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Curtis in IL writes:

popular gun blogger has mounted his soapbox to dispel the “myth” that shotguns don’t need to be aimed. Bearing Arms blogger Bob Owens joined the crusade against the “morons” in gun stores and elsewhere who recommend a shotgun for home defense because, “You don’t need to aim a shotgun. You just point it towards the bad guy and pull the trigger.” Owens conducted a ballistic experiment to prove his point.

Clearly, the communication is breaking down and the truth is getting lost between the terminology and gun range jargon. Hang around a trap range long enough and you’ll eventually hear some salty old veteran telling a novice shooter, “You don’t aim a shotgun, you point it.” Of course, this is a meaningless statement without further explanation.  I’ll let Gil Ash of OSP Shooting Schools do the ‘splaining:

You heard that right. Don’t look down the barrel. The fact is, hitting a flying target requires a completely different technique than hitting a stationary one. You need to focus on the target, not the front bead, and let your natural instincts bring the barrel to where it needs to be. And those who insist on aiming a shotgun the same way they would aim a rifle or pistol will never achieve an acceptable level of consistency hunting birds or busting clay targets.

What does pheasant or trap shooting have to do with home defense, you ask? Three things:

1) A shotgun can be an effective tool,

2) Speed is mandatory, and

3) Success does not require minute-of-angle precision.

So if you’ve elected to go smooth bore against home invaders, do you need to aim it?  Does it need a rear sight?  Maybe a red dot? If you have no experience with shotguns outside of that scenario, maybe so. But using sights will be difficult because during that adrenaline dump, we instinctively focus on the threat and experience tunnel vision. Good luck finding that rear peep sight or that red dot when you have milliseconds to mount the gun and get a shot off.

However, I submit that anyone who has spent much time hunting birds or shooting trap shouldn’t need to “aim” the gun. Anyone who can consistently hit an orange disk flying 60 mph at a distance of 50 yards or so without looking down the barrel should easily be able to put 9 pellets of 00 Buck in the bad guy’s chest from fifteen feet away.

Still not sure? All I can say is train like you fight. Practice timed drills shooting some bad-guy-sized targets at 10 yards or less with your home defense shotgun using various “aiming” or “pointing” techniques and see what you can do. The object is not to knock out the bullseye. We’re not trying to put a slug in the vital organs of a deer 100 yards away or blow the head off a turkey. The object is to shoot the bad guy before he shoots you. That is your aim.

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  1. pretty much. If you’re well practiced, you can hit a 6″ circle at 20 yards by point-shooting a shotgun, and it’s fast as anything. (especially important for those quail!) Extra bonus, home invaders are a lot bigger and slower than doves, so it’s more or less a sure thing.

      • It’s a very common maxim of training to train to a higher standard / level of competence than you think you will “need” to perform. That in part compensates for the aspects that are impossible to effectively train for.

        It’s mind boggling to me the number of people that train SD handgun only out to 7 yards or so on the misapprehension that that is all that is “needed” since most handgun DGU’s are close-in.

        If you are not pushing yourself in training, you are not training.

  2. Oh just point your double barrel at the screen door and blast away at people on the porch as Tactical Joe recommends.

  3. How bout we start using the term non aimed firing vs non sighted firing. Would you say a MLB pitcher is not aiming his throws cause he doesn’t have sights to line up? Not using the sights doesn’t mean it is not aimed if you have practiced your body position repeatedly.

    • Massad Ayoob has written useful discussion on this topic. Handbook of combat handgunnery, I think. Basically he says everything is aimed shooting, you just use more precise aiming (with sight alignment) when you can, and you use less precise aiming (point shooting of any of several forms) when you only have an instant to aim.

      • Hi Other Tony. Aiming a firearm is either using the sights, or Instinctive. With lot of training a shooter in a CQB / Home Defense environment in a practiced technique can align the barrel of the weapon / shotgun with the close-by target and know from the ‘feel” against the side of your body, if you have the correct elevation. When the police come to your home to investigate a shooting and you tell them that, “I didn’t aim I just shot”, you will loose you home and your freedom.

  4. Trap and skeet shooters and bird hunters certainly aim, they just do it differently than rifle shooters.

    My take is that there’s no reason to aim a shotgun unless you actually want to hit what you want to hit.

