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The 5 Most Reliable Shotguns For Home Defense

Image source: screen grab (YouTube: hickok45 channel).

Image source: screen grab (YouTube: hickok45 channel).


When looking for a home defense shotgun, the senses can be annihilated by the numerous varieties that are out there.

But what are the best, most reliable ones? Rather than choosing the top five brands or models, we decided to break this down by action-types or how the shotgun works.

For gauges, I generally recommend the 12, 20 and 16 gauges above all else. .410 bore shotguns can be useful, as the recoil is mild and a host of self-defense rounds are offered. In general, I avoid the massive 10 gauge and diminutive 28 gauge — unless you are attacked by a flock of birds — as there are severe limitations on the ammunition types for these two.

1. The pump shotgun

Easy to use and the hallmark of home defense for more than 100 years, the pump shotgun is probably the number one long gun choice for home defense in today’s world. Holding anywhere from 3 to 12 rounds based on configuration, the pump shotgun offers rapid follow up shots and the option of a quick reload.

Chances are that you already have one of these shotguns made by Mossberg, Remington, Winchester, Benelli or one of the myriad of other companies that produces shotguns today.

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The most common examples include the Mossberg 500/590 series, Remington Model 870, Winchester 1300 or Defender, Winchester Model 12, Benelli Nova, Kel-Tec KSG and Maverick 88.

2. The semiautomatic shotgun

Older semiautomatic shotguns may have had their limitations with regard to reloading quickly or reliability, depending on the type of shells used, but modern semiautomatic shotguns have proven themselves to be adequate fight stoppers with the right ammunition.

Follow-up shots are quicker than the pump shotgun, and perceived recoil is only slightly greater as opposed to some of the original models used to protect home and family.

I prefer the Remington 1100 or 1187, or the newer Benelli M1 and M3 versions.

3. The side-by-side shotgun

The 5 Most Reliable Shotguns For Home Defense

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Long before the semi-auto and pump shotguns came into common usage, the side-by-side double barrel put food on the table, quelled more than one riot and protected more homesteads than any of the various revolvers or lever-action carbines that claim to have won the West.

More modern renditions use internal hammers and can be had by European American Armory, Baikal, Remington and a few others that cater to the Cowboy Action Shooting realm.

4. The single shot shotgun

For the shooter on a budget, a single shot shotgun may be a sane alternative. Costing less than $100 in some places, these shotguns are better than a small caliber handgun as your only option for self-defense at times.

A shell carrier mounted to the butt stock provides quick reloads at your fingertips.

The most common single shots on the market today are produced by Iver Johnson, Harrington & Richardson as well as a few store brands made under license by these companies.

5. The lever action shotgun

Not as common in history as we may have been led to believe through the magic of movies, the lever action shotgun debuted as Winchester’s answer to keeping their tradition of fine lever guns going forward. With the originals now holding value as collector’s items, one need only look to the Italian replicas as examples of how costly it was to make these shotguns.

A number of Chinese-made versions are imported, and if you have to have one based on the nostalgia of watching Terminator 2 more than once, they make a great home defense shotgun with a little work.

What’s Missing?

We left out the over/under shotgun, for a number of reasons. Most have barrels that are way too long for maneuverability inside the home, and even a shorter barrel makes it slow to reload, as the action must almost always have to break a sharper angle to remove spent shells than a typical single shot or side-by-side shotgun.

Apart from those limitations, if it is the only firearm you have with which to defend yourself, it beats trying to hold down the fort with a sock full of nickels.


I strongly recommend the shortest barrel you can legally use and the addition of a flash light (for target identification) and a sling (for portability). Some butt stocks will allow the use of shot shell carriers, and others can be mounted to the receiver.

The most important accessory, of course, is ammunition, so you can practice often with your self-defense loads of choice to see how the shotgun patterns and feel its recoil.

What is your shotgun choice for home defense? Share your ideas in the section below:

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  1. First off, stay away from any newer H&R single shot shotguns that have a transfer bar.
    Reason? The bars are made of powdered metal and break, I bought the last Six from GPC and they are now used up.

    Back to defense, MY first preference is a Rem. 870 Wingmaster with the bolt and shell elevator mods.
    This one also has a 20″ tube and two shot extension, GI sling, plus a tritium front sight.
    Second choice is an Ithaca Mod. 37 with 18″ tube, sling and Tritium front sight.
    Both of the above are older guns made in the 1970’s are 12GA and the overall quality is much better than the newer ones.
    They are intended to be used with 00 buck only, if I need slugs, I should have grabbed a rifle.

