Thoughts on Home Defense Preparation

Bob Campbell shooting a pump shotgun

The most dangerous places are outside the home. Inside the home, we have barriers including outer doors, glass, and hard interior doors. Hopefully, the family has your back, and you have a plan. If not, you have more problems than I can address. Illegal narcotics, and the pharmaceutical industry’s greed-fed opioid epidemic, turn many against their fellows, and the family is the first victim—just so you will not be surprised. My home is modest, and I have genuine affection for my neighbors. I am lucky. My first line of defense is

an early warning system named Lucy. She is a rescue dog, an American Dingo sometimes called a Carolina Dog or Pariah dog. She is 55-pounds of love, loyalty, and fine-tuned senses that serve to alert us of movements around the neighborhood.

SIG Sauer handgun and several rounds of ammunition
A good quality handgun and ammunition is important, but just one level of home defense.

Many liberal doctrines have given every advantage to the burglar. However, the courts have held that the need for self-defense is more apparent in the home. The Castle Doctrine, defining the right of citizens, outlines that there is no need to retreat from an attack in the home. This is a return to the doctrine of the King’s Peace that is fair and just.

All prepared Americans should have a good grasp of the law. We should also be prepared. My experience as a trainer indicates that more Americans keep a firearm at the ready in the home than carry a handgun concealed.

Firearms Choices

The concealed carry permit holder may own but a single handgun. The concealed carry handgun is a compromise of power, weight, size, and control. While pistols such as the Glock 19 9mm are fine home defenders, the snub nose .38 and compact slim line 9mm pistols may be less than ideal by comparison.

Any reliable handgun is better than a broom handle, but there are good choices that should be examined. A full-size revolver and proper loads make for a formidable home-defense handgun. The revolver may be braced against a door jamb for greater control and will deliver its load into a single ragged hole at 7 yards. If you carry a Commander .45 or SIG P227 as I do, then the carry gun simply becomes the home defense gun.

Paper target of the vitals of a person, which has been shot by a shotgun
Shotguns offer plenty of wound potential.

A good program many shooters are following is to carry the handgun at all times when at home. A study of time and motion indicates that this is a good course. A home invasion, despite your best preparation, will be a surprise. A shotgun in the closet or a handgun under the mattress is worthless when you are in the kitchen.

A firearm in every room—which some of my cop friends find suits them well—simply serves to arm the burglar that invades the home when you are absent.

The guns not actually being deployed should be in the safe. A counter argument by my friend Sid is that if you have a safe in the house, the burglar will return, place a gun to your head, and you will open the safe.

While I respect Sid’s opinion, I think it is mostly millionaires who have the worry of being concerned about such sophisticated thieves. The Hornady RAPiD safe is the ideal storage place for handguns, rifles, and shotguns that may be needed at a moment’s notice. As for myself, I have adopted a rather reserved program that works for me.

The carry gun, usually a Les Baer or Kimber .45 these days, is kept at home to be ready when I return from my daily chores. For moving about the home, mowing the lawn, and other chores, the snub nose .38 is kept in the pocket. This solves a lot of problems. It is my choice, and it works for me.

American dingo
Lucy the American Dingo is a wonderful early warning system.

The .45 is still the dedicated home defense gun; I simply have something extra. It seems odd that the weight of the 1911 never bothers out of the home, but when typing and working at home it does. Each has to determine their personal preferences. In practically every waking moment, I am armed. The pistol under the coat, in an IWB holster, or shoulder holster may be a .357 or .44 revolver, or a 10mm or .45 caliber self-loader.

When I am asleep, the carry gun is near my hand. In my youth, and as a peace officer, I observed a common ready mode that was nearly always taken by widows and other ladies. A .32 or .38 revolver was kept under the pillow at night. I am not recommending this, but it seemed comforting for my grandmother after my grandfather passed. Considering the number of women that have been awakened by a burglar or rapist at the foot of the bed or even in bed with them, this ready mode made good sense. Thus, a rifle in the corner isn’t the best answer for such attacks.

For those with a more defined concern, such as a takeover robbery, a rifle might be the answer. Those living in the back forty, who sometimes get into fights with feral dogs or wish to dust off predators, may wish to keep a versatile rifle handy.

The 5.56mm carbine—with proper loads—is one choice. As of today, I am seeing second- and third-quality AR-type rifles selling for less than $500. Good quality rifles, such as the Ruger AR-15 is selling for less than $700. ($622.15 on at the time of this writing) This price makes it easier to recommend the AR-15 rifle for home defense.