    • I’ve fired countless thousands of rounds of trap and sporting clays, and dove hunting and such, and I have to disagree with you.

      Firing a shotgun at a moving target is more like throwing a baseball or archery than it is like shooting a rifle or pistol. You don’t really have a sight picture. You know you’re aligned right and you throw your pattern where you know your target will intersect it.

      It’s definitely more pointing than aiming.

      • I frequently shoot trap. I think this is entirely a semantics problem. You can’t aim the gun at a target without pointing it as well. You can, however, point the gun without even a cheek weld. I still consider myself to be aiming my shotgun at clays. For sure, the requirements are more lax with shot because you’re projecting a cloud of balls at your target, but you’re still trying to relatively precisely direct that cloud. Perhaps if ‘aim’ carries too much connotation of precision, then I’m not aiming the shotgun. But I’m certainly doing more than pointing it.

  5. Not to go all off-topic but regardless of what firearm I’m using for home defense, why should I have to incur permanent hearing loss in defense of my home or family?

    Every industrial or consumer product that emits dangerously loud noises has noise abatement engineering controls installed. Most are are required by Federal and State laws. Except for guns. On guns, noise reduction is heavily regulated, if not prohibited.

    We have a lawful and legitimate purpose for silencers.

  6. +1 Ralph. I don’t hunt or shoot skeet. Just a Pardner Pump with a bead sight. Loaded with 00buck and topped off with slugs. And a handheld light…

    • That made me smile. My wall leaner is a Pardner Pump Protector with 00 buck and slugs and a handheld light. Two great minds thinking as one.

        • I guess I am the maverick here. 😉

          But my Mav 88 has 00 buck with slugs on the buttstock and a flashlight mounted to the magazine tube, so I am still one of the cool kids right?

        • Same as above, with a sadly discontinued Eotech integrated forend light. Smaller and cheaper than Surefire’s offering, with a more realistic 10/150 lumen rating.

        • maverick here as well. first firearm I ever purchased (due to the meth heads that used to live below me.) 00 buck, by my nightstand.

          it was one of the first things I moved into our new house. that’s how I knew I was home.

      • Number 1 buck topped with number 1 buck. I have no use for slugs inside my home and if I did I’d just go rifle

        • The value of slugs, of course, is that even if the perp makes it out the door to the front yard you can still hit him from your bedroom by pumping a few rounds through the wall facing that direction. Call your neighbors first and ask them to duck.

      • Gun of choice for the over 60 crowd? I know I scared some young brothers at Calelas when I racked it. he he

        • My wall leaner has a light clamped to the barrel with a pressure pad on the forend. Very easy to use. Loaded with 00 and slugs in a shell holder on the stock. I’m more likely to need to pop a bobcat than anything else, but the gun should take care of any predator problem, regardless of leg count.

  7. “You don’t need to aim a shotgun.” and then “You just point it towards the bad guy and pull the trigger.”

    So, you don’t have to aim that’s way too complicated, it’s easier to just aim instead…

  8. In house, room distances, I keep the stock collapsed to it’s shortest setting, but, still bring it to shoulder, it’s a point aim type of thing. The clamp on flashlight could be used as an aiming device as well. There are so many possible variations that could come up. If time and distance permit, aiming any firearm is the best way to go. I thought, by now, people would know a shotgun does not throw a 10’x10′ pattern right out of the barrel. Wing shooting is practice, eye, hand, lead instinctively. Birds/trap/skeet seldom try to kill you, so not to be confused with self/home defense.

  9. Conversely, trying to get shotgunners to aim properly for rifle shooting can take some time.

    They often end up pulling shots all over the 4-foot target (if they hit at all) because they are used to shooting on the swing. Even when they try to hold steady they often still swing on the follow-through. We often start them shooting from the prone position to retrain their technique.

    • I can testify to this as it was a problem for me. Respectively, all the time I spent with shotguns prior to a rifle made it simple to put rounds on target on the move and at home defense distances with very little effort.

  10. It all depends on the meaning of “aim” that you’re aiming for. I think most people misidentify the defensive benefit of a shotgun loaded with buckshot, compared to a carbine. Within two or three yards approx. no one misses with either weapon.

