Same Old Question, Different Time — Shotguns

(For part 1 of this series, go here.)

2.) Shotguns:
Every home should have at least one shotgun dedicated to home defense.

This means that it should always be close at hand, whether you’re sitting in your living room watching TV late at night, or asleep in bed, or working in your garage. If your shotgun is too unwieldy to schlep around from room to room, then you can deputize your handgun as the portable one, and keep the shotgun handy in the bedroom. (And remember: all the necessary safeguards should be taken to prevent accidents.) Now let’s consider the options.

I’m going to break somewhat with tradition, here. Just about every person who talks about this subject thinks that the sine qua non for a home defense shotgun should be chambered in 12-gauge. I’m not one of them. Remember, firing a 12ga. shell loaded with 00 buckshot means that several .30-caliber pellets are going to be on their way — and while they will do yeoman service in perforating a goblin, they can also penetrate several layers of drywall — not a good thing if your kid’s bedroom is on the other side. Also, bearing in mind the “recoil” caveat for this series, I personally find the recoil of a 12-gauge somewhat excessive. (Aside: please refrain from telling me how your 120-lb wife has no problem with shooting your Remington 870, or how your 7-year-old kid does likewise. Not interested.) I’ve shot just about every kind of shotgun ever made, in all calibers, and I honestly don’t think the 12-gauge is for everyone, and especially if you want the shotgun to serve as everyone’s weapon in the house.

Likewise, most people think there’s something about the sound of a pump shotgun being “racked” (i.e. the slide being slid back and then forward to chamber a round) that creates some magical aura of fear. Well, sure it does — unless the goblin actually broke into your house to kill you, in which case all you’re doing by racking the shotgun is telling the scumbag that you’re awake, and where you are. I like the element of surprise, myself, and nothing creates trouble for a goblin’s breathing like a sudden, unanticipated shotgun blast coming out of the darkness at him. So here’s my recommendation for a primary home defense shotgun: the Mossberg SA-20  “Railed” model (with a 20″ barrel) is reliable and inexpensive, and looks as tacticool as all hell:

Note that the rail will allow you to mount a red-dot sight or flashlight on the barrel with ease. The SA-20 also comes in a shortened “Bantam Youth” model with a 24″ barrel, if your missus or teenage kid would want to use it:

I’ve only ever fired the SA-20’s big brother, the Mossberg 930 (12ga) and found it quite reasonable to shoot, but I bet the smaller chambering of the SA-20 will put a smile on your face. Come to think of it, I need a semi-auto shotgun… and oh, look! CheaperThanDirt has it for $450 and change.

You can spend more (a lot more) on a semi-auto shotgun (Benelli, Beretta, Browning, Winchester etc), but I’m not sure you need to, for a home defense piece.

Finally, we need to look at ammo for this little thing. I’m pretty sure I’d go for the #3 Buckshot, which fires 20 pellets rather than the smaller birdshot cartridges, which shoot more, but much smaller pellets. Granted, inside a typical room the shot is not going to spread much, if at all — but the larger pellets are still a better bet, I think.

As always, Reader comments are welcome.

Next: assault rifles.


  1. Just pointing out that in some areas semi-auto shotguns are legally problematic. I knew someone who lived in New York who had to get his Benelli out of the state because if fell afoul of the SAFE Act enacted a few years back (in response to Sandy Hook). For those areas a pump is probably a better option, but the whole “leave the chamber empty so the goblin will hear you rack it and crap himself in fear” is just silly. Unless there’s a good reason to leave it in Condition 3, leave one in the chamber ready to use.

    I’ve got no problem with the 20 gauge for home defense, nor of the lighter buckshot. Yeah, OO is supposed to be the standard, but at across the room distances anything you hit with #3 or #4 buck won’t be able to tell the difference, and if you miss they won’t go as far.

  2. One thing that helps with a 12 gauge is some of the low recoil ammo, like Winchester Ranger. About 1150fps, it really does kick less, and at across the room, or down the hall ranges, the bad guy won’t know the difference between it and the mule-kick stuff.

  3. My wife and I both have and shoot 20g shotguns. That Mossberg SA-20, looks identical to my Weatherby SA-20. I’m guessing that they both are importing the same gun from Turkey and putting their name on it. As for 20G buckshot, I have found RIO and Spartan make a 20G #1 buck shell that patterns fairly well out of my Weatherby and my Mossberg 500c pump action.

  4. Mossberg 500 at one house, Mossberg Maverick at the other.

    Both 12g, 00 Buck, loaded, shell in chamber, cocked, safety on.

    Why be subtle?