    The Mossberg line is good to for those on a budget, there are several models set up for home defense.

    The 1187 is less gas sensitive than an 1100 with a shorter tube without opening the gas ports.
    My daughter has a 1187, 20″, seven shot, night sighted, 20 gage loaded with #3 buck.

    • Mahatma Muhjesbude

      Are you THE Ragnar Benson?

      • I am the ME Ragnar Benson, I suppose there are many people with the same name.
        I am known, but perhaps not in the way you think.
        My specialties are guns/gunsmithing and survival/prepping.
        And have been published.
        Not here to promote myself, but to give my opinions for what they are worth.

  2. Why would you leave out the Saiga magazine loading shotgun? I have two of the shotguns you mention in the article, but would dearly trade them both for one Saiga! You think reloading a pump is fast? Not in a combat situation you don’t! You did a big disservice by not mentioning the Saiga and you should send out a “excuse me” ASAP.

  3. I recently bought a Stevens model 320 shotgun combo for 192 dollars including tax I plan on using only 23/4 shot and buckshot and then maybe a few 3 inch but having a 2 barrel for that price I couldn’t pass on it.

  4. Here I thought you might be giving a list for commended shotgun makers. What a waste of an article.

  5. Ok if we are limiting this discussion to home defense what you think of AOW shotguns like the SH KEG12 or Serbu Super Shorty? Yes I know that three rounds sounds lacking but there is something about a short 12ga that gives me a shiver. I have never fired one of these but I would seriously like to.

  6. OMGoodness, single shot shotguns? really ? Only if I don’t have a modern pistol in 38 Spec. or larger. Pump shotguns will require some training as a novice will forget to “pump” between shots. Rem 870 & Mossberg 500’s are decent options if properly modified. Over & under handicapped because it has to break more? It is longer than the same length barrel in a auto or pump – I don’t think so. My O/U receiver is much shorter and the barrel is equipped with ejectors. I don’t have to pick the empties like a single shot ! Not to mention it is lighter and easier to swing if need be..
    Rem 1100, 1187 ? yep I will agree if properly modified like Mahatma suggested..

    I guess I will just stand pat with the old Rem model 11 that I converted in the late 1950’s specifically as a defense weapon. 19 inch barrel including old Polly choke. Custom cartridge tube (8 rounds ), custom sling, cheek piece shell carrier. I do need to up grade to some modern sights though. Granted the Mod 11 has short comings in that I am limited to 2 3/4″ ammo.. Slugs are not an option with the Poly even in Cyl. Bore setting. But if a load of full choke # 6’s or a load of 00 buck in Cyl. bore wont do the job then what I really need is a Claymore !!

    Ron H

    • I made the 1100/1187 comments.
      The Rem Mod 11 and the Browning AUTO 5 are great guns also.
      In my inventory I also have a Win. Mod 12 riot and a Rem Mod 11 20″ extended, no poly.
      I think the author was trying to convey readily available shotguns that are legal in all states.
      The Saiga and Benellis are banned here and in several other states.
      I don’t know what he was thinking on the single shot other than economics.
      At 25 feet there is little between 2-3/3″ and 3″ 00 when hitting someone, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
      SBS’s come with a hefty tax stamp and base price, not what this article is about.
      Also he was referring to the break angle to clear the tubes, the down angle has to be greater on the O/U.
      I modified one O/U to 20″ for a customer, the loss of muzzle weight required a sort of snap to open it all the way for the ejectors to work.
      If the situation is that bad, that a 12 gage with 00 can’t handle it then I will grab a sub gun.

  7. Interesting piece.

  8. I really like the Spas Lawgiver12 I’ve had more than 28 years. It always works and unlike most pump shotguns it doesn’t rattle at all.

  9. Why do you criticize the barrel length on an over-under without even mentioning it for the others? I’ve seen plenty of awkwardly long barrels on all types of shotguns – it’s a common issue, and easily fixed for anyone who knows how to use a hacksaw. (Measure twice, cut once). As for the opening angle, it’s no more of a problem than short-stroking the pump, and is solved the same way – practice until you do it right automatically.

  10. Give me an ol Remington 870 pump action any day!!! Have had the same one for over 25 years……taken many a whitetail deer and when not hunting…..has slug barrel on and loaded with 00 buckshot. Check out Dave Canterbery’s youtube series on the single shot 12 gauge……great info!

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