    From four yards out to 10 or 12 the pellet spread of standard buck should be roughly from 3 to 11 inches, with reasonably even dispersion. The point is simply this: With a shotgun you stand a much better chance of hitting a vital part of the central nervous system or circulatory system….than you would from one very rushed carbine shot. This “better chance” means, then, a better chance of a quick stop.

    The point isn’t that you don’t have to aim. The point is that your aim, by whatever method, need not be as precise with a shotgun to hit the spine, heart, or neck. You can be off by a few inches left or right…”but not miss.”

    Given time to make your shot, most any gun and sighting method might suffice, though I won’t endorse the mighty .9mm. Having time, though, when under surprise and high-speed attack by a perp….seems improbable.

    • ” though I won’t endorse the mighty .9mm.”

      Oh come on…here we go with the caliber wars again. The “mighty” .9mm MUST be great or so many people would not use it. According the news, it’s the most common caliber, second only to 40mm.

      Seriously, though…+1 on the post. Well said.

      To add one additional point (that is rather obvious), or simply to restate the point in another way:

      Which is better 9+ projectiles not “aimed” but thrown in the right direction, or 1 projectile? A shotgun is arguably more likely to produce a specific effect (stopping the threat) because there are more projectiles impacting in more places…per shot.

      It’s an odds thing, and THOSE odds/probabilities partly offset any ‘error’ introduced in point shooting versus “aiming.”

      • I think there’s more to it than just odds and probabilities. There is also quantity and mass.

        If you have nine bullet wounds rather than one, you’re going to experience more pain, bleed faster and bleed out quicker. And it should be equally obvious that 500 grains of lead will do more damage than 115 grains, regardless of shot size.

        • Excellent points, but all related to the same thing. More projectiles = more chances that the job gets done. It really only takes one; there are, after all, one-shot-stops with single projectile handguns.

          The point (that we are both making) is that you get the ‘damage’ of nine shots from a single shot from a shot gun (assuming 12 ga buckshot, etc)….9x the damage potential in the time it takes to ‘aim’ (or point…) and pull the trigger once.

          It’s hard “math” to argue against.

    • Correct. I have read that a modified choke shotgun will result in a shot spread of about 1″ per yard. Seems to me that anyone relying on a shotgun for home defense should do the same thing that a pistol or rifle user whould do – sight it in. With a shotgun, this would mean firing at a paper target from a variety of in-home ranges (1-10 yards max) and seeing what your shot pattern is and where it is going.

      • Agree 100% with most of this…just would argue that one really should go past 10 yds. Not because you might ‘engage’ at >10 yd in home, but because familiarity with the weapon is always a plus.

        It builds confidence (the real kind, the good kind) and knowing the pattern at say 30 yards certainly won’t hurt your proficiency at 10 yds.

  11. Relevant story, New shooter I took to the farm. Started with a .22 handgun, then a pt92, then an m&p 40, at 10-20 feet he did great, shotgun 0% out of 5 shots of double ‘ought. First shot he assumed no one misses with a shotgun, 2-5 he couldn’t point using a bead. He didn’t want to shoot any more due to recoil.

    • Jeff,

      I have two suggestions for you when taking new shooters out. First of all, start them with a 20 gauge shotgun which has less recoil than a 12 gauge. Second, use reduced recoil loads. And if you manage to find reduced recoil loads for a 20 gauge, you will really be doing a great service for the new shooter.

      In my mind a 20 gauge shotgun is the way to go. What “stopping power” do you really give up with a 20 gauge shotgun at self-defense ranges inside a home? Answer: none.

      And for those of you who figure that nine #00 buckshot pellets out of a 12 gauge are somehow vastly superior to nine #1 buckshot pellets out of a 20 gauge at home defense ranges, show me the data. Or just use slugs out of the 20 gauge if you are that worried about it. A .61 caliber, 273 grain slug moving at 1500 fps will stop anyone that I have ever encountered.

  12. I’ve seen this figures for years.

    If one shot is fired first hit probability is–95% shotgun. 50% rifle. 3 to 5 % handgun.

    Fatality from a one shot hit shows about the same %.

    As long as I’m capable of handling a shotgun it will be my #1 choice for home defense.

