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The 5 Best Home Defense Shotguns

The 5 Best Home Defense Shotguns

Image source: ClassicOldWestArms

At one point in time the shotgun was the supreme home defense weapon. None doubted it, and no one questioned its ability for home defense. These days, people argue for the pistol and the rifle as well. No matter what, opinions will always vary, but I’ve always stuck to the shotgun. In the end it will always be personal ability and preference, along with the intended defensive location.

The shotgun has always held a special place in my heart, even at times when I didn’t realize it. Recently I had some friends over for an afternoon BBQ and shooting sessions. One of my friends pointed out that the amount of shotguns I had far outnumbered the rest of my guns. My collection includes the pumps, double barrels, semi-autos, single shots, and even two handguns chambered in .410.

The first gun that was mine was a shotgun. On my eighth birthday I received a Remington 870 .410 and it came with a rabbit hunting trip after the candles were blown out. I spent countless hours restoring an ancient Stevens/Savage double barrel 12 gauge that I picked up at a flea market for $50. I had to sandpaper two layers of spray paint off of it and learn what exactly a cold rust bluing was, and how to stain wood.

Ultimate Tactical Self-Defense And Hunting Weapon That Doesn’t Require A Firearms License!

I was one of the very few Marines with an issued shotgun, a 14-inch barrel Mossberg 590. The Mossberg 590 with the short barrel was by far the handiest close-quarters weapon I’d ever trained with.

I simply love a good shotgun. I view the shotgun as a thinking man’s weapon. The vast amount of different loads available allows someone to tailor the load for whatever is necessary. A 12 gauge is capable of taking small game like squirrel and birds, and immediately able to load a buck shot round and harvest medium game, like deer and hogs. Of course, slugs and buck shot are awesome self-defense loads. Special considerations can be taken for less lethal loads as well. And, you can swap out the chokes to change the shot pattern around.

A few basic differences reside with a few of these shotguns. Each system has advantages and disadvantages. Let me give a little bit of a primer on the pros and cons of each before I jump into the article.

Pump Versus Semi-Automatic. First, pump shotguns will always be more reliable. Like most manually operated weapons they are much simpler, and therefore have less chance for failure. They are not as fast to fire as a semi-auto, and have more felt recoil. They also handle reduced recoil rounds, lowered bird shot, and less lethal rounds much more reliably.

Semi-auto shotguns give you a much faster firing rate. A semi-auto shotgun can put a lot of punishment downrange in just a little bit of time. Semi-auto shotguns tend to have less recoil.

Magazine Vs Tube. Tube-fed shotguns are far more common in the United States. Shotguns with tubes are easier to top off during a fight, but slower to reload when fully empty. Having an internal magazine does negate having to buy and carry extra magazines, though. You can also take a bit more advantage of a shotgun’s versatility by simply loading whatever style of round you need in the chamber.

A magazine is easier to reload than an empty weapon, and it’s simply a case of rocking the mag in, and then you keep fighting. If you break a magazine, you can simply replace it. If you break or bend a tube it’s a whole different process.

I’ve compiled a list of various shotguns I think make excellent defensive weapons. I’ve tried to keep the weapons varied.

1. Mossberg 500/590

I can’t call a weapon the handiest close-quarter weapon without giving it mention here. The Mossberg 500 is a very robust and simple weapon. The Mossberg 500 sets the standard for the pump shotguns that followed it. With the advent of Mossberg’s new FLEX system the weapon really shines. The FLEX is a tool less system that effortlessly allows you to customize and adapt your shotgun for a variety of roles.

A pump shotgun is like any manually operated weapon and is extremely reliable. Pump shotguns can handle heavy and light loads without any issue. There is more felt recoil than a semi-automatic shotgun, but modern defensive loads are controllable. Of course, the shotgun comes in 20 gauge and .410.

The Mossberg 590 and 590A1 are more purpose-built self-defense shotguns. They have different magazine tubes and barrels, and usually a tougher finish, and though they are uncommon they can be found with a bayonet lug. The Mossberg 500 series of shotguns are used all across the United States by our police and military, and are copied around the world. Aftermarket accessories are vast and allow the user to customize the shotgun just for them.

2. Benelli M1014/M4 Super 90

This is another shotgun I had the pleasure of shooting in the Marines. The Benelli M4 Super 90 (which I will now shorten to M4) is also known as the M1014 Joint Service shotgun. The M4 was the chosen inter service shotgun to begin replacing the aging Mossberg 500 and 870s still in service. The transition has pretty much stopped. With the war in Iraq dying down and the war in Afghanistan ramping up, we are seeing most fighting at a range outside of a shotgun’s capability.

