“Recently a neighbor asked my advice on purchasing a home-defense shotgun,” gun guru John Zent writes in americanrifleman.org. “I described different options and then advised him to consider a short-barreled side-by-side like the Stoeger Double Defense [above] because loading and shooting it are foolproof. No effort is required to cycle an action, and the gun can’t jam between shots. Since precise aiming isn’t necessary, even the rawest beginning shooter has a fair chance of operating the gun effectively.” Huh? Loading a shotgun with shells with a bloodstream full of adrenalin is about as “foolproof” as trying to pick-up Carolina Pampita Ardohain by asking her if Heaven’s lost an angel. Reloading? Same again—only speaking Swahili. As for aiming being surplus to requirements with the [other] Double D, uh, no . . .

Without going into the finer points of shotgunning (ammo, chokes, etc.), most scatterguns shoot a grapefruit sized pattern at home defense distances. Think dunk tank: trying to hit a hand-sized paddle to give your math teacher a bath from, say, six yards. How’d that go? If I’m not mistaken, the paddle wasn’t moving around, in the dark, trying to kill you or your family.

When facing a lethal threat with a gun, not only do you have to aim, but you have to aim well. As facile as it sounds, other than actually having a fully functional (safety off?) loaded firearm in your hands when you need one, aiming is the most important self-defense skill.

If you doubt the veracity of that assertion, ask yourself why gang bangers are so intellectually challenged (a.k.a., stupid). If they aimed their gun at their rivals, colleagues or (god forbid) law enforcement, natural selection would have given us a more intelligent class of criminal. Bad guys who’d use their brain to avoid gunfights.

As you should, too. But if you find yourself defending your life with a gun, aiming should be a higher priority than shooting. Not only does aiming increase accuracy (as in giving you some), it also forces you to insert a pause between bringing your gun to bear and pulling the trigger.

At the range, the aiming part of the shooting process happens so fast you’re barely aware of it. (Note: you should be, but most people aren’t.) In a self-defense situation, with your perception of time slowing down, aiming your gun will take an eternity. Great! It gives you time to think about something really important. Should I pull the trigger or not?

I’m not talking about a momentary moral re-examination. If you’re using a gun for self-defense, you crossed that Rubicon a long time ago. No, the pause created by aiming helps ensure that the person you’re about to shoot needs shooting.

There are a LOT of considerations involved in that calculation. Does you attacker have the ability to cause you death or grievous bodily harm? Is the threat imminent? If you haven’t studied the legal use of lethal force in your state, please do so immediately. But in the heat of the moment, don’t deny yourself one last chance to get it right.

More to the point, give yourself a final chance to not get it wrong. If you somehow manage to line-up the wrong person (e.g. your daughter’s boyfriend or a drunk neighbor), if an innocent is running into your sight picture, aiming may keep you out of living hell.

In almost all cases, aiming will make it easier to do what needs doing. And, perhaps, prevent you from not doing what shouldn’t be done. So, by all means, practice shooting. But more importantly, practice aiming.

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37 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Aim

  1. Just last week, a close friend asked me what I would recommend for home defense. I told him that a semiautomatic or pump shotgun would be a good choice. I’m concerned about him short-stroking a pump, but it won’t take too much training to make him proficient in cycling the shotgun. Besides, in the heat of battle, short-stroking is less common than one might think. I don’t believe that a side by side would be a good choice for him because, under pressure, he won’t be able to manipulate the controls very well. That would be a serious problem if he needs more than two blasts to resolve his issues.

    IMO, the best gun for home defense is a handgun, but only with a lot of practice. I don’t think he’ll dedicate himself to practicing, so a shotgun it is.

    • On the plus side of that, the sound of chuk-chuk’ing a round into a chamber on a pump shotgun is unmistakable, and should make any BG wet themselves just before running away.

      • That’s what a lot of people think, but I’m not sure it’s true. I don’t know of any cases where the BG took off a-runnin’ at the sound of a pump being racked. In fact, I’ll bet that most burglars/home invaders have never heard the sound of a pump.

        I prefer a pistol because it’s quiet, easily handled, maneuverable in the close confines of a home, and deadly accurate.

        • I know of one case personally, a buddy of mine heard a couple guys fiddling with his glass sliding door so he grabbed his 12 gauge and racked the slide from somewhere on the other side of that door. He said they took OFF at that sound.

