Guns for Beginners: Don’t Rack a Shotgun to Ward-Off Bad Guys

The sound of a pump-action shotgun makes when you rack it (i.e. when you chamber a shell) is awesome. CH-CHUNK! Like the sound of an S-Class Mercedes door closing, I could listen to it all day. But the idea that racking a shotgun will ward off bad guys is seriously misguided, for a whole lot of reasons.

1. It means you don’t have a round chambered

What could possibly go wrong? You forget to do it. You forget to chamber a round. Or you short stroke the shotgun and fail to chamber a round (short shucking as above). Or you get so involved in racking your scattergun you forget to switch off the safety. D’oh!

2. It tells the bad guys you’re armed

They don’t need to know that, do they? If aspiring attackers suddenly discover that you’re armed, and they didn’t have a firearm or ambush at the ready, they will when they hear a shotgun brought into play.

3. It reveals your location

Assuming you’re hidden . . . The bad guys don’t need to know your location, do they? If they suddenly discover your 10-20, they can zero-in on you easily. How’s that a good thing?

4. Scaring a bad guy — if indeed shotgun racking does that — may not be the best idea

Fear creates adrenalin. Adrenalin can make you, or in this case the bad guy(s), insensible to danger. If you really want to frighten them away — an undependable tactic but WTH — surprising them with a shotgun pointed at them is the better way to go. Of course, shooting them with a shotgun is the ultimate disincentive.

The best overarching plan for armed defense is, as always, speed, surprise and violence of action. While a shotgun certainly qualifies for the last of the three, racking it violates one and two. Don’t do it. Keep one in the pipe. In fact, consider buying a semi-automatic shotgun; a good one is plenty reliable.

comments

  1. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    Might work, might not.
    I would not necessarily count on it.

    1. avatar David P. says:

      I think the title should say “don’t JUST rack a shotgun…”. If you rack a shotgun and stick a chunk of lead in their chest or face there is a pretty good chance they will leave you alone. Cuts back on return visits too.

    2. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      “1. It means you don’t didn’t have a round chambered”

      Fixed it for ya 😛

  2. avatar Mikial says:

    All the stupid crap about racking the shotgun is a bunch of movie BS and propaganda put out by the likes of Joe Biden and his infamous ‘Just shoot out the window’ nonsense.

    If you aren’t comfortable keeping a round in the chamber, than rack one in quietly and don’t make a big production out of it. Personally, I keep a Saiga next to the bed so the sound is very different anyway.

    1. avatar Tom W. says:

      I think Ol’ Joe referred to a double barrel. And it got a Deleware resident in trouble taking his advice as he fired in the air at some thieves in his yard, as he was charged with discharge of a firearm in city limits and reckless endangerment. Think I read that here at TTAG.

      1. avatar Mikial says:

        Yup, exactly. Some poor chump followed his advice and ended up in jail. Should tell you how much you can trust the current administration.

    2. avatar John in AK says:

      I’d not recommend operating a pump-action shotgun ‘quietly’ if one really, truly intends to use it. The things are designed to be operated with force, meaning that the slide should come back HARD and then go forward HARD. That also means FAST. If you go slowly and gently, you may not run the bolt far enough back to operate the action bars and feed a shell (a ‘short stroke’), you may ‘confuse’ the innards and get a shell under the bolt, or merely fail to get the bolt into battery on the forward stroke. Any of these issues can be very embarrassing.
      Run the thing HARD and FAST, don’t be concerned about any noise, and if you have the time, load another round into the magazine–if there’s room for it you almost certainly have a round chambered. Or, you can get all ‘operator’ and do a press check.
      Do NOT, though, store a pump shotgun, or any other for that matter, with a loaded chamber; Most of them are NOT ‘drop’ or ‘knock-over’ safe, even with the manual safety applied.

      1. avatar guest says:

        —–at last some common sense—–why don’t you run for president?

