One of the most popular options for home defense is the shotgun. Like frontier homeowners adapting their food-providing smoothbores for home defense against those who would harm them, many folks today see the shotgun as the perfect choice. On the whole, that choice is usually a 12 gauge pump gun, most likely in the Remington 870 flavor. The selection of a shotgun crosses age and gender boundaries, requiring only perceived need. Even my venerable mother once asked for a defensive shotgun.

Keep one fact in the forefront when smooth-bores are involved: your choice for home defense does not have to be ready for war in Afghanistan or tricked out to ride with your local SWAT unit. It needs to be reliable, first and foremost. Afterthat, selection of any modifications should be done on the basis of making the shotgun work better for you—your needs and preferences.


Folks enumerate the virtues of home defense handguns or carbines, but shotguns have plenty of their own. True, they don’t have the alley sweeping capability Hollywood portrays, or the ability to toss a bad guy through windows or walls—both things I am glad aren’t in any firearm. An alley-sweeping spread of pellets would endanger others, and the “for every action there is an equal but opposite reaction” law of physics would have shooters similarly being tossed through windows and walls!

What shotguns do is deliver devastating, fight-stopping power and damage at the normal distances one expects within a home, with less wall penetration than handgun rounds. Entering the human body, eight 0.33-inch diameter spheres, weighing about 54 grains (similar diameter to a 9mm bullet but weighing half as much), all seeking a slightly different path, careen-ing off one another and muscle and bone can be just what the doctor ordered to stop aggression. And, while the shotgun does require aiming, just like all firearms, because pellets begin to spread somewhat at room distances, less aiming precision is required than firing a single projectile.

There are tradeoffs, though. The 12 gauge shotgun has more re-coil than handguns or AR-type carbines. Because the shotgun is considered a long gun it is, well, a long gun—prone to snagging or bumping items accidentally (as are carbines) and having its muzzle lead the user around corners. Shotguns contain less ammunition than most carbines and pistols. However, these problems can be essentially overcome with training and/or modifications.

Because the shotgun is such an effec-tive defensive weapon, it is worth the effort to overcome these potential prob-lems. A solution for recoil and how much muzzle precedes you is a shorter stock. A shorter stock (12- to 13-inch length of pull) will usually fit most people better, and allow better shotgun shouldering, for better control. It also shortens the shotgun’s overall length, improving man-euverability. If you’re handy, you can lob a little off your own stock. Shotguns do need stocks, not just pistol grips.

Taming Recoil

There are several other ways to reduce the effects of 12 gauge recoil, at least down to a certain level. The most obvious is to choose one of the many reduced-recoil buckshot loads on the market, providing it functions in the shotgun and produces satisfactory patterns at the long-est distance conceivable in your home.

You can always add an aftermarket recoil buttpad. The LimbSaver pads Rem-ington uses on some of their shotguns are great (currently they use their own Super cell pad). Perhaps a better solution is adding a recoil-reducing stock such as Mesa Tactical’s effective models, which are adjustable for length and can accept a special LimbSaver pad.

The best way to learn to deal with problems associated with the shotgun’s length, control, and operation is, again, through training. Take a class (or three) from John Farnam of DTI, Rangemaster’s Tom Givens, or Louis Awerbuck of the Yavapai Firearms Academy. They’ll have you up and running quickly, with ex-perience-based training and no foolish ideas to put in your head. You will learn several CQB-ready positions, when they should be chosen, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Lower ammunition capacity can be offset by the addition of a carrier to the shotgun butt or receiver. Mesa Tactical’s SureShell is a top-notch, available receiver. Spec Ops Brand offers nice buttstock versions. A magazine extension tube from Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies or Vang Comp Systems can raise the capacity of a stock 870 from 4+1 to 6+1, plus a SureShell carrier reserve can add up to 8 rounds. Logic leads me to believe that should be enough to handle most home defense situations! Of course, training also helps in ammunition management.

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