Home Defense Shotgun – What Makes it Kick-Ass?

By Tom McHale
Home Defense Shotgun Tips and Gear

Home Defense Shotguns are insatiable ammo-eaters, so one thing to consider is extra storage onboard.
Home Defense Shotguns are insatiable ammo-eaters, so one thing to consider is extra storage on board.
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
Tom McHale

USA –-(Ammoland.com)- While many debate what the Best Home Defense Shotgun is, it’s hard to argue that the shotgun doesn’t make an ideal home defense weapon.

While capacity in terms of shell count will almost always be less than that of a semi-automatic pistol or modern sporting rifle, each one of those shells delivers a whole lot more impact that most any other choice.

Kinetic energy measurements don’t directly translate to fighting effectiveness; they do provide an illustration of the difference in destructive power between various firearms.

Consider a few examples:

  • A 9mm pistol cartridge with a 124-grain projectile traveling at 1,250 feet per second delivers 430 foot-pounds of energy.
  • A 5.56mm 55-grain rifle round moving at 3,240 feet per second delivers 1,282 foot-pounds.
  • A 12-gauge, 9-pellet buckshot load with rated velocity of 1,450 feet per second delivers a whopping 2,240 foot-pounds of energy.

That’s getting close to double the energy of a standard AR round over which the media incessantly frets.

Like most things, the decision as to whether to choose a shotgun for home defense depends on an evaluation of the tradeoffs that are important to you. The big factors boil down to better stopping effectiveness, higher recoil, and lower capacity. Which factors are most important to you?

If you decide to vote in favor of the shotgun, here are some things to consider when choosing the specific configuration for a home defense shotgun.

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

Until you have to use it as a club, it’s the ammo and not the shotgun, that does the work. The shotgun is just the delivery mechanism.

The blessing and curse of the home defense shotguns or any shot gun, are the wide variety of ammunition types from which you can choose. At one end of the spectrum is tiny pellet and light recoiling birdshot. On the other end of the scale are giant hunks of lead called slugs. Just choosing a “home defense shotgun” is not enough. You have to make a careful and informed choice about the ammo that feeds it ( http://goo.gl/eP1NhG ) .

Choice of ammo may be the most important "feature" of all home defense shotguns. This 10-yard pattern of Federal Premium Tactical FliteControl buckshot is one hole, and therefore very predictable.
Choice of ammo may be the most important “feature” of all home defense shotguns. This 10-yard pattern of Federal Premium Tactical FliteControl buckshot is one hole, and therefore very predictable.

Here’s where things get interesting. Depending on the nature of your home, you might make very different ammo choices.

If you live in an apartment, you might need to be concerned with over-penetration through neighboring walls. Regardless of your personal danger, you’re still responsible if you launch buckshot or slugs into the next dwelling. Some folks prefer to use birdshot for this reason. Just be very careful that you understand what you’re sacrificing if you sway in that direction. At distances measured in feet, smaller birdshot will penetrate. However, when you start to get past 15 feet or so, the penetration capability begins to fail dramatically.

Yes, it’ll make a mess of an attacker, but may or may not stop them immediately.

If you live in an isolated location, you might choose slugs. They’re amazingly effective at indoor distances, but you can also shoot them accurately out past 100-yards should the need arise.

Personally, I prefer the old standby ammo for shotgun-based home defense – Buckshot ( http://goo.gl/eP1NhG ).

Make no mistake, it will penetrate walls like a hot knife through butter, so you need to know what type of pattern your choice of gun and buckshot produce. I keep my Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun loaded with Federal Premium 8-pellet 00 buckshot with FliteControl wads. These loads deliver amazingly small, and more importantly, predictable patterns. It will keep all pellets on a torso target from a range of 50-yards from this cylinder bore shotgun. At indoor distances, the pattern will stay smaller than a closed fist. In other words, I know where those pellets are going to go when I pull the trigger.

Whatever ammo you choose for your situation, it’s imperative that you test it at the range, a lot, so you know exactly how it’s going to behave. Every time you load a new brand or style of ammo you’ve got to test again.

Home Defense Shotgun Action?

Like most topics over which we incessantly argue, the choice of action type isn’t nearly as important as we would like to believe. A semi-automatic won’t necessarily fail when we need it most. A pump-action won’t necessarily work every single time. A break-action may just have enough ammo capacity to get the job done. Again, like most things, the user familiarity and skill are far more important than equipment choice.