      2. avatar 16V says:

        “Most of them are NOT ‘drop’ or ‘knock-over’ safe, even with the manual safety applied”

        Says you. And nobody else I’ve ever heard of in 40+ years of having loaded shotguns near my person. I’ll throw a chambered Model 11/ A5 on the floor all day long, *without* the safety engaged. I’ll pay you 10:1 when it goes off. In return, you pay me when it doesn’t.

        1. avatar John in AK says:

          Of course you”re right. Long guns never fire when dropped or knocked over–it’s unheard of. Those state laws and hundreds of years of gun safety warnings are just stupid advice to folks like you who know the truth.
          I fly, and in 50 years I have never crashed, nor do I know anyone personally who has done so. Logically, then, no plane has ever crashed.
          Please, keep tossing your shotgun about. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe.

        2. avatar 16V says:

          John , Apparently your experience is limited to Remington 700 action guns, which you’re completely right, will go off, with just about any movement.

          We’ve known that for at least 40 years, if you didn’t, sorry old chap. Been common knowledge since before I was a kid. In the ’70s.

          Meanwhile, I’m all up for the Pepsi challenge. If a fire-control group is worth a good-flying eff, you can throw it off a mountain and it won’t discharge.

  3. avatar Crowbar says:

    What semi shotguns do you recommend for home defense? I have several HD shotguns, but they are all pump guns for the reliability factor.

    1. avatar Frank Waturi says:

      Check out the Beretta 1301 tatical.

    2. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      …and still be affordable.
      Maybe the Mossberg 930? I dunno.

      1. avatar Matt in TX says:

        I like the Mossberg 930. The cycling of the action really takes the punishment out of the recoil. Very nice to shoot.

    3. avatar Robert w. says:

      Versa – max tactical. Never had it fail to eat up what I’ve served it. You could buy 2 or 3 pump shotguns for the price, but it’s the most affordable semi-auto that is very reliable that I can think of.

      The mossberg 930 is good, but I’ve seen lots of different failures with them.

      1. avatar Binder says:

        930s will fail if you don’t clean them, and not just run a boar snake threw it. Never had a failure in mine. Just like Ruger Mark pistols. Have thousands of rounds threw several without a failure, but I clean them after use.

    4. avatar mark s. says:

      SRM 1216 . 4 shots 00 ( red ) , 4 shots 06 ( orange ) , 4 shots bird ( yellow ) , 4 shots slugs ( steel ) .

    5. avatar Rem870 says:

      Benelli m4 super 90 or Beretta 1301 Tactical

  4. avatar strych9 says:

    This argument is old and IMHO it’s six of one half a dozen of the other.

    Yes, you could short stroke the gun, but there could be two guys in your house. You shoot the first one, get scared by the second you didn’t know was there and short stroke the second shot. Or you could miss and short stroke trying to get a second shot off (shotguns, as most TTAG readers know are not going to have a 4′ wide pattern inside most houses). To you, the outcome is the same.

    The real reason to rack the shotgun is because leaving guns lying around with a round in the chamber is unwise especially if you have children who probably have friends. Personally, I lock shotguns to the wall in various locations throughout my house with a Shot-Lock device. This disables the pump action but gives me rapid access to the shotgun if I need it. Sure a methhead could rip the whole thing off the wall but the Shot-Lock is coming with the gun which means he’s effectively got a club while I’ve got an operational shotgun/pistol or rifle. Punch in code, remove shotgun, rack shotgun, blast badguy. No worries about unauthorized access to a gun that will shoot if the trigger is pulled so kids, idiot guests and badguys are not a concern when it comes to them potentially finding the gun.

    Further, shooting someone will give away your location to any of their friends, so that’s basically like the short stroke idea. Multiple bad guys and the all bets are off on both of these.

    Also, straight out ambushing someone may have legal consequences you don’t want to deal with. I don’t know the laws in every state, but I’m sure that each state has overzealous prosecutors who hate guns. If you gave the intruder no warning before jumping out of a closet and taking half his head off a prosecutor might try to make a name for himself by nailing you to a cross. Personally, I think this depends on situation. If you somehow know there’s a bunch of guys who came in, ambushing the first might be the best idea. If you know it’s only one or two announcing “I’m armed with a gun and the cops are on the way” might be the best idea, especially if you’re you’re on the line with 911.

