Everyone in the defense-minded world has an opinion on what the best home-defense gun is. That’s not what we will be talking about in this article, as that would devolve into a shouting match between revolvers, semi-auto pistols, shotguns, AR-15s, etc.
Instead, I’m going to limit this article to those who are firmly in the camp of “a shotgun is the HD gun for me.” For many situations, a shotgun is a great option. Please remember, regardless of your choice, if you don’t train with it, you are planning to fail.
Choosing a Home Defense Shotgun
When selecting a shotgun for home defense, there are several factors you should consider to ensure you get the proper shotgun for your needs. The main considerations should be gauge, action, and barrel length, which we’ll cover. However, you may also want to look into ammo capacity, ability to shoot shot and slugs, and chamber length.
You’ll probably want to select a shotgun with a common chambering such as 12 gauge or 20 gauge. A 12 gauge delivers a more powerful payload, but the 20 gauge features less recoil. No matter the caliber or gauge, it is important you are able to make accurate hits and properly control the firearm. In real life, shotguns are not like the movies — accuracy matters!
You’re also going to want to decide on an action for your shotgun. Pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns are by far the most popular for home defense. They are quick to fire, easy to handle, and have a good reserve of ammunition. Break-action shotguns may be dead-simple to operate, but they are slower to reload and have limited ammunition on board.
Another consideration you will make is barrel length. For home defense, an 18.5- to 20-inch barrel is optimal. They are fast handling and lighter weight, and at home defense ranges, they deliver excellent accuracy.
It is important to choose the right ammo for your shotgun. This will depend on your home environment and personal preferences. If you live in a house with a large property line, your choice will likely be different from those living in a small apartment.
The most popular shotgun ammunition for self-defense is buckshot. There are different shot sizes within buckshot that describe the number and size of pellets, but just know that buckshot utilizes larger projectiles. #4, 00, and 000 Buck are very effective on game such as deer, coyote, and fox. For similar performance reasons, this makes these loads a good option for home defense — depending on your environment and surroundings.
Hollow Point Slugs
Hollow point slugs are also an effective choice for self-defense. A slug is a single projectile that is loaded into the shotgun. Slugs have a large diameter and a lot of weight.
Slugs are great for shooting longer distances because you do not need to be concerned with spread, and they are more effective at penetrating barriers than shot loads. Hollow point slugs provide massive expansion, making them great for specialized defensive use.
Some slugs are meant to be used with rifled barrels so the projectile can properly stabilize, others are loads feature rounds that are rifled to stabilize in standard, smooth bore shotgun barrels.
Shotguns can also be loaded with less-lethal ammunition, such as beanbag rounds, rubber bullets, and rock salt. These are primarily used by law enforcement and correctional officers, but can be used for personal defense if desired.
Some people don’t feel comfortable with using lead ammunition for defensive use, while others don’t like the idea of using less-lethal — it’s just a personal choice.
Shotgun shells come in different lengths from 2½, 2¾, 3, and 3½-inch hulls depending on the gauge and intended payload. The longer shells are capable of holding larger amounts of powder, giving them more power.
Shotguns chambered for the longer length shells can fire shells of a shorter length, but the opposite is not true. If you have a shotgun that can chamber 3½-inch shells, it can fire all of the shorter length shells.
Top Home Defense Shotguns
1. Mossberg 590
The Mossberg 590 comes in a number of configurations, such as the Cruiser, Shockwave, and Persuader. For home defense, I prefer the 18.5-inch Cruiser, but the Persuader has a stock and is easier to handle.
You can also easily swap the barrel out with aftermarket options, so you can use the same shotgun for home defense and hunting. The Mossberg 590 is a great, budget-friendly option for those who want a reliable shotgun that could serve in several roles.
If you prefer, the Remington 870 provides similar features and functions.
2. Kel-Tec KSG
The Kel-Tec KSG is as iconic as it is unique. With two magazine tubes, this pump-action shotgun provides an excellent supply of ammunition (14+1 rounds, 2¾-inch shells).
Additionally, with the flick of a switch, you can change which magazine tube you are loading from, allowing you to quickly swap between multiple types of ammunition.
The bullpup design of the KSG makes it incredibly compact and easy to maneuver. Further, it loads and ejects from the bottom, which makes it a great option for both left and right-handed shooters. The KSG also provides ample picatinny rail space to mount iron sights and red dot optics.
