Gun owners, gun writers and shooters in general love to debate the best weapon for home defense. After 36 plus years in law enforcement, dealing with everything from armed felons to people spotlighting deer, the answer to this has always been very clear to me, the defensive or fighting shotgun.
No other weapon is as versatile and capable of bringing more destruction upon enemies in the least amount of time as the shotgun. AR-15 rifle fans and pistol loyalists do not want to hear this, but it is what it is. Twelve gauge 2 3/4-inch shotgun 00 Buckshot loads generally contain eight .33-caliber pellets per shell. If you fire three rounds at your aggressor in a home-defense situation you have delivered 24 .33-caliber projectiles in a very short amount of time.
A 12-gauge shotgun in a basic tactical configuration, short barrel alongside an extended magazine loaded with buckshot, is the best weapon to protect home and hearth. I will argue this with anyone that cares until Bossy and the bovines come home. Having said all that, there are definitely some defensive shotgun myths and fabrications that really need to be dispelled.
Defensive Shotgun Myths: You Can’t Miss
This one has been around since Hitler was a Corporal and nothing could be further from the truth. You just point the gun in the general direction and pull the trigger. With all those pellets it’s hard to miss, right? Wrong.
Home defense situations typically occur at very short ranges, often measured in feet instead of yards. Measure your bedroom or living room, and unless you are Elvis or Bill Gates we are probably talking 20 feet or less. Even with a cylinder bore choke found on most tactical shotguns, the pattern will be very tight at this range. The eight 00 Buck pellets may appear in a 4- to 6-inch pattern. I have seen birdshot loads at these ranges shoot in practically the same hole, as if you had shot a slug. The point is this, defensive ranges will be small and you can in fact miss.
Because of all this the shotgun needs to be aimed, and for that we need sights. A plain bead on the shotgun can be used if you pay attention, keep your cheek welded to the stock, and sight down the barrel or rib. A better method is to employ a rear sight. Rifle sights are good and a rear ghost ring type sight may be even better. The ghost ring sight gives you a much needed rear sight while allowing for quick target acquisition, very important when things go bump in the night.
Defensive Shotgun Myths: Rack It
Sending assailants fleeing by packing a pump-action has also been around forever, or at least as long as the Remington 870. Think about it. The sound of a pump-action shotgun being operated may affect an inexperienced and faint hearted criminal who has targeted your home. This is all well and good, the bad guy flees or gives up his weapon, you call 911 and let the local law enforcement agency have him.
What if the sound of the pump gun does not influence those you are facing in this way? Experienced criminals are familiar with firearms and may have faced gun play before. Your attacker could be toting a shotgun himself. The mere sound of the weapon operating may not have the desired affect if he is ready to fight. There is something else. Tactically you want to go into the fight loaded and ready to roll if necessary. Chambering a round may only take a second but the bad guy can shoot you while doing it. If there is to be an armed confrontation, go into it with a chambered round and don’t rely on sound effects.
Defensive Shotgun Myths: Birdshot Prevents Over-Penetration
Again, yes and no. The quandary here has always been the person defending the home wants to use ammo capable of putting down the aggressor but may shoot through a wall and hit a family member in another room.
If you compare the individual pellets in a 00 Buckshot load to those in a No. 7 1/2 target or hunting load there is no doubt the 00 pellet will maintain energy and penetrate more than a single No. 7 1/2 lead pellet. The problem is when we fire these loads in typical home defense ranges, the birdshot load can be just as devastating as the buckshot round, if not more so.
Remember we talked about the need to aim the shotgun and at close range the pattern can be extremely tight. The miscreant who breaks into your home and receives a load of No. 7 1/2 lead at close range has had a bad day. The shot may not open up at all and be delivered in one payload, which results in a wound resembling that of a slug. Most interior home walls are a layer of drywall on each side of a 2×4 frame with no insulation in between. The birdshot or the buckshot load will shoot through these walls with ease.
There is no easy answer here, if you prefer 00 Buckshot use it, but many experienced shotgunners believe in the birdshot round for home defense. However, keep in mind the basic shooting safety rule of positively identifying your target and knowing what is beyond it.
Defensive Shotgun Myths: 20 Gauge is Not Enough Gun
It is not unusual to hear how a man got his wife a 12 gauge for home protection. If the lady of the house is comfortable with that shotgun and can handle it proficiently, there is nothing wrong with this choice. But can she?
While there is no doubt the 12 gauge delivers more payload, which is more lead to the target. The downside is it also has greatly increased recoil. Dealing with recoil is a fact of life that can’t be ignored when shooting guns. Less recoil means better control and faster follow up shots with greater accuracy. If you are not worried about the gun hammering with every trigger pull, you are going to shoot better.
I have seen lady shooters or men of smaller stature select a 20 gauge over the 12. During the Defensive Shotgun class at Gunsite there was a guy who shot a 20 gauge, and he shot it very well. There are no prizes for carrying the biggest gun in gun fighting. If you are confident and proficient, the prize is surviving the fight and protecting your home and family. The 20 gauge is certainly capable of bringing enough firepower to a home-defense situation.
Don’t let old fables you may have heard keep you from using the best firearm on the planet for home defense and that is a shotgun. A shotgun you select that is best for you, the shotgun you train and practice with until you are entirely confident with, and then woe be to the poor soul who decides to break into your house.