Firearms

Best Defensive Shotguns for Older Shooters

When it comes to home defense, the best firearm for most shooters is a shotgun. A handgun is for concealed carry and as a weapon of opportunity to stop an unexpected attack. A rifle is for long-range work.

While either may be used successfully for home defense, the shotgun has the advantage in this scenario. A shotgun handles largely by feel, and points well. The shotgun offers a spread of shot that increases the user’s chances of making a hit in the dark.

While it is true that a shotgun must be aimed carefully at short range, the spread is an advantage in some instances. The problem with a shotgun is recoil. The shotgun kicks and kicks a lot, largely due to the weight of its payload.

An ounce of shot produces quite a bit of recoil. The 12-gauge shotgun has a large payload and a large kick as well. A reasonable alternative for home defense is a 20-gauge shotgun.

The 20 gauge may not be as powerful as the 12 gauge, but it will cut a bloody rathole in man or beast, and stop a deadly attack. The 20 gauge offers about three-quarters of the wound potential of the 12-gauge shotgun.

Recoil is also about three-quarters of the 12 gauge, at least in similar size defensive shotguns. Let’s talk about the shotgun and also about load selection.

Remington V3 Tactical Shotgun
The Remington V3 Tactical is among the better choices in a tactical shotgun.

Why a Shotgun?

The question might well be, “Why any firearm?” Every day there is a headline of some deadly incident that could have been stopped with a shotgun. Home invasions and animal attacks are common in this dangerous world.

The shotgun is formidable protection for prepared individuals. Everyone cannot afford a tactical rifle or even need one. The shotgun is far better suited to home defense than a handgun.

However, there are those that cannot handle the hard recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun. Old and infirm are not always taglines, some older people are tough old birds. Some younger people are short-statured or have a physical impediment.

A 120-pound female has physics against her when trying to master the shotgun. Yet they have a real need for personal protection. The 20 gauge offers a strong choice for most shooters.

The 20-gauge buckshot load that is standard is #3 buckshot, which has 20 buckshot balls in the shell. This is a strong loading for use across the hallway or for close-range protection in a campsite.

The 20 gauge is generally regarded as having 75 percent of the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun. By the same math, the payload is also about three quarters that of the 12-gauge shotgun.

While the .410 bore shotgun with buckshot has good penetration, the load is so much lighter I would recommend the .410 only as a last resort for more severely limited individuals.

20-gauge shotgun shell cutaway
Winchester’s #3 buckshot load is a top choice in 20 gauge.

Which Shotgun?

An affordable shotgun is good to have. The pump-action shotgun is simple enough to operate. Load the shells into the magazine.

The action is released by a lever that is usually set near the trigger guard, either in front of the trigger guard or behind the trigger guard depending on the firearm. Then rack the pump action.

This loads a shell into the chamber. The action is locked at this point. Any time the action is cocked and locked, the trigger must be pressed to fire and unlock the action (or use the lever to unlock the bolt).

After firing, the action is unlocked and another shell is pumped into the chamber. After firing, if needed, another shell may be quickly loaded into the magazine, topping the action off with a full load, something that isn’t possible with firearms using a detachable magazine.

Loading pump-action shotgun
Loading the pump-action shotgun isn’t difficult, but demands practice.

The pump-action shotgun then makes the most sense for most shooters. A single-shot shotgun hits just as hard, true, but a single shot is cutting it close in a defensive encounter.

There is nothing wrong with a quality self-loading shotgun, but they are expensive. The operating procedure can be tricky. I think an older shooter who is tiring of 12-gauge recoil and uses a 12-gauge automatic and wishes to move to a 20-gauge automatic would be fine.

A new shooter needing a shotgun would be better served with the pump-action shotgun. I think one of the best values on the market is the H&R Pardner line of defensive shotguns.

Simple, affordable and reliable, they have given great service for many shooters on a budget. They are available in sporting and tactical types. If you desire one of the new breeds of short pistol-grip defensive shotguns, the Charles Daly Honcho version is a viable option.

