When considering home defense, it’s clear that firearms are an effective choice. In the event of a home invasion, having a powerful tool readily available is essential, and firearms certainly fulfill that requirement. However, the long-standing debate about which type of firearm is best for home defense persists: Should you opt for a shotgun or a handgun?
In our view, both options have their merits, and the choice ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you lean toward shotguns, continue reading to determine which one suits your requirements best. If you’re a handgun enthusiast, explore this article, as it might just shift your perspective!
Why home defense shotguns?
True to their name, these long firearms are specifically crafted for firing “shot” instead of a solitary projectile. Shot ammunition is available in various sizes, encompassing small target loads and birdshot, and larger options like buckshot, which matches the diameter of defensive pistol rounds.
Much like rifles, shotguns provide four points of contact, making it more manageable to hit your target compared to a pistol. However, in close quarters, they present the same disadvantages as rifles.
Bore and gauge
Shotgun bore size is expressed in “gauge,” which differs from the caliber system used for pistols and rifles. In this context, the smaller the gauge, the larger the bore diameter. Typically, a larger bore translates to the use of more potent rounds in the shotgun.
Nevertheless, due to the extensive range of available shotgun loads, it’s entirely possible to discover 20-gauge loads that surpass the power of certain 12-gauge loads. This unique characteristic is just one of the many aspects that set shotguns apart as a distinctive category within the realm of firearms.
Ammunition for home defense shotguns
I’ve dissected the key ammunition choices for home defense shotguns, allowing you to determine the one that suits your needs best. Besides considering the pellet size and powder load of each shell, it’s worth noting that shell length can also vary significantly.
As a general rule, longer shells contain a more potent charge and accommodate more pellets. Additionally, your shotgun’s barrel specification will indicate the permissible shell lengths it can accommodate.
Birdshot is exceptionally lightweight, resulting in limited penetration capabilities upon impact. Beyond a short distance from the shotgun’s muzzle, birdshot rapidly disperses and loses its kinetic energy. Consequently, birdshot is generally not recommended for defensive purposes, although it does offer some unique advantages.
Primarily, individuals who opt for birdshot in their home defense shotguns often do so out of concern for over-penetration, where fired rounds might pass through an intruder or a wall, posing risks to others. Birdshot does indeed reduce this risk, albeit not entirely eliminating it.
It’s worth noting that using birdshot can still have a psychological impact on a threat, and at very close ranges, it can inflict lethal wounds. Given the typical engagement distances in home defense scenarios, birdshot can be considered a viable option, though not necessarily the optimal one. In planning your defensive strategy, remember to consider likely shooting angles and establish reasonable barriers or clear paths to minimize the potential for over-penetration.
The heavier birdshot loads are going to give you more penetration into your threat than their lighter cousins. There will be fewer pellets for any given weight of load, but each pellet will have more momentum to push deeper. Otherwise, these rounds are very similar to the above. Naturally, as the pellets get larger and heavier, you increase the issue of posing a threat to someone beyond your threat or intermediate walls/doors.
In this section, you will find very heavy and powerful magnum turkey loads for both 12- and 20-gauge shotguns. These loads will generally offer dense patterns and higher velocities, which mean significant energy delivered to your threat at close range with relatively light individual projectiles. If you chose to use birdshot, these are the types of shells I recommend.
Small pellet buck
These pellets fall in the category of intermediate momentum options suitable for home defense shotguns. In comparison to the larger buckshot loads, you’ll find a relatively higher pellet count, providing a slightly broader margin for controlling deviations (resulting in a wider pattern, assuming all other factors remain constant).
Typically, No. 4 buckshot is a widely favored choice for home defense. However, I’ve observed that they carry a notably heightened risk of causing injury to individuals located on the opposite side of a standard interior home wall.
Large pellet buck
These are the typical shotgun hunting rounds for deer, aptly named for their common use, and they also serve as excellent choices for defensive purposes in shotguns. Law enforcement and military shotguns traditionally rely on loads from this category. “Double Ought” (00) buckshot, which is most frequently encountered in nine-pellet loads within 12-gauge shells, stands out as the overwhelmingly popular size. The energy behind these pellets can vary significantly across different loads, ranging from low-recoil options to high-powered magnum loads.
These hefty buckshot pellets share a comparable diameter with handgun rounds, and while they are lighter, they present a similar risk of causing harm to individuals on the opposite side of standard home interior walls. This section of shotgun ammunition is where you’ll discover the broadest array of specialty loads crafted specifically for defensive purposes.
Slug loads, typically measured by the weight of the slug (with one ounce of lead being the most common in 12-gauge), stand out as remarkably potent options for defensive firearm purposes. In fact, they often rank as the most formidable individual rounds considered for home defense or for use by law enforcement patrol officers. Remarkably, at close quarters, slugs deliver more energy than most large game hunting rifles. Essentially, slugs transform your shotgun into a potent, albeit low-capacity, short-range rifle.
However, some individuals express concerns about 12-gauge slugs being too powerful for home defense, as even if the slug hits the intended target, it may still pose risks to others. To address this issue, Winchester Ammunition has devised a solution by introducing a pre-segmented slug round designed specifically for home defense as part of its PDX1 Defender line of ammunition. This solid slug is engineered to expand and rapidly break into three lighter segments, each offering a significant surface area while possessing far less momentum than the intact slug.