Cutaway graphic of Winchester's PDX shotshell
Winchester’s PDX shotgun load offers a mix of buckshot and slugs.

Another good home-defense long gun, the M1 carbine, is becoming increasingly difficult to find (in good examples). If you have one, confirm its reliability, and load it with the Hornady Critical Defense .30 carbine load. I cannot imagine a better home defender.

These rifles will give you an advantage against a takeover gang or marauding dog packs. There are some valid concerns with over penetration, but the primary means of avoiding over penetration is to hit the target. The Hornady .223 55-grain V Max, as an example, will exhibit less penetration than the typical 9mm or .45 caliber handgun, and it has greater predicted wound potential. The SIG Sauer Elite .300 Blackout hollow point was recently adopted by a good friend. Thus far, the reports from his testing shows this is a good home defense loading.

Sporting guns may be pressed into service for home defense. A .22 Long Rifle self-loader is a common home defense load. There are many files on this rifle, and it has generally been successful. The primary concern is reliability with the heel-based bullet and inside priming of the rimfire cartridge. While it is not the preferred cartridge for most, the .22 LR may be all that is available, and it will serve if properly delivered in double and triple taps to the arterial region.

Whatever the firearm chosen, the piece should be proofed for reliability. While the long gun is a formidable firearm, be certain of its handling under stress. Carrying a child in one arm, moving with the firearm, or using the cellphone to call 911 makes for complicated gun handling that should be practiced.

Bob Campbell shooting a shotgun from behind a barricade
Whatever your choice for home defense get plenty of practice.

A weapon-mounted light is an aid in home defense provided the user is skilled in its use. I like the advantage of a light that isn’t attached to the firearm as well. You will search more often than you will engage an adversary. Aiming the light slightly to one side of an object (such as a door jamb) makes for greater visual clarity and less glare. Properly illuminating an object in a modest-sized room may be accomplished by aiming the light toward the ceiling.

While I do not like gadgets for their own sake, my worst-case scenario rifle is well equipped for every problem. The Colt SOCOM is fitted with a Redfield Battlezone scope. This rifle is my test bed for ammunition performance. In the home, it is often loaded with the Hornady V Max. The rifle is fitted with a LaserMax Uni Laser in order to give the rifle utility in home defense. I have practiced looking over the top turret of the scope and results are good to 15 yards—far beyond a home defense problem.

The shotgun is a superior home defense firearm provided the user takes the time to learn to handle the recoil and power of the shotgun. The Remington 870 is among the fastest handling and most reliable shotguns of all time. A modern AR-15-type stock with a forend that will accept a combat light seems a good modification for those who practice.

Bob Campbell shooting a pump shotgun
Practice cycling the shotgun and getting hits. Shotguns are underutilized because few shooters get the necessary practice.

I prefer the easy handling of the standard riot gun. However, when the shotgun is used with slugs and accuracy becomes more important, a rifle-sighted shotgun with improvements is a viable option. As an observation, I have never seen a riot-type shotgun used for home defense. I have over a dozen files in which homeowners successfully defended themselves and their family with a standard-length sporting shotgun. If that is what you own, then you may have the perfect home defender in a shotgun you are already familiar with.

Ammunition Selection Is Important

The often-touted frangible bullet handgun loads are something I never choose for personal defense. Cycle reliability in self-loaders may not be ideal, and the reduced mass and penetration of these loads leaves the user with a serious deficit in penetration. After many years of testing ammunition and studying wound potential, I find that frangible loads lack the necessary penetration to prove effective.

The best choices for home defense are usually middle-of-the-range bullet weights with good quality control. The Hornady Critical Defense load is among these. The balance of penetration and expansion is ideal for most uses. Be certain to proof the firearm with the load of choice. Stick with proven firearms that have demonstrated good reliability, get training, and avoid odd ideas that cannot survive a climb up the logic ladder.

What is your go-to home defense gun? Have you adopted 24/7 carry, including while at home? Share your answers to these questions or home defense tips in the comment section.


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
Rifle Magazine
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 (25)

  1. My wife prefers a .38 S&W Special 5-shot revolver and I prefer a .40 Caliber auto.
    We load them alternately with max-load hollow point and full metal jacket. I learned to “double tap” at a young age and taught her the same. If they don’t drop after two to the chest, they may have body armor, so the next two go to the head.
    It IS a mental thing, so if you don’t run scenarios in your mind over and over, you may hesitate when faced with the real situation. Hesitation CAN get you killed.

    1. I have a 9mm Hi Point carbine and they are very under rated. They are very accurate and very reliable and are definitely a good home self defense weapon. Light weight and fairly short as well and able to handle a variety of accessories on the rails. Good price and worth the money.