Practice is needed for this shotgun, but in 20-gauge, the Honcho offers a viable option. The pump-action 20 gauge, Winchester buckshot, and the H&R line of defensive shotguns are good choices.

Remington, Mossberg and perhaps a few others offer viable choices as well.

Shotgun Buttstock
Whichever shotgun you choose, be certain that you choose a model with a credible recoil pad.

Other Options for Older Shooters

Whichever shotgun you choose, it should feature a generous rubber recoil pad. The ones with a space in the pad that allows the soft rubber to give a bit under the force of recoil are good options.

Another option on more expensive defensive shotguns is a Magpul-type stock. These stocks help control recoil. As an example, if you have deployed a standard riot-type shotgun with an 18 to 20-inch barrel and the old straight stock, you have been kicked around quite a bit.

Going to a heavier modern Remington 870 with a Magpul stock and a positive muzzle brake may be all of the relief you need, and you may retain the 12-gauge shotgun. With reduced recoil buckshot, it isn’t as great a bear to handle when a heavier shotgun is used.

Another option I find is a lifesaver for my use is the Remington V3 Tactical. I replaced my long-serving 870 with this shotgun. The automatic action absorbs much of the recoil of the 12 gauge, and this makes for a much more comfortable shotgun — and a more efficient tactical shotgun.

If you need just a little break from recoil, depending on the shooter, these are fine options. The V3 Tactical is equipped with XS sights from the factory.

Don’t forget to consider XS tritium front sights for your shotgun, but be certain to check coverage for the individual shotgun before you buy.

These sights are a great aid to anyone interested in personal defense and especially aging shooters.

XS Sights Defensive Shotguns
The XS front sight is a good addition to a fighting shotgun.

What defensive shotguns do you prefer? Do you think age matters? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (36)

  1. Turning 70 this summer, and still shooting Cowboy Action, but I was able to purchase a Remington V3-Tac13. Shooting from the hip tames a lot of recoil (as long as you don’t allow the pistol grip too close to your body…
    Aiming is critical though, even in home defense distances. Solution was a nice green laser, that fit nicely onto the front rail. No question now as to what the slug or buck is pointed at. Plus the laser allows a carefully unloaded gun to be used for drills and trains the eye and arms in pointing the short gun…
    I agree with another comment – pattern research (especially with short barrels and maybe also with 410s and the Judge would be helpful!!

  2. Shotgun for old folks as home protection unit

    I would like to tell you about Cowboy Action Shooting. Many Members are in their 60s and some to late their 80s, old folks men and women. We have Buckeroos (kids) and small frame folks too. The sport requires 3 guns; 2 single six pistols, a rifle of the same pistol caliber, a Coach Gun (We call it a Dbl. Barrel) or a Pump Gun. 12ga. or 20ga. shooters choice. 12ga. Dbls. seem the most popular where I’m from. Single and double triggers provide fast action shooting. To see the shooting in action and the recoil go to the SASS web site or U-tube Colorado Cowboys, Google Cowboy Action shooting. Some of us Old folks can shoot.

    On the range a bunch of us use Win. 2 ¾ AA, 980s, 8s or 7 ½s that all equals less recoil. It also has less penetration thru walls to help with family safety and collateral damage issues inside and outside of the home. There is Rubber ammo available.(?) I’m 71yrs old and have had both shoulders replaced. I can fire 24 rounds (+or-) at each match with no regrets. I have a good quality kick pad and a Mercury Tube, it adds weight, but I like the 12ga. Dbl. just fine. It is also my inside home protection unit. At my age, medical issues, and physical fitness level I will not go out side. We defend in place. Our competition shooting range distances for shotguns are from 5-7yds. (+or-) that might equal your room dimensions at your home, or maybe close enough. Test the ammo for pattern size at your average room dimensions and test the penetration of wall thickness on your range with mock ups. Then you can decide about shells, loads, and shot size.