          It’s been a while but I think one or both of them actually got arrested a little ways from the house and they were bleeding from getting scratched up on his bushes during their quick exit from his property.

      • I’m not out to intimidate anyone. If I have to pick up my shotgun in anger, it has to be ready to use instantly. To such ends I keep a round in the chamber at all times, backed up by a full magazine. If the perpetrator runs off, it will be from the sight of a fat white guy holding a shotgun on him. Which indecently I have already found to be quite effective. I have had to use my home defense gun on multiple occasions, and have yet to fire a shot. The instant these cowardly criminals see a shotgun in battery, they turn tail and run like you’ve never seen a human(I’m using that word in the loosest possible terms) run before, messing their pants the entire time. It’s amazing how quickly the very real possibility of death, changes the criminal mind set.

        • I’m guessing you meant “incidentally” rather than “indecently” but maybe you were in a state of undress at the time……:-)

  2. See, I’m getting conflicting info here. Every instructional video and book I read says “practice like you’ll be shooting”. Following that advice, I drink a lot of caffeine so I’ll be shaking like a leaf then I close my eyes and start screaming while I fire.

    This “aiming” thing you mention sounds fascinating. Wait…is THAT what those little dots on my gun are for? If I do this “aiming”, does that mean I’ll actually hit the target and stop getting thrown out of gun ranges?

    I’ll have to try that because as it stands there’s only one left within driving distance that still lets me in (although I have to wear a disguise).

  3. I don’t take what the guy is saying about aiming too seriously. I agree, you have to aim your gun but I see where he is coming from with a shotgun. I can shoot 90 mm clays moving fast at about 50-60 yards with my shotgun. Sometimes I aim and wait ready. Sometimes I am moving and pretend I am hunting and not knowing when the dove/quail/grouse will fly. Sometimes I run, pretending to shoot one and I am now going for the second. Sometimes I aim actively. Sometimes I shoot from the hip with no time to ‘set’ the gun. Fact of the matter is that a shotgun gives you a lot of forgiveness in most situations. Taking this into consideration I kind of know where these guys are coming from. Head into the woods and shoot some small game that go fast. Home defense doesn’t seem so daunting once you can track a little bird flitting around and hit it.

    • Buuurr, you’re right that at 50 or 60 yards, the spread makes it harder to miss — but at 10 or 15 feet or thereabouts (room length), there’s only a palm-size spread. So aiming a shotgun is important. Agreed, it’s not as critical as it would be with a handgun, but it’s still important for home defense.

      • No, I get it. But people on here tend to overstate the importance of certain things – almost like there is a paranoia. Trust me. In my home, outside, wherever I would challenge anyone to outshoot me with their pistol vs. my shotgun. It just isn’t happening. With the ranges I am talking about I am letting them go way out to be a speck. I often shoot them 20 feet from the barrel. It really isn’t that hard. My point is that you get a feel from a shotgun after time that leads to a comfort that is seldom duplicated with any other gun.

        You can hip a shotgun and fire it accurately. A lot of people shoot that way because it is easier to get the shot off faster for them (my buddy for example) I can do it either way and practice both because you never know when someone is gonne grab the barrel and need a quick jerk and trigger pull in a fluid accurate motion. No other gun is as forgiving. Which is why a lot of people think aiming a shotgun is as crucial. It (in the traditional sense) isn’t.

    • We’re not talking about shooting clays with birdshot here; we’re talking about home defense. You should be shooting buckshot or home defence loads for this. A consequence of having a load such as buckshot or home-defence loads is that you have much fewer projectiles leaving the shotgun. They’re not gonna scatter all over the place (a.k.a the “how could I miss with a shotgun?” mentality). The shot will be rather concentrated. Greater dispersion results only from greater distance and you’re not going to be shooting someone at 50 yds. You’re going to be in your bedroom, or standing in a 20 ft hallway, etc. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what kind of firearm you shoot, ALWAYS aim to be sure of your target, what’s beyond it, and, most importantly, to be sure you hit it.