If you like semi-automatics, then great, use that. They’re easy to operate and direct less recoil back in your direction. Modern semis are plenty reliable for home defense. Be sure to test your choice of home defense ammo a lot before sticking that gun by your nightstand. A quality semi-automatic home defense shotgun will reliably cycle most any type of standard shells from birdshot to slugs. Be sure to keep it clean and properly lubricated so it will continue to work when you need it to.

Many semi-auto and pump Home Defense Shotguns allow addition of an extended magazine tube to increase shell capacity.
Many semi-auto and pump Home Defense Shotguns allow addition of an extended magazine tube to increase shell capacity.

If you prefer the design of a pump gun for its simplicity and manual operation, that’s fine too.

While the mechanism of a pump isn’t likely to fail, user error can be a problem. To prevent short stroking the action during the heat of the moment, be sure to practice regularly.

The only downside to a break-action side by side or over and under is the limited capacity. I rule those designs out for that reason alone, but if it’s what you’ve got, then run with it! Just be sure to think through, and practice, a strategy for quick reloads should the need arise.

A Pistol Grip Only – Doesn’t Cut It

Just to be clear, we’re going to talk about two types of pistol grips here. Here, I’m referencing a pistol only grip. These are the shorty models you see with no buttstock whatsoever. The only part of your body supporting and aiming these beasts are your hands.

Short Barreled Shotgun
Short Barreled Shotgun

They look awesome, scary and tactical, and do have practical applications.

Door kickers use them for blowing locks apart just before their buddies storm into a room. For general home defense, these designs rank pretty far down my list.


Try shooting one with any degree of speed and accuracy. Contrary to popular assumption, you do have to aim a home defense shotgun, and it’s easy to miss with one, especially at indoor distances.

Depending on your specific choice of shot shell ammunition, the size of your shot pattern 15 feet from the muzzle might be just a couple of inches.

The most controllable way to control one of these is to shoot it from a low position. And guess what? When shooting from the hip, you’re not aiming. In a home-defense scenario, the very last thing you want to be doing is launching buckshot in random directions, possibly putting family members at risk too. If you try to shoot these holding it up to eye level, they’re difficult to control as there is no structured support to handle the recoil. Getting off an accurate and fast second shot is not easy.

Would I choose this over a 9-iron or an un-ripened plantain? Certainly.

However, considering that the big energy delivered by a shotgun also translates to big recoil, it’s not as good of a home defense choice as it might appear. Handy and maneuverable? Yes. Controllable? No.

Unlike a wingshooting configuration, for a Home Defense Shotgun you'll want some type of sights, like this front post with rear ghost ring.
Unlike a wingshooting configuration, for a Home Defense Shotgun you’ll want some type of sights, like this front post with rear ghost ring. : http://goo.gl/6oPNbp

Pistol Grip vs. Traditional Grip

Speaking of pistol grips, one thing you may want to consider is a stocked pistol grip. Still a personal preference decision, a pistol grip (with stock!) can give you a little more control over the shotgun with your strong hand. While you don’t want to fire a home defense shotgun one-handed, even with a pistol grip, it may make it easier to do things like open doors or hold a flashlight in your support hand.

Many turkey hunting shotguns have pistol grips for a reason. The natural angle of your wrist lines up well with a more vertical grip, thereby eliminating strain. While the traditional shotgun grip is great for swinging through moving targets, you might find the pistol grip more natural for home defense scenarios where you’re carrying the gun and deliberately aiming.

This Mesa Tactical Urbino Pistol Grip Buttstock makes the gun shorter and easier to control.
This Mesa Tactical Urbino Pistol Grip Buttstock makes the gun shorter and easier to control. : http://goo.gl/p4KQ3G

One other related advantage to a stocked pistol grip configuration is that you might be able to make the whole shotgun shorter and more compact, and, therefore, easier to maneuver indoors. In the example Beretta 1301 Tactical shown above, I replaced the factory stock with a Mesa Tactical Urbino Pistol Grip Stock ( http://goo.gl/p4KQ3G ) . The original length of pull was 13.75 inches, but with the Mesa Tactical Urbino stock, the length of pull is now just 12.5 inches.

It’s about as compact as you can get with a legal length barrel.

A stocked-pistol grip allows you to maintain a more compact shooting stance. A traditional shotgun grip encourages your elbow to “chicken wing” to the side. Tucking your firing arm in close your body requires an unnatural bend of your wrist. You’ll find that the natural position of your shooting side elbow with a pistol grip configuration is much closer to your body. Significant? Maybe or maybe not, but it’s something to consider.