    In some jurisdictions the weapons involved in shootings are taken as evidence and getting them back can be difficult, if even possible. In my mind it is better to loose the less expensive dbl. barrel as compared to a custom quality gun or a family heirloom. Dbl. barrels are known as very reliable shooters and any Gun Smith that works on CB guns can help with the opening and closing tightness and the gun will still be safe. I’m told that looking down the business end of a 12ga. Dbl. Barrel can be over whelming.

    Lastly, but most important is get everybody professionally trained for this threat. The whole family must be trained on drills concerning home invasion. Practicing them is critical for family safety. As a minimum maybe try: Roll out of bed on the floor, stay down and be quite, stay there till told different by an adult. Moms low crawl when you move. I’m sure you will adjust the drills to your familie’s needs. Thank You.

    Protect the Innocent,

  3. At 62 my wife uses a Rossi tuffy .410 stoked with Winchester PDX as a back up to her 9mm Shield…I use a Mossberg Shockwave in 20ga on duty as my CQB and at home as House Sweeper…4rd side-saddle with heavy turkey load, buck in the tube and a light kit

  4. Having severe myopia is another issue for some older shooters, including me, The elongation of the eyeball can cause the retina’s margins (connection to the back of the eye) to be stretched.

    In my case, my ophthalmologist asked if I was a shooter and then told me that I should not shoot heavy recoiling, shouldered weapons, especially 12 gauge shotguns.

    I did buy a 20 gauge pump. With slugs it still provides a stout recoil, but buckshot is better.

  5. I bought a Wilson Combat pump action shotgun in 12ga. 20 years ago, capacity 6 + 1. Now I’m 66 and the recoil is getting harder to handle. I bought a Taurus Judge Revolver in .410 ga. as a snake/turtle gun when I’m fishing. When home I load The Judge with .410 slugs. What is your opinion on the 4” barrel Judge as a defense option? What about loaded with birdshot?

  6. The shotgun as home defense is something I have long believed in, new houses are crackerjack boxes and bullets can go thru several of them – never thought about #3 buckshot great idea, At 70 still shooting an old single shot 12 gauge

  7. I inherited a nice 12ga pump from my Grandpa.
    It’s from Montgomery Wards.
    My Grandma bought it for him as an anniversary
    gift one year.
    I know that he brought down many Deer with it.
    Anyway, after doing some research, I’ve decided
    that I want a V-80 12ga shotgun.
    They use a clip up to 20 rounds and load just like
    a semi auto rifle.
    Pop in the clip, pull back the bolt to charge, and you
    have up to 20 rounds, all you need to do is pull the trigger…!

  8. Your lead photo looks like a Mossberg 570 Shockwave. The advantage to this very short firearm is easy maneouverablility in indoor situations. Yes, it’s a 12GA, but the unique parrot-head grip is surprisingly easy to use, if fired at waist-height, as designed.

  9. In my safe are 8 shotguns (5 pump, 2 self loading and a 20 ga break open single shot). I have .410, 20 and 12 gauge guns. My go to choice for home, travel and camping is a black Mossberg 500 20 gauge. Menacing sound when the action is cycled and as reliable as the worlds most expensive European double. It’s my choice over my revolvers and pistols and centerfire rifles. If I couldn’t have my Mossberg 500, I’ll grab my Marlin .357 saddle carbine.

  10. It’s worth mentioning that shotguns can often be considerably cheaper than rifles.
    I’m concerned about new shooters remembering under stress to work the pump, so I teach newbies with a pump-action .22, for many reps of the motion without beating them up with recoil.
    A couple of small people I know have benefited from a bag of lead shot duck-taped to the stock, as a recoil damper. Handles weird, but they’re not shooting clays.