The M1014 mostly found its way to military police and security forces in the Marine Corps, and I can’t speak for the other services but most grunts will never get their hands on one. I consider myself lucky to have shot this fine weapon. The M4 is a semi-automatic shotgun with a very reliable and very simple gas system known as ARGO. The system is much simpler than most gas-operated shotguns, and this makes repairs and cleaning much easier. The shotgun is quite modular and a variety of parts can be swapped to tailor the load out.

Since the weapon is imported, you are limited at 5 + 1 rounds, but tube extensions are available. The M4 is a superb shotgun that is extremely durable; during military testing more than 25,000 full-powered buckshot rounds were fired before any parts needed to be replaced. The main downside is the steep price tag attached to one of these bad boys: well over $1,000.

3. Catamount Fury 12 Gauge

So since I mentioned one awesome, but expensive semi-auto shotgun I feel I have to mention another that’s a bit more affordable. The Catamount Fury 12 gauge is a semi-automatic AK pattern shotgun imported by Century Arms. The weapon comes with a ton of features not available on other stock. These features include removable chokes, an adjustable gas system, dust cover featuring a rail, a bolt hold open, and mine came with five magazines.

The weapon is capable of handling both buckshot and birdshot quite nicely with the adjustable gas system. On the light setting, cheapo bulk Federal Bird Shot shoots like a dream, without a single issue. While buck shot can function fine on the light setting, a lot of recoil is cut down by switching to the full power setting.

The chokes are easy to remove, and the weapon comes with a cylinder, standard and modified chokes. The main advantage of this shotgun: the magazines. Doing a mag change is much quicker than putting rounds into a tube.

The price for the Catamount Fury 1 was $485 out the door, new in the box with five magazines, three chokes, and some cleaning rods. Usually it only comes with two magazines.

4. Winchester 1897 and IAC 97T

This was one of the original pump action combat shotguns. Its fierce reputation as a trench broom in World War I led the Germans to petition it to be illegal to use in war. The Winchester 1897 is one of the many guns of John Moses Browning. Normally it wouldn’t make the list simply because the old models are tough to find and are often more for collecting than shooting. Recently, IAC, the same importer of Hawk firearms, released their 97T.

The 97T is a faithful reproduction of the 1897 trench gun with heat shield and bayonet lug. The stock is American walnut and while the finish isn’t always even, the weapon functions quite nicely. The only Winchester 1897 I’ve ever fired was a 26-inch barrel, 16 gauge, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. In my shooting the 97T is a great weapon, and even though it’s a reproduction it still makes a great shotgun for home and self-defense.

The 97T has an external hammer which can act as the safety when down. The weapon also has a disconnect — meaning you can hold the trigger and every time you pump the weapon, it fires. This was the feature I believe made it the trench broom it was. You can rapidly empty all six rounds with the same reliability of a pump action at nearly the semi-auto speed.

The 97T was a little rough action-wise, but has begun to smooth out with use, and the slam-firing is just so much fun. The shotgun has a very unique style, and is underrated since most see it as an antique, or just a fun gun. Always keep in mind the brutal close combat of World War I, and the shotgun that made the Germans cry.

5. Escort Gladius

The majority of defensive-built shotguns are chambered in 12 gauge. It is a great round and is the most versatile of the shotgun rounds, but the smaller 20-gauge round is suitable for self-defense. Now why would someone choose a 20 gauge? Well, any number of factors. Most 12 gauges are large and heavy, making controlling, shooting and especially fighting difficult for smaller-statured folks.

The Escort Gladius is designed for the self-defense marketplace and chambered in 20 gauge. It is a semi-automatic or pump action shotgun made in Turkey. The Gladius comes equipped with a tactical style stock and pistol grip combo, a forward pistol grip, a speed feed stock, ghost ring sights, cushioned pistol grip, Picatinny rail for optics, an adjustable cheek pad, and a nice muzzle brake. The semi-auto version also has a sub second cycle rate, which makes it a very fast shooter.

Honorable Mentions

Remington 870 – The Remington 870 is another well-known self-defense shotgun on par with the Mossberg 500. My main reason for not including the 870 has been the declining quality of Remington products in the last few years. If you choose an 870, stick to an older model.

Saiga 12 – The Saiga shotguns are sweet, and the aftermarket accessories, including drum mags, are widely available. The bad news is the heavy price tag. The Catamount won for price and stock features.

MK1919 – AN AR-based shotgun should seem like a no-brainer, but I have yet to even handle one in a gun store, much less shoot one. I’ve heard good things, but want a little trigger time with this weapon, or simply the chance to hold it.

What are your favorite survival shotguns? Tell us in the comments section below.  

