THE HOME DEFENSE SHOTGUN

  1. dfariswheel
    Many people wanting a firearm for home defense opt for the shotgun.

    There are good points and bad points to a shotgun, and some "watch-outs" that can make them less effective.

    The shotgun as a home defense has big advantages in power to stop an attack, a higher chance of hitting the target in the hallway at 3:00 am, and most of all the speed at which you can get devastating hits.

    More than any other firearm the shotgun is fast when used with buckshot.

    While a rifle or pistol shooter is still aligning his sights, and getting them on target, the shotgunner has already solved that problem and has moved on.

    People not familiar with a combat shotgunner and seen one in action are astounded at how fast a good gunner can run a combat course.

    A major advantage of the defense shotgun is how easily adaptable it and it's ammunition can be.

    By changing barrels, accessories, and ammo, the shotgun can go from a quail gun to a Kodiak bear gun, to an adaptable home defense gun that can be set up for any possible situation.

    For these reasons, the defense shotgun is the deadliest close range firearm in the world.

    Some downsides to the shotgun are the size (usually), excessive recoil and muzzle blast, difficulty in maneuvering the gun inside a house, limited magazine capacity (usually), and the possibility that an attacker might be able to take the longer gun away from you.

    Unlike other firearms, the shotgun is pointed, not precision aimed when using buckshot.

    Yes, the shotgun is aimed at the target but as a close-range weapon, it's more used as an instinctively aimed gun where sights are not precisely aligned on target.

    Even with shotguns fitted with sights, at typical home defense ranges the sights are used more as a "flash" sight picture by looking over them.

    Many home defense shotguns come with a plain bead front sight and no rear sight.

    In instinctive "pointed" shotgun use, the bead is the front sight and the shooters eye is the "rear sight".

    Any shotgunner who's hunted game birds or shot clay pigeons is completely familiar with how the shotgun is instinctively aimed by pointing the gun, not precision sighted with some sort of actual front and rear sights.This instinctive pointing method is why the shotgun is so quick on target compared to precisely aimed rifles and pistols.

    Even the electronic dot sights are usually slower to use with a shotgun, which is why you seldom ever see one in a duck blind or on a trap or skeet range. So, in the home defense shotgun "Speed kills....the bad guy".

    "Aiming" the shotgun is still necessary even at the close ranges typically found inside a home. A good rule of thumb is that a cylinder bore shotgun pattern will open up about one inch for every one yard. Inside most homes that means the shot is typically going to be in about a six-inch circle.

    By cutting a six-inch circle out of paper and taping it up at the longest distance inside the home, you can see just how easy it could be too flat out miss.

    Unlike Hollywood, the shotgun doesn't blow out a 10-foot-wide glass store window from the curb. In general, just like a rifle, if the butt isn't on your shoulder and you're not aiming or properly pointing the gun you're probably not going to get reliable hits, so unlike in the movies you can't just casually point the shotgun in the general direction of a target and expect everything within 100 yards to be blown ten feet back.

    RANGE TOY OR REAL DEFENSE GUN?

    The first step in selecting a shotgun is to sit down and think about whether what you really want is a range toy to play with and impress your buddies, or if you want a Real-World defense gun. There is a rather indistinct line between the two.

    The second step is to think about what the most likely home defense situation you might face would be, then set up a shotgun that will best meet that threat.

    A third is what shotgun shells to use.

    Making these decisions calls for being totally honest with yourself about the facts. Too many people essentially lie to themselves about these questions and that self-delusion can cause serious, even fatal results.

    If what you really want is a range gun or toy to play with, the gun itself and how it's set up is not very important. You can pick guns and accessories not suitable for defense use at will and load the gun up with whatever you want, from all sorts of sighting systems, bayonets, and mass external ammo storage. Weight, bulk, and complexity are not an issue on a Range Toy. If you like an accessory go for it.

    However, on a real-world home defense gun anything you add to a basic shotgun adds weight, bulk, and complexity, all of which will slow down how fast the gun can be used.

    This is where self-honesty comes in.