    2. Mine is a Hi Point .40. While it is not my go to home defense gun, that duty is split between an old Taurus nickel plated 4″ .38 six-gun and an 18″ barreled 870 w/ red dot, laser, and white light on board.

  2. I’m a female with a few hand guns, all of which I got to the range with. Both high call and low. I carry while I side my home and outside. You would never know I’m a gun enthusiastist. I’m a light sleeper and am aware of my surroundings at all times. I lock my doors and know my home inside and out. Mentally I am always learning of what could happen at home and while outside our home. I say these things because it is vital to know the world around you, your neighbors, things that are out of place. I keep a watchful eye and keep my weapons clean and ready for what may come my way. I hope nothing ever does, but we all know things happen. Be ready and be prepared both mentally and know your equipment.

    1. Thank you, TS, for pointing out that the brain is our FIRST weapon, as was re-emphasized by a former SEAL Team member in a recent training I attended. Bob’s excellent article implies this throughout, too.

      My wife’s and my go-to gun for home defense is a Taurus Judge, with Hornady Critical Defense, backed up by various daily-carry’s and finally a Remington 870 with 00 buck and an AR-15 that is in the safe (since little ones are often around) but at the ready for a SHTF scenario. We’re not ex-military nor law-enforcement but in the end, we must all do what works best to protect our families, while always looking to improve our readiness and adjusting as conditions change.

    2. i read your post & strongly agree to everything you said & believe everyone should know there surroundings & always have a watchful eye around themselves & know what’s going on. god bless you Mrs.TS. From Amanda in Lawton Oklahoma

  3. I am on the plus side of 80 and have some arthritis challenges etc. Consequently I have reduced caliber in my defense arms. I carry an S&W 351PD 22 mag revolver, and occasionally a Bersa Thunder 22LR autoloader. I do carry full time in the house. I keep a NAA 22 mag derringer on my bed post and I carry it in summer wearing shorts. I have a Mossberg 505 pump .410 shotgun also at the ready in my home.I use Hornady Critical defense ammo in the 22 mag pistols and in the .410 shotgun. I practise a minimum 2 times a month. I realize that my pistol firepower is not substantial but I can handle my weapons rapidly and shoot accurately and comfortably. I think my .410 shotgun and Hornady loads will do serious damage to an intruder, and I am confident in handling and shooting it. To me this is the most important aspect of carrying and deploying a self defense gun.

  4. While I agree with much of what was written in the article I would point out that I did not see any discussion about the “will” to do what needs to be done when you have to do it. If you have not prepared yourself mentally that to protect your family and home you may need to shoot another human being then you better forget about having a gun or any weapon for that matter because chances are the assailant will use it on you. I probably spend more time thinking about that and going over scenarios in my mind than I do going to the range which I do very frequently. I believe I have convinced myself to stay calm, do everything I have been taught and learned, and to shoot first and ask questions later. Practice alone and having a large caliber gun are not necessarily going to insure a successful
    defense. As far as the weapon goes that depends on what any given individual feels comfortable with and can handle. I always get a kick out of the big caliber small caliber etc arguments. Watch the video “Vietnam Vet kills police officer” and that will highlight all of what I have said here.

    1. Dprato you are absolutely correct about it taking a certain menatility to be able to actually draw down on and pull the trigger on another person. I spent 21 years in the Army and I’ve been in several firefights while deployed. I had been through a lot of training before I ever deployed to my 1st combat zone and it didn’t really fully prepare me for just how surreal it would be to get engaged and return fire. I can’t help but laugh when I hear guys talk tough about carrying because they think it will just come naturally and it won’t be a big deal. We became conditioned to just shoot on reflex but there is a reading so many of have PTSD. It’s something you never really forget you just have to compartmentalizations. I also laugh whenever I hear guys talking about stopping power. There is no such thing, it’s called hitting your target in a vital area. The average person is done with aggression after being hit by just about any supersonic projectile unless they are dipped up. If they are on something like PCP unless you can hit a vital organ I don’t care what caliber your pistol is they will not drop. So 2 to the chest and 1 to the head, can be done fast with practice.

  5. So by your logic you wouldn’t trust your life to an AR chambered in .223/5.56. Many if not most states deem that caliber too small to hunt deer.

  6. Having a gun in every room, carrying a holstered gun around in your home does sound quite paranoid. Playing Wyatt Earp in the old homestead may sound neat. Come to my state of New Jersey and try some of this stuff—your new, new home might be Rahway State Prison and also you can have the distinct honor of being your cell mate, “Big Louie’s” girlfriend. I do belong to 3 pistol and rifle ranges–2 in NJ and 1 in Pa.—shooting at least 2 times each week.

