’s cheaper, I’m a tight bastidge, and because it can be shifted from gun to gun easier.

      Also, I’m not HS/LD. My house combo is a pump shotgun and a wheelgun.

  22. I weigh 230 pounds and I cannot take the recoil of my Nova, period. Neither does my wife. That alone absolutely kills the idea of shotgun for home defence. I met a few people who are recoil-resistant and they Just Don’t Get It. At best they think it’s a matter of technique.

    Also, we live in a 1-story where we must clear door in all reasonable scenarios. My home defence gun is much shorter and this helps. I suppose if I were impervious to recoil, like the author evidently is, then I could have a good look at Kel-Tec KSG. But alas.

  23. this article has made me realize that i seriously need to tacticalize my Westernfield m550abd 12g, think i’ll try and find a tactical light mount and mag extender, as well as a wrap on sling and a buttstock shell carrier.

  24. If you don’t live in a DPR state that restricts shotguns, I think that a Saiga is the way to go. If you are going to trust your life and the lives of your family to a gun, then spend the money to have it skillfully tuned by a gunsmith that specializes in Saiga/AKs. I got mine from a customizer in NE called Hatcher Gun Co.. He did an excellent job including replacing the factory 2-position gas system with an aftermarket 6-position one. I’ve never had a problem with it.

    The aftermarket magazines are spendy, but worth it for the capacity. A 12rd magazine on an autoloader allows you to perform an El Presidente drill with a shotgun!

    For the home defense scenario, a big advantage of the Saiga box magazine over the pump tube its the ability to use 3″ shells without loosing any capacity. 3″ standard load is 12 pellets of 00-buckshot (the same as 2.75″ magnum), and 3″ magnum load is 15 pellets of 00-buck (Remington or Winchester, 15-shell box $14-$15 at Wal-Mart).

    If 15 pellets of 00-buck isn’t enough knockdown for you, Herter’s (Cabela’s house-brand ammo) has a 2.75″ buck-&-ball shell. 6x 0-buckshot with a .65 cal. ball in each shell.

    The SGM magazines have enough extra room to load a full magazine on a closed bolt, so you can have a full magazine and an addition shell in the chamber. If 12+1 of 3″ magnums isn’t enough for you, there are a number of aftermarket magazine couplers specifically for Saiga shotgun magazines (couplers for Saiga rifle magazines don’t fit). Link two 12rd mags for 12+12+1=25 rounds ready to go.

    Any AK accessories can be added to the Saiga. So, for example a quad rail from Chaos US can be used to replace the sporting fore-end to allow the use of lights (a must if you have family or roommates in the house), lasers, and red-dot RMRs.

    Brownells has AK-AR stock converters that screw onto the AK tang (DIY; no gunsmithing required) and allow you to mount an AR buffer tube to take AR stocks, such as a Magpul MOE, UBR, or PRS. All of these can be fitted with extended recoil pads.

    Another point is that the Saiga comes with a threaded barrel (for chokes), but it can also take muzzle brakes to cut recoil. I have a Mojo brake from Red Jacket, and find that it really cuts the recoil, even using 3″ magnums.

    If you are really concerned about recoil aversion, such as a very petite woman or a young teen, another way to go is a PS-90 from FNH-USA. It was specifically designed as a close quarter weapon: 5.7x28mm ammunition (=.224 caliber), 50-round standard magazine, 2000-2500 fps, and truly ambidextrous (casings eject out the bottom). AR15 makes an AR upper (“AR-57”) in 5.7x28mm that uses standard PS90 magazines and ejects casings through the AR lower’s mag well. FMJ range ammo is made by Federal under the American Eagle brand (50rd box ~$28, 500rd case from Midway is less per round), and for defensive use the SS197 rounds from FN use Horaday 41-grain V-Max ballistic tip expanding bullets.

  25. Mossberg 500a, rifled barrel, rifled deer slugs, pistol grip with an adjustable sliding stock and a decent rubber pad. I’m barely over 100Lbs and I am able to shoot/hit as accurate as most people with a rifle. I love my shotgun. Lol
    My wife has the crazy set up though….. 18inch barrel on a Moss Mav 88, pistol grip and foregrip. Loaded 00 buckshot ,With a bandolier stocked with military grade buck, slugs and combo shells. Street sweeper from hell.

  26. Tailgunner Joe was Joe McCarthy, genius. McCarthy. He gave himself the nickname to pad his thin WWII combat resume so he could use it in his run for political office.

    Google is your friend.

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