    • Now let’s take you scenario and put the perp behind your teenage daughter with a knife at her throat.

      Shotgun with three inch spread? Or a rifle or revolver with 1/4″ spread?

  13. My understanding is that the shot spread of a 12-ga at @10-15 ft. is roughly the size of a softball. So you at least need to “point” precisely enough that that softball-sized circle will hit the bad guy. I’m sure someone with better knowledge will correct me if I’m wrong–at least I hope so.

    • Robert, the rule-of-thumb that lives on when using lead buckshot with a standard wad is this: The shot string should spread out approx. 1 inch per meter after the first meter (or yard…). So at fifteen feet (5 yards) you would expect 4 inches of spread.

      However, if you’re shooting a Federal “Flite Wad”™ style round, the shot cup will keep the pellets in a much tighter pattern.

  14. I typically take Joe Biden’s advice and just point it out the window and let both barrels loose.

    Seriously though any one who thinks this is the case needs to go watch a few of hickock’s videos. Not scientific but common sense based. I think a lot of people would be surprised about how a shotgun doesn’t spread at close ranges.

  15. It’s all about gun fit. Competitive shotgunners will get fully adjustable stocks, or take the cheap route and build up the comb with moleskin and electrical tape. When they bring the gun up, it fits exactly the same way every time, and their dominant eye serves the purpose of the rear sight. If you even look at the bead, you’re doing it wrong. I personally prefer this technique with pistols, too. Focusing on the front sight puts the target out of focus and makes me see two of them. Better to focus on the target, see two sets of slightly fuzzy sights in my peripheral vision, then just superimpose whichever set of sights is properly aligned over the target.

  16. Dang, this whole deal seems overly complicated. Personally I recommend patterning your HD shotgun just like you’d make sure your HD carbine and / or handguns function properly and hits to POA with your chosen HD ammo. I know that my shotgun shoots a large hole at 5-7 yards. At 10-12 yards it’s a fist-sized to softball-sized hole. That means I *do* need to aim at 10-12 yards. That’s using Federal 00 buck from my Mossberg 930 or my Remington Express Mag 870 with a Mossberg breacher barrel, which shoots pretty tight.

    If someone had a buckshot load with an extremely fast spread rate – like that crappy green mil spec stuff – then point shooting becomes even easier. However, those loads can literally drop pellets off a man-sized target at around 15 yards with a center mass hold. Plus it’s really dirty ammo. That’s still adequate for self defense if short shots are expected.

    My aiming can be simply a matter of putting the red fiber optic front sight on center mass. My bedroom is about 21 feet long, and my backyard is about 80 feet wide. Self defense is not limited to 21 feet. Anyone attempting to access our house from the trail in the backyard will have to deal with our dogs anyways.

    • I think you’re missing the point, just like Bob Owens did.
      Forget the spread pattern. That’s irrelevant. Imagine if you’re shooting slugs.

      My contention is that you should be able to point a shotgun and hit a human-sized target at home defense distance. You should be able to do it instinctively, while focusing on the target, because that’s what your instincts will command when you’re faced with a deadly threat. Without a rear sight or a red dot. Without looking down the barrel. The front bead will be there and you may see it, but you won’t be looking at it.

      Make a contest out of it with your friends at the range. Practice hitting big, close targets and see who can engage multiple targets in the shortest time. The winner of that contest will be the shooter who knows how to point his shotgun, rather than aiming it.

      Meth-head home invader is coming down your hallway with a chef’s knife. Tueller drill time. Grab your shotgun and send some lead his direction before he gets to you. Good luck!

      • “You should be able to do it instinctively, while focusing on the target, because that’s what your instincts will command when you’re faced with a deadly threat. “

        Couple of facts to back this up:

        (1) In a lot of DGU’s, gunshot wounds to the hands and forearms (of both bad guy and good guy) are common.

        This is because during the ‘fight,’ focus is where the threat is…the opponents hands (gun, knife, fists, whatever).

        (2) I shoot IDPA with a group that paints gun silhouettes on the threat targets. New shooters in IDPA these matches tend also to shoot the ‘weapon’ silhouette painted on the target.

        The organizers of the matches often paint the guns low on the target on purpose to draw the eye away from the “0 Down” zone. It works surprisingly well, even for experienced shooters.