Having conducted numerous tests with this particular round in ballistic gelatin, I can confidently affirm that it performs as intended, with a minimal likelihood of over-penetrating the intended target.
Although the 12-gauge remains the most popular choice for home defense shotguns, I have become a proponent of the 20-gauge alternative. Twenty-gauge shotguns are notably lighter and enable quicker shooting than their bulkier counterparts. With a 20-gauge, you can deliver more stopping power to an assailant than you can with a handgun.
On the other hand, the .410-gauge shotgun (oddly measured in inches) is even lighter and offers reduced recoil. However, it typically doesn’t serve as a practical option for home defense. If you decide to go with a gauge other than 12, you’ll encounter fewer ammunition choices designed explicitly for defensive purposes.
Nonetheless, I anticipate that the industry will expand these options, particularly for the 20-gauge. Much like the growing realization that modern ammunition makes the 9mm a superior choice to larger handgun calibers for self-defense, I believe more individuals are recognizing the potential advantages of the 20-gauge option.
In addition to considering bore size, shot type, and gauge, the shotgun’s choke plays a crucial role in determining its effectiveness. Chokes alter the inner diameter of the shotgun barrel’s muzzle, which directly influences the spread of pellets in a shot load. A tighter choke results in a narrower pattern.
It’s essential to recognize that at close quarters, such as within a bedroom, all patterns tend to be relatively compact. Typically, only the most open bore, referred to as “cylinder,” along with the shortest barrel (typically around 18 inches) and the smallest pellet loads, will yield patterns significantly larger than the size of a human torso at typical home defense distances. In the context of home defense, a medium choke, often labeled as “modified” or “improved cylinder,” is traditionally favored.
What’s most noteworthy in your selection of the optimal combination for your home defense shotgun is that altering chokes, or even changing to a barrel with a different choke, is generally a cost-effective option for standard shotguns. This flexibility allows you to fine-tune your pattern to meet your preferences at the anticipated home defense shooting distances, whether you desire a tighter or looser spread.
The primary question in selecting a home defense shotgun revolves around the choice of action type. There are three available options, and I will discuss each one.
Pump shotguns share similarities with lever-action rifles in that they require a manual action after each shot, a skill that can be honed with practice for quick operation. Much like lever-action rifles, pump shotguns store their ammunition in a relatively modest tube under the barrel, typically accommodating three to nine shells. These shotguns are renowned for their reliability, but it’s crucial to vigorously and fully cycle the pump through its range of motion to maintain this reliability.
Pump shotguns are versatile, accepting a broad range of shell types, from lightweight loads to the heaviest. However, they generate substantial recoil energy for the shooter in comparison to semi-automatic shotguns, as none of the energy is absorbed by the firearm’s operation. Consequently, pump shotguns stand as the most prevalent choice for home defense.
It’s worth noting that the notion of deterring intruders with the noise of racking the pump on a shotgun is largely a myth. It’s essential not to heed advice such as that given by President Joe Biden, which suggests firing a load of shotgun pellets into the air to dissuade an attacker. Relying on a firearm to scare someone away is unreliable, and discharging rounds into the air poses a grave risk to individuals in the vicinity where the pellets might land.
Semi-automatic shotguns, much like handguns and rifles of their kind, can fire multiple shots with a simple trigger reset and press. However, when it comes to reliability, semi-automatic shotguns tend to be less dependable than the typical semi-automatic home defense rifle, primarily due to their sensitivity to ammunition selection. Without the appropriate combination of power and weight, semi-automatic shotguns may experience cycling issues.
Furthermore, certain home defense shotguns, depending on their operating system, demand a high level of stability from the shooter to perform optimally. This requirement may not always align with the dynamics of a defensive shooting situation.
If you opt for a semi-automatic shotgun for home defense, I strongly recommend conducting thorough testing with the specific ammunition you intend to use. While semi-automatic shotguns have improved in reliability over time, they don’t stand as my foremost recommendation for this purpose.
Although some may view the double-barrel shotgun as a relic of the past, it merits consideration as a home defense firearm. While its capacity is limited (requiring a reload after two shots, one per barrel), the loaded shells are exceptionally potent, easy to aim at your target, and can be fired rapidly from a highly reliable weapon. These advantages carry significant weight.
Double-barrel shotguns are available in either side-by-side or over-under configurations. For home defense, the choice between these two configurations doesn’t make a substantial difference in my view. Some double-barrel shotguns feature two triggers, one for each barrel, while others employ a single trigger that operates both barrels sequentially with alternating pulls. I personally favor the latter type for its ease of operation.
Thanks to a resurgence in popularity driven by the success of “cowboy action shooting” competitions, some manufacturers now offer double-barrel shotguns designed specifically for home defense. As demonstrated by these competitors, with practice, you can acquire the skills needed to reload a double-barrel shotgun rapidly.
In the process of selecting the ideal shotgun for home defense, it’s imperative to consider both the type of ammunition that best suits your needs and the shotgun model that aligns with your preferences. This decision is a crucial step towards ensuring your safety and providing you with peace of mind, allowing you to rest with the confidence of someone who knows they are well-prepared and protected in their home.
By carefully weighing your options and tailoring your choice to your specific requirements, you can enhance the security and comfort of your living space, ultimately enjoying a greater sense of security as you rest easy.