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  1. Based on your choices, I think you should change the title of this article to “The 5 Best Tacti-cool Shotguns.” Most of your choices are, in my humble opinion, a bit excessive for home defense. I appreciate your Marine background, but “home defense” is not the same as combat. Almost anyone will agree that a trusty pump action is ideal for the vast majority of REALISTIC home defense scenarios. Now, if you are planning to defend your home against a small army, whether they be a gang of thugs or some sort of government thing, then I would argue that you will need a weapon with more magazine capacity than any shotgun. That being said, the Mossberg 500 is a great choice, but surprised you didn’t mention the even more affordable Maverick 88. There is nothing wrong with the Remington 870 either. And there are more affordable clones of the two out there (quality differs, some better than others). I guess my point is that most of us cannot afford and do not really need a semi-auto for home defense.

  2. What make/model is the stainless one shown?

  3. mark that is not stainless, it looks to be the winchester 1897 replica iac 97t in white metal ( unblued )
    if you want you could cold blue it yourself, or take it to a professional hotblue’er

  4. I have a Winchester 97 that belonged to my Father… very cool shotgun. I however disagree with the statement in the article that the semi-auto is faster than the pump. My Father and Uncle had this argument many years ago, and my Dad proved several times he could empty the tube faster on a Ithaca 37 than my Uncle could the tube on a Savage semi-auto.

  5. Nothing wrong with those shotguns. I’m kind of a sucker for looks and there is no MEANER looking shotgun than the Remington 877 tactical shotgun.

    It fully backs up the “tactical” with full implementation to my satisfaction a shotgun should have. LOVE it!

  6. I like the ones you have shown. I own a Rock Island Arms M5. Not expensive, no thrills home defense. It is light weight and easy to handle. I have put I know 500 rds through it. It had been dependable so far.

  7. Pumpguns are not for home defence. The most strong point of “Manual Operation” is also their weakest point. Please check the following features they have;

    – Gravity bonded feeding from magazene to chamber; Most of them re

  8. Pumpguns are not for home defence. The most strong point of “Manual Operation” is also their weakest point. Please check the following features they have;

    – Gravity bonded feeding from magazene to chamber; Most of them refuse to load chamber if the ejection port looks downward.

    – The possibility of actuating “Slide Lock” if a magazine loaded pump left with empty chamber and cocked hammer; It happens especialy in risky stressed situations.

    – Short Stroking of Slide; In stressed situations user may not able to manipulate the slide to the rearmost stage for empty shell ejection.

    These events may not be reported since the owners of guns had no ability to survive their lives to descripe what happened.

    • My eject port always points downward and the shells drop between my feet. I just tried my current (Ithaca Defense) and it works from all angles. If they hung up it was almost always because I was not complete in the action and usually all I had to do was pull back all the way to correct it. I cannot believe you are saying a pump is unreliable. Tell you what: we’ll get 100 rds of all sorts of ammo and you get an auto and we’ll see who has the most fails.

      • Dear Jack,

        Home defense situations can not be narrowed into 100 rounds continious fire without minimum fail. If, even US Ordnance had choosen an autoloader instead of pump, there would be a reasonable cause. Please thoroughly reread my comment above. Besides, Ithaca M37 is one of the few exceptions against to gravity bonded feeding in pump guns but also fails giving an unexpected shot if it is of old bump firing kind, or a hammer follow without fire being in one of newly made versions, both leaving the user in a troubled situation if the trigger is held squezzed during pumping after shooting. Choosing a 12 Gauge Winchester 1300 would be better since it would work against to gravity bonded feeding .


  9. The 500 series is a great defense weapon. However, I would also offer that the High Standard Model 10 has served me reliably for a couple of decades.

  10. the Catamount can only shoot lead shot

  11. Brenda Kepley-Fields

    I’m a first time buyer. I know nothing about guns. A mother and grandmother. I want protection from any home intruders. Need something dependable, light and extremely affordable. I don’t hunt or shoot those clay things. One person says Mossberg, another says Remington ! I’m totally confused. Short barrel yes ? Help !

    • Brenda,

      I would use a 20 gauge loaded with number 7 bird shot. The box the shells come in tell you what number . As to which shotgun, their are lots of good ones. I would start calling shooting ranges and ask if they rent weapons and if so do they rent shotguns. Then go a shoot some.
      Before you do any of that, take a lesson on how to handle, shoot, breakdown and clean a shotgun. Then just rent and shoot until you find one you like.
      Since you are a woman, you probably want something light.
      Mossberg 590 is about 7lbs and holds 8 rounds in the tube and 1 in the chamber so that’s 9 rounds. The average home invasion involves 4 criminals so you want as many rounds as possible.
      Benelli doesn’t make a bad weapon of any sort in my opinion. Skip the expensive M4 and get a Nova or Super Nova if you want a Benelli. Both are under $500. But, they only hold 5 rounds. Weight is 7.2lbs.
      I don’t know much about the other guns in the article. Please take some tactical training so you are able to function if a break-in occurs. The stress one of the other replies mentions is real and good tactical training will help prepare you for it. I’d repeat the the training once a month for a year and then repeat once a quarter for the rest of your life.