      • “guywithagun says:
        August 29, 2011 at 6:27 PM
        We’re not talking about shooting clays with birdshot here; we’re talking about home defense. You should be shooting buckshot or home defence loads for this. A consequence of having a load such as buckshot or home-defence loads is that you have much fewer projectiles leaving the shotgun. They’re not gonna scatter all over the place (a.k.a the “how could I miss with a shotgun?” mentality). The shot will be rather concentrated. Greater dispersion results only from greater distance and you’re not going to be shooting someone at 50 yds. You’re going to be in your bedroom, or standing in a 20 ft hallway, etc. That’s it. It doesn’t matter what kind of firearm you shoot, ALWAYS aim to be sure of your target, what’s beyond it, and, most importantly, to be sure you hit it.”

        No, we are not talking about shooting clays here. I am talking about how shooting small, fast, flitting targets makes home defense not so daunting. Of course you use buck instead of birdshot but at home defense distances the shot is not going to spread more or less with either load. They both act near exactly the same in regards to flight/spread/pattern at those distances. One will kill you (buck), the other will shock you. It really doesn’t matter if there are fewer leaving the barrel. At the distances involved they punch a palm sized hole.

        No, I am not going to be shooting at someone 50 yards away with a shotgun. That would be murder, not self defense.

        It most certainly does matter what type of firearm you shoot. And how forgiving it will be to your aiming or hip shooting it. The real fact is that you are not always going to be standing all police stance or military stance with your weapon. You could be blindsided and not have the chance to properly aim. You may actually have to take a chance, place a barrel against somebody’s chest as hard as you can and pull the trigger hoping for a good outcome.

        Get out there. Shoot something in the woods if you can. Shoot at fast moving things that are small. The bigger things will come easier. It is simple math.

        • Buuurr, take it easy pal. We’re all on the same side here. The point here is not to aim every time regardless of the circumstances. The point here, obviously, is to take the time to aim when you have a chance to. Half the battle is knowing when NOT to pull the trigger. Of course practicing on small fast targets will help your coordination somewhat; however, when your life is on the line, no amount of skeet shooting is going to prepare you for that moment you need to defend it. Include some stressful situations in your practice too.

          Also, when your life is on the line, do you want to shock the guy or stop the guy? Buckshot or HD loads please. I’m pretty sure that the guy in your house isn’t intending to just shock you.

          Don’t take chances, take a life to save yours in self defence. Just don’t do it in Kalifornia – you will be arrested just for thinking about it…. Oh crap… The cops are here…

        • “Guywithagun says:
          August 29, 2011 at 11:06 PM
          “Buuurr, take it easy pal. We’re all on the same side here.”

          Huh?

          “The point here is not to aim every time regardless of the circumstances. The point here, obviously, is to take the time to aim when you have a chance to.”

          True. I am commenting on the unforgiving lumping of people who say ‘they don’t have to aim a shotgun’ into the bad boys pile. My point simply is that it is much easy to hit anything with a shotgun within a given range then most other guns in existence.

          “Half the battle is knowing when NOT to pull the trigger.”

          Of course.

          “Of course practicing on small fast targets will help your coordination somewhat; however, when your life is on the line, no amount of skeet shooting is going to prepare you for that moment you need to defend it.”

          So your theory is that shooting at the smallest fastest thing I can hit with a gun isn’t the hardest thing I can do to protect my home with my shotgun? Should I stand like most people in this country at a stall? Inside? At paper? Really? I don’t see how I can make it any harder/stressful on myself with the way I do it. Besides forking out a crazy amount of money on force training that is (even some of those guys are just hacks). How can I stress myself anymore than having a friend throw something when I am not looking AND walking away just to turn head only and than make a turn when I see the target fly? How much harder can I make it than running/walking uphill with gun down and shooting when I see the target fly? Should I point out that we do all this in the mountains at altitude? Maybe I should go to a course and bore myself to death with pop up targets that pop up? If you have some suggestions beyond force on force please let me know.

          “Include some stressful situations in your practice too.”

          Read above.

          “Also, when your life is on the line, do you want to shock the guy or stop the guy? Buckshot or HD loads please. I’m pretty sure that the guy in your house isn’t intending to just shock you.”

          Huh? Did you read the post I made?

          “Don’t take chances, take a life to save yours in self defence.”

          Thanks for the advice (although I made the same comment in the post you responded to).

          “Just don’t do it in Kalifornia – you will be arrested just for thinking about it…. Oh crap… The cops are here…”

          /Sympathy

        • Ok. You win. Now you’re just arguing for argument’s sake. Thanks for the sympathy though.

