AR-15s

Defending the Castle — Home Defense Shotguns, ARs, and PCCs

A lever-action rifle and shotgun on a Welcome mat

Your home is your castle, and you should have a good defense. We probably won’t figure in a moat, but a security system and good lights are an advantage. The single most important consideration is a plan. Have training, be proficient with your chosen firearm, and practice maneuvers in the home (with an unloaded firearm).

I hope you take this to heart. Human beings have a lot of faith in the human race, until actually exposed to humans. The exigencies of survival demand we be prepared, and this means becoming comfortable with your weapons of violence.

cutaway graphic of a shotshell
Wound potential with buckshot loads is unequaled by other shoulder-fired weapons.

Collectors venerate their machines and sportsmen never think twice that their sporting guns could be used to combat violence. When it comes to home defense, you must cross that bridge and deal with your thoughts on the matter. We must have more than a causal relationship with the home defense firearm.

In this installment, we are looking at long guns for defense. While there are many long guns in service that are tasked with defending the home, the three most recommended are the AR-15 rifle, pistol-caliber carbine, or shotgun. Each may be effective, and the defender must decide which is the best choice for their abilities and skills. Beyond that, the defender must consider the training time they are willing to give.

To some, training is a sacrifice of time and money that is taken from their family. For others, it is essential to defend the family. Sadly, there are those who undertake training as a lark and don’t take the chore seriously. The duty to defend should never be taken lightly.

Shotguns

The baseline is that the shotgun fires a payload of multiple pellets or balls. They travel in a pattern that is a string of shot strung out over a millisecond of time. When they strike, the targets show they tend to travel in pairs.

Depending on the shotgun and the choke, most shotgun patterns foretell that the shotgun isn’t useful past 20 yards, as far as centering a load of shot. Some loads such as the Federal Flite Wad buckshot may place 100% of the payload on a target at 30 yards, and 50% out to about 50 yards. This isn’t as important in home defense.

Bob Campbell shooting a pump-action shotgun for home defense
A quality pump-action shotgun makes a formidable home defender.

If the shotgun is a go-anywhere do-anything long gun, the pattern and shotgun buckshot choice become more important. A rifle chambers a powerful cartridge that may engage a human adversary to 500 yards. This isn’t important in home defense, but it may be a consideration for other uses.

A rifle has good wound potential and offers a high probability of stopping a threat with a minimum of well-placed hits. A pistol-caliber carbine fires a pistol cartridge. A popular example would be the 9mm Luger, in contrast to the .223 rifle cartridge.

The PCC increases accuracy potential over a handgun and increases wound potential incrementally. This is because the greater powder burn in a longer barrel increases the velocity of a handgun cartridge. By comparison, the wound ballistics of the PCC are far less impressive than the shotgun or full-power rifle but acceptable for most uses.

Competitor shooting a pistol caliber carbine with a foregrip and extended magazine
9mm carbines are proven in competition to be reliable and accurate firearms.

There isn’t a jack-of-all-trades long gun. The shotgun comes closest, perhaps, in the scheme of things. The pros and cons of each must be considered. Are you the sole user, or does another family member have access to the long gun in an emergency?

How much recoil can you tolerate? What is your budget? Some rely heavily on the home defense long gun and have invested a great deal into this long gun and training. Others simply put just about any long gun in the role or assign their daily carry gun in the role.

At least they have a firearm at the ready, but a dedicated home defense firearm is a very good idea. The long gun should be secured when you are away and accessible when you are at home. Some go overboard — a gun in every room. Often, that simply ensures a well-armed burglar.

Bob Campbell holding a Ruger Mini-14 at a low ready in front of a pickup truck
A .30 carbine may double as a truck- or home gun if you have ammunition resources.

The shotgun is still the most common home-defense firearm in my part of the world. I grew up hunting with pump-action shotguns, so it was natural to keep a pump shotgun at home ready. However, the home-defense shotgun has little in common with a bird and rabbit gun, save the action.