  11. I bought a Mossberg Shockwave a few months after they came out. I have done two things to it that have greatly increased my comfort and accuracy in shooting the Shockwave as a defensive shotgun. The first thing I did was put some Talon grips on the birds head. I learned that if your grip hand gets the least bit sweaty your hand wants to slip on the smooth birds head grip. That solved that problem. The next thing I did was to put a Crimson Trace Green Laser Saddle on it. Because of how you have to hold it for accuracy and to keep from knocking some teeth out from holding it to close to your face, the Laser Saddle fixed that problem. I use Federal Personal Defense 00 buckshot with FLITECONTROL for my self defense ammunition and at 73 years old I feel very confident to handle this weapon in a self defense situation.I

  12. I’m a very fit 66 year old. My wife got me a Mossberg 590M Shockwave for Christmas and I love it. It resides in a rack on the side of my bed with a mounted light and a full 10 round load of 00 buck. Excellent gun.

  13. A viable alternative is the Taurus Public defender revolver which can be loaded with 410 shells. VERY EFFECTIVE snake gun, should work for two legged snakes also. Especially if you use combo of 410 and 45 carbine.

  14. Do a search for “Blackhawk Recoil Reducing Shotgun Stock” – they make versions for the Remington 870 and versions for the Mossberg 500 pump shotguns. I prefer the version that looks more like a factory stock on my Mossberg 500 with an 18.5 security barrel, and not the ones that look kind of like AR-15 stocks, but your mileage may vary. The Blackhawk stock that looks more like a factory stock with a fat shoulder end on it just plain works much better for me, but I recognize that this may be subjective and others may feel differently and may prefer the AR-15 clones.

    Here is my theory on why some people complain about how they get a “face slap” or “cheek slap” when using these recoil reducing stocks: Whatever “Blackhawk recoil reducing stock” version you buy, it will of course have a very strong *STIFF* spring built into the stock, that is designed to compress and absorb some of that massive 12 gauge recoil that you will get when firing full power slugs or full power 00 buckshot loads. THAT is what these stocks are designed for, after all. BUT, since repeatedly firing lots of full power loads at the range can be seriously unkind to your shoulder, at least some people will elect to use lighter kicking birdshot rounds for “practice purposes” (like perhaps #7.5 or #8 birdshot loads, which are for birds and perhaps very small animals, NOT for self-defense ((unless you fear you may find yourself trapped in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 “The Birds” movie!)). AND THEN, since these rounds don’t kick nearly as much as the full power slugs or full power 00 buckshot loads, you get a weird situation where the shotgun only kicks hard enough to partially compress that recoil reducing stock spring a little bit, but NOT enough to break your “cheek weld” to the stock. So that stock spring then *SNAPS* back to full extension and you feel a definite kind of “slap” to your face as the stock snaps back to full length. Ouch! After this happens perhaps a dozen times or more, you may decide you do not like that stock anymore as your face starts getting sore. That is the dreaded “face slapping” phenomena as best as I can describe it here. 🙂

    The solution, of course, is simply to remember that the recoil reducing stock spring was designed to help absorb FULL POWER LOADS, _not_ the relatively light kicking birdshot loads. So only use a recoil reducing stock on a home defense / duty shotgun, and then only practice with the same kind of full power slugs or full power 00 buckshot that you intend to use for home / self defense. Problem solved! (Save the birdshot loads for your hunting shotgun! 🙂

    With all of that said, I like Federal’s 132-00 “reduced recoil”, 9 pellet 00 buckshot loads, with an advertised muzzle velocity of 1145 fps instead of the more typical 1325 fps. The “FliteControl” wad does a very good job of achieving nice tight “full choke” patterns with my 18.5″ inch “cylinder bore” (no choke) barrel, and so I figure all of the reasons that make these Federal 132-00’s good for city police use in crowded urban conditions (you are responsible for every projectile that goes downrange), also makes them good for my home defense purposes. But again, and as always, YMMV. Just food for thought.

  15. I have taken several defensive shotgun classes. By no means am I an “expert” or whatever. I’m still learning as I go.