If you like the design of the Kel-Tec KSG, but would prefer something lighter weight and don’t need the extended capacity, look at the KS7. Both shotguns are compact, reliable, and great options for home defense.
3. Winchester SXP Defender
For those who don’t like the recoil of the 12-gauge, the Winchester SXP Defender in 20-gauge would make a great home defense shotgun.
The reduced 20-gauge recoil combined with the smooth and fast action allows you to easily make quick and accurate hits. The lighter weight of a 20-gauge shotgun makes it incredibly easy to handle, even by young or small-statured shooters.
The chrome-plated chamber and bore provide excellent reliability and make for easy cleanup. The SXP Defender incorporates a standard brass bead front sight, but the alloy receiver is drilled and tapped for scope bases. This allows you to use a simple, no-nonsense sight setup for up-close encounters, but also lets you mount a red dot optic if you prefer.
Additionally, the shotgun features an Inflex Technology recoil pad that directs felt recoil down and away from the shooter’s cheek to reduce flinching and fatigue.
4. Benelli M4
The Benelli M4 operates off of a gas system that makes it incredibly reliable and soft-shooting. This piston-driven auto-regulating gas-operated (A.R.G.O.) system was designed for the U.S. Marine Corps, so you know this rugged shotgun is ready for anything you throw at it.
The gas-operated M4 is heavier than Benelli’s other variants, but it is softer shooting and can cycle a wide range of payloads more reliably due to the gas system. These are two great features for home defense, and the added weight on the M4 isn’t a huge issue because you aren’t going to be trekking it miles on a hunt.
The M4 features an 18.5-inch barrel, pistol grip, and ghost-ring sights, providing a good setup for home defense right out of the box. Optionally, you could opt for the M1014 version which adds an adjustable stock to the package.
Further, the Benelli M4 accepts 2¾-inch and 3-inch 12-gauge shells. Though it is one of the more expensive options on this list, it is certainly worth every penny.
5. Rock Island Armory VR60
The Rock Island Armory VR60 semi-auto shotgun from Armscor is designed to function like an M-16 or AR-15, and to be just as reliable!
This is a no-nonsense shotgun built using a conventional gas-operated action set in a 7075 aluminum upper receiver. It is chambered for 12-gauge shells and has a 3-inch chamber and a 20-inch shrouded barrel.
The VR60 features a removable carry handle, polymer furniture with a hefty combat-style pistol grip and an elevated bead front sight.
The precision-reamed ordnance-grade steel barrel is threaded to accept the Beretta/Benelli chokes and is constructed to withstand thousands and thousands of rounds.
Additionally, the five-round removable box magazine is large enough for any CQB scenario that may arise. The railed forend allows you to attach a variety of tactical accessories to tailor the gun to your home defense needs.
If you prefer, the Akdal MKA 1919 is another great option with a similar style and function that is sure to serve you well.
Honorable Mention: Standard Manufacturing DP-12
Similar to the Kel-Tec KSG, the Standard Manufacturing DP-12 provides a lot of firepower, but this time with two barrels.
This one-of-a-kind pump-action 12-gauge shotgun quickly fires up to 16 rounds when fully loaded and produces extreme firepower. It loads two shells with each pump, giving you two trigger pulls firing one round each.
The inline feeding design of the DP-12 provides consistent reliability.
The DP-12 features both a top and bottom picatinny rail to mount optics, lights, and lasers.
Constructed with a 7075 pre-hardened aircraft-grade aluminum billet receiver with thermal coating, the DP-12 will stand the test of time. The last thing you want in a home defense situation is to find out that your shotgun broke while you were training at the range.
Further, the DP-12 utilizes a bottom load and ejection port, as well as an ambidextrous button safety, making it great for both left and right-handed shooters. The unique bottom ejection throws empty hulls straight down and out of the shooter’s line of sight.
If you want an intimidating bullpup shotgun that will definitely turn heads, the Standard Manufacturing DP-12 will surely deliver.
Conclusion: Best Home Defense Shotguns
Choosing a shotgun for home defense will rely on a number of factors, including your home environment, recoil sensitivity, and personal preference.
However, if you choose any of the shotguns on this list, you’re sure to have a high-quality firearm that will serve you well.
It is important to remember, regardless of the home defense shotgun you choose, you need to improve and maintain your skills through continued practice and training.