With all that said, the addition of a pistol grip stock isn’t a requirement for a home defense shotgun. I prefer it, but that’s just a personal preference. It’s something to try if you’re piecing together your ultimate home defense smoothbore.

Home Defense Shotgun Lights & Lasers

Light and lasers on a home defense shotgun? For personal defense applications, absolutely yes if you can.

Before you pull the trigger on a shotgun in the dark, you want to be absolutely sure of your target, right? Fortunately, there are nearly infinite options on the market for shotgun lights. You can get fancy and install an integrated light and forend. Or, you can duct tape a Mag-Lite ( tiny.cc/88nc3x ) to the magazine tube. A low cost and less kludgy option is to use a barrel and magazine tube clamp like those offered by Mesa Tactical. These allow you to add a dedicated light mount or a small rail section to which you can attach whatever you want. The Beretta 1301 shown in the photos here has a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro ( http://goo.gl/9cPGnK ) integrated light and laser. I keep it mounted on the shooting side, so my support hand finger can easily reach the activation paddles.

Adding a light and laser to a Home Defense Shotgun is surprisingly easy. This is a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro combined unit.
Adding a light and laser to a Home Defense Shotgun is surprisingly easy. This is a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro combined unit. : http://goo.gl/9cPGnK

Home Defense Shotgun Optical Sights

For wingshooting, optical sights aren’t so hot. For home defense, they bring a whole new dimension of effectiveness to low light shooting. You might consider an always-on red dot optic like the Aimpoint Micro ( http://goo.gl/ogPI7W ) . You literally can leave it turned on all the time, so it’s ready to go, day or night. Change the battery every New Years Day and you’ll never have to worry about the dot not being present. If you shoot a tight-patterning buckshot load like the Federal FliteControl ammo, you can be amazingly fast, yet precise.

Mounted correctly, you’ll be able to see your iron sights through the glass in the event that your optic goes down.

Addition of a red dot optic like this Aimpoint Micro allows fast and precise shooting.
Addition of a red dot optic like this Aimpoint Micro allows fast and precise shooting. : http://goo.gl/ogPI7W

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo Holders

Like most of the other items on this list, Shotgun Shell Holders ( http://goo.gl/dRrT48 ) aren’t there to look cool. It’s on the list because home defense shotgun have low capacity to start with, and they’re insatiable ammo eaters once you start shooting them. Unlike a semi-auto pistol or rifle, sticking an extra magazine in your pocket (especially if you sleep naked) isn’t really an option with shotgun shells.

You can also store spare ammo on the buttstock opposite the cheek side.
You can also store spare ammo on the buttstock opposite the cheek side.

For illustrative purposes, I have the shotgun shown here equipped with Mesa Tactical receiver and the basic Mesa stock shell carrier ( http://goo.gl/HQiN3T ). Pick one style, the other, or both. If you’re on a budget, consider those Velcro shell carriers that stick to the receiver. While they may look low-budget, you’ll find that many serious shotgun fighters use these. You can carry some loaded strips in a pocket or magazine pouch.

When the one on the receiver runs dry, just rip on the empty strip and slap a new one on. It’s almost like changing magazines.

A Home Defense Shotgun Needs a Good Sling

Last but certainly not least is the lowly and often disrespected sling. Just like with your AR Rifle Sling, the purpose isn’t to be high speed and low drag. On the contrary, the real purpose is far more mundane. A sling is a holster for your shotgun. If you need to use your hands for other things, a proper sling allows you to simply let go of your home defense shotgun, and it will be secured, but still immediately accessible. I really like the Viking Tactics Original Sling ( http://goo.gl/9cM0sl ) for my rifles and shotguns. It’s got a brilliant quick adjustment mechanism which allows you to open it large for ambidextrous shooting or cinch it up right using one hand.

There’s a lot here, and the idea is not to build a 42-pound, mall ninja special home defense shotgun. The idea is to provide some food for thought about what options might make the most sense for you given your specific home-defense situation.

Whatever gear you choose for your kick-ass home defense shotgun, be sure to practice with it not until you get the operation right, but until you can’t get it wrong.


Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Want a second opinion? Check out Paul Markel’s Home Defense Shotgun Reality Check Video.

  • 12 thoughts on “Home Defense Shotgun – What Makes it Kick-Ass?

    1. Everything has gotten so micro-analylizing with this or that. I don’t use a shotgun as my primary home defense weapon but I keep my Winchester 1300 loaded with 000 buck all the time.