    I mean seriously, if you’re in court, even if it’s just a civil case brought by the dead guy’s family which 911 recording do you want played for the jury? The one where you yell “I’ve got a shotgun and the cops are on the way, get out!” or the one where you’re telling the 911 operator “I’m hiding in the closet, I’m a kill these motherfuckers if they come upstairs!”…?

    1. avatar Naz says:

      Who’s call 911 before the shootout?

      Not me! Those operators will get you killed! They try to keep you talking, very dangerous to be on the phone and fight bad guys.

      Google Kelly McGillis 911 call – bitch had a bad ass gun and 911 was nothing but interfering.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        You’re not required to stay on the line with 911.

        The only time I personally called 911 I gave them my name, location and the situation (nasty car accident producing an engine fire) as I was pulling up to the scene I also requested Police, Fire and EMS. The lady wanted to keep talking so I simply said “You have what you need, dispatch Police, Fire and EMS to this location. Now, I’m busy. Goodbye.” and I hung up.

        Staying on the line or not staying on the line is up to you and dictated by the situation you find yourself in but 911 should be called ASAP. You can level your shotgun at a door while your wife calls if you want, but delaying a call to 911 in the event of a self-defense shooting makes you look very bad in the eyes of the law. Before the lead starts flying or immediately after the lead stops flying, whatever, but in many break-in cases you can get your gun, hunker down and call before the shooting starts. If they annoy or distract you, end the call.

        1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

          “but delaying a call to 911 in the event of a self-defense shooting makes you look very bad in the eyes of the law.”

          Like is so often in these cases, that very much depends on the circumstances.

          For example, there was at least one case (going by memory here) where a person got into a shootout at a gas station and fled the scene before calling 911. That was both a ‘delay’ and ‘leaving the scene’ which are often given as bit “No-No’s,” but in that case, actually HELPED his DGU claim since he ‘left for his safety.’ (Ie, he didn’t know if the bad guy was down-and-out, had friends nearby, whatever).

          The best part of your post was this:

          “Staying on the line or not staying on the line is up to you and dictated by the situation you find yourself inc”

          Case-by-case is the only way to properly answer these kinds of questions. There is no “best” that can be given before hand.

    2. avatar Sean says:

      I agree with this, there are definitely benefits to storing a pump action with an empty chamber. Shotguns aren’t usually drop safe so storing one ready to fire is pretty stupid. Pump actions can be brought into action very quickly so there’s no need to store it unsafely. And while the intimidation factor is not a guarantee in terms of scaring the crook off, it very well might. I can’t see your average thief wanting to have a firefight with an armed homeowner if they can avoid it.

      1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

        “Shotguns aren’t usually drop safe so storing one ready to fire is pretty stupid.”

        Just curious…is there actual data showing that this is “pretty stupid?” Is there data that shows a shotgun leaned against a wall or stored flat under a bed ‘ready to fire’ is a greater danger of accidental discharge than any other?

        I get the whole “drop safe” thing, but just how often has this been a problem, and is ‘falling over’ really ‘dropping?’

        I guess I’m kinda leaning toward thinking some of this is ‘overblown concern’ sophistry.

