Here’s how to choose and use a shotgun–the most effective tool for home defense.
I remain a staunch advocate of the 12-gauge shotguns for home defense. While it is true that the 5.56mm carbine has made great inroads in the American law enforcement community, few agencies that adopt or approve this weapons system scrap the traditional police scattergun. There is a very good reason for this The shotgun is incredibly effective.
If there is one handheld weapon that is more likely than others to offer a one-shot stop of a hostile opponent, it would be “the gauge” or “12 banger” as it is known on the street. During my almost three decades in law enforcement, I spent seven years working in the county jail. While I hated every minute of it, I now realize that it was educational because it allowed me to spend time around my potential adversary.
One of the things I heard over and over from prisoners was their respect for and fear of the shotgun. One inmate who was incarcerated for murder and drug-trafficking charges told me “A determined man with a ‘gauge’ should not be messed with. That gun can cut you in half!”
Okay, so the gun won’t actually cut you in half, but in a situation where a potentially hostile individual has forcibly entered your home and you have confronted him in an effort to protect your family members from death or serious physical injury, you need to stop the attack quickly and decisively. In my opinion, there’s no gun that can do this with greater effectiveness than the 12-gauge shotgun.
I use a Remington 870 Express pump that I bought at Wal-Mart. Many will ask why I use a “budget” gun for this purpose while, as a gun writer, I certainly have access to a wide variety of guns. The answer is that the 870 Express is all I need.
I have long subscribed to what I call the SIG principle Simple Is Good. If I can meet my needs without superfluous extras that cost more money–great! The 870 Express is a four-shot, pump gun with an 18-inch barrel and synthetic stock and fore-end that is reliable in the extreme. The only additions that I have made to the gun is an XS Sight tritium dot front sight (which I glued over the factory bead using J.B. Weld) and a piece of Weaver rail that I screwed and glued under the front edge of the fore-end. This allows me to slide an Insight Technology M3 light onto the gun.
For those who want a gun that is a bit more advanced, I would look at the guns that are designed for law enforcement and military operations. Guns designed for this purpose are perfect choices for any defensive function.
The Remington 870 and 11-87 Police guns are two of my favorites. The 870 is a street-proven design that has saved the lives of police officers and military personnel the world over. The 11-87 is a semiauto 12 gauge that has a gas system that’s tweaked for defensive/law enforcement loads. The Remington guns come with a variety of sights (bead, rifled or ghost ring), magazine capacities and other related accessories.
Mossberg also has a law enforcement/military line that is built around its pump-action 500 and 590 series. These guns are well built and will stand up to rough use. Like the Remington models, guns from Mossberg are also available with a selection of sights and other accessories, as well as that wonderful tang-mounted safety that will meet the needs of most anyone interested in home defense.
For those who prefer a semiauto due to its simplicity while shooting (pressing the trigger versus pumping the action and pressing the trigger), the place to look is Benelli USA. Its Special Purpose series of both pump and semiauto shotguns is quite impressive. The Nova series is a bit more economically priced than the Tactical series, but both offer a level of reliability that you can bet your life on. As with the others, Benelli offers a full line of accessories and features for its guns. I must admit to a bias toward the M2 Tactical with ghost-ring sights. I used this gun while I was on SWAT, and it never failed to fire–which is pretty darned important.
One piece of advice I’d give anyone in the market for a home-defense gun. I strongly recommend against picking a shotgun that has only a pistol grip and no buttstock. While the compactness of these guns appears to be an attractive asset, the guns are hard to shoot accurately and quickly.
Remember, it is very possible to miss the first shot–even at home-defense distances with a shotgun–under the stress of a fight, so a fast followup shot may be needed. A buttstock will make second and third shots much more accurate. And besides, shooting a 12 gauge outfitted with only a pistol grip really hurts. Quite distracting.
Regardless of what gun you select, make sure that it functions with total reliability. Jeff Cooper’s admonitions regarding semiauto pistols certainly applies to shotguns as well–good sights, good trigger (yes, it is possible to get a bad trigger on a shotgun) and total reliability are essential.
While the pump-action gun will work quite well with most any load, the semiauto is a bit more finicky. Police-grade semiauto shotguns are designed to work with ammo that is intended for defensive purposes.