    What you have to do is a real-world cost-benefit analysis of every addition or change to determine if the accessory really is a benefit or not, and to determine if the benefit is worth the loss in speed.

    Everyone has their own idea of what accessories a home defense shotgun should have, and some are commonly stated as "necessary". What you need to do is to decide if an addition is really a necessity for you.

    If you add an accessory or make a change simply because it's recommended, you'll all too often wind up with a gun that's less effective because it's slower to get on target.

    A magazine extension sounds like a great idea because who doesn't want more available ammo? A white light is often considered a necessity so the gun can be used in a dark room.

    The question you must honestly ask is: Does a specific change or addition and the accompanying complexity going to really offer a genuine benefit and is it worth the loss in speed?

    You must do this for each change or addition no matter how minor it is.

    The classic defense shotgun is simply a plain commercial gun with a short barrel.

    Everything you add to that has a cost. Only you can decide if there is a benefit that's worth the cost. It's at that line between cost-benefit that things can either break down or enhance the chances of surviving. This means reality has to overcome "Just because I want it".

    We've all seen the pictures or guns at the range so loaded down with accessories you wonder how the user can even lift it. You may notice the owner fumbling with all the accessories that have added so much complexity they're spending most of the time adjusting things or trying to decide which sight to use instead of shooting.

    A classic example of an overly complex firearm is the M4 Carbines seen on secure bases in the "Sand Wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fighters who see actual combat outside the wire have rifles that have the bare minimum of accessories, just enough to do the job. They laugh at the "Fobbit's" who stay behind the wire and add every possible accessory they can to their rifles.

    This has often reached the point of being status symbols to see who can have the most equipped rifle, as they swagger around the base.

    If one gets sent out from the wire they soon begin shedding accessories from the rifles as they realize their weapon is too heavy, too bulky, and too complex. Not only do they have to carry the load, the rifle likely won't save their life in an emergency and that's when reality hits home.

    What to add or drop becomes the real world cost-benefit analysis. The home defense shotgunner also must do this.

    Along with this analysis is just plain common sense.

    Do you seriously think a bayonet or some KSG spikes would be a useful addition?

    Considering a door breacher muzzle attachment? Under exactly what situation do you think blowing hinges and locks off your home's doors would be needed?

    Do you even have any of the special door breaching shotguns shells? How are you going to practice blowing doors?

    Are the weird shotgun shells sold by fly-by-night companies like the "Dragon's Breath" or shot pellets connected by cord going to be useful?

    Imagine sitting in a courtroom explaining to a judge and jury all about how you bayoneted or burned someone alive, while they're all looking at you like you're wearing an Adolph Hitler uniform.

    Really???
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    Really???
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    WHO'S COMING?
    The next step is to decide what the most likely defense situation might be for your circumstances.

    How a shotgun is set up and what kind of ammunition is selected varies considerably depending on the risk you may face.

    Setting up a defense gun to shoot it out with a biker gang making a mass assault on your home, when you live in an apartment next door to the police station probably will not meet the actual need.

    This is a matter of looking at local crime reports, reading the monthly NRA Armed Citizen reports, talking to local law enforcement, and just looking at your living arrangements to see what the most likely form trouble will take where you live.

    One of the shotguns major advantages is how adaptable it is. It has a chameleon-like ability to morph to fit the need.

    As an example of how a defense shotgun and ammo set up changes depending on the circumstances would be my own case a few years ago.

    We were living in a small house in a small "safe" town. The area was well lit at night from street lights and lights on a church and business. There were alert neighbors close on both sides and an impassible hill in back. The local police station was literally in sight and response time was a matter of less than a minute when 911 was called. When trouble came it would almost certainly come on foot and would likely be no more than two unarmed people.

    The most likely situation would be someone walking up to the house and attempting to break in. At worst, one or two shots might be needed, with the police arriving almost immediately.

    At the time, I had a Remington 870P Police shotgun with factory rifle sights on the barrel. It had the standard 4 shot magazine and was loaded with #1 buckshot.

