The shotgun approach

The shotgun is to firearms what the Swiss Army Knife is to cutlery, it can be argued. There is a shotgun for the hunter, the trap shooter, the recreational shooter, the law enforcer, the home defender and many other shooters in between. Now, that’s versatility!

But let us set aside the shotgun’s hunting, sporting and law enforcement applications. How viable is it as a home defense tool? This may seem like a silly question since shotguns have long been accepted as the ideal “house gun” in many countries.

Many homeowners sleep soundly with a shotgun at their bedside. (Armscor M30 SAS)


“You don’t have to aim it, just point at the direction of the bad guy then fire! You can’t miss with a shotgun!” This misconception, which is probably being perpetuated by Hollywood, could not be more wrong. Sadly, it may be the primary basis for many novices to select a shotgun to protect the house.

The truth is, a typical 12 gauge 00 buckshot load will likely create no more than a palm sized pattern when fired at a target 7 meters away (typical home engagement distance).  That’s 8 or 9 .32 caliber shots in a spread of no more than six inches across. Factor-in low light, rapid movement, hefty recoil as well as adrenaline induced tremors and you will see how it is quite easy to miss!

The foolish notion that you can’t miss with a shotgun may also be the reason why many novices buy a brand new shotgun then tuck them away in the closet or safe to gather dust and cobwebs. Sufficient training and practice is absolutely needed in effective shotgun operation. Learning to manage the 12 gauge recoil is a feat in itself!

Since the pump action shotgun is by far the most popular, many other issues specific to this usually-reliable design must be understood. These issues include safe loading and unloading as well as clearing of stoppages.

The good news is that practically all of these misconceptions can be cleared-up by getting enough practice!

Where do you live?

In deciding whether or not a shotgun is the right house gun, it is essential to consider the kind of dwelling it will be assigned to protect.

Those living in tightly-packed residential buildings/complexes must consider the type of materials used to construct the walls to determine if over penetration will be a problem. While the individual shot or pellet may have little penetration relative to a single projectile fired from a rifle or pistol, collectively they can tear through tough obstacles. Ricochet is also a possibility even while shotguns are not notorious for this.

Any type of long gun is probably not the best choice for dwellers of confined, heavily populated residential buildings. Maneuvering in tight spaces with an implement that is typically 38 to 40 inches long can be a challenge. But if a shotgun is selected, proper ammunition selection is absolutely essential (more on that later).

A shotgun is probably best employed to defend a spacious enough stand-alone residence with sufficient easement to the street and the next-door neighbor.

Type and Gauge Selection

So, your mind is made up on buying a shotgun? Do you buy one in pump action, semi-auto or break action (double-barrel)?

By far, the pump action remains the most popular type even after being around for more than a century. This type is also generally seen as being easy to operate, very reliable and requires little maintenance.

Numerous manufacturers produce pump action shotguns in the economy price range specifically targeted to the police, private security and civilian markets. Companies such as Remington, Mossberg, Winchester, Norinco, Hatsan and Armscor among others, continue to produce low-cost pump-action shotguns for no-nonsense users.

Recently however, semi-automatic shotguns have been making their presence felt in the defense market. It is interesting to note that self-loaders have the distinct advantage of delivering less felt recoil to the shooter. But such guns often cost three or four times that of the bare bones utility pump action.

Type selection often boils down to how deep your pockets are?

What gauge to buy? Defense shotguns are available in .410, 20 and 12 gauge. Other gauges exist (16 & 10 gauge) but are marketed exclusively to the sporting or collector segment. The 12 gauge is by far the most popular and models in this size abound, often to the exclusion of other gauges.

In the Philippines, buying a shotgun in anything other than 12 gauge may be difficult as many guns stores do not carry models or ammunition in the smaller gauges. Other gauges are available from select sellers at a premium.

Again, it is often an issue of cost.

Choice of Ammunition

…for different folks! (l-r) 12 gauge non-lethal (rubber balls), no. 4 birdshot, no. 4 buckshot, 00 buckshot, single slug

The shotgun’s versatility is best seen in the variety of ammunition (shells) it can reliably ingest.

Let us first assume that like about 95% of defensive shotgun operators, you have selected a 12 gauge pump action.

00 buckshot. This is the gold standard of shotgun defensive ammunition. 8 or 9 pellets (approximately .32 caliber) is commonly encased in a shell 2 ¾ inches in length. Full power defensive loads of this type are manufactured by virtually all major ammunition manufacturers.

Recently, companies such as Federal and Remington have begun producing low recoil versions of this classic load for smaller statured and novice shooters who require a viable 12 gauge defensive load. It must be noted that these lower pressured loads seldom function reliably in semi-auto shotguns and so are limited for use in pump actions and break actions.

Slug (single slug). Originally designed for deer hunting, the slug has become the preferred shotgun load for policemen patrolling densely populated urban areas. This single .70 caliber projectile is aimed and fired much like a traditional rifle. Slugs also double or triple the accepted effective range of a shotgun (beyond 50 meters). They may, however, be over penetrative in the home defense scenario.

Birdshots & smaller buckshots. These shotgun loads are possibly the most ideal for home defense applications. Smaller pellets generally penetrate less and lose their energy faster that their larger counterparts. They therefore solve over penetration issues while still being effective man-stoppers at close quarters.

Less lethal (non-lethal, rubber bullets). Less lethal loads are now available for applications that do not require the use of deadly force. Such loads may just be the perfect “first option” for the home defender. Shotgun loads of this type are usually loaded with rubber balls, dowels or compacted trash bin bags. They are now called less-lethal instead of non-lethal because at very close range, they have been found to cause serious internal injuries. Not to be treated as toys!!

In conclusion

Shotguns lend themselves well for many home defense applications, if the user takes the time to practice and get familiar with his/her weapon. But they must learn to select the proper ammunition because the most readily available loads (cheapest) may not be the best for indoor use. What really makes the shotgun more attractive is that it gives the home defender a less lethal option. –MCG

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