Before we dive into the different shotguns and their advantages and disadvantages, we should take care of a fundamental question first. Why should you decide to have a shotgun at all in order to defend your home?
The answer is relatively easy and consists of two parts. First, you need a weapon that ends a fight ideally with one shot. Second, you need this weapon not to endanger your loved ones in another room or your neighbors.
A shotgun uses a variety of rounds. We will take a look at them in a moment, but we pick the most common one here, the buckshot. This is by far the best round for home defense as it shoots 8-16 pellets with one trigger pull.
That means, you shoot one time and hammer your target with a group of 8-16 small balls in calibers around 9 mm. Each one of them has the power of a 380 ACP to a 9 mm round, but you do not hit your target with one of them but with the whole group.
Most people think that you spray the bullets over a large area. Reality is, that you shoot them in a very tight pattern of the size of a small plate depending on the range. This means, in the best situation, you will hit the attacker with a group of lead bullets into the chest spread out less than the diameter of the palm of your hand. This simultaneous hit of multiple pellets ends the wish to continue any kind of attack.
Second, each little round has the size and force of a small handgun round. This will stop them pretty fast when they hit obstacles what makes them very safe for use at home. There is no dangerous over penetration.
In short, a shotgun is the perfect choice to end a fight before it really begins and to protect innocent people in adjacent rooms or houses.
The Different Kinds of Ammo
Shotguns are the most versatile guns when it comes to ammo choices. You can have small pellets with a large pattern that is ideal for hunting birds. This gave them the name “birdshot”. Then you have the good old buckshot that I mentioned earlier, and there are the slugs. Birdshot and slugs are not necessarily the best choice for home-defense, but they might be acceptable in certain conditions. Birdshot comes with too little pellets to really make an impression. However, in a house at very short ranges, it might still stop an intruder. Slugs, on the other hand, are too strong to be shot safely. They easily penetrate several layers of wall, so that you might accidentally not only stop the intruder, but also end the life of a bystander. However, on a ranch or in a generally very large area, they might still make sense. Let`s take a closer look at them.
Birdshot is not a recommended self-defense load. One round comes with a great number of little lead pellets. The small size of each one of them allows for more balls to be loaded. However, the numbers used to identify them might be misleading. You can get 12-2 shot and even BB shot.
The lower the number, the bigger are the pellets and the smaller is the amount of them in each round. Again, it is not recommended to use them for self-defense as their low weight will keep them from penetrating deep enough into the body of an attacker to reach a vital organ.
Buckshot is the most common self-defense load. Here it is the same. The smaller the number for the shot, the bigger are the pellets and the less are inside one round. The most recommended load is number 1 buckshot or 000 buckshot. The first comes with up to 16 pellets and the letter with up to 12 pellets.
Each of these pellets has a diameter of or close to 9 mm and the muzzle energy somewhere between a .380 ACP and 9 mm. This makes each of them strong enough to actually reach and damage vital organs. Combined, it makes sure that the probability of that to happen is higher and the attacker bleeds out very fast.
Slugs are the most powerful of the different shotgun rounds. However, this comes at a price. A slug is practically just one single projectile that is shot from a shotgun. This means, it soaks in the complete energy of the powder, and this makes it very powerful. The price for that is that you have a high probability of overpenetration. It will easily go through an interior wall, after this through the exterior wall of your house, the exterior wall of your neighbor’s house and through your neighbor himself. Be careful when shooting slugs.
Another advantage and the main reason, why slugs are used, is that it does not come with a spread pattern. A birdshot or buckshot load consists of several pellets. The further they travel the more they spread out.
This makes them ineffective after a certain range. Usually, that happens between 50 and 120 yards. Slugs, however, are still a viable round for targets beyond 200 yards. In most of your home defense situations, this brings you no advantage as those encounters happen at a distance of 21 feet or less. Only where you can realistically expect the distance to widen to more than 100 yards should a slug be considered as a defense load.
What Makes a Shotgun Tactical?
We are speaking about a tactical shotgun. This means, we need to establish what a tactical shotgun is. In short, it is a shotgun designed for tactical situation. Of course, this definition is everything but precise, so we need to take a closer look at some details.