  5. My own home defense shotgun is a 12 gauge coach gun with open hammers. Operation is dead simple. Two barrels, two cartridges, two hammers, two triggers. So it’s load-load, cock-cock, blam-blam. I load it with high brass number 4 shot, which will do a fine job of turning any goblin into dog food at twenty feet or less, but will generally spare the neighbors next door. Another thing I like about the coach gun is that when you’re all ready to shoot, if you decide you don’t want to shoot all you do is open the action. The shells eject and you now have an unloaded gun. The open hammers will tend to prevent an AD. The shooter has to take that extra second to cock the hammers, which might make him settle down just a little so he doesn’t mistakenly shoot his blood-sucking ex-wife who has slipped into his apartment with the hope of reconciling just long enough to get a short term loan for a vacation to Key West with her two bitchy, man hating girl friends, and is willing to trade services to get it.

    I agree with the nonsense about racking the slide of a pump gun. You give away your position and your readiness, which is not good. Moreover, if you’re injured in one arm, the pump shotgun is reduced to a single shot. Again, undesirable.

    I don’t own a semiautomatic shotgun, but if I ever do decide to invest in one I’ll want an extended 8 round magazine, a pistol grip, and a sling. The pouch I use for skeet shooting will hold my spare ammo. Again, I’d want number 4 shot, high velocity (high brass).

    Just my own opinion. Like any other self-defense situation, the best weapon in your arsenal lies behind your eyes, just between your ears.

  6. I’ve always recommended a 20 gauge youth model pump loaded with #1 buck for home defense, so I’m not likely to disagree with you much.

    I want to quibble that #1 buck is .30, #00 buck is .33, but that’s mainly because I’m a pendantic arsehole.

    Racking the slide can be loud, but it doesn’t have to be. You can ease the slide shut almost silently. Certainly more quietly than releasing the spring on a semi.
    It’s my opinion that a wood kids pump looks better than a “tactical” autoloader if you ever have to face a jury. But that’s subjective, it isn’t hard to imagine that someone would prefer the rail and light.

    1. Many, many, many years ago in some doctor’s or dentist’s office, I happened across an article in “Field and Stream” magazine written by a “Great White Hunter” sort, whose career was leading big game safaris. His main job in the hunt was “backstopping” the amateur hunter who was paying for things, in case the guy got “buck fever”, or had a weapon malfunction, or any other such mishap. His gun and load for the purpose was 12 gauge #1 buckshot. I always figured that if that was the preferred loadout for “lions and tigers and bears, oh my”, that it was also suitable for human goblin sorts.

      1. Warthog, your “Great White Hunter” was almost certainly the late Peter Capstick, author of “Death in the Long Grass” and “Death on the Dark Continent” among others. He liked his Winchester Model 12 that was capable of slam firing, and he also recommended #1 buck in 12 gauge because the 0.30″ buckshot stacks a lot more efficiently in a 12 gauge shell, i.e., you can get a higher pellet count and a higher weight of lead in a 12 gauge shell using #1 buck. After retiring from guiding and being a game warden in Africa, he returned to the USA, and I believe he wrote an article for the NRA’s American Hunter on the usefulness of buckshot that you may have read. He may have also published in Field and Stream — I didn’t read that publication.

        Unfortunately he passed away back in the 90’s of a premature heart attack, a great loss. If you haven’t read his books, go out and get them. Unlike most professional hunting guides, he was a fantastic writer. Well worth the read.

        1. Could well be…as I said, it was a LONG time ago, and I usually don’t pay a lot of strict attention to authors and names…more interested in content. Thanks for the name and info on books. I will have to check into those.

  7. I am going to disagree just a tad (shocking – right). Not every house should have a shotgun dedicated to home defense. It can be a great choice, a serviceable choice or a horrible choice depending on circumstances. While you aptly described their advantages, their disadvantages are the are bulky in close quarters, do not carry many rounds and are slow to reload.

    I think they make the most sense if you are out in the country and need to be able to go outside and reach out a bit further than is feasible with a pistol. For inside work, they are not my first choice (or actually my second, as I would grab my G3 or AR before I would grab any of my shotguns).

    Can they work? Sure, any firearm is better than nothing, and if you are comfortable with it so much the better. My grandfather had a 12 gauge double that was his go to home defense arm (among dozens of choices) and he used it to put some shot into some thieves one evening and they decided to do their “work” elsewhere – but they also got away.

    1. Kel-Tec bull pup. Early reviews weren’t all that great, but they seem to have worked the bugs out of it. IIRC, the loadout is 15 rounds of 3″ shells.