    The spread of shot is simply not so great as many people assume. This article acknowledges that shotguns have to be aimed in order to get the necessary hit or hits, but then recycles the canard about the spread of shot. 5 to 7 yards within the interior space of a home? Not much spread.

    Shotguns are LOUD. So loud, that you just might stun yourself with a “flash bang” disorientation when you touch one off in a confined space.

    The biggest reason to use a shotgun is because it essentially negates the stopping power debates. It used to be that police took shotguns to immediately expected pistol fights. Shotguns require two hands to properly wield, although in a defensive class you can try your hand at reloading and firing one handed. Shotguns used to be used by the police because the 1910s through the 1960s suggested strongly that buckshot is a fight stopper. We are all legally liable for every projectile that leaves the muzzle, which is why the FBI was literally using only slug shells in 12-ga. 870s before the use of shotguns essentially disappeared or went by the wayside. Pattern the shotgun at defensive ranges with the intended load.

    Have a defensive plan and a role for the firearm within that plan. Having just a firearm is no substitute for having a plan. Make sure the shotgun–or other weapon chosen–fits the intended user. Most shotguns have stocks that are too long for a range of potential authorized users. It is often a good idea to have a light. A pistol caliber carbine might work for some folks, a lever action, a self-loader, etc. A shotgun may be suitable to some defensive plans. A handgun or rifle might be called for in another scenario or setting. Have a plan, get some training, and be willing to use it if there is no other way.

  16. If you hold back on the shotgun’s slide rack forearm as you fire and IMMEDIATELY RACK THE SLIDE as we do in the U.S. MILITARY felt recoil is ZERO. Go to YOUTUBE and watch videos of this.

  17. After Twenty five years in Law Enforcement there is one additional benefit of a pump shotgun over others. The racking of that action is a universal language I’ve seen bad guys lay down and give up without having to fire a shot. That simple escalation of force had deescalated many situations with lots of choices in ammunition the shotgun is very adaptable from heavy shot loads preventing over penetration in homes to slugs for barrier penetration it can be adapted to your changing situation. Great article

  18. Tac 14 is a good gun.. Inexpensive.. $300.. 12ga Just shoot something like 2 3/4″ in Double OO Buck.. a proven round… Use whatever light rounds you can find to familiarize yourself with it’s handling .. Run some OO Buck thru it to drill down how the recoil will affect your shooting.

    I carried an 1100 in the service overseas long ago…I was fortunate enough to have made the acquaintance of a fellow named Dave Mazy a fine fellow and fine Smith.. (Last time I saw him I was dealing with drunk ) He was in the process of producing a number of them for the LAPD at the time and was kind enough to toss mine in the pile.. 21 in full length tube…Parkerized Super reliable gun… Very little kick with heavy loads.. Beat to crap, looks like heck but still runs fine.

    I will eventually pickup a TAC13, box magazine with the Brace. Less recoil .. quicker..

    But the Tac14 goes with me everywhere certainly very nice for a house gun.. and it means I am not stuck with my poor under powered ancient, slow fat limited capacity Colt 1911 45acp.. (Smile)

    I think 12 or 20 is a matter of preference.. 12 still works for me.. Now I would like a 10 or an 8.. Maybe a 4…can i get a 4? lol

  19. When my wife was living by herself on our rural property, I bought her a Mossberg 500 12GA. Fortunately, she didn’t have to use it, but the first week I joined her during my terminal leave from the USAF, I had to use it to kill a 4 foot long rattlesnake!

    I later bought a Mossberg 500E .410 for her.

  20. I will turn 78 next month. My 12 gauge Mossberg Shockwave with the ported barrel kit and arm support from Midway isn’t too difficult to handle, shooting 2.75 inch buckshot. Everyone is different; obviously someone in a wheelchair or with other disability might be better served with a 20 or even a 410. But 12 gauge works for me.