        I did it in my first match there…caught myself shooting the gun and not “center mass.” Took some conscious effort to overcome it, but once I did, my scores improved rapidly.

        As I said, I’ve since seen very experienced shooters do the same thing, and wonder why they are getting so many -3’s. Their “groups” are very tight…good shooting, just “aiming” at the wrong place.

        As soon as someone points out what is going on, the lightbulb goes off and their next stages have a LOT of -0’s.

        This phenomenon, I believe, is well documented. It goes to show there is much more to “training” than just going to the static range and burning the crappiest, cheapest ammo at 3-7 yards and calling it “good.”

  17. I think what bothers me the most is when I’m perusing the “tactical shotgun” section of any gun store and I see that most of their inventory has a rear peep sight, and most likely a rail for mounting optics.

    And I’m thinking two things: 1) Anyone who thinks he needs to use that rear sight in a deadly threat scenario is going to lose valuable time trying to line up his eyeball behind it. And 2) anyone who thinks he can engage a perceived threat at a distance that requires the precision afforded by sights is going to have a hard time with the self-defense claim.

    Rear sights and optics are good for deer slug guns and turkey guns. Those scenarios require precision and allow for careful aiming. On a self-defense gun they’ll do nothing but slow you down in a situation where speed trumps accuracy.

    • I gotta say even with a rear sight when it comes to point shooting it doesn’t slow me down, I just dont use it. The same with a rifle or pistol at close ranges its no different with a rifle, a handguns open sights are the same. I out the red hiz viz sight on whatever and it goes away

    • Why would a red dot or EO on your shotgun slow you down? Have you used one?

      I’m reminded of Robert O’Neill’s comment about his two shots on bin Laden. He said the first shot was point shooting before he noticed his EOTech. He saw and used the sight on the second shot. Both shots were no doubt off before I’d have even got my gun to my shoulder. Maybe.

      From my point of view, that’s the glory of an EO (or likely an Aimpoint RD…), and this though I was a devoted skeet shooter for several decades: You mount the gun and shoot. If you see the circle-dot, fine. The window is big. You’re looking at the target/perp with both eyes the whole time. If you need to pop a few slugs in the gun because the perp’s using your beloved Saint Bernard as a canine shield, fine. You’ll have a zero’d sight.

      • The red dot will only slow you down if you think you need to use it. O’Neill was trained well enough to know he didn’t have to.

        Red dots are great for rifles. They allow you to keep both eyes open and focus on the target while providing a precise point of aim.

        • So, I think you are saying there are caveats and addenda’s and every situation is (or can be) different.

          In other words, we must ALL carefully guard against forming training scars…such as training with a dependency on ONE piece of gear or ONE technique.

          I, for example, am not that good at handgun shooting weak hand – especially weak hand only. I TRY to include WHO drills in my practice, but often neglect it. Thoughts go to “I’ve got one more mag of ammo, let’s try that FAST drill one more time” or something like that.

          The danger is finding something that is comfortable and only training that because it’s good for “confidence.” One can say a lot about DGU’s, but I doubt the word “comfortable” will ever be used to describe a real world gunfight.

  18. I’m about as far from experienced with a shotgun as I am experienced with pistol, so it may be a bit of a dumb observation on my part. But, what about sights indeed? For most of the shotgun’s recent history, all they had was just a plain old gold bead. Now we have ghost rings, red dots, Hi-Viz sights. And that doesn’t even include weapon lights and lasers. Perhaps we need to put this aiming-versus-pointing stuff into better perspective regarding sights first?


    • Also will have to specify exactly what is being aimed/pointed.
      Trap guns are often set up differently from field guns in how the bead(s) are calibrated and none seem to be set correctly out of the box.
      I have mine set up for 50/50 (half the pattern above the POI, half below) with the beads superimposed and 60/40 with the beads stacked in a figure-8 since I both hunt and shoot trap. It’ll be different for single bead guns, or folks who aim by the rib/bead.
      You’ll really never know where a specific gun is set unless you take it out and run a pattern on it. With that info you know how to aim (point, whatever) it.