    2. Shotguns (shooting shot) are a close in weapon, they have very little range.

      Yes, they are more cumbersome than a pistol, but the idea behind *defensive* gun use is that you’re not clearing the house, you’re defending a space, and unlike a pistol you shoot someone straight on–even armored–with a 12 gauge they’re going down. They might get back up in a second or two, but they’re going down.

      Shoot them again if they are wearing armor. Unless it’s a cop. Don’t shoot cops.

      It may be that due to your life and your house you might have to move from your bedroom to a family member’s room, but that is something you can practice ahead of time and figure out how to move the weapon.

      If I had to *clear* a house my choice would be a pistol in my hand and shotgun in the hands of a team mate. Or the other way around if he wanted to go first.

  8. There is something much scarier to a goblin than the schnick-SHANK of a pump action, and that’s the BLAM of a shotgun being fired. I keep one in the spout and the safety on, thank you very much. If the schnick-shank is so important for psychological reasons, rest assured that it will immediately follow the blam.

    My current scary shotgun is a 12 gauge pump, but I intend to supplement it with a 20 gauge for the wife soon. Why a 12 gauge? Because if the Pocky Lips comes, I figured it would be easier to find/barter 12 gauge than 20 gauge. What is even better is having lots of and the ability to use BOTH.

  9. I have several pump action choices at my disposal. But the one that lives next to my bed (as opposed to the pistol that lives on my hip) is a 12 ga pump. It is a Keltec KSG to be exact and it is loaded with Aguilla mini shells. The go to tube (two mag tubes) is loaded with 6 rounds of 1.5″ #4 buck followed by 6 rounds of 1.5″ OO buck. The other tube is loaded with the 12 rounds of the Aguilla 1.5″ slugs. The shell in the chamber is one of the #4 buck rounds. I would greatly like all of the buckshot to be the Aguilla #4 buck, but it has been difficult to find of late.

    The recoil on these 1.5″ shells is minimal. I would say almost half of standard 2.75″ loads and with a minimal wadding cup, they spread quicker. A good thing at 20 feet.

    This shotgun was the home defense shotgun on my late wife’s side of the bed. She shot my Mossberg 500 and Rem 870 in 12 ga and pulled skin off her finger in both attempts. She tried a friend’s 20 ga and hated it almost as much. We did a photo shoot for Keltec and she damn near stole the KSG after putting 80 round of the Aguilla down range with nothing but giggles.

    In honor of her and out of a true like for the compact nature and ultimate capacity of the weapon, it lives on my side of the bed alongside the suppressed AR carbine and my holstered carry gun, while I sleep.

    YMMV but that is my set of choices.

  10. I agree that #3 is a good compromise load, and is less likely to sail through your neighbour’s home.

    One caveat about 20g shotguns. Some of them recoil harder than 12 gauges … a light 20g can kick brutally.

    1. Was going to say the same thing. The 00 rounds get the publicity but #1 – 4 is probably the happy medium for home defense.

  11. My defense shotgun is an 870 police model (extended tube, rifle sight, sling and carrier for extra rounds) loaded with #4 buck. I live in town in a brick home so I’m pretty confident that I won’t kill the next door neighbors if I let a round go but I really don’t want to do a lot of drywall work if I send a bad guy to appeal to a much higher court. I also have a 1975 vintage Mossie 500 with an ATI stock as a backup. Momma’s gun is an old Stevens 20 gauge pump that I cut down to 19″ loaded with #4 turkey shot. She’s 4’10” and a 12 gauge is just a little much for her. I’ve also got a Stoeger double barrel 12 gauge coach gun that I bought just because of the coolness factor and I think that would work for social purposes with any buckshot load.

  12. I am with Vonz-90 above, I don’t have a go to in the house shotgun for defense. We downsized four years ago and our little 1,250 sq ft house doesn’t have enough distance anywhere for the pattern to open up. I have a couple of nice pistols with extra magazines to discourage an intruder and I don’t intend on getting into a firefight battle with anyone.

    I have owned over a dozen shotguns, semi-auto, pump and over/under and now I am down to a 20 ga O/U and a 28 O/U both good upland bird guns and I gave my 12 ga. shotguns to son and son-in-law because I have had enough recoil.

    If a crazy civil unrest situation occurs and bad people are coming my way then I would prefer to use a rifle with a good sized magazine but that will be discussed next time.

  13. A shotgun is part of my family’s home defense. I couldn’t pass up a simple, cheap, 12 gauge Mossberg Maverick at the local discount sporting goods store a while back; my only complaint is that I wish it weighed a bit more. Hat tip to Precision 270 — I’ll have to try those Aguila mini-shells.