  21. Take time to review the many various options
    for .410 ammo, including the Brenneke type rifled slug.
    There are some .410 loads that can be devastating at
    the close ranges of an apartment, duplex, or small
    home–and it is an easy gun for just about anyone to handle.

  22. I have found the 590 shockwave is by far the best truck/ home defence weapon. However still 12 gauge is best utilizing the mini shells both in #4 buck & slugs. On both of ours we have Crimson Trace saddle lasers for sighting & weapon lights. A little expensive but it’s worth your life!

  23. @grumpy49, I am assisting my parents (age 72 and 73) in landing on a home defense firearm.

    I am looking closely at the .410 Rossi Circuit Judge, which is like a revolver shotgun carbine. It has a 5 round capacity, double action/ semi-auto, and the “tactical” model features a bit of picatinny on the underside of the forend, along with a synthetic stock with a compartment to hold 5 more rounds.

    The company also makes a wood stock version that is prettier and more classic, but I appreciate the bit of rail more. I envision a light/laser combo with a pressure switch. Maybe a red dot on top, although it comes with fiber optic sights I think.

    Thee are somewhat hard to find but possible, around $650-$700. Good luck!

  24. I would think long and hard about using buckshot inside the house. Over penetration can be dangerous to innocent bystanders. check out what a skeet load can do with in the range of an average size room. My living room is 18 x 12 feet which is 6 x 4 yards.

  25. I am retired NYC Highway Patrol. Carried a Ithaca Model 37 for years. I have seen with my own eyes a 12 Gauge shotgun with 00 Buck go through a car door and take out bad guys on the sidewalk 20 feet away with no problem A shotgun is an “outstanding” defense weapon. Get one, get familiar with it, and practice. There are uncertain times ahead. God Bless America!

  26. An advantage of the Mossberg 500 is that the loading gate is open. Rounds can be loaded into the magazine tube whether the gun is cocked or not.
    The new short (1-3/4″) 12 GA shotgun shells may be an advantage for home defense and recoil-shy shooters. So far, they are mostly out-of-stock. An article on these would be appreciated.

  27. I am purchasing a shotgun for my mother in law that lives in a cabin alone. Bears and intruders are her only concern. One simple thing to consider, especially for smaller framed people is a youth shotgun. Smaller gauges, shorter barrels and shorter stocks with little modifications may work for lots of people

  28. I bought a used Rem 1100, 12 ga, and am in process of converting to tactical accessories. Magpul type stock, Harris tactical forend, saddle type shell carrier and rail. If it had been a 20 ga I’d be doing same thing. Looking forward to finish line and the range.

  29. i did the same as another reader….I bought the Stoeger Supreme Coach 20 gauge double barrel shotgun…it can be shot from the hip.. has a 20 inch long barrel for good maneuverability in the house…and is quiet (a pump action could signal your location to an intruder)…overall, a very nice shotgun for the money

  30. 12 ga reduced recoil or Federal flight control could be an option. Target loads at close range is a cone of lead that should alter someone’s intensions. 20ga will do the job also it just has less options and can be hard to find

  31. I followed your line of thinking and a month ago I bought a Stoeger Supreme Coach double barrel 20ga shotgun. I’m 65. Recoil was an issue. At a distance of 10 yards ANY load from target to buckshot will do nicely. The #3buckshot will penetrate walls and the shooter is held responsible for each shot so think about that load!

  32. Sir,

    Adaptive Tactical is just one that offers such a forend.
    A few shotguns come factory with this set up.

  33. With the development of the .410 handgun ammo, appears that a good .410, at home defense ranges, (3 – 7 yards), would work well. Mossberg had a .410 pump with a “spreader barrel” and a forearm with a built in light in their catalog, but never saw or even heard of any dealer being able to get one. I even tried to order either that barrel or forearm from Mossberg directly, but neither item was available. “Not a catalog item”.

    Just having a forearm with the ability to mount either a light or laser downsized to a .410 would be be an option I would purchase now.

Leave a Reply to Moe Badd Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.