        1. avatar John in AK says:

          Clearly, a leaning long gun with a chambered round is MUCH more likely to fire if knocked over than one without; Such discharges can and DO happen. That’s why standard firearm safety rules include never leaning a loaded long gun in places where it could be knocked over. It can break things at a minimum, and cause an ND and death at maximum.
          MOST of the time, nothing happens with a knocked-over long gun–but why gamble with a life?
          There is a certain US manufacturer whose name starts with a letter between Q and S that has built virtually all of its shotguns with a firing mechanism wherein the ‘safety’ only blocks the trigger–not the separate spring-load sear or cocked hammer. The metal-to-metal contact surface between sear and hammer is only 0.026″ deep IF it’s in good shape (not worn, not dirty). That’s about half the thickness of a dime. This contact is the only thing preventing the gun from firing if dropped or jarred or knocked over, as nothing blocks these parts from moving otherwise. In other words, putting on the safety prevents YOU from firing the gun, but doesn’t prevent the gun from firing if things go badly.
          I wouldn’t trust my life, or someone else’s, to 0.026″ worth of metal. Remember Murphy’s Law–if something bad CAN happen, it will. With firearms, we’re supposed to assume that the worst WILL happen, and act accordingly.

        2. avatar JR_in_NC says:

          “Such discharges can and DO happen. “

          That’s what I’m asking for. Evidence that is DOES happen for a shotgun leaned against a wall and falls over.

          Got some documented cases? Or just hearsay / Geezer Science?

        3. avatar 16V says:

          Some recent Remington junk that everyone knew would misfire at the drop of a hat is meaningless.

          We’re talking about actual shotties, used by non-morons…

  5. avatar David B says:

    I have an old single shot for home self defense. Ejecting a shell will near about take your eye out.

  6. avatar Old law Prof says:

    The first and last thing a home invader should hear is … BOOM … .

    1. avatar Matt in TX says:

      Yup. click… (safety off) !BOOM! Cha-chunk! With maybe another !BOOM! just in case.

    2. avatar strych9 says:

      Save your ears, suppress that smoke wagon. Now the last thing they here is *pop* or, done properly with a good gun, wet/dry suppressor with water in it and subsonic ammo the sound of the action racking back and forth.

    3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      *Not applicable where prohibited by state and local law.

      1. avatar strych9 says:

        If you live behind enemy lines… well that sucks for you. Other than that… suppress everything you own.

  7. avatar FormerWaterWalker says:

    Well yeah. I never understood making the bad guy aware you’re there. I keep my Chinese pardner pump with one in the chamber on safe. And I’m aware a shotgun safety is not foolproof. No little kids or pets to knock it over. Anywho with my next gubmint check I may get the Linberta semi-auto reviewed on TTAG(and universally given great reviews otherwise). No racking required…

  8. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

    I don’t keep my HD shotgun with a round in the chamber, so I’ll be racking it immediately after I get my hands on it…

    Its not a big deal. Don’t “what if” everything to death or you’ll never leave the house.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      “Its not a big deal. Don’t “what if” everything to death or you’ll never leave the house.”

      Thank-you. Well said.

    2. avatar 16V says:

      The only thing the bad guy will hear is the slight “click” of me switching off the safety of my Model 11.

      The next sound he won’t be alive to remember, if he doesn’t immediately comply.

  9. avatar gs650g says:

    There is really only one sound that works and we know what that is.

  10. avatar Tom says:

    The sound of racking a 12 gauge shotgun is the second most intimidating sound known to man. The first is a woman saying she’s pregnant.

    1. avatar AR says:

      or “sooooo drunk”….

  11. avatar BDub says:

    I have it on good authority, that the ‘BOOM!’ sound is much scarier.

  12. avatar jwm says:

    Been there, done that. Kept the pump gun unchambered. Kids. Bad guy broke window downstairs and was in house. Good guy(me, in case there was confusion) beat feat to position near top of stairs to cover wife and kiddies. Racked shotgun and bad guy left. The end.

    Overtraining and listening to ex “operators” making their living off selling you a new training package will get you in the position of the Reverend Paul.

    It really ain’t complicated. Bad guys are afraid of resistance. Especially armed resistance.

    1. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

      But, you gave away your position…

      You’re just lucky he didn’t throw a frag or call in an air strike.

      Rookie.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Which would you rather be? Good. Or lucky.

        1. avatar Jordan says:

          Why can’t I have both?

        2. avatar RockOnHellChild says:

          Lucky, all day.