A shorter barrel — I prefer a 20-inch barrel when possible — makes for good maneuvering in tight places. 18.5-inch barrel shotguns are just fine. A synthetic stock and simple front bead are all that are needed. The shotgun is handled primarily by feel.

The shotgun may strike a heavy blow unlike any other shoulder-fired firearm. A load of buckshot retains a cohesive pattern only a few inches across at typical home engagement range and must be aimed as carefully as a rifle. The shotgun handles quickly, and that tight pattern creates a severe wound.

Buckshot loads range from 21–27 individual pellets in #4 buckshot to 8–9 #00 buck. Always use buckshot — you are not being attacked by birds! Small shot doesn’t have the penetration necessary for personal defense.

A pump-action shotgun usually has a magazine capacity of four or five shells. Purpose-designed defensive shotguns may have a magazine holding seven or eight rounds. This is a lot of shells considering each pull of the trigger spits a heavy load.

Coyote target with bullet holes from buckshot
Buckshot is formidable against man or beast.

If you desire a backup load, purchase a Blackhawk! Shell Carrier that slips over the stock for a few dollars. Five extra shells including slug loads may be kept at ready. Practice firing a couple of shells and reloading from the shell loader. You may quickly replenish the ammunition supply.

The shotgun has a high probability of stopping an attack with a single shot. Fears concerning overpenetration are best addressed by hitting the target. If you miss, you may strike an innocent person due to overpenetration.

Shotgun loads don’t carry far, as buckshot isn’t very aerodynamic. Not only is Buckshot not perfectly spherical, but it is also deformed when the load is fired. Just the same, a buckshot ball is dangerous past 100 yards. Most buckshot loads have lost half their velocity at 100 yards. A reduced recoil load generating 1,200 fps will send widely spaced balls to 600 fps at 100 yards.

Any firearm capable of stopping an attack is dangerous if you miss the threat. If you have a greater-than-average concern of overpenetration, #4 buckshot is a good choice.

two mossberg shotguns
Simple shotguns work fine for home defense. It is good to have the Mossberg 500 Thunder Ranch, below, and Inforce light if possible.

The shotgun is held tight into the shoulder, swung on target, and aimed using the bead front sight. The shotgun has a high hit probability — the highest of the three firearms we are considering. Capacity is limited, if that is an issue, and recoil is daunting.

You must practice with full power loads, for at least as part of your training, in order to learn to control buckshot recoil. Personal defense shotguns are lighter than sporting guns and have shorter barrels. They handle well but kick more. I should address the comment everyone from Grandma to the guy at the gun store makes.

The sound of a shotgun racking is scary. It would be to me. But then, mother always said I had good sense. A burglar isn’t the average man or woman. They are probably not doped up, a common misconception. They may be part of a professional gang and look like real business coming in. They may be strung out and consuming six or seven cups of sugar-filled coffee and taking several Benadryl to come down enough to function.

Ruger Mini-14 .223 Rem. rifle, right profile
Ruger’s Mini-14 is a reliable and fast-handling rifle worth consideration.

Once they hit a mark and obtain their drugs, they will be on the mattress with their eyes rolled back in their head. Racking that slide doesn’t mean a thing if you are not ready to fire. Never shout “Don’t make me shoot you!” “I will shoot you!” is the proper warning, if you give a warning at all.

There are self-loading shotguns suitable for home defense. Few though are truly reliable. A Benelli M4, Remington 11-87, or Remington Versa Max are certainly useful. The pump is the failsafe everyone’s gun. The Mossberg 500, Mossberg 590, and Remington 870 are also solid choices.

AR-15 Rifles

The AR-15 is America’s rifle. Since you must own one or more, you may as well put it to use in home defense. The AR is among the most ergonomic firearms ever built. The rifle has a high hit probability in combat drills and offers an impressive ammunition reserve.

In this day of takeover gangs and armed burglary teams, the AR makes a lot of sense. We should be on a level playing field with the adversary. I recommend the .223 Remington/5.56mm caliber AR for home defense. The .308 is just too much, but the .300 Blackout has interesting possibilities.