    I chose #1 buckshot because of the superior ballistics against human targets and as a compromise to limit the possibility of endangering the neighbors.

    Because of the situation that set up was appropriate for the probable circumstances.

    We decided that we could no longer take care of a house, so we sold it and prepared to move to an apartment in another, larger and less "safe" town.

    The house sold sooner than the apartment was ready so we temporarily moved to a house trailer on a relative's isolated farm for a couple of months.

    The situation changed radically.

    The farm was miles away from any town, the closest neighbors were well over a mile away, and Sheriff or Highway Patrol response time was as much as 45 minutes or more, depending on where they happened to be in the county at the time and there was no light at all.

    If trouble came it would come in a vehicle, and based on recent incidents, it would be two to four people driving up a long driveway late at night and they would very probably be armed with pistols. Reports indicated that the local criminal element had no problem with shooting at people confronting them.

    To meet the new situation the set up for the 870 changed.

    A +2 magazine extension and clamp was installed to give 7 rounds.

    A spare shell holder was mounted on the stock.

    A flashlight was mounted to the barrel.

    The ammo was a "Dutch load" of #00 buckshot and slugs.

    A canvas bag with spare shells, a large flashlight, a pistol and spare magazines, and a cell phone was kept with the gun.

    The most likely violent encounter would be confronting the vehicle, with any shooting starting out with #00 buckshot against exposed intruders, followed by slugs as they took cover behind their vehicle.

    The gun was loaded so that the first three shells fired would be #00 buckshot, followed by slugs.

    Since I would be on my own for up to 45 minutes the spare ammo and a backup pistol were needed if it turned into an extended standoff. The gun's light would probably be needed to flash illuminate targets and a spare flashlight in the bag in case the gun's light failed.

    The cell phone would allow me to contact the sheriff's office and call for medical help.

    After looking the area over I identified several places where I would have cover and concealment while they would be exposed on the gravel road with no cover other than their vehicle, and nothing close by where they could move to without being wide open to return fire.

    After the new apartment was ready we moved in and the new situation was quite different.

    The town is larger, and there are pockets of neighborhoods scattered all over the south and central parts of town that are very unsafe.There's been a low-level drug war going on and gang activity both from locals and visitors from bigger cities.

    Murders and shootings occur on a near monthly basis, and most nights I can listen to gunshots in the near distance. The apartment is part of an area filled with a county medical office, a drug rehab center, housing for elderly and handicapped people, and a handicapped school. The entire area was lit like daylight.

    There is a bad neighborhood starting a block away, but they tend to stay in that area. Crime in this area is relatively rare.

    If trouble came it would be on foot, and probably no more than two people.

    It would most likely be a burglary attempt.

    Due to the bad area so close, the city police have cars constantly on patrol in the immediate area. Average response times are around two minutes and the police tend to be very tough, proactive cops who just live to catch these bums.

    The gun's set up changed back to the standard 4 shot magazine to lighten the gun and increase the speed of use. No light was needed. Spare ammo would not likely be needed since the local burglars tend to run at the first sign of an occupant.

    The shells changed to #4 buckshot to limit risk to close apartments.

    As the above illustrates, one of the biggest advantages of the shotgun is how adaptable it is to meet changing needs. Sometimes the situation requires a change in the gun itself.

    Increasingly strangers are knocking on doors for a variety of reasons, and it's difficult to answer the door late at night while holding a standard shotgun, much less firing it if needed.

    For that reason, earlier this year I upgraded to a Kel-Tec KSG shotgun. I added an Archangel auxiliary sight and did a "fluff and buff" job on the action to smooth the operation and largely eliminate any short stroking of the action.

    While it's not possible to fully operate the gun with one hand, it is possible to fire the first round, so this makes possible answering a late-night knock on the door and still being ready with a major surprise for any trouble.

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    SHOTGUN SHELLS

    There's a lot of dispute about defense shotgun shells.

    Some people insist that larger birdshot is deadly and leaves a huge, gaping, bloody hole. It does. It leaves a huge gaping bloody SHALLOW hole.