  12. Home defense take on assumption that an armed military commando unit is attacking, using flash bangs, M4s, NVGs, and red dot scopes. Reslity suggests thst an intruder, armed or not, is probably the run of tge mill street thug, probably ill equipped, poorly trained, and likely very anxious. In an average home, shooting distances will likely not exceeed 25 ft. Confrontation will likely occur at distances even less than that. Worse yet, in an average hallway passage that is less than 4ft wide.. common sense would dictate that small highly maneuverable weapobs with the ability to hit targets regardless of how well aimed. The shotgun immediately comes to mind. Most full length shotguns are too long to eadily maneuver in tight spaces and must be pumped or cocked every time. One could consider a 12 guage coach gun. That is an 18 to 20 inch barrel side by side shotgun. It is highly maneuverable in tight spaces. It packs one hell of a punch, and 2 rounds can be let go at once or selectively shot without a lot of hassle. It really is a point and shoit, from the hip if needed, and there will be a great probability of hitting the target. It is also legal when purchased as a coach gun. Read the histiry of coach guns. It defended stage coaches on the trail beczuse most confrontations are usually up close and personal. Those proficient in handguns deal in different dynamics. Home defense connotes anyone who must defend themselves. That one type of gun fits well more scenarios, for more people, than any other possibility. One could go into ballistic theory and target acquisition methods, and a host of other potential possibilities, but when you reslky think about real homes and real situations, the field of potentisl players narrows quickly.

  13. I don’t see my Ithaca Defense on the list. Bring all those bad boys on…..

  14. A pump shotgun is very reliable. Now a novice shooter may not be reliable. All I can say is go to the range and shoot as much as possible and get to know your gun. A semi automatic shotgun can have many advantages but there is always a chance of a hang up. If you practice alot ,you will find a reliable ammo that will cycle with out fail. I also would like to make a comment that a pump is never faster than a semi automatic.

  15. The 870 is the most reliable shotgun made I don’t always use it when I go hunting but it’s always in the truck because it never fails no matter how dirty it is or how bad I miss treat it

  16. I see no mention of one of the very best, most reliable semi auto home defense shotguns made today, the Beretta 1301 Tactical. Half the price of the Benelli M4. And it’s too bad Remington staunchly refuses to release their “military/LEO only” 18″ R12 to the civilian market, would be a great American-made alternative to the Italians. One can look at Colt to see how well snubbing the civilian market works out in the end.

  17. I am not an expert when it comes to shotguns. I want a home defense weapon that is reliable, 12 gauge is my first choice. I would like info from an expert on home defense shotguns. What is my best choice. Money does not matter. Richard

    • I can’t believe you did not have the Remington 870 Express Tactical 18.5 barrel at the top of your list. I like Mossberg guns myself and have had two shotguns both the 500s. They are a good reliable gun for a great price but the Remington 870 has been proven for years as the best home self defense 12ga shotgun. This gun is a nice weight and handals recoil very well. Accurate and so well built, mine has the wood stock and is beautiful but a solid weapon in disquise. 1 magazine is a 4+1 and the other is a 7+1. For me this is the one intruders don’t want you to have,

  18. I have Remington 870 Marine Magnum 12 gauge. This is a great gun if you live in a humid place like Florida. It is heavy and very well made. It is more expensive than most shotguns in 870 category. It does kick like a mule. It is my home defense shotgun. If you are shooting at intruder from 20-30 feet it will be one hell of an experience for both of you. This gun is loud, so you will be deaf after first shot and your attacker should be deaf and dead. If you are going to shoot a 12 gauge at someone you are sure going to want to kill them. I have read that many people keep their shotguns loaded with safety off and a round in the chamber. If you were walking down a trail in Vietnam that would be OK maybe. Around your house this seems a disaster waiting to happen. With any gun unless you are really in fear of your life keeping guns loaded, round in the chamber with no safety seems crazy. Even in Nam when I was locked and loaded I kept the safety of my M-16 on unless I was believing I was in immediate danger. We had more than one accidental shooting with new guys shooting their own buddies just from nerves or mishaps. Now point man could carry locked and loaded shotgun, but even then a vine or bush could catch in trigger and “Bang”.

  19. Shotguns are not drop safe and while it may not happen, the possibility of an accidental discharge could be disastrous.

  20. My vote is for Remington 870. I know that newer shotguns have rough chamber but that is easy to fix.

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