All of the major manufacturers make ammo that is directed to the law enforcement market, and these are the loads to buy when thinking about home defense. Most are designed to shoot tight patterns from cylinder-bore or improved-cylinder barrels. They also feature reduced recoil, which makes them easier to shoot and less abusive on the shooter.
My preference is the 12-gauge 00 buck load from Hornady because I’ve found it shoots tight patterns regardless of the guns I shoot it from. This being said, the reduced-recoil loads from Federal, Winchester and Remington are also quite good. For those using a pump gun, the eight-pellet 00 buck load from Remington is exceptional.
What about slugs for home defense? Many are concerned about the overpenetration potential of a projectile that is weighed in ounces instead of grains. At one time I would have recommended against slugs, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with wildlife conservation officers across the Midwest who investigate accidental shootings during hunting season. They tell me that shotgun slugs don’t overpenetrate the human torso like many think. Quite often, these soft lead slugs flatten out and stay in the body or are found just beyond the body–not always, mind you, but more often than many think.
Anti-personnel, hollowpoint slugs made for the military and police communities are an excellent choice for home defense and are proven man-stoppers in a large number of actual shooting incidents.
Preparing for home-defense situations on the range with the shotgun is similar to the training that police cadets undergo in the basic academy. The first thing the homeowner needs to do is make sure he or she fully understands how the selected shotgun works.
It’s critical to know how to load, unload, speed load and “top off” the gun. Practice using dummy loads–nonfiring replicas of 12-gauge ammo–that can be purchased at most any gun store or sporting goods establishment that sells hunting equipment. These inert cartridges allow you to practice with the gun without fear of inadvertently firing the gun.
Live-fire practice should reinforce good shooting fundamentals. I like to start out with single shots from both the high and low ready positions as well as the “indoor ready” position, which is an extremely compressed position that points the gun’s muzzle at the ground to the side of the support-side foot. Practice bringing the gun quickly on the target without overtraveling, which would make the shot go too high.
Once single shots are mastered, I move on to multiple shots, working on recoil control, trigger reset and target accuracy. A simple trick to timing the pump action with the trigger action is to think of the forward hand and trigger finger as working together on the same piece of string. When the trigger is pressed, the pump action also moves to the rear. As the trigger goes forward, so does the pump.
While it is impossible to perform these actions at exactly the same time, the symmetry of the two actions together can create a quite effective shooting rhythm that allows the shooter to work the gun fast. This drill will also help you avoid the most common malfunction with a pump gun the “short stroke” in which the pump action is not fully cycled forward and back.
Pull the shotgun tight into the shoulder, and press your cheek firmly to the stock. The strong hand shoots the gun while the support hand holds the gun up, and working the action is necessary. Forewarned is forearmed–Make sure that you keep the shooting-hand thumb straight down, as it could possibly strike you in the nose when the gun recoils.
I have quit using the word “stance” when referring to how one stands when shooting; I now use the phrase “body position,” as this is far more important to effective combat shooting than the position of one’s feet. The important thing, whether shooting a handgun, shotgun or rifle, is to keep the shoulders over the toes in order to control recoil for fast follow-up shots.
You can use birdshot to practice with your shotgun, if your gun is a pump. Less expensive and lighter-recoiling loads may not cycle the action of your semiauto. You’ll have to do some testing.
Practicing with slugs will require the use of slugs, as there is no substitute for these. Using a less expensive, lighter-recoiling practice load will allow you to practice more often, which is always a good thing when it comes to one’s personal defense. Additional things to practice are shooting at multiple targets, working around cover including the classic “slicing the pie” drill and shooting while moving.
You also want to be sure to pattern your gun with your chosen defense load. Each gun will pattern differently with different brands and loads of ammo. Know what this pellet spread will be before you must shoot at someone in your home.
Last but not least, practice clearing your own home with your unloaded shotgun. Do this in both daylight and at night. Know what to expect before the unthinkable happens. The brain does not know the difference between a dry run and the real thing, with the exception of the “fight or flight” chemicals crashing into your system.
Being able to clear your home without having to figure out the best way to do it may be the difference between life and death. Right now, someone out there is preparing to invade someone’s home. You should prepare also, in the event that that home is yours.