    • 60 yards with birdshot? You might want to pull out your tape measure. You won’t be killing a bird at that distance with #8.

  4. I was planning on working the action of my mil-spec Mossberg 500 riot gun and aiming toward the smell of $hit-filled underdrawers.

  5. Aside from my attempt at humor above, I think it boils down to the relatively false assumption that all you have to do is point a shotgun in the general direction of someone and pull the trigger and a large portion of their anatomy will disappear in a spectacular red puff.

    Admittedly, I used to think the same way until I took my shotgun to a shooting range. I immediately removed the pistol grip and learned to shoot it the right way.

    That’s not to say there isn’t a benefit to this assumption, however: I know you have to aim it, and you know you have to aim it. Crackhead McBurglarson coming in through the window doesn’t know this. Amazing how one can take good advantage of someone else’s complete lack of knowledge (I believe that’s the slogan of the brady campaign, I might add).

    • I don’t think that the guy is talking about not aiming the shotgun. I think that what is being put across is that you can aim a shotgun and be forgiven in many different ways. The fact is that in a home defense situation if you fire a pistol down a hall blindly you are not likely to hit anyone. Doing the same with a shotgun will often lead to favorable results for a defender( in the current situation but maybe not in court ;)). I don’t recommend it. But I can see where people say they don’t have to ‘aim’. I think it is just that they are more comfortable and let it slip sometimes.

  6. Anyone who can’t see fit to operate a standard pump action 870 probably doesn’t ave a lot of self worth defending…

    • So people with infirmities or other physical handicaps that would prevent them from manually pumping a shotgun aren’t worth defending? A double barreled shotgun can be loaded and you have two guaranteed shots whereas you can short stroke a pump shotgun.

      • Gimme a break. I don’t think that that is what the guy is saying, Gossven. I am pretty sure he is being very sarcastic. Re-reading his statement without drama will tell you he is. He is saying, ‘anyone who can’t see fit’. Not, ‘anyone who can’t operate’. The operative word that is missing or missed in this case is chooses.

        • I was legitimately asking him if that was his stance, not trying to be a dick.

          I was also defending the use of a coach gun as an acceptable HD weapon, probably could have been 2 posts but dinner was on the stove and I was trying to multi task.

      • people with infirmities or other physical handicaps that would prevent them from manually pumping a shotgun…

        A gas auto like the Mossberg 930 Home Security seems useful since it could be shot one handed and its gas action shouldn’t jam due to limp-wristing as might an inertial action.

        • “Chaz says:

          August 29, 2011 at 11:14 PM

          people with infirmities or other physical handicaps that would prevent them from manually pumping a shotgun…

          A gas auto like the Mossberg 930 Home Security seems useful since it could be shot one handed and its gas action shouldn’t jam due to limp-wristing as might an inertial action.”

          I am with you, Chaz. I put 500-600 shells through mine before a FTE. Cleaned, some break-free on there and it hasn’t failed since.

  7. I think we’re all missing the point here – yes, AIMING your shot is the most critical action you can take to hit your target. But the double barreled shotgun in a stressed situation is the best option for home defense where novices are involved (a spouse or children with minimal to no training):
    1) the aforementioned lack of moving parts. This assumes that the home defense weapon is loaded & ready to fire. In this case there is no worry about a FTF caused by a magazine or other mechanical cause; or the novice forgetting to rack the slide / engage the slide safety / or whatever; just pull the trigger.
    2) “Without going into the finer points of shotgunning (ammo, chokes, etc.), most scatterguns shoot a grapefruit sized pattern at home defense distances. Think dunk tank: trying to hit a hand-sized paddle to give your math teacher a bath from, say, six yards. How’d that go? If I’m not mistaken, the paddle wasn’t moving around, in the dark, trying to kill you or your family.” EXACTLY. At home defense distances what is the size of the pattern from a single handgun round? NOWHERE NEAR THE SIZE OF A GRAPEFRUIT. The novice spouse or child may not be an expert shot at the range, much less in a stressful encounter so the larger spread of the shotgun increases the chance they’ll hit the target. Also, the dunk tank example really doesn’t apply because throwing a softball is a completely different motorskill than shooting a firearm – I can’t pitch, so the teacher would stay dry & I would never be able to hit a home invader on the move, but please – I am a multi-award expert shooter ex-marine, so give me a firearm with a grapefruit sized spread pattern & I would hit the dunk tank target so accurately the teacher would drown, & that home invader could move as fast as Usain Bolt & I’d still shred him with the scattergun.

