Most homeowners are already sold on the benefits of a shotgun as a home defense weapon. From urban myths like “Just hearing the sound of a pump shotgun rack will scare him off” to “Hit him with double ought buck and he’ll be hamburger” – there’s more lore than true information on shotguns as home defense weapons.
None of this is to say, however, that shotguns don’t make good defense weapons, because they do – in some cases. It’s important to realize the inherent limitations that a shotgun possesses, why you’d want one as your go-to weapon in some cases, and why, in some cases, a scattergun would be a bad choice. First of all, let’s look at what a shotgun actually is— a smoothbore weapon that fires shell-based ammunition in various gauges ranging from .410 to 10 gauge, barring any exotics. Shotgun shells are center fire and usually box primed, and can contain everything from light birdshot, beanbags, rock salt, buckshot, slugs, flechettes, and more. Nothing beats a shotgun for sheer versatility, and the range of ammunition that can be fired by one is simply unmatched in any other type of weapon.
Shotguns also come in a variety of actions. From the stalwart side-by-side coach gun that is approaching 125 years of service to the over-and-under skeet gun, from the venerable pump action to the military-grade semi-automatic, there are practically as many action types as there are types of ammo.
What all this means to you as a homeowner and self-defense seeker is that there are a slew of bad shotgun designs available to you for self-defense! Simply stating that you have a 12 gauge in your closet for when the zombies arrive is not saying anything at all without a little further detail.
So Which One Is For Me?
Purely from a home defense standpoint, you need a tactical shotgun. Just as grandpa’s scoped deer rifle isn’t a sniper rifle, neither is your goose gun a home-defense shotgun. The first thing you want to look at is the caliber of the weapon. There is simply no other choice for tactical shotguns besides 12 gauge. Before you proffer up anecdotal evidence on how much more powerful a 10 gauge is, consider a few things. First of all, as a pure home-defense weapon, you should be looking for ubiquity of ammunition. You want a caliber that nearly every store stocks from department stores all the way down to mom-and-pop hardware stores. You want a range of loads that are applicable to your intended use. And finally, you want commonality of ammunition with law enforcement and military… just in case. All this points to 12-gauge ammunition.
You’ll find that once you’ve honed in on 12 gauge, there are literally hundreds of weapons to choose from. From here, the next decision you’ll need to make is action type, and with tactical shotguns, there are only two viable action types – pump and semi-auto. Pump action has actually been around for nearly a century, perfected by none other than John Browning himself. Pump is a simple design: the act of pulling back the fore end pushes the bolt open, ejects an empty cartridge and feeds a shell, while pushing the fore end chambers the shell and closes the bolt. Rinse and repeat until empty. The tubular magazine is under the barrel, and these designs hold three to eight rounds, depending on the model.
The beauty of a 12-gauge pump shotgun is its utter reliability, simplicity, and tactical usefulness. Whether it’s a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500, more of these types of shotguns are in use with police departments worldwide than any other shotgun – which should tell you something. There are downsides, however. First of all, a tactical situation demands two things – the ability to rapidly fire, and the ability to rapidly reload. On the former point, a pump shotgun scores about an eight out of ten for rapidity. On the latter reloading issue, it is more like a dismal three out of ten. There are some specific reasons for this. First off, shot shells are reloaded one at a time; but if that was the only problem, you might be okay. Unfortunately, it’s usually where they are reloaded from that is the problem. Shot shells are usually stored in cardboard boxes, bandoliers, or ammo carriers on the actual shotgun, all of which require a degree of dexterity and manipulation that may be next to impossible in a tactical situation. Just something to be aware of.
The next type of shotgun, the semi-automatic, improves upon the pump action system by using gas operation to cycle the bolt and load ammunition from a tubular magazine. Usually holding the same amount of ammunition as the pump, semi autos have rapidly gained favor in military and law enforcement operations for their amazing and devastating rates of fire coupled with their ability to fire single handed if need be. The Benelli M4, a semi automatic shotgun, is now extensively used by the U.S. Marines, among others. They suffer the same reloading disadvantages as pumps, however.
The latest in shotgun design and perhaps the most interesting blend of home-defense features are magazine-fed semi-auto shotguns like the Saiga 12. This design addresses all of the various issues each shotgun type has and melds them all into a powerful combination – semi-automatic speed, legendary AK47 style design and reliability, and magazine-fed shells coalesce to form a formidable home defense weapon that is hard to beat for the price. A Saiga 12 owner with a half dozen magazines could probably hold off a small army!
Why A Shotgun For Home Defense
Home defense in most cases will be a high-speed, high-stress, and unexpected situation. If it wasn’t, you could sit up on the roof with your scoped Remington 700 and just snipe intruders. It won’t happen that way, however. From a home-invasion style multiple-attacker scenario to a simple burglary, you need a weapon that is powerful, reloadable, and versatile. Pistols and rifles can most certainly be adapted for home defense, but a shotgun has several distinct advantages:
1. Fear factor: No one really wants to get hit by one. Even the lowest level of scumbag knows a single bullet hole might be treatable, but a 12-gauge double-ought buck blast is going to leave an ugly injury that will be extremely challenging to treat – assuming survival.
2. Penetration: Lighter shot is great for inside a home where rifle or pistol bullets might over penetrate and be a danger to loved ones in other rooms. Keep in mind that buckshot or slugs can still very much over penetrate, so stay on the lighter end of shot if you are concerned about friendly fire.
3. Lack of precision: Yes, it’s a good thing for home defense in many cases. A shotgun can be point shot, that is to say, shooting without using sights. The shot spread will be sufficient to take out an adult attacker without much or very precise aim.
Shotguns have been go-to weapons for generations, and with some modern improvements, they continue to be front-runners in the choice for a suitable home-defense weapon. They’re economical, easy to use, and don’t require the care and precise maintenance that a high-end rifle or pistol uses. Most importantly, almost anyone in your family can be taught to shoot one easily. Take another look at the old standby!
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