The Length of the Barrel
The biggest and easiest to see difference between a tactical shotgun and a hunting shotgun is the length of the barrel. A long firearm is challenging once you try to maneuver with it inside your living room, so you need to cut it down. Because of legal restrictions, that can be done only to a length of 18 inches while a hunting shotgun comes with a barrel-length of 26 inches give or take to keep the spread of your lead to a minimum.
A less obvious distinction is the action of the gun. It should facilitate an easy first and follow-up shot. That rules out lever-action shotguns as well as bolt-action ones even if those two are actually great for hunting.
What allows you to cycle the action faster is pumping the gun or not having to cycle it manually at all. This leads us to the so-called pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns.
The fastest shotguns use a semi-automatic action. Here, each shot itself supplies the energy to eject the spent shell and to load the next round into the chamber. This does even reduce the recoil as some if its energy is transferred into the action. However, shooting many follow-ups will show you that the recoil is still not to be trifled with. Apart from that, semis are rather picky when it comes to ammo selection. They just need enough energy to actually run the action. If you buy a good brand of gun with high-quality ammo, you will probably encounter no problems. If you want to be sure, you might pass the semis and go to a pump action. Here, you provide the energy to cycle the action, not the round. That means, that you will always get the next round into the chamber, even if one of them misfires.
The pump-action comes with its own downsides. First and foremost, it is slower than the semi. Furthermore, it is prone to user errors especially the error of short-stroking it. The latter happens most of the time with novice shooters. They try to cycle the action too fast and end up not running the full length of the pump. A semi needs more time on the range to learn to unjam it. A pump-action needs more time for learning how to run the action smoothly and avoid short-stroking it.
Magazines and Capacity
Usually, in a self-defense situation, a higher capacity is preferred. This comes with a downside. The higher the capacity, the bigger the magazine which adds itself more weight and to this comes the weight of the additional rounds. This can affect your ability to maneuver quickly with your gun and to bring it on target fast enough.
Shotgun rounds are neither the smallest nor the lightest. An AR15 or most handguns have no problem if you increase the round-count, but in a shotgun, you will notice the difference. A good number of rounds lies somewhere from 6+1 in the chamber to 8+1.
Most shotguns use internal tube magazines. These are very reliable and can be recommended. However, there are models that use box magazines. Those tend to encounter feeding issues, so you might want to stay away from them when your life is on the line.
Usually, you classify guns by their calibers. For that, you measure the internal diameter of the barrel. For shotguns, we do not use caliber and diameters, we use gauge. The range spans from 10 gauge to 28 gauge with 10 gauge being the biggest shotguns and the 28 gauge the second smallest. There is one smaller variant, but this one is not measured in gauge, but in caliber or bore. This is the .410 Bore or .410 Cal. This one is actually smaller than the 28 gauge.
Law enforcement agencies and the military prefer the 12 gauge and use them most of the time with buckshot. This allows them to brake open doors and clean rooms with the same ammunition. The recoil of the 12 gauge can still be managed, and it offers a big enough load and power for the intended purposes.
Should you feel that you cannot handle the recoil of a 12 gauge, you might want to go with a 20 gauge. This is still big enough to down an attacker and common enough to be found in most stores where ammunition is sold.
Do You Need a Stock?
There is e new development, that allows you to have shotguns without stocks. While these models are quite popular, I do not recommend to buy them. That is for two very important reasons. The first is that the recoil will cause you serios trouble in the hand that holds the end grip. It will cause pain and, in the worst case, damage your joint. The second reason is precision. I have actually tried to shoot a shotgun without using the stock. When I come to a distance of 10 yards and under stress and time pressure, all conditions encountered in a self-defense situation, there was no way I could hit the target reliably.
A shotgun without a stock is definitely shorter than one with a stock, but what good will you get from that if the only safe thing around you is the target you are trying to point it at?
Accessories are not only for a good look; they actually do add value to the gun. For example, iron sights might have been great some decades ago, but with a red dot you are just faster on the target.