    Birdshot simply lacks the ability to reliably penetrate to the necessary 11 to 13 inches needed to reach vital organs. This is especially the case if the person is wearing a heavy winter coat or leather jacket.

    You'll hear all sorts of cases of people shot dead with fine birdshot, but these are anomalies. Suffice to say that no law enforcement or military will allow the use of birdshot because of proven ineffectiveness.

    In order to be reliably effective, you need a larger shot, with #4 buckshot being about as small as any real expert will recommend.

    By far the most common is #00 buckshot, with #1 buckshot considered to be the ideal ballistic compromise between the more shot of #4 and the penetration of #00.

    Today, due to smaller men and women entering law enforcement many departments and defense gun owners are using reduced recoil shotguns shells.

    These reduce the pounding recoil of buckshot by either reducing the number of pellets, reducing the powder charge, or both. This makes handling the gun much easier, reduces flinching, and increases the speed of follow up shots while maintaining the effectiveness.

    Slugs have somewhat limited utility in a home defense gun due to the need for precise aiming, and the higher risk of a slug penetrating walls, even to the outside. However, they do have a place if the user understands the cautions and has usable sights on the gun. Keep in mind that a slug turns the shotgun into a rather accurate musket at the expense of the need for precise aiming.

    There are various shorter, lighter load shotgun shells offered today.

    These range from the Aguila 1 3/4 inch Mini Shells loaded with 4 pellets of #1 and 6 pellets of #4 buckshot, and the Italian Nobelsport 2 1/4 inch shells loaded with 6 pellets of #00. These offer much less recoil, but the Aguila Mini Shells won't feed reliably in most shotguns, and neither will operate a semi-auto gun.

    Some guns can be modified to reliably feed the Aguila shells, and there is an available kit for the Mossberg 500 series.

    These shorter shells have the advantage of increasing magazine capacity but in the case of the Aquila Mini Shells stopping ability at all but very close ranges may be lacking. However, at an across the living room range they might be a viable option.

    For the most part, Magnum shells don't have much of a real advantage in a home defense gun. Magnum shells are available in standard 2 3/4 inch, 3 inches, and in special guns, 3 1/2 inch "Super Magnums. Recoil and muzzle blast are excessive and cause flinching and slower follow up shots.

    Some people seem to have no problem handling the recoil of the 3 inch Magnum but most have difficulty with even the 2 3/4 inch Magnum loads.nIn shotgun shells Magnum doesn't really mean more power like it does in Magnum rifle and pistol ammunition, it means more shot.

    At home defense ranges Magnum ammunition is rather a case of over-kill. In practical use, the difference in fight stopping abilities between standard buckshot loads and Magnum is largely not discernable.

    To quote a famed founding member of the US Navy SEALS, James "Patches" Watson when people asked him if the then-Navy standard #4 buckshot used in Vietnam was too light to be effective, Watson replied, "No one I ever shot complained".

    At the typical home defense ranges standard or reduced recoil, shells are more than effective enough. The truth is, there is no commercially available shotgun ammunition more effective than buckshot or slugs.

    SHOTGUN TYPES

    Double barrel- For home defense, shotguns tend to fall into the double barrel, pump action, semi auto, and non-standard designs.

    These have been commercial designs with no military developed shotguns adopted in the US.

    The double barrel, break-open gun has the advantage of being shorter overall than the same barrel length on a pump or semi-auto. It has a simple manual of arms and is fast to reload. If it has double triggers it's basically two guns put together so if one side fails to work, the other one usually will.

    The downside is unless it's an exposed hammer gun you can't safely leave the barrels loaded because the action will be cocked, and you only get two shots.

    Securing the double can be difficult due to most safety locks not working well with the design. Unfortunately, these days most double guns suited to defense use are usually cheap quality guns. However, just like in the 1870's the double barrel can still deliver the goods if you understand the limits.

    Double Barrel Coach Gun
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    SHOTGUN SHELLS

    There's a lot of dispute about defense shotgun shells.