    • I am not missing the point, Jean. I am with you. Shotguns are the best/most simple to learn/aim/point/use of most any gun without challenge.

    • I seem to recall reading that a shot pattern from a modified choke spreads at about 1″ per yard of distance from the muzzle. 10 yards = 10 inches. At “down the hallway” range (say 15 feet) that would be about a 5″ (large grapefruit?) pattern. No problem with using bird shot in an inside the house defense, because a 5″ pattern is going to hit like a very large slug.

      One possible compromise is the Taurus Judge revolver. The short barrel with some of the disc+buckshot loads give about a 12″ pattern at 5 yards, it’s compact, and you get 5 shots. I think there was a recent review (last month) of those loads in either American Rifleman or Shooting Times.

      • No birdshot for me, Pete. Best to stick to what police/military use for legal sake and the fact that they are proven. Birdshot just isn’t designed to penetrate people. When knocking out a covey of quail the shot for quail barely penetrates the animals hide. If it did the bird would be inedible/a fine mist. I won’t use it. Buck and slug for HD.

  8. Its a little OT, but the above-pictured Double Defense would be a much more viable defensive gun if it had ejectors instead of just extractors.

    Viable, maybe, but not optimal. The Savage side-by-side was an official NYPD detective’s shotgun until some time in the 1980s, IIRC, and even though it was certainly obsolete it was still formidable and reliable. Until it was time to fumble through a reload, anyway.

  9. “See, I’m getting conflicting info here. Every instructional video and book I read says “practice like you’ll be shooting”. Following that advice, I drink a lot of caffeine so I’ll be shaking like a leaf then I close my eyes and start screaming while I fire.”

    Mr. Crispy, that is hilarious!

    And a really good point. Maybe I’ll try it sometime. I use a shot timer to try to invoke a sense of urgency, but I like the hopped up on caffeine idea in addition to the timer.

    I DO NOT personally recommend a shotgun for people that are newer to firearms. Short stroking a shotgun is a serious issue. A nice revolver with it’s ability to fix most issues by pulling the trigger again work for me. .38 shoots nicely in heavier revolvers.

    I personally think pistol caliber carbines are the best way to go for home defense for newer shooters. Penetration is roughly 1/3 more than 00buck, easier to make hits with, less recoil, ability to use the same mags as a pistol, and the longer sight radius and more contact points increases hit probability dramatically compared to a handgun.

    In a perfect world, I’d use a suppressed AR & supressed .45 WITH EarPros in my ears for a home defense situation. Other capable and armed shooters in my family would be armed similarly.

    In the end, I don’t like bead sights on shotguns. I think they should all come with rifle or ghost rings. I prefer rifle sights personally. Red dots are the fastest by far for me.

  10. u can’t fix stupid, man. NOBODY, at the sub 10 ft ranges likely in home defense, is anything LIKE as fast for moving the gun around, with ANY longarm, as can easily be done with a handgun. You are KIDDING yourself if you “think” that you are going to have a longarm ready, in many cases. Just because you have had it in the past is no guarantee whatsoever. things can “jump off” so quickly, so unexpectedly, so SNEAKILY, that you wont be able to do diddly squat, most likely. Unless you train a LOT, at karate and superfast ccw draw.

  11. guys who favor the shotgun are just automatically UNSKILLED. They REFUSE to try their ability at a gathering of really skilled people, (ie, an IDPA or IPSC combat match) cause they know damned well how badly they will be shown up. TRY it, if you dare. i don’t mean compete with a handgun. i mean have some of the top hands go up against you and your shotgun. Simple little exercise, gun in hand, even let you shoulder the shotgun, 90 degree aim angle away from man target. first you pivot to your left and hit, then pistol man and you swap sides, so you swing to your right and hit. he’ll have hit the target before you, both times, by a wide margin of time. you’ll never even FIRE that shotgun, most likely, in a fight, cause you’ll get shot first.

    cops don’t get surprised much, cause they KNOW when they are responding to a high risk scenario. so what they use is NOT what you need.

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