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“Spray and pray.” That’s how accomplished shotgun owners describe the home defense strategy deployed by “casual” shotgunners. It’s the gun-active gun owner’s way of sneering at people who buy a shotgun, load it, stash it under their bed and call it good. These self-anointed combat experts are highlighting the fact that most shotgun owners are unaware that their firearm is NOT a point-and-shoot weapon. At an effective distance (i.e. ten yards or so), a shotgun unleashes a tightly gathered grouping of pellets. With appropriate ammunition, a single shotgun blast will kill your target dead. Provided you hit them. Which requires that you aim the weapon accurately. In other words, yes, you can miss with a shotgun. Hence the shotguinista’s diss, laughing at the less-accomplished shotgunner’s need for luck and/or divine intervention. Only one problem: even the best shotgun owner can lose a gun battle and, thus, their life. They know enough not to spray but they need to pray, too.

Obviously, I recommend hands-on practice with your weapon. (So to speak.) Proper firearms training—storing, loading, aiming and firing your shotgun—can be the difference between life and death. Regular range time is also a potential lifesaver. If nothing else, the need to have a shell in the gun at the time of firing makes training with your weapon a whole lot better than NOT training with your weapon.

In fact, I’ve devoted an entire chapter of this book to programming your subconscious to respond quickly and appropriately to a home invasion. So you can take whatever action needs taking without hesitation, deviation or paralysis. But to suggest that training guarantees success during a home invasion is dangerous nonsense.

For one thing, if shotgun training is based on a single strategy, you can come to believe there’s “a” way to handle a home invasion; making it more difficult to cope with a violent confrontation outside your expectations. There’s also the risk of becoming of paper target paper tiger. You’re flawless at a well-lit range; a flawed defender anywhere else.

You need to understand that even the most courageous, knowledgeable, prepared and accurate shotgunner can fail to defend their home with a shotgun—no matter how hard you’ve prepared for a home invasion.

Let’s face it: a lot of things can go wrong. You can, as mentioned, miss. You can shoot the wrong person. You can shoot the right person, who doesn’t die, grabs a weapon (maybe even yours) and kills you. You can shoot the right person, kill them, and then die at the hands of a second assailant. You can shoot two assailants and die at the hands of a third.

You can not shoot the right person because a family member gets in the way. You can accidentally shoot yourself. You can accidentally shoot yourself and THEN shoot the wrong person. An aggressor can shoot you first. You can slip and fall and shoot the ceiling. The police may arrive and shoot you by mistake. And so on.

I wrote How to Defend Your Home with a Shotgun to help you minimize the variables surrounding your shotgun-based home defense. Reducing complexity increases the odds that you’ll kill the right person or persons with your shotgun—if and when your survival depends on mastering that horrible, life-changing moment.

To that end, keep in mind that combat is an inherently messy, chaotic business. Anyone who believes that they will react to a home invasion with perfect precision (whatever that is) is in deep, deadly denial. Even the world’s most highly skilled, best-trained marksmen can become overwhelmed by the pace and nature of events during a gunfight.

Criminals are as predictable as any other group of humans engaged in any given activity. Your home’s layout provides a “framework” for the limits of that activity/atrocity. But YOU are the key variable. And you have no idea how you’re going to react during a home invasion.

One thing’s for sure: your body will go into full “fight, flight or freeze” mode. Adrenalin will flood your bloodstream. Your heart will race and your breathing will quicken. Your vision will narrow. Time will either slow down or speed up, or both. Your muscles may twitch.

As all that’s happening physically, the way you think will change. Your mind may race with endless possibilities. You may focus on one idea, to the exclusion of everything else. You may not think at all.

Will you be able to follow your training? Will your body respond to your mental commands? Who knows?

Whether or not you’ve had combat training; witnessed or created deadly force; own, understand, maintain and practice with a shotgun; there’s no way to fully prepare yourself for a real home invasion. Not even a “pro” can do that.

A 1997 study of Chicago police revealed that 59 percent of the Windy City’s police force had never fired their weapon outside of a gun range. How would a Chi-town cop fare in a gun battle? They’d perform the same way you would. The cop would either win (live), lose (die) or draw (live with an injury). Some of them would display grace under fire. Some would freeze. And some would do exactly the wrong thing.

Here’s the thing: it all comes down to . . . . genetics. How your brain is wired.

Some people are born fighters. They enjoy combat and naturally assume command. Other people are born followers. They can’t function in a battle unless they’re given specific commands from a recognized authority figure. For some people, avoiding confrontation (a.k.a. hiding) is their primary combat skill.

That’s why the police spend so much time and energy on the initial selection process. They know the trick to training a dog. Buy the right dog. A dog that’s naturally capable of learning from its master is always going to learn more quickly and completely than one that isn’t, regardless of the trainer’s abilities. A lawman (or civilian) who’s a natural gunfighter is always going to have a better chance than an officer (or homeowner) who can’t perform well in combat.

So which one are you? Leader, follower or avoidance specialist? There’s no way of telling. Even if you tend towards one role, your “core personality” may vary depending on external stimuli (i.e. what’s going on around you). So there is only one safe answer to “can I actually shoot a home invader with a shotgun?” Maybe.

Assume you’re going to find it very, VERY difficult to defend your home with a shotgun. If it happens, an armed confrontation with a home invader will be one of the most terrifying experiences of your life. It may reveal strengths you never knew you had. Or it may uncover weaknesses you never suspected. It may do both at the same time. Or sequentially.

No matter what your “natural” combat personality, the bottom line is the same: the less you ask of yourself in a shotgun home defense scenario, the better. Don’t expect yourself to react like an action movie hero during a home invasion. Don’t worry that you won’t do anything. Your behavior will probably fall between these two extremes.

To maximize your chances of survival, lose any faith in the theoretical advantages of advanced shooting skills and complicated strategy. Trust your life to simple familiarity and common sense. To that end, I’m going to recommend the simplest possible weapon and guide you through a basic set of yes/no options leading you from unarmed to armed to aimed to firing.

It’s called a plan, and it’s more important than you are. If you have a good plan for a home invasion and know when to punt, you’ll probably win an armed encounter. If your plan is defective and you stick to it regardless of combat conditions, you’ll probably lose. Everything.

Notice the word “probably.” As my father used to say, I’d rather be lucky than smart. Then again, being both lucky AND smart is even better. And being lucky, smart and blessed with help from above is best of all.

Yes, well, experienced gun owners looking down their nose at the “spray and pray” philosophy have at least one thing right: you can’t count on divine intervention. So praise the lord and pass the ammunition. It’s your home and your job to defend it. Let’s get to it, shall we?

[Note: this is an excerpt from my forthcoming book How to Defend Your Home with a Shotgun. The text is subject to revision. Reserve your signed first-edition copy by emailing “Book” to [email protected].]

Chapter One: Never Under-Estimate Your Enemy

Chapter Three: And The World’s Best Shotgun Is . . .

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  1. I have amended the text. The previous version left the impression that it's OK to "spray and pray." This was not my intention. Anyone who shoots a firearm is responsible for his or her shot, bullet or bullets, which have a tendency to travel far beyond their intended target. This series is quite clear (eventually) that a home defender with a shotgun must make sure there are no friendlies ahead of the shotgun's muzzle before shooting. Period.

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