There are plenty of articles on the “best” of this or that. Those pieces are usually written on specs alone rather than actual experience. This post isn’t intended to make a case that shotgun is necessarily your best choice in a home defense role. Everyone has their own opinions as to what works best in a bump in the night situation.
However, a lot of people do choose a shotgun first and foremost for exactly that purpose. All of the shotguns below are 12 gauge, which fits most people. Most, but not all. There are options out there for smaller framed shooters and those more sensitive to recoil such as defensive shotguns chambered in 20 gauge or even smaller.
So, with that in mind, my picks of the best home defense shotguns are based on and limited to my personal experience and that of trusted colleagues.
Some common attributes of a good choice in a shotgun for home defense are portability, reliability and the ability to add a light. On the topic of lights, if yours doesn’t have a length of Picatinny rail, there are aftermarket light mounts available for every shotgun mentioned here.
By portability, I don’t just mean it should be a lightweight. The shotgun should be easy to negotiate in relatively close quarters. That’s why a 30-inch barreled duck gun might not be the best candidate for this role. And that’s why 18.5-inch barrel length tactical 12 gauge shotguns are ideal and very much fit the bill.
Reliability means the gun functions perfectly in your hands with your chosen defensive load. A home defense situation isn’t the time to discover that the gun you’re using to protect yourself or your family may not go bang.
On a side note, it seems that a lot of people are overly-concerned about the sights on their HD shotgun. Ghost ring sights are great, but not necessarily mandatory for self-defense in the home. I generally prefer rifle sights, but do just fine with a traditional front bead sight at across-the-room distances. Choose what works best for you.
After much consideration and a lot of lead down range, here are my picks for the 5(+) best shotguns for home defense.
The Remington 870 in all its variations (frequenlty versions of the Remington 870 Express or 870 Express Tactical) is one of the most popular pump shotguns in American history. I would wager that about 60% of the law enforcement market is owned by the venerable 870.
There’s an economical version of the 870 which is perfect for home defense, coincidentally named, the 870 Hardwood Home Defense. This un-bedazzled, wooden-stocked boomer’s street price is well under four bills.
For a few bucks more, it can be purchased with a six-shot magazine. That’s a lot of protection for the money.
As is the case with Remington, Mossberg holds a large percentage of the law enforcement pump shotgun market. The Mossberg 500, 590 and 590A1 are somewhere between decent and excellent choices for defense; respectively.
The 590 has an upgraded magazine tube which allows for additional magazine capacity. The Mossberg 590A1 is even better with a heavier barrel, metal trigger guard and assembly and a metal safety. For a little more money, the home defender can have ten rounds of ammo capacity with Mossberg’s 590M. The M uses a detachable box magazine. Of course, mo’ capacity means mo’ shotgun shells which means mo’ weight. You’ll have to decide for yourself between portability and capacity.
On the other end of the fiscal spectrum, Mossberg offers a budget-friendly shotgun in their Maverick 88 line. These guns can be found for just over $200 and have the option of an eight-round ammo capacity.
The Maverick is essentially a Mossberg 500 Tactical without any accoutrements like sling swivels. The synthetic buttstock won’t stir any feelings of nostalgia. The front sight is a basic bead. While I haven’t seen any reliability issues with Mavericks, I also haven’t seen any of them put through a rigorous three hundred-round shooting school session. I wouldn’t expect them to be as durable as their costlier brethren and neither should you. Still, if money is tight, a Maverick might be just what you’re looking for.
One note on the Mossberg’s tang-mounted safety. It’s not wise to purchase a pistol grip-equipped shotgun with a tang safety. Engaging or disengaging the safety on a Mossberg requires the user to abandon their strong hand grip. Stick with traditional stocks when it comes to Mossbergs.
Worried about short-stroking your pump gun? Among the most budget-friendly semi-automatic 12 gauge shotguns is the Mossberg 930 series. Street price for 930s are generally just over $500 and well worth their price.
These tactical shotguns have what I believe to be one of the lightest recoil impulses of all semi-auto shotguns. They also, however, don’t feed light birdshot loads well until broken in. Buckshot loads and slugs of any power do just fine.
Cycling with low brass shells is always a concern with semi-auto shotguns. This is an area where the Benelli M1 and M2 models differed. The now-discontinued M1 was somewhat finicky with lighter loads due to some technical stuff you don’t care about.
My 1999 model M1 will cycle anything all the way down to heavier birdshot. However, it does not like the combination of light loads (including buckshot) and an affixed light. It also does not function 100% with a cartridge holder like the Tacstar Side Saddle mounted to the receiver. Benelli’s M2 isn’t at all finicky. I highly recommend it or the Benelli M4 for defensive use.
Beretta has always made great shotguns. The newish model 1301 is one of their best yet. Many dyed-in-the-wool pump gun types are reconsidering their stance on autos with this new offering.
This uber-quick-cycling shotgun uses Beretta’s patented BLINK gas system which allows for less recoil and fouling than similar platforms. Many including this guy believe the Beretta 1301 is the future of semi-automatic shotguns.
The Most Important Accessory
I mentioned some features that should be common among home defense shotguns. Here’s the final and most important feature: a well-versed and well-rehearsed owner. Too many homeowners default to a shotgun for defense out of a sense of comfort. Many folks erroneously believe they will be able to use it well under extreme stress at close range without any practice.
If I had a nickel for every time someone told me their home defense plan was to point their bird hunting shotgun down the hallway and squeeze off errant blasts, I’d have a bunch of nickels.
Whether you prefer semi-automatic or pump action shotguns as your choice of boarder repellent, take your defensive shotgun to the range and shoot your chosen defensive load in it. Know the pattern your gun/load combination produces from a cylinder choke at short home defense distances. Practice reloads and and learn to properly aim your shotgun quickly and effectively.
Good hardware is a critical, but it’s only part of the equation. Keeping your software current and virus-free is just as important.
This post was originally published in 2019.