  13. avatar DaveW says:

    Can’t speak for home invasion but many years of law enforcement clearly that people react to the sound, and most often it or do what the nice police officer tells you. I have had drunk drivers suddenly “sober up” and become cooperative upon hearing that sound. Criminals do not like it when they are faced with armed resistance. In fact, they do not like it when they have been detected at all. They prefer to steal what they can and leave without being detected. That is why they will check for dogs and alarms and if they find either they will look for a different place to hit. I will rack a round into the chamber and if they want to keep coming, they won’t be walking out on their own.

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      Sorry…you lost me early in your comment.

      Why in the hell were you pulling a shotgun and cycling the action for ‘drunk drivers’ (plural)?

      Having a bit of a “Respect Mah Authoritay!” moment?

      I’ve never been on a DUI stop specifically where I felt the need to threaten the driver with a shotgun…which would have just been something in hand (where with drunks, the likelihood of having to go hands-on seemed higher to me anyway).

      {shrug}

      1. avatar formerwaterwalker says:

        Gee what if the bad guy is DEAF/hard of hearing?!? No warning from me…

    2. avatar Arkansas kurt says:

      Well, that’s cute. As an officer of the law, intimidating citizens with an imminent threat of death via racking a shotgun sounds like a wonderful idea. And you wonder why people have so little respect for cops. You should be thrown in jail.

  14. avatar adverse4 says:

    In the movies and on TV the good guy/bad guy racks a pump so many times it has got to be empty by the time they are supposedly going to shoot. Same thing with racking/working a slide/bolt or cocking a hammer. Ever seen those hi-cap double barreled shotguns?

    1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

      Better yet are the movies that dub a slide-rack sound when the only gun in the scene is a revolver…that’s always fun.

      1. avatar SteveInCO says:

        Or dub “click click click” onto an empty Glock that somehow failed to lock back. (Even if it failed to lock back, it could only go “click” once since it’s not really a double action.)

        1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

          HA!

          Saw that just the other day!

          Hollyweird. Keeping it “real.”

  15. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Well… my pump shot gun is third, or maybe fourth in line for home defense and I do leave the chamber empty and the mag loaded with 3″ #4 buck (41 pellets) with slugs in a butt stock shell holder. It stays in the safe. First is (usually) a 6″ GP 100 loaded with full bore .357s (Double Taps). After the b a d guy takes 6 rounds of that (probably enough to kill a cape buffalo) I’ll either grab my 3″ GP 100 (same Double Taps) or my .30-30, chamber empty + 6 rounds of Federal 125gr. hollow points. Hopefully the sound of a lever action cycling a round into the chamber will be enough for an already mortally wounded assailant to consider fleeing, but if not it only takes a quarter second and I’m back in the game. So after the b a d guy has taken 12 rounds of .357 and 6 rounds of .30-30 then I have to decide whether to reload one of the revolvers (I keep a speed loader and a couple of speed strips handy) or open one of the safe doors and either grab the .44 magnum (top safe) or the shot gun (bottom safe). Again, it only takes a quarter second to rack a shot gun slide, but at this point, quite frankly I’m not the least bit convinced it will scare him away because a) he’ll already have at least 18 holes in his body, and b) both he and I will be completely (if not permanently) deaf from the the intense volume of the previous 18+ rounds.

    That said, all of this will be moot because I’m planning a boat trip tomorrow and plan on taking all my guns with me. We’ll be sailing in very deep water, so hopefully nothing bad happens.

  16. avatar Alan says:

    A5 Browning w/ 5 rounds of #1 buck. 24″ barrel w/ Polychoke set to Mod. 3rl line.

    Rossi .44 Mag with empty chamber and 9 in the magazine. 2nd line.

    Colt .45 Combat Target Series 80 with 3 extra 8 rd mags. 1st line.

    This is for a rural home.

  17. avatar Accur81 says:

    Eh. Racking a shotgun is a truly sincere way to say “Please get out of my lovely home.” I don’t do that – my first option is to release the dogs, but I’ve got motion lights, an alarm, and less lethals too.

