The Home-Defense Shotgun

Remington Model 870 Express Tactical
This tactical shotgun has a short (18 1/2 inch) barrel and an extended tube that holds seven, 3-inch shells.

A shotgun delivers massive close-range stopping power and can be a very effective home-defense tool, but only if you choose the right one. The two most important keys to an effective home-defense shotgun are maneuverability and reliability. A 10-gauge goose gun with a 32-inch barrel can deliver all the power needed to stop a home invasion. But if you’re awoken at 2 a.m. by the sound of your front door breaking in, how handy is that gun? How easy is it to maneuver room to room? What happens if an assailant is on the other side of the door and grabs that long barrel when it pokes through? A home-defense shotgun needs to be short, lightweight and easy to navigate in tight quarters. Barrels in the 18 ½- to 20-inch range are preferred. If it’s light enough to fire with one hand, that’s a plus. A home-defense shotgun is often loaded, tucked away and never shot. But, if after a couple of years of sitting in a closet, it is suddenly needed, will it work? Firearms, in general, do not fare well in long-term storage. Lubricants congeal and springs can take a set. It’s advisable to fire, clean and lubricate any firearm on at least a semiannual basis. With that said, a pump-action shotgun (properly prepared) is the one most likely to work in this case. An exposed-hammer side-by-side double-barrel would likely be second and an inertia-operated semiauto ranks third.

**Consider a 20 Gauge Shotgun: **

Those looking for an effective home-defense shotgun are often directed toward one of the 12-gauge law-enforcement tactical models. That’s not always the best choice. The 20-gauge is much easier to shoot than the 12-gauge, produces significantly less recoil, and is lighter and more maneuverable. It’s a shotgun virtually any member of the family can master, and at the ranges encountered in home-defense situations, it is just as effective as a 12-gauge. The average 12-gauge tactical shotgun weighs between 7 ½ and 8 ½ pounds. The average 20-gauge tactical model with the same barrel length tips the scales at between 5 ½ and 6 ½ pounds. Home-defense situations are normally close, quick, and fluid. The lighter gun has an edge in quick handling, especially in any case where a smaller-framed family member has to wield it. The 20-gauge also has plenty of stopping power. The 12-gauge load most often recommended for in-home defense is the standard 2 ¾-inch No. 4 buckshot load holding 27 pellets, launched at 1100–1200 fps. Each pellet is .24 caliber, weighing approximately 20 grains. It’s a very effective close-range load. The standard 2 ¾-inch 20-gauge buckshot load is 20 No. 3 buckshot pellets, launched at 1100–1200 fps. These are .25 caliber and weigh slightly more than No. 4 buck. This load is every bit as effective at home-defense ranges, and from a cylinder-choked gun, will normally deliver an 11- to 12-inch pattern at 30 feet. Inside the home the 20 is plenty.

This buckshot is coming out of Federal Premium's Flitecontrol wad.

**Pick Your Load Carefully: **

Choosing a load for home defense requires balancing stopping power and safety. You need to think about penetration, whether from a missed shot or actually through the attacker. This is a serious concern in tight living quarters where your shot may penetrate an apartment or room wall to kill or injure an innocent. The heavy buckshot loads (000, 00 and even 0) can penetrate excessively. Slugs can zip through the attacker and several walls beyond. Reduce the shot size and stopping power remains, but with a greatly reduced risk of over penetration. Home-defense situations seldom involve ranges beyond 40 feet. At this range, No. 4 buckshot (available in 12 and 20 gauge) is very effective. So too is No. 3 buckshot (the standard 20-gauge load). These provide more than adequate stopping power, but their smaller pellet size greatly reduces the risk of over-penetration.

**Maintain Your Gun: **

Home-defense shotguns spend a lot of time sitting around doing nothing, but when they’re needed they’re needed quickly. How those shotguns are prepared can play a major role in whether or not they work. Pumps and semiautos should not be stored with a round chambered and the safety on. This places the firing-system springs at their maximum compression and, over time, can cause them to weaken or set. I once violated this rule and left a semiauto “cocked and locked” for a year before firing it. Flipping the safety off and pulling the trigger produced nothing. Cycling the action reset things and it fired, but I’m glad I found that out on the range instead of in a crisis situation where a delay like that could mean the difference between life and death.

Pumps and semiautos with tubular magazines should not have the magazine completely filled for long-term storage. This creates the possibility of the fully compressed magazine spring deforming a plastic shotshell and creating a feed failure.

The best way to prepare a home-defense pump or auto—starting with an unloaded gun—is to send the bolt forward on an empty chamber, flip the safety off and leave it off, pull the trigger to decock the gun, then load the magazine one or two shells below capacity. When needed, you have only to cycle the action to chamber a round and it’s ready to fire. This is called “cruiser carry” and it's the way law enforcement and military shotguns are carried. If a side-by-side double barrel is chosen, those models with internal hammers are not suited to long-term storage. The hammers are cocked when the action is closed, and the springs compressed. A better bet is an exposed-hammer double barrel. These can be left loaded and uncocked, and require nothing more than cocking the hammers when the gun is employed.

Add a Light/Laser:

There are accessory items that can improve the effectiveness of your home-defense shotgun. A light is needed in the dark, but a hand-held flashlight is tough to use with a shotgun. Getting a weapon-mounted light is the way to go. Some light units also have a laser sight, which is an even better bet. The light illuminates the target, the laser beam aims the shot charge, and even at 30-plus yards, one can deliver accurate fire from the shotgun low ready position. There are a number of these units and mounting systems on the market, and most shotguns can be fitted with one. The best mounting position is where your non-firing hand naturally contacts the forearm in a shooting stance.

**Do You Need More Ammo? **

Gun-mounted carriers hold four to six shotshells and attach to the gun. Some are elastic cuffs that fit over the gun butt, and some are metal units affixed to the receiver. Grabbing the gun now gives you enough extra shells for a reload. Or you can extend some shotgun’s tubes. These replace the existing magazine cap on a number of pump and semiauto models and increase the magazine capacity by three or more rounds. They not only allow you to carry a few extra shells in the gun, but add forward weight that helps reduce muzzle rise.