    1. Why, when I am a Native Texian, would I even consider coming to “New Naziland?” There is no job which could pay me enough to give up my GOD given rights to live in New Jersey!

  7. I prefer my Combat Commander with 185 gr ,Golden Saber BJHP. If I have my pants on there is a 99% chance my pistol is on my side. Carrying at home only makes good sense, because of the possibility of a home invasion. I know there are rare but so is lighting strikes. I practice,and keep my Commander in perfect working order. Always be aware of your surroundings.

  8. A good program many shooters are following is to carry the handgun at all times when at home. A study of time and motion indicates that this is a good course. A home invasion, despite your best preparation, will be a surprise. A shotgun in the closet or a handgun under the mattress is worthless when you are in the kitchen. BINGO!

  9. So, I generally carry the G 19 loaded with Hornady critical defense. The sidearm lives in a wall safe in our bedroom when not on the hip. I keep a pt709 in the truck for those cases where I don’t have the G 19. (I can’t carry at work). I have a quick access vault mounted next to the bed. That holds a .44 spc Taurus revolver. This is loaded woth handloads that try to balance penetration with frag. I agree with the comment previous regarding a light, if you use a light, always in the hand not on the gun. A bad guy’s eye will be drawn to that light…I also have a Mav 88 close by. I like the G 19 in general for capacity. The stats just don’t lie. Layperson or trained LE,military etc. In home defense situations, we tend to take several rounds to hit the target. Unless you are an active operator, I just don’t trust that the heart rate and adrenaline can be kept in check enough to place shots reliably. In fact, when practicing cqc drills for home defense, I usually run up and down the hill at the range first to mimic that heart rate. As to the 24 hr carry… i used to. I even used to have a firearm in almost every room. (The idea of getting caught in the wc terrifies me), but alas, with a small child whose mother is quite adamant, those options aren’t really there anymore. So, I really have to depend on situational awareness.

  10. It’s funny you should mention keeping your EDC on you at home. For years I’ve kept a Glock 17 with a Crimson Trace laser in the nightstand next to my bed, kept a 1911 Commander in the table next to my recliner in the family room, and carried a S&W stainless model 60 .38 when I was out and about. The .38 went in my desk drawer in the den when it wasn’t in my holster. I retired nearly 4 years ago and stopped wearing clothing that concealed the .38. Along came the perfect solution, at least in my estimation, the Sig P938, which fits comfortably in my right front pocket. I find that I carry it at home most of the time, and the 1911 has gone back in the safe. I still keep the Glock in the bedroom because of the laser and the fact that it’s most likely to be used at night.

    As far as training is concerned, I never cease to be amazed at how many friends do not train with their EDC, or, if they do, not with the ammo they keep in it. I train 2 ways with the P938, inexpensive ball ammo for just target practice, and 124 gr. XTP hollow points (what I carry) for tactical training. I’ve tried various HP rounds, but the Sig likes the 124 gr. XTP, and if I’m put in a life and death situation, I definitely want to be shooting what the gun likes best.

  11. I always carry when out of the house, most times even on the property. I have a concealed carry lifetime permit. I’m also a Vietnam Marine who still sleeps in two hour shifts. I can’t break that foxhole habit. My preferred carry is a S&W 9mm SD9VE, their most inexpensive handgun. I read an article before I got one, and the tester said he couldn’t make it jam no matter what ammo went into it. That was good enough for me. I’ve never had a jam. I have a MAK-90 next to the bed and my wife has a Taurus 22 caliber nine shot with stingers next to her. We sleep with a 90 pound Doberman between us. I know that sounds paranoid but the Dobie was my fault. I didn’t want to cage her as a puppy and let her sleep on the bed. That was the end of that. She hears everything and would die for us. The one thing I don’t agree with is a light on a weapon. We had such light discipline in Vietnam that exposing myself by holding a light is not something I could do. They would know right where to shoot. I’m the creep in the dark person in home defense. I still have excellent night vision. We also have an alarm system with glass breaks. Motion detector lights outside, and a range in my yard (35 feet Max). I don’t shoot as often as I should. I’ve had guns pulled on me before, the first time at age 12, when some older person stuck a 45 in my face and threatened to kill me if I didn’t tell them where somebody I didn’t even know lived. I never panicked which surprised me and made something up and the guy left, and it has happened several times when younger before I had a concealed carry. One thing I’ve learned. If a criminal pulls a gun on you and threatens to shoot but doesn’t right then, you have a good chance to survive or at least have a chance to defend yourself. If I have to pull my weapon, I’m going to shoot without threats or hesitation. But I wouldn’t pull it unless I was certain it was life or death. So I prefer the S&W 9 for most situations.