In order to attach your accessories, you need to have some kind of rails attached to the gun or at least the possibility to mount some of them.
What you want to add to your home-defense shotgun is a light. Most of the time, you will have to defend yourself at night. You do not want to shoot a loved one or a neighbor who might have the keys to your house. You want to be sure that you aim at a bad guy. Also, a light allows you to see immediately what you are pointing at so that you can shoot to actually hit.
Furthermore, as you have no idea of knowing what you get yourself into trying to defend your home, you might want to have options. First, you want to have the ability to top up any round you might have already expended. You also want to have a choice of ammo.
In a shotgun, you have the advantage that you can top it up while it is loaded as long as you do not use a box magazine. Better even, what you put in last will be in the chamber first. This means pretty simple that you should have two saddles on your shotgun. One is on the left side next to the action. The empty shells will be ejected to the right, so no problem with a left side-mount. The second saddle goes to the right or left sight of the stock depending if you are a righty or lefty. For my shotgun at home, each saddle has 6 rounds for a total of 12 plus 8 rounds in the extended tube in “cruiser ready”. “Cruiser ready” means that there is no round in the chamber but the tube magazine is at full capacity. The 8 in the tubes are 000 buckshot, and 3 in each saddle for 6 all in all are also 000 Buck. The other 3 in each saddle for a total of 6 are slugs. This way, I always have some range or more penetration when I need them.
My Picks for the Best Home Defense Shotguns
It is time to come to my picks for the best tactical shotgun as a home defense weapon. As always, all links are in the description.
The Mossberg offers you a lot of advantages for both, the 500 and the 590 models. That starts with them being relatively affordable. Also, if you are not sure what to pick, you can just follow a big example. In this case, it is the military and law enforcement agencies. All over the country, they are in use with them, and you can be sure, that happened after thorough testing and considerations. In short, if you are not sure which model you can trust, trust the model these users chose.
Besides these two obvious advantages, price and being tested, they are almost indestructible. They have to withstand a lot of abuse from soldiers and officers who do not own them. In your hands, they will survive the next decades. However, if you expect a rather heavy use, I recommend you to go with the 590 or better the 590A1. They have thicker barrels to withstand even more abuse. As an added advantage for both, the 590 and 590A1, they hold both one more round than the 500 models.
Many shooters, including me, also prefer the position of the safety on the Mossberg 500 and 590. You find it on top of the receiver. That makes them easy to reach when you are not using a pistol grip. The downside with this position is that it is quite awkward once you do actually use such a grip. While I can recommend the 500 and 590 models, I do recommend the Mossberg 590A1 with a barrel of 18.5 inch the most. This is the one that is the most durable, and it is proven in combat. This means, it can handle easily anything you might encounter in any self- or home-defense situation. You can get it already for a little bit more than US$500. It weighs only 7 pounds and offers you different sights and a 20-inch barrel if you want an 8+1 capacity. With a 18.5-inch barrel, you get only 6+1 or 7+1 with the magazine extension.
Mossberg offers you a good alternative. The maker of the successful Mossberg 500 and 590 offers you also the Maverick 88. The big advantage is the price. For a little bit over US$200, you can get a gun almost as good as the 500 and 590 models.
In fact, the differences are much less than one might think. This makes it a very good deal. It comes with twin action bars, anti-jam elevator, and dual extractors. Also, most of the accessories and upgrade that are out there for the Mossberg 500 will also fit the Maverick 88.
So, what is different between both of them? First, you get a cross-bolt safety in front of the trigger guard with the Maverik 88. This makes it harder to use when you have no pistol grip. On the other hand, with this grip it would be a lot easier. Second, the Maverick is not prepared for scope mounts. You just get basic bead sights. However, there is something you can do about that. With the TacStar Tactical Railmount and Sidesaddle, you can get a picatinny rail for your sights and six holders for extra rounds. The model with the 18,5-inch barrel has a capacity of 5 plus 1 and a weight of 6.25 pounds.
Here comes another Mossberg. You might see, that Mossberg is a big player in the market for home defense shotguns by making it several times on this list. This time, it is for an 8 shot semi- automatic model. The good thing about Mossberg in this regard is that the action is so perfected that it cycles reliably with a big range of rounds. Even in the realm of low-powered rounds, with which many other semis have a problem, the 930 cycles them without a hitch.