    2. I like my 21″ 1100 with ext magazine and forend pressure switch light & hi viz sights, loaded buck, slug, buck, slug up to the 7 rnd limit. Slugs will go through a vest where buckshot won’t, and I can easily shoot through a wall (if someone thinks the wall next to the door is cover) if I have too.

    3. Have to agree with TEX, a Winchester 1300 is hard to beat!
      I have upgraded mine with a nice fiber optic sight, but also have a flashlight and green laser attached.
      The fiber optic sight is nice in the day time, but turns black and hard to see when it is dark out. That is where the flashlight and laser then shine, literally!! :)
      The flashlight is a high lumen one and really lights up things well, the green dot in the center of the white light, is point of impact!!
      Both were easy to add with a nice small 3 rail system that clamps around the magazine tube.
      Shootable from the hip if needed with knowledge of where the buckshot is going to land!!

      Couple that with the way the Winchesters operate and it makes me very happy to shoot.
      May be newer, slicker, more oohh and aahh ones out there, but It is fast, good capacity, and very very reliable to shoot. I never am at a disadvantage with it.

    4. Using a long barreled shot gun that makes a “single” whole at any distance in your house makes no sense at all. What is the point of using buck when it goes in a single whole? Long barreled shotguns for home defense are impractical because they do not spread the pattern and they are cumbersome and unwieldy. Try shooting down the hallway from a room with a long barreled shotgun with just your arm and head exposed to the attacker. If you are going to use a shotgun for home defense use the shortest barrel allowed by law. This article is full of bad advice!

      1. Who said anything about a long barreled shotgun? The Beretta 1301 Tactical featured in this article has an 18.5-inch barrel. The minimum legal barrel length on a shotgun is 18-inches. If you consider that 1/2 inch extra “long” then I suppose we have a difference of opinion!

        As for tight patterns, remember you are responsible for each and every projectile you launch. A 00 buckshot pellet is a 30 caliber projectile that goes through walls like a hot knife through butter, so you better know where each and every one is going. The whole point of quality ammunition that shoots tight patterns is predictability. You know exactly where those pellets are going to go, in this case, up to a distance of 50-yards. With a tight pattern, you still get the “stopping power” benefit of multiple projectiles without undue risk of random shot patterns. Besides, even cheap buck shot will pattern at nearly single hole spreads at close indoor distances.

      2. Too small of a pattern at hallway distances, you say?
        Not to be confused with a handgun or rifle round being wielded and fired in the manner mentioned?
        I see what you did there. 😉

    5. I like my Winchester 97 Riot gun with 20″ barrel and 17″ bayonet loaded with 00 Buck. Shooting from a knee the misses and over penetration go into the neighbors attic (YMMV). And no need to get close enough to club survivors, just stick them from over 3′ away.

    6. Keltec

      Keltec ksg bullpup 12 gauge–7 buckshot & 7 slugs with a selector switch and one in the fire hole = 15 rounds with a crimson trace laser. You’ve got your choice of loads when you want it. Check it out on youtube.

    7. I keep a .40 cal Glock handgun and a 18″ barreled pump shotgun next to the bed at night. The shotgun has a pistol grip and a horizontal fore grip. Loaded with 2 3/4″ #6 shot it is a very potent and controllable weapon inside my home, where shooting distances most likely won’t be over 25 feet. Those loads will blow a 4-5″ diameter hole through 3/4″ plywood at 30 feet like it was made out of wet toilet paper . Certainly more than enough firepower to stop any bad guy who has entered the home. Haven’t ever seen a t-shirt & hoodie or even a heavy winter coat that can stop that kind of blast at that range. Just the impact force alone of the blast will bust ribs and turn tissue to dark jelly.

      Lasers, 000 or 00 buckshot for in-home shotgun use seems to be a bit Internet Commando to me. I don’t have a problem with people using flashlights on their shotgun. Me, I placed 4 watt LED night lights in all the main rooms of the house. Less than a $1 a year total cost in electricity and I can see well enough to identify and aim at any target.

      1. Well David, I’m getting up there in the old man bracket so I need every edge that I can get if need be. I put a laser on my Keltec 12 gauge because just maybe I can’t see like I once could. And like you’ve said, the pattern at close range for a 12 gauge is rather small, and in the dark and under stress a missed target is a high probability for some of us. Therefore the little red dot comes into play. Where the red dot is is where the buckshot is going. End of story.
        PS–I also have a judge loaded with critical defense 410 rounds under my pillow. And yes, it has a laser on it too. Because…..

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