    1. We also have a canine alarm system, although a bit smaller — a 55 lb. Border Collie named Kenzi, who also sleeps between us. Made the same mistake when she was a 10 lb. puppy as you did with your Doberman, although she does make a nice foot warmer in the winter. She often barks when the ice maker cycles, so I doubt anyone would get in our house without her hearing it.

  12. Your comments are exactly why my personal defensive handguns are .45 ACP most often, 10mm sometimes, and less often the .45 Colt and .357 Magnum. Remember I am a full time experimenter and professional and fire perhaps 10,000 cartridges a year -sometimes a lot more- much less than a professional that wins the big matches, to be certain, but a goodly ammunition. A deer is the same size as a man in most cases and about as hard to put down. Men are more susceptible to shock. I did not mean to re start the cartridge debate. I once said the hell with the little guns when I was less than thirty and in police work and adhere to that. However, I have seen terrible results in the training classes with those that choose a handgun larger than they can handle. Hunting isn’t personal defense. The shot may be at 50-100 yards and the retaining energy and accuracy of the handgun is laughable compared to even a middle of the road cartridge such as the .30-30 WCF. A whole different ball game. The handgun is a weapon of opportunity carried to counter an unexpected threat. It will not be running a combat course but getting a good hit fast to the right place. the 9mm and .38 are baselines. They are powerful enough given good shot placement. Many of us are just too busy to master a handgun larger than the 9mm. It would be like trying to take a crash course on the banjo and expecting to be Lester Flat. Just the same the points you made are valid. But master the 9mm or .38 first. Marksmanship is still the most important single part of personal defense. As I said I intended to make this a report with good advice on home defense. We are off on a tangent. The shotgun is a weapon that will ally any fear.

    1. Bob, one small but important mistake in your comment. Lester Flat didn’t play the Banjo he played the guitar. Earl Scruggs played the banjo and was the master of his style of play.

  13. Bob,

    Excellent article!

    One thought has been nagging at me for some time. It is what is likely to be the eternal debate, often ignited in these pages, and that is the viability of the 9mm as a defensive round — once again. You did mention it in the article,.

    But, an argument I have not heard made is that It is not generally legal for use in hunting deer. I have hunted, legally, in 7 states and even a cursory perusal of their various regulations makes the 9mm illegal to kill deer. Some pistol cartridges are legal, but not 9mm. I asked a State of Oregon Fresh Water Fish & Wildlife officer why the 9mm was not legal to hunt deer since some Navy SEALS use it in combat and a “whole damn potful” of shooters think it is perfectly fine for self defense. His answer was that the 9mm was just not powerful enough to kill a deer cleanly — it lacked the necessary energy to do more than wound a deer reliably. I guess people must be a whole lot weaker than deer.

    I suppose it is possible that deer, even the diminutive black tail of western Oregon, is far tougher than a 250 pound thug or a meth addict stoked to the gills on the drug– even though most black tails are really not that large,. I have had the good fortune to kill a fair number of deer with rifles ranging from the venerable 30-06 to the .243 and very few of them died immediately or dropped instantly in their tracks. All of the rifles I have used are legal and did the job but the 9mm is not legal because the perception is that it will not do the job.

    I have never shot a person and hope to God that I never do. However, I pack a gun for personal defense of me and mine and if I am ever called upon to shoot it will be extremely necessary. In that case, I really have already exhausted all my other viable defenses and remedies. When I have to shoot in that circumstance, I do not wish to bet on some super whizz bang bullet, or my superb super ability to shoot out each eye on a fast running thug with the necessary “double tap” in less than ideal range conditions. I want a margin of safety and choose to shoot either a .45 ACP (which I know is also not legal in most states to hunt deer either) or a 10mm which experts tell me will kill a bear. I think most bear are tougher than most, if not all, people.

    It is a free country and every one can do as they choose. As one Supreme Court Justice once said, roughly paraphrased, people are free to be fools in this country. For me, I will carry the biggest and most powerful handgun I can handle reasonably well. That leaves out the .454 Casull but not the 10mm or the .45 ACP, or the .45 long Colt when hiking. You get to choose as do I. But, if it isn’t legal to hunt a little black tail deer I am just not going to bet my life on it, or on my superior ability to shoot the eyes out of a gnat when I am stressed to the max.

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