    Some people insist that larger birdshot is deadly and leaves a huge, gaping, bloody hole. It does. It leaves a huge gaping bloody SHALLOW hole.

    Birdshot simply lacks the ability to reliably penetrate to the necessary 11 to 13 inches needed to reach vital organs. This is especially the case if the person is wearing a heavy winter coat or leather jacket.

    You'll hear all sorts of cases of people shot dead with fine birdshot, but these are anomalies. Suffice to say that no law enforcement or military will allow the use of birdshot because of proven ineffectiveness.

    In order to be reliably effective, you need a larger shot, with #4 buckshot being about as small as any real expert will recommend.

    By far the most common is #00 buckshot, with #1 buckshot considered to be the ideal ballistic compromise between the more shot of #4 and the penetration of #00.

    Today, due to smaller men and women entering law enforcement many departments and defense gun owners are using reduced recoil shotguns shells.

    These reduce the pounding recoil of buckshot by either reducing the number of pellets, reducing the powder charge, or both. This makes handling the gun much easier, reduces flinching, and increases the speed of follow up shots while maintaining the effectiveness.

    Slugs have somewhat limited utility in a home defense gun due to the need for precise aiming, and the higher risk of a slug penetrating walls, even to the outside. However, they do have a place if the user understands the cautions and has usable sights on the gun. Keep in mind that a slug turns the shotgun into a rather accurate musket at the expense of the need for precise aiming.

    There are various shorter, lighter load shotgun shells offered today.

    These range from the Aguila 1 3/4 inch Mini Shells loaded with 4 pellets of #1 and 6 pellets of #4 buckshot, and the Italian Nobelsport 2 1/4 inch shells loaded with 6 pellets of #00. These offer much less recoil, but the Aguila Mini Shells won't feed reliably in most shotguns, and neither will operate a semi-auto gun.

    Some guns can be modified to reliably feed the Aguila shells, and there is an available kit for the Mossberg 500 series.

    These shorter shells have the advantage of increasing magazine capacity but in the case of the Aquila Mini Shells stopping ability at all but very close ranges may be lacking. However, at an across the living room range they might be a viable option.

    For the most part, Magnum shells don't have much of a real advantage in a home defense gun. Magnum shells are available in standard 2 3/4 inch, 3 inches, and in special guns, 3 1/2 inch "Super Magnums. Recoil and muzzle blast are excessive and cause flinching and slower follow up shots.

    Some people seem to have no problem handling the recoil of the 3 inch Magnum but most have difficulty with even the 2 3/4 inch Magnum loads.nIn shotgun shells Magnum doesn't really mean more power like it does in Magnum rifle and pistol ammunition, it means more shot.

    At home defense ranges Magnum ammunition is rather a case of over-kill. In practical use, the difference in fight stopping abilities between standard buckshot loads and Magnum is largely not discernable.

    To quote a famed founding member of the US Navy SEALS, James "Patches" Watson when people asked him if the then-Navy standard #4 buckshot used in Vietnam was too light to be effective, Watson replied, "No one I ever shot complained".

    At the typical home defense ranges standard or reduced recoil, shells are more than effective enough. The truth is, there is no commercially available shotgun ammunition more effective than buckshot or slugs.

    SHOTGUN TYPES

    Double barrel- For home defense, shotguns tend to fall into the double barrel, pump action, semi-auto, and non-standard designs.

    These have been commercial designs with no military developed shotguns adopted in the US.

    The double barrel, break-open gun has the advantage of being shorter overall than the same barrel length on a pump or semi-auto. It has a simple manual of arms and is fast to reload. If it has double triggers it's basically two guns put together so if one side fails to work, the other one usually will.

    The downside is unless it's an exposed hammer gun you can't safely leave the barrels loaded because the action will be cocked, and you only get two shots.

    Securing the double can be difficult due to most safety locks not working well with the design. Unfortunately, these days most double guns suited to defense use are usually cheap quality guns. However, just like in the 1870's the double barrel can still deliver the goods if you understand the limits.