Having a semi-automatic action means that this gun is a little bit more complicated what translates to a higher price. It is still affordable with only some US$700, but that is more than for Mossberg`s pump action models.
Like the 500 models, the 930 comes with a top-mounted safety. Its charging handle is on the right side and easy to grab. You have ghost ring rear sights and fiber optic front sights. You also have a rail for red dots if you want to put one on. You can choose between variants with and without a pistol grip. The barrel comes at a length of 18.5 inch. You have a 7+1 capacity and the weight stands at 7.5 pounds.
This company is known to make some of the best home defense shotguns on the market. Especially with their semi-automatics, they stand out of the crowd. That is why I put the M2 Tactical on here. It comes at a price of US$1200. It is very well made and works with great ergonomics and a good feel to shoot it.
The operating system is inertia driven what makes it very fast and very smooth. Also, this leads to a great reliability. Furthermore, it is a semi that is lighter than most others, and it is very easy to clean. If you maintain it well, it will serve you and the next generation of your family well.
It comes with a 18.5-inch barrel and a weight of only 6.7 pounds. The capacity is 5+1. The only downside is the cross-bolt-safety that is located behind the trigger. That makes it not that easy to operate.
Here comes another semi from Benelli. This one was designed for and subsequently adopted by the US Marine Corps. It works with a gas operated system using a short-stroke dual piston design. This leads to less fooling ad more reliability especially when you shoot many rounds.
This special system comes at a price that is in the area of US$1849. For that you do get a reliable semi-automatic shotgun with an 18.5-inch barrel, a 5+1 capacity, and an overall weight of 7.8 pounds.
It has proven itself in combat many times. Besides that, there is actually not much benefit to get when choosing the M4 over the M2. You do pay US$600 more for the M4, but you can easily go with the M2 instead.
The Remington 870 is a shotgun that is widely popular among shooters. One of the reasons for that might simple be its low price of US$370. This puts it halfway between the Mossberg 500 and Maverick 88.
What do you get if you choose this shotgun? First, you get a cross-bold safety that is located behind the trigger. This is one of the worst locations you can choose for that. As a compensation, you get a steel receiver that is very durable. For this, you pay with a little bit of extra weight. The added weight itself has also to sides to it. First, it makes this gun harder to carry around. On the other hand, it soaks up the recoil quite nicely. This makes this gun a little bit more comfortable to shoot. It comes with a 18.5-inch barrel and a 6+1 capacity.
The Kel-Tec KSG is a shotgun that is in its own way extra ordinary. Some like it as the best tactical shotgun and others see it as a cool novelty. It is a bullpup design with a semi-automatic action. The bullpup design makes it very short. The other shotguns come with an 18.5-inch barrel and an overall length of 36-40 inch. For the KSG with its 18.5-inch barrel, it has an overall length of only 26.1 inch. This makes it very maneuverable especially inside your home.
It is not very expensive. It costs US$850. That is very reasonable for a semi-automatic system. Apart from its maneuverability thanks to it being so short, it gives you another great advantage. You get a capacity of 14+1 using 2 magazine tubes. Not only to you have more rounds than normal, you can also manually select the tube. This way, you can load buckshot in one and slugs in the other one and switch as you need it.
However, it might still be a hard sell. Kel-Tec is famous or rather infamous for low-budget guns with a questionable reliability. This does not automatically mean that the same can be said for this shotgun. The users of the KSG tell about a shotgun that is very reliable. The model gets showered with praise.
What is the right shotgun for you?
With that kind of variety, how can you choose the right model for you? The best way is to start from your needs. If you have to buy a gun with a tight budget, go for the Mossberg Maverik 88. If you can afford everything you dream of, go with the Benelli M4. If you have to save at least a little bit, choose the Benelli M2. If you need a high capacity, use the Kel-Tec KSG. If you just want to shoot from time to time and just keep it ready for home-defense in an absolutely average setting, go with the Remington 870