There is no firearm more recommended for the new or novice shooter for home defense than the shotgun. Many gun-savvy and experienced shooters also choose this inexpensive and versatile weapon for the bedside or behind the door.
The Myths and Lies
There are many myths, lies and bad advice given to new and experienced shooters regarding the shotgun as a defensive tool.
- Birdshot is often recommended because of some misguided idea that it will not go through the walls of your home. However, this same lack of penetration in walls results in lack of penetration in an attacker, leading to a non-incapacitating wound. Don’t use it.
- Another oft-touted myth is that the sound of a pump-action shotgun being pumped scares away intruders or attackers. One would reasonably argue that if that sound scares them off, then the sound of you simply shouting “I have a gun and I will shoot you,” would probably also be effective to frighten them away. Don’t buy into such nonsense.
- The third and most universally misunderstood myth is the idea that you don’t need to aim a shotgun, inferring that the shotgun is an “area weapon” of some sort. This could not be further from the truth. With the shortest 18-inch cylinder bore barrel, from across the typical-sized room, the shotgun can group its shot within a 2-inch circle with reduced recoil loads, even the loosest shot pattern is only about six inches at this distance. These guns require aiming just as any other. Do not believe otherwise.
When choosing defensive ammunition, the number one factor to consider is reliability.
If the ammunition does not function in your gun it is of no use. This point is most applicable to semiautomatic shotguns, as some don’t function reliably with certain loads.
Many pump and semiautomatic shotguns run smoothly only on brass-cased shells. Semiautomatic shotguns tend to be the most temperamental when it comes to ammunition, so always test your load.
No matter what ammunition you choose it is of the utmost importance that you “pattern” your load in your gun, especially at the distance you may use it. You must know the capabilities of your defensive system.
Defensive use of the shotgun in the home requires that any load chosen limits penetration while still providing incapacitating performance. Defensive performance standards and the selection defensive ammunition are based on the criteria of:
- Adequate penetration of at least 12 inches
- Pellet distribution in gelatin testing
The 12 gauge is the most popular shotgun caliber, which makes it very easy to find many acceptable defensive loadings. The best ammunition, using our standards, for home defense is the standard velocity Remington 00 Buck, with the Winchester Supreme 00 Buck just barely behind.
The next best 12-gauge ammunition would be the harder recoiling buck and ball. This is a very tight patterning load made up of a small slug surrounded by buckshot. It’s very effective, although it runs the risk of over penetration due to the inclusion of the slug.
Other choices for defensive use would be standard 2 3/4-inch #1 buck loadings from Remington, Winchester or Sellier & Bellot. Any magnum load or any load containing hardened buckshot may over-penetrate, so keep this in mind if it is of any concern.
The final choice is any 2 3/4-inch magnum load using hardened, plated and buffered #4 Buckshot, such as the Federal.
As for 20 gauge shotguns, defensive loads are much harder to find, and you may not be able to be as choosey on your ammunition selection.
The best available is the relatively hard-recoiling Federal 3-inch Magnum #2 Buck. For those who are recoil sensitive, Remington offers a #3 Buck load in a 2 3/4-inch shell that patterns the tightest in most shotguns.
For .410 loads, your choices become even fewer. Any Buckshot or non-expanding slug design should be adequate for home defense.
- Winchester makes 2-1/2 inch and 3-inch #000 Buck loads.
- Brenneke makes some of the best slugs on the market.
- Winchester has the Super-X 3-inch slug load.