    Remington 870P Police gun.
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    Semi-Auto- The semi-auto shotgun has been around since the very early 1900's but only recently is it becoming more popular in police and military use.

    The semi-auto offers reduced felt recoil and firing speed. It has much the same advantages of the pump gun, but it requires more maintenance to remain reliable.

    Pump shotguns can have the barrel shortened easily, but the semi-auto may not function well if the barrel is cut down to defense length.

    The downside is that even the best semi-auto shotgun can't quite match the reliability of the pump gun.


    Browning A5 Semi-Auto "Riot" gun
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    One downside to both the pump and semi-auto is compression bulging of the shells.

    Many people think the weak part of a tubular magazine shotgun is the magazine spring weakening. This may happen in older pre-war shotguns but modern metallurgy insures that springs maintain strength long term. In fact, the most common problem, especially in extended magazine guns is that when kept loaded for extended times the constant pressure of the magazine spring against the shells can cause the shells to start to compress and bulge between the case head and the shot.

    This can cause failures to chamber or extract.

    This seems to be more pronounced in police guns when kept in upright locking racks and in the summer heat in a bouncing patrol car. Strangely, some people keep shotgun magazines loaded for years and never see the problem.

    I once loaded a Remington 870 Wingmaster with a magazine extension with some Federal #1 buckshot shells, and when I inspected the gun two months later the shells were bulging.

    All that can be done is to shoot the shells in practice because once the shells start to bulge it will continue even if removed from the magazine and "rested". Once put back in the magazine the bulging picks up where it left off. This is a problem easily avoided by using premium quality American shotshells, and by inspecting them periodically.

    Non-standard designs - Non-standard types of shotguns have begun appearing on the market.

    Among these are shotgun versions of the AK-47 rifle, and the new bullpup shotguns, notably Standard Products DP-12 double barrel, double magazine pump gun, the now-discontinued old Mossberg Bullpup 500, the rather bulky UTS 15, and the excellent Kel-Tec KSG double magazine pump gun.

    There's even the Bullpup Designs conversion kit that converts a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 series to a bullpup format and allows converting it back again easily.

    The bullpup designs may be the wave of the future in defense shotguns due to the greatly reduced length, which still offers a full-length barrel and legal overall length.

    The small size combined with the massively large capacity magazines make them a hard act to beat.

    Unlike odd-ball designs like the revolving cylinder guns like the Striker design of the late 80's, today's bullpup guns have very viable designs that function well. There are a number of non-standard designs being made overseas, but due to Federal laws, they can't be imported into the USA.

    The compact size makes a bullpup an ideal shotgun for home defense by eliminating the problem of a long gun that can be more easily wrestled away. While you can't fire more than the first shot with a pump action bullpup, they are far easier to maneuver around tight areas, and the first shot can be fired with one hand in an emergency. Of the currently available bullpup shotguns, the Kel-Tec KSG is the clear winner.


    The Kel-Tec KSG. The state of the art
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    A recent hot gun on the market is the new "non-shotgun shotguns" being sold by Mossberg and Remington.

    These are basically commercial versions of the Remington 870P U.S. Marshal Witness Protection Program shotgun.

    These have 14-inch barrels and a "birds head" rounded rear grip.

    These guns are essentially rule beater guns that have found a way around Federal laws on short barrel, short length shotguns. These are not made as "shotguns", and so can be legally sold in most states, but not all.

    These can make an effective home defense, close range guns, but they have to be actively practiced with to ensure getting hits on target. Since they have no stock and a rounded off rear grip, they can't be fired like a shoulder gun, and certainly, can't be fired like a pistol. While Mossberg recommends firing the gun "from the hip", in fact, they should be fired while held with both hands from about the chest level.


    The Remington 870 Tac-14.
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    So, if you carefully pick a defense gun and shotshells that fit your specific situation and needs, and avoid the urge to over-accessorize the gun, you can have the deadliest close-range firearm in the world to defend your home and family.​

    And, due to its ability to quickly transform you can have a fun range gun and even a hunting gun and still return it to its defense gun form at will.

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