  18. avatar Pwinky says:

    Whatever mom, I’ll do what I want. To deny the deterrent effect a shotgun racking could have on a somewhat rational perp is no small thing…after all I haven’t yet scraped the cash together to buy a silencer so it’s my hearing on the line. I’m prepared to go beyond the racking, but that is the first step in my plan.

    And I doubt it would totally give away my position. It would simply come from upstairs and would be a great reason for a burglar to avoid coming upstairs where my family is.

  19. avatar CHLChris says:

    Shotguns are already limited capacity, BIG-time. People need to rack the slide, set the safety, and throw one more shell in the tube. Then lock it or stow it and leave it alone except when training.

  20. avatar Jeffrey Hunt says:

    I have learned that most normal shotguns do not have a drop safety. In fact many PD don’t leave shells in their shotgun chambers as a sharp drop on the buttstock could could release the striker. I used to leave rounds in the chamber of the shotguns in my safe, but no more.

  21. avatar Kilo says:

    I ALWAYS keep one in tha chamber of my home defense guns. That being said, im also a 19 year veteran of corrections. The racking of an 870 by a catwalk officer is damn near magical.

    1. The difference between a captive audience with no clear escape or attack plan and the exact opposite. Prisoner = sitting duck unarmed captive. Intruder = armed attacker with attack plan (that seems to be working initially) and escape plan.

      I’ll admit that the folks with the attack and escape plans usually don’t plan well but that’s not to say they didn’t have the chance. Nor is it to say that prisoners don’t occasionally manage to arm themselves from crudely to very interestingly.

  22. avatar AR says:

    Question for the Graduates of the University of SE Asia “Illegitimi non carborundum” classes of 1960’s-70’s:

    True or jungle legend: 12 gauge shuck = Charlie’s Alarm Clock?

  23. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Storing a shotgun with an empty chamber could be a useful safety measure if there is any chance that young* children could gain access to the shotgun.

    * Young children means children who are old enough to pull a trigger and yet young enough to not realize why they should not pull the trigger. Children who are old enough to physically pump the shotgun are old enough to know why they should not be playing with the shotgun and it should not be a problem if they have access to it.

  24. avatar Docduracoat says:

    My kids have been taught never to pick up a gun Nevonna pull the trigger
    Leave it there and call in adult, don’t let anyone else touch it
    I’ve tested this many times by leaving unloaded guns around the house
    now they complained to mom that “Dad is testing us again, make him stop”
    Still I am a huge fan of “Israeli carry”
    My wife’s Walter PPK S my Bersa thunder 380 my CZ 75 and my Steyr Aug rifle are all kept in the same condition
    Empty chamber, full magazine, safety set to fire position
    The 50 pound dog and the burglar alarm are usually set the alarm position

  25. avatar Zach says:

    Now, I’m not comfortable leaving my shotgun sitting there with a round in the chamber, but, me opening any door in my apartment or even getting out of my squeaky bed would be a dead giveaway of my location anyway, so I’m not super concerned. I usually have a handgun right next to me no matter what, and only one path in the apartment.

  26. avatar Sammy^ says:

    I’m not a fan of shotguns for home defense. Too loud for indoors unless you have ears on. Personally I have a Judge with 410s for home protection. Just my choice.

  27. avatar Jeff says:

    True, it’s not usually a smart thing to do, as discussed. But it sometimes does work, and I’ve personally seen criminals literally running (on foot) over parked cars to get away, just from the sound. The defender was completely hidden and not pointing at anyone. No other sounds or actions were made. That’s not saying I recommend it. But I about busted a gut laughing and the bat-outta-hell perps.

  28. avatar Tom Kusick says:

    Do not treat the gun gently. This was the second most important lesson I learned in semi-automatic pistol shooting. Let go of the slide completely and let force do its job. Helping the slide along—also called “riding the slide”—causes malfunctions. Alternatively, you can grip with the tips of your fingers using your index finger as leverage and pressing into the gun with your thumb.

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