I have taught people to use the AR-15 well, including a youngster with no firearms experience who went on to win the best marksman award in Marine Corps training. My son was a good shot in Army training but was bested by a young man from Montana who grew up shooting varmints on his summer break. The AR-15 is a friendly rifle and super accurate. The Ruger Mini-14 is accurate as well, but if you fire them side by side, most prefer the AR.

American Flag graphic AR15 rifle
If the Ruger 556 isn’t America’s rifle, there isn’t one.

The AR is the Mr. Potato Head of improvement. Lights are important and so are red dot sights. Don’t put cheap crap that may fail on your rifle. Carefully thought-out accessories are beneficial. I often think of what would be most beneficial, should I have to quickly exit the home carrying only my rifle. A good AR-15 with a 20 or 30-round magazine is ideal. You can do a lot of defending with that rifle. Recoil simply isn’t a consideration with this light-kicking long gun.

Load selection in the AR is easy. Of all the firearms discussed, this is the most likely to stay in the adversary’s body and not exit. A 3,000 fps 55-grain JSP will fragment after penetration of 10 inches or so. Hornady Black is a good choice. If striking heavy building material, the bullet will break up. This reduces the chances of overpenetration issues. I don’t recommend 38 to 40-grain varmint grenade-type loads. They do not have sufficient penetration and may not always cycle reliably.

The advantage of the rifle is accurate shot placement. Chances are, you will not need that reserve of ammunition when the first shot is delivered with accuracy. I would cultivate a habit of firing slightly downward to send the bullet to earth quickly.

Ruger 9mm PCC, right profile
Ruger’s 9mm PCC offers good utility at a fair price.

The primary drawback of the rifle is muzzle blast which may be deafening inside a home. The sights may be difficult to regulate. The rifle may strike low in relation to the sights, and this must be worked out in range work. The AR-15 isn’t inexpensive but offers a fine choice for personal defense.

Another choice — that isn’t often utilized — is a suppressed rifle. If you can go through the hoops, the advantages are many. We have seen SWAT teams with suppressed MP5 SMGs and carbines. This isn’t to be stealthy but rather to protect the agent’s hearing.

A suppressed 9mm offers a low muzzle signature, and you can hear your radio and teammates. The 9mm, however, has registered some spectacular failures in this role. A .300 Blackout rifle in this tactical role would be an outstanding home defense firearm. The .300 BLK was designed for suppressed use and many loads are superbly accurate.

Beretta Storm 9mm pistol caliber carbine
The Beretta Storm is an accurate and reliable 9mm.

While seen as a high-end operator’s gun, this simply isn’t completely the case. A .300 BLK AR may be better suited to home defense than you think. If you choose to exercise your rights and fit a suppressor, you have a first-class and effective home defender.

Pistol-Caliber Carbines

Pistol-caliber carbines fire pistol cartridges including the .40, .45, and 10mm but most commonly the 9mm. The great advantage is that these firearms are affordable and offer much greater practical accuracy than a handgun. They are sometimes built on the AR platform but there are other choices as well.

The Kel-Tec Sub 2000-type carbines are famously reliable and offer compatibility with pistol magazines. The Beretta Storm is a very smooth-handling PCC with excellent reliability and accuracy. The Ruger 9mm carbine is another good choice. Accuracy is good to 75 yards or more but not in the class with a good AR — if that matters.

The pistol-caliber carbine offers good handling. They are usually lighter than an AR-type and offer modest recoil. The 9mm version gains some velocity from a 16-inch carbine barrel. A loading clocking 1,200 fps from a pistol may break 1,400 fps in the carbine. This gets the 9mm into a superior category in wound ballistics.

Doug Koenig shooting a Ruger 9mm PCC in competition
Among the easiest to master home defense firearms is a Ruger 9mm carbine with red dot sight.