  19. Well once flying doves and clays start kicking in my door I’ll load bird shot and disregard aiming, until then I’ll do my neighbors and family the courtesy of getting that front sight on target before I take my trigger on a date

  20. Point – aim- red dot – Green dot – sights — PHOOEY.
    If someone is coming at you – pray your HD piece.. pistol, shotgun, rifle is close enough to get to at first sound.
    Then try to get ready for situation. There isn’t time – as everyone has said – to be aiming and sighting and dot using. Personally, long barrel hunting shotguns aren’t best for HD. Get the 16″ barrel pump; 870 or Moss 500.. and be loaded… uhh, make that prepared! Shame the sawed off ones are not legal for HD. Those will take care of anything close up!

  21. You don’t need to “aim” your home defense shotgun if:
    The perp’s double-chin is covering your front sight bead.

  22. I used to keep a picture in my phone of the head of a USPSA metric silhouette that I’d shot with a Mossberg 500 cylinder bore loaded with that Winchester “military grade” 00 buck. The distance was a measured 21 feet, about as long a shot as one might take in home defense.
    All nine pellets were in a tight circle well inside the 6″ square head box
    Later, I surprised myself by shooting the same rig at 35 yards and getting all nine in center mass, with a spread of about 12-15″ at most. The average was about 12″.
    And, no problem getting well-centered patterns at that distance using nothing but the rudimentary bead front sight. Consistently.
    Testing loads and combinations is important, and this test was one of the more surprising ones.
    I came to think I have much less need for those slug loads on the siderack than I previously thought.

  23. Pointing, aiming, neither is likely to matter if you cannot get to that shotgun and present it.

    Is it in the bedroom closet somewhere? Which closet? The walk-in or reach in? Is it atop a shelf or on the ground? Is it not even in the closet, but rather leaning against the wall beside the bed? Which way is it leaning, underside facing toward or away from you? That will matter when you grab it, as you may have to fumble with it to hold it right.

    Is a shell chambered? Is the safety on or off? Do you know exactly where the safety is? It’s different on different guns. Is your path to the gun clear, always, or might you have to hurdle a laundry basket and trample over toys?

    All of this is going to matter more than gauge or aim.

  24. Double ought, double ought, double ought! My old pump takes a 3 in. shell. With the polychoke set all the way out past cylinder, the 41, #4 Buckshot (.24cal) in the shell makes a hole in the paper over 6 inches in diameter at the distance from the bedroom door to the family room. With 41 pellets, some of them are sure to connect.

  25. while it’s true that you have a higher hit chance with a shotgun at home defense ranges we are still responsible for every projectile that leaves the muzzle of our weapon. For me I aim and use the federal 00 buck (9 pellet) with flight control wad to keep my pattern tight.

    I also have patterned my shotgun at 5, 10, 15, 20 and 50 yards so I know the area my pellets are going to hit at more than any range that I’m likely to take a home defense shot.

    That being said I still grab a handgun before anything else for the things that go bump in the night.

    Respectfully Submitted

  26. “…I submit that anyone who has spent much time hunting birds or shooting trap shouldn’t need to “aim” the gun. Anyone who can consistently hit an orange disk flying 60 mph at a distance of 50 yards or so without looking down the barrel should easily be able to put 9 pellets of 00 Buck in the bad guy’s chest from fifteen feet away…”

    I submit this is incorrect- unless you actually know someone who can hit a clay at 50 yards, even on a calm day, without looking at it (or down the barrel). I’ve shot trap and birds for so long I’ve pissed people off at some of the shots I’ve made, but I always look over the barrel and the stock is in my shoulder.

    Of course, I’m not on Tv shooting bad guys from the hip while at a flat out run through a warehouse filled with exploding grenades and machine guns spraying patterns on the wall and floor around me while the BG falls backwards with a chest full of my hot buckshot.

  27. You DO point a shotgun. And by that, I mean your focus is on the target with the barrel and its aiming aids filling your peripheral vision.

    Shooting bad guys and birds have one thing in common. Both MOVE.

    What seems to be lost is that you also POINT a rifle at close range. Next time you are at the range, try -engaging an IDPA sized target at inside-the-house ranges of 10 to 30 ft. You will find you are much faster, and accurate enough just bringing the gun up to about chin height and letting loose while focusing your attention on the target.


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