    There are also two 38 Special revolvers stashed around the house. I like revolvers for the family — no safeties and no magazines to fool with. Squeeze, and it goes bang. Wife and kids are all competent on the revolvers. And my Navajo rez-dog is a damn fine watch dog and has a bark to match; she earned herself a steak dinner a few months ago when she alerted me that something was amiss out front at 2 in the morning — two slimy pieces of pulchritude almost stole my pickup.

    My home town was recently declared to be #1 in the nation in auto thefts — an average of 27 a day, day in and day out. There are also auto burglary rings that break into cars to get your cell phone, your firearm, your personal identification on your proof of insurance for id theft, and your garage door opener so they can come back in the middle of the day tomorrow when everybody’s at work and clean your house out. Along with a new alarm system in the pickup and really good motion sensor lights out front, that 12 gauge is now my go-to gun if I have to confront said bad guys.

    1. Desert Rat,
      Aguila mini shells have had some availability issues. Another option, not as compact, would be Herter’s “Select Defense” shells that have been at Cabelas recently. 2-1/4″ length with 6 pellets of 00-Buck. I fired a few rounds in the trench clone and the reduction in recoil compared to standard 9 or even 8 pellet buckshot is very noticeable. And you _might_ squeeze an extra round in the tube; the clone could not though.

  14. Kim, I note that your recommendation for #3 matches quite well with Peter Capstick’s, and probably for the same reason he cites: #3 isn’t that much smaller than 00 on a pellet for pellet basis, and because of the way the pellets fit into the shell, you get about 75% more lead mass into the shell.

  15. My Dad had a 12 gauge and a 20 gauge bird gun (long barrel modified choke), so thats what we learned to shoot clays with. I certainly remember the 20 being easier to shoot and more pleasant for a lot of shots, but I don’t think I used either after I turned 21 or so. After I moved I won a Remington 870 Express 12 gauge at a gun show, then bought a Mossberg-made 18″ cylinder bore barrel for it. But we moved from a concrete wall apartment to a townhouse with drywall, so it got sidelined as a home defense choice. I also ended up with a Winchester ’97 Trench clone (chinese) which has been surprisingly good. Mount a 16″ bayonet on it, though, and it becomes a bit clumsy to clear the house with (though it looks awesome and brings a smile to my face).

    I keep thinking about a 20 gauge coach gun. I think it might be the best balance for size, ease, safety, and with lighter loads less likely to inconvenience my neighbors just a couple of drywalls away. And my wife might use it; she doesn’t like either 12 gauge.

  16. While I have a defensive 12 gauge at hand, it isn’t what I would pick up first. That would be a .357 magnum, with a couple of handy speed loaders.

    If I got pushed back into my defensive position, then the shotgun is available. A Mossberg Mariner. This is the 500, with the extended magazine, that is coated in electroless nickel to make it corrosion resistant. (Rust never sleeps, water always wins.) I believe the Coast Guard used them for a time. 00 buck in standard shells (I see no reason for magnum shells when the basics will do.) Though I suppose I could look at the #1.

    But then I live in the country. The outside of the house is brick, and the closest neighbor is the better part of a football field away. Maybe 75 yards. If I lived in a small apartment, not sure that I would choose a scatter gun at all.

    And an AR seems like overkill for indoor self-defense. What is the longest sight-line in your house? And where is your AR zeroed? How close is your nearest neighbor and how far is that bullet going to travel?

  17. 870 18.5″, 10 rounds of 00 behind the door upstairs, Mossy 930 28″ w/10 rounds of #4 behind the office door downstairs. Each room has a pistol somewhere. No kids visit.
    Motion lights, CCTV, etc.
    Paranoid?….a little.

  18. I live in a trailer in a trailer park, I mean a mobile home community. So I have 6 inch side walls, with good insulation just like a regular home, and my home is as far away from the next as if I lived in a subdivision. I count on my carry nine mm for home defense right now. If I ever ran across a great deal on a .410 shotgun, I might consider going to that. There are some VERY interesting loads that were developed for use in the Taurus Judge, that I would like to pattern in a short barrel of a shotgun, just to see how they would perform. Like those who have the buck and ball, or those which have the flat discs and the round balls. In a shotgun, they could be very good manstoppers, while still not over penetrating walls. And the recoil in a shotgun like the .410 is quite user friendly. Even if you simply found some #1 buck to shoot out of it, you could still make a good case for the .410 shotgun as an acceptable home defense shotgun, for many people.

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