While wound potential is the least of the three types, a 1,400 fps 9mm bullet is nothing to sneeze at. Hit probability is excellent. Ammunition reserve is more than adequate with standard magazines holding 15 to 17 rounds. In most cases, extended magazines are available with 20 to 33-round capacity. For many shooters, the 9mm PCC is the ideal home defense firearm. Of the three firearms discussed, the PCC has the least recoil and muzzle blast, an important consideration.

There are other firearms that are well suited to home defense. For example, if you grew up with lever-action rifles, a lever-action in .357 Magnum is formidable indeed. I would choose a self-loading PCC for beginning shooters.

A good quality .30 carbine such as the Auto Ordnance is a good choice as its carbine is light, easy to handle, and offers good ballistics. The problem is ammunition and especially finding good soft point loads. The three long guns covered in this report the shotgun, pistol-caliber carbine, and AR-type rifles are all excellent choices. Consider your training opportunity and personal scenario, and then choose the long gun that best suits your needs.

Do you prefer a long gun for home defense? If so, which do you believe to best a shotgun, AR, or PCC? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • A lever-action rifle and shotgun on a Welcome mat
  • Bob Campbell shooting a pump-action shotgun for home defense
  • cutaway graphic of a shotshell
  • two mossberg shotguns
  • Coyote target with bullet holes from buckshot
  • Man shooting an AR-15 rifle from a kneeling position
  • Ruger Mini-14 .223 Rem. rifle, right profile
  • AR-15 rifle with 10 round magazine, right, profile, black
  • American Flag graphic AR15 rifle
  • Doug Koenig shooting a Ruger 9mm PCC in competition
  • Woman with competitor gear holding a Ruger PCC
  • Ruger 9mm PCC, right profile
  • Kel-Tec SUB 2000 rifle, left profile
  • Beretta Storm 9mm pistol caliber carbine
  • Bob Campbell holding a Ruger Mini-14 at a low ready in front of a pickup truck
  • Competitor shooting a pistol caliber carbine with a foregrip and extended magazine

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (15)

  1. I have a Ruger Mini 14 and Remington 870 12 gauge. These are very good options. I’m look8ng to buy an M1 Carbine.

  2. I have read so many articles lately on the popularity of the M1carbine why is it that it’s so hard to find the ammo now? I inherited one from my grandfather I am not a great shot but with the M1carbine I improved drastically and I to feel it is a great Home defense gun .

  3. Larry
    To add to Dr. Dolbee’s answer- there are worse things than getting shot. Among these is shooting the wrong person. A light is used for target identification and illumination. We dont fire at noise or a shape but a clear target.

  4. I keep the Mossberg 500 pump handy as the racking sounds alone can be intimidating and make an intruder think twice. However, I may not always want to give away my position with the racking sound depending on the scenario, so I also have an IWI TavorTS-12. It provides capacity for 15 rounds in three rotating tubes plus one more in chamber and rapid fire, semi-automatic operation. Quiet (until fired), with high capacity, and fast reliable operation, it provides significant advantage in a home defense situation.

  5. I use a KELTEC KSG 12ga. with a tactical front grip with built-in red dot and LED spot and strobe. This makes racking a piece of cake. I also have a muzzle break that eliminates most of the recoil and an extended length magazine selection switch. I am very pleased with this combo for home defense.

  6. I have asked this question before and did not receive an answer. I am no expert, but it seems to me that having a light attached to your defensive weapon would serve mostly to to point out your location to the bad guy. Is that not actually thr=e case? If not, could you explain why not, please.
    Thank-you,
    Larry Frechette

    1. Larry,
      In my opinion, the choice comes down to the roll in which the light would be employed. In your home, you are 100% defensive and have the advantage of knowing the terrain. On the other hand, a police officer may need to search a dark house, building, or section of woods without that intimate knowledge of the terrain, but they must search the blind spots, look for footing etc. A weapon-mounted light keeps both hand on the gun should you need to shoot. and properly employed, it can stun or disorient the opponent. However, lights are not perfect. As you said, a light can give away your position. On the other hand, at the ranges pistols are normally employed, the bad guy would likely be able able to hear your movement. Holding a light away from your body at arm’s length would do much the same. The biggest argument I have heard against a light on your firearm is safety. The light and gun barrel are pointed in the same direction, breaking the rule of muzzle sweeping anyone and anything. Without spending thousands of dollars on night vision, how else are you going to check for thing that go bump in the night? ~Dave

