By Ed Santos, The Shooting Channel
Home defense is often cited by many as the reason they are considering a firearm purchase. Often suggested but I fear seldom understood is the shotgun. Like so many aspects in firearms as defensive alternatives, shotguns are shrouded by so many wives tales and misinformation. I believe a shotgun offers the shooter significant advantages that I will share with you here.
These advantages include: affordability, ease of use, trauma causing ability, and even the ability to win the fight without a single shot being fired (however don’t count on it).
There are no perfect firearms for everyone’s needs. Every firearm has its own set of pros and cons that must be considered. Considering that most home defense gun encounters will be very close range situations, the shotgun takes first place on my list of home defense options.
Shotguns come in either single or double-barrel variants and in pump and semi-automatic actions. Double-barreled shotguns often have two triggers, one for each barrel. Side-by-side barrels are the most common, while the “over-and-under” variant has one barrel stacked upon another. If you’ve heard the term “give it to him with both barrels,” now you know where that phrase comes from. Most people don’t realize this, but double-barrel shotguns do not run perfectly parallel to one another because they are configured so their shot will converge typically at a distance of 40 yards.
I often hear people say “You don’t have to be a good shot when it comes to shotguns.” That is not necessarily the case especially when personal defense ammo is used. I often see home defense shotguns in class shoot under 4 inch groups of 00 buck at 15 yds. That means you can’t just point the gun downrange and press the trigger without consideration of the target.
Another unique benefit inherent to a shotgun is the wide variety of ammunition it can use. Shotgun ammo comes as shot (multiple projectiles per shell) or slugs (one projectile per shell). A typical self-defense load of buckshot contains 8 to 27 large lead pellets, resulting in either a tight or wide spread pattern based upon the range to the target. Shotgun pellets are less likely to penetrate walls and strike innocent bystanders. One 12-gauge shotgun shell can discharge nine .33 caliber pellets with a single trigger pull. Considering that a 9mm handgun fires just a single bullet of nearly the same caliber at slower velocities, you would have to aim and fire nine separate times with your handgun and still not have the same trauma result. Plus you’d be giving your adversary extra time to advance on you and take you down.
Shotguns offer many advantages to the home defender. Like handguns and rifles, shotguns come in various bore sizes. Shotgun barrel diameters are typically measured in terms of gauge, commonly 12, 20 and .410 (.410 is a bore diameter, not a gauge). Other gauges like 10, 16, and 28 are still available but are much less popular.
The 12 gauge variant is universally the most popular. The barrel has an inside diameter equal to that of a 1/12th pound sphere of lead. A 20 gauge barrel is smaller, equating to the diameter of 1/20th lb. sphere of lead. An exception to the bore standard of measurement is the very popular .410 caliber shotgun.
One downside of a shotgun is the recoil. A variety of factors weigh into the amount of kick a shotgun unleashes. First there is the bore size, followed by the load. If the recoil is a concern, consider using a 20-gauge instead of a 12-gauge. Additionally, semi-automatic shotguns help reduce the recoil but come with higher price tags. No matter which one you choose, be sure to get plenty of practice so you’ll be able to comfortably handle your shotgun when your life may be on the line.
Shotguns versus Handguns – a comparison:
- One of the major advantages of a shotgun is the spread pattern of the shot itself. A shotgun firing at a target of 25 feet will typically have a spread pattern of 8-10 inches in diameter – a vastly broader impact zone than a single bullet, therefore making it easier to hit a target. In a typical home defensive scenario, your aim with a shotgun is more forgiving.
- Shotguns generally pack more of a punch than a typical handgun.
- Shotguns make it easier to engage multiple targets.
- Shotguns are perceived as more dangerous than a handgun which gives the intruder or criminal cause to turn around and run.
- Pump action shotguns are generally less expensive than a high-quality handgun.
- Semi-automatic shotguns are more expensive but save reload time.
- Shotguns are less regulated than handguns or rifles.
Let’s talk about ammo choices. There are two schools of thought regarding what type of shotgun ammo is best for personal defense. Many shotgun enthusiasts believe 00 buckshot loads are the most effective because of their high impact. The other school of thought is going with a less penetrating load with a wider spread, such as #4 load with 27 buckshot pellets.
I’m not a huge fan of the # 4 shot theory. I’m not blind to the benefit of the bigger spread and also the lack of wall penetration often sighted in the #4 discussions. It is in fact the lack of the penetration of the #4 shot that is my concern. We can only shoot another human being to stop the threat. I’m not sure we have the best potential for stopping the threat with the #4 shot. That is why I am a believer in the 00 buck in the 12 and 20 gauge guns and the 000 buck in the .410.
I am a big fan of the .410 home defense shotgun. I’m not talking about your grandpa’s .410 gun that he used for dove hunting. I’m talking about a .410 shotgun that is designed specifically for home defense. Don’t underestimate the ease of use and the lack of recoil benefits this weapon’s platform offers the user. In our advanced shotgun class we even breech doors with the .410 which is often done at the surprise of the shooter. The .410 is a definite option for home defense. That being said, if the 12 or 20 gauge can be safely and effectively used by everyone in the household then I would always consider those gauges first.
For those with fewer budgetary restraints, the semi-automatic shotgun offers such advantages as high rate of fire, high ammo capacity, ease of use, and tactical configuration possibilities.
We can’t have this discussion without talking about the “Shotgun racking sound fear factor.” Simply calling out “I have a gun” and racking a round into your shotgun may be enough to scare off an intruder. However, much of today’s criminal element may not be scared off by idle threats. Never count on the fear factor as a method of defense…If it works, be grateful.
Thanks to The Shooting Channel team for this contribution – to visit their website click here. Ed Santos is author of the books “Rule the Night Win the Fight” published 2008 and his latest “Low-Light Combatives” published 2013. He is the Owner/Founder of Center Target Sports, Inc. and Tactical Services Group. He teaches advanced firearm skills and Low-light training around the world and can be reached at [email protected]