The shotgun has been a part of American culture in some form since the first settlers arrived. The early blunderbuss developed slowly, but it has consistently been used for hunting birds, fighting wars and personal defense since its inception. Often maligned and frequently misunderstood, there is perhaps no other weapon available today that evokes so many strong opinions, or so many false notions about its true capabilities and limitations.

Shotgun Basics

With so many developments, someone setting up their shotgun for home defense might feel a little overwhelmed. Here are steps I recommend for selecting a first-rate weapon.First consider the basic shotgun. I prefer pump actions because of reliability, but several companies are making some highly dependable auto-loaders these days. Stick with brands that have proven track records of quality and reliability. You can then find aftermarket parts to improve on any of these brands or repair them if they break.

Often these weapons are out of sight and out of mind, except for the few times a year we get them to the range. We don’t want anything that is finicky or difficult to manipulate. Oil tends to disappear from weapons over time, and it has to be well lubed to function.


Double-ought buckshot is best. “Online experts” might suggest birdshot because it usually stops after penetrating through one sheet of drywall. Guess what? That under penetration on walls equals under penetration on bad guys. Millions of dollars have been spent developing people-stopping rounds–use the rounds designed for the task at hand.

Most law enforcement agencies realized years ago that they needed limits on how little and how far their bullets would penetrate. A round that does not go deep enough will probably not incapacitate a bad guy. One that over-penetrates may punch clear through and cause less damage because the force of the round travels through him instead of being imparted on him. Think about this, if you swing a baseball bat through falling feathers it doesn’t do much–the bat sails right on through. If you take the same bat and hit a baseball it sends it flying. All of the force of the bat is imparted into the baseball. We want our bullets to do the same thing to the bad guy. It is better if he feels the full force rather than it sailing right on through. How do we measure penetration? It was decided to use ballistic gelatin, because it closely mimics the resistance given by the flesh of a human being sans bones. Many years ago the FBI published that optimum penetration should be greater than 12 inches and less than 18 inches in a 10% ballistic gelatin solution, and those numbers have pretty much remained the yardstick. Most slugs today have no problem falling within this range. Surprisingly, double-ought buckshot will penetrate farther than slugs, and typically farther than 18 inches. However, with “reduced recoil” and “low recoil” rounds now available, this may be less of an issue.

With buckshot rounds carrying anywhere from 8 to 12 .30 caliber balls per round, the shotgun defines “one-shot stop.” Shooting an assailant with one round of double-ought buckshot can roughly be compared to emptying a full magazine of most .380’s into him.

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