  7. I fell in love with the Mossberg Shockwave. It falls in a special class called “A Firearm”. The ATF can’t call it a short barreled shotgun because its not 12″ or less. Its a 14″ pump shotgun with a 5 + 1 capacity and it has a “bird beak” stock. Almost as easy to handle as a pistol. Has a serrated end on the muzzle and its cylinder bore so there is not much range. I use 1oz of #2 birdshot for the rounds since I really don’t want #4 buck or 00 buck going through the walls and killing my neighbors. I bought mine at the height of the scamdemic as I was worried about possible zombie infestations. Thankfully that never happened. The Shockwave is essentially a Mossberg 500 action with a short barrel and an bird beak. Mine also has a 5 round ammo holder on the left side of the action. Ready for a sling if needed. It also has hand strap on the forestock to keep you ready for the next round. Its fairly light so recoil is high with 1oz loads, but, you can learn to handle it.

  8. A Remington 870 w/ 18″ barrel and a +3 mag extension works quite well to defend the Homestead. #4buck is quite useful for varmints, of either 2 or 4 legged variety. In most households the distance of the longest inside shot will not allow to wide a spread for this load to be a problem for missing the target with errant pellets a side saddle or bandoleer will hold additional rounds if you need 00buck or slugs for longer shots, but not really needed at my suburban locale. there are pistols available for reacting to more immediate threats where I might not be able to get to my shottie first.

  9. I keep a Sub2000 at my bedside, with flashlight and laser mounted and a 33-round mag in place, loaded with copper/polymer frangible ammo. I also recommend to customers 20 gauge pump guns also outfitted with light and laser, and an extended mag if possible. Most lean toward the #1 buckshot or #4 for apartment dwellers. Properly sized for the shooter, either choice does the job at in-the-house distances.

  10. With the current crop of anti-gun DAs, please consider that while the AR-15 style rifles are almost ideal for home defense, those same DAs will try to claim that you were looking to use it to shoot somebody, for no good reason. As an alternate, consider the “Cowboy” style lever action rifle in either .357 or .45 LC. The current crop of “pistol caliber” short barrel lever guns, such as the HENRY “X” model, only requires some practice to become familiar with their operation. A .357 – 125 gr HP will be traveling about 2,000 fps out of a rifle and note how much faster that is than the same round from a 4″ revolver. Add to how hard it will be for a DA to claim to a Jury that you used an “assault rifle” to wantonly shoot somebody, and it is easy to see how a “Cowboy” rifle could be a great choice. I actually think that the M-1 Carbine is also a great home defense rifle, but the lack of proper ammo, unless you reload is its biggest issue. It also doesn’t look like an assault rifle to a jury.

  11. I purchased a maverick 88 tactical for self defense . I also read a previous article from the shooters log , that mentioned the maverick 88 as an excellent value for home defense or truck gun .

  12. I have a 12 ga Browning BPS shotgun with 22″ barrel 3″ chamber. I originally purchased this to hunt turkeys which I did. As time went on I started trying different uses with this shotgun, deer and doves. I love using this on a dove field. This short barrel allows me to get on target a lot easier than longer barrels.
    As time went by and society seem to fall apart I found another use for this weapon and is now my first go to for home defense. A 3″ #1 Buckshot is an awesome load for deer hunting, I just hope I never have to use it on a human, but I can and will if I have too!

  13. I have my trusty Mossberg 12gage short barrel with a bead sight. My precision and accuracy are far better with my Mossie than with my Sig 226. There is recoil, and you must get used to it. Practice is important! As with any firearm, be familiar with handling, reloading, and pulling the trigger. Great article, thanks!

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