One of the earliest defensive weapons was the 18th century fowler, a single-barrel flintlock loaded with a charge of small lead pellets that was more commonly used for getting dinner to the table than for driving away unwelcome guests. The fowler was also a contemporary of the blunderbuss, a flintlock musket with a flared muzzle designed to spread a load of lead shot over a wider area at close range. Favored by our British ancestors and by those who sailed the seas, this was for driving away unwelcome guests such as pirates and other seafaring miscreants. But the blunderbuss worked as well on land, defending dwellings and farmland from outsiders and plunderers. From these humble beginnings came double-barreled flintlock and percussion-hammer guns that, by the 1860s, had proved their worth during the Civil War. By the early years of the Western Expansion in the 1870s, the double-barrel shotgun was in common use by homesteaders, farmers, lawmen, stagecoach gun guards and just about anyone with property to defend. And the long-barreled double-hammer gun still made a great hunting arm when it came to putting food on the table.

Hunting for fresh game is more of a recreational sport these days, with shotguns designed for taking small game birds, wild turkey, and even slug guns designed for deer. But the purpose of these guns remains similar to that of guns used in the days of the Old West, when a shotgun was the most practical way of arming oneself to defend family and property. The big difference now is that there are shotguns designed for specific jobs.

Today’s Shotguns

The same side-by-side, over/under, slide-action or semi-auto shotguns used for hunting, shooting skeet, trap or sporting clays can certainly serve the needs of home defense. However, there are certain disadvantages to a long gun intended for the great outdoors, in a not-so-sprawling indoor environment. This is why most leading shotgun manufacturers also offer tactical shotguns for law enforcement, military and civilian use. Short-barrel slide-action shotguns for law enforcement and the military have been around for more than 100 years—with few changes since the early 1900s, many are still in use today. This is also the most prevalent type of shotgun used for home defense: a single 2.75-inch round of 12-gauge 00 buckshot delivers nine roughly .33 caliber pellets (the equivalent of nine rounds from a .38 caliber revolver). In defensive firearms tactics, shooters are instructed in the “double tap,” or firing two consecutive shots to incapacitate an intended adversary. An accurate 00 hit multiplies that 4.5 times. Even smaller 20- and .410-gauge 00 and 000 buckshot are nearly as effective, and any will surpass a single shot or even a double tap from a small caliber (.380 or .38 Special) semi-auto pistol or revolver. Shotguns are ideally suited for home defense.

Pick A Winner

There are four basic types of shotguns: side-by-side (the venerable double-barrel scattergun); superposed (over/under-style for bird hunting and shooting sports); semi-auto (also for shooting sports and hunting); and slide-action (the classic pump shotgun). There are also single-barrel single-shot shotguns, but for home defense these are not ideal.

Deciding which shotgun to purchase for home defense depends on your skill level and degree of need (i.e., if you have never handled a shotgun, less is more because you’ll get simple operation, ease of familiarity, choices in gauge—very important—and a good price). The tried-and-true backup for lawmen has long been a short-barrel slide-action shotgun like the Mossberg 500 Cruiser. Mossberg pumps are easy to learn and available in versions chambered in both 12 gauge and easier-to-handle 20 gauge for the civilian market. Though not as powerful, a 20 gauge can deliver devastating stopping power with defensive buckshot loads.

Note that shotguns should never be stored with a chambered round. Having additional rounds close at hand or mounted on the shotgun (either with a “sidesaddle” carrying six rounds mounted to the shotgun receiver, or with a tactical stock designed to hold extra rounds) provides not only a ready reload but also the tactical option of shot-shell changeover as conditions dictate. If the magazine holds six shells, load five and maintain the option of loading an alternative first round before racking the slide.

The venerable Mossberg 500 series is another time-honored model that offers a special version for home protection called the Just in Case 500 Cruiser. It’s a complete system in 12 gauge that features a JIC Cruiser with an 18.5-inch barrel, a pistol grip and a survival kit, all contained in a water-resistant storage tube. There is also a marine version for folks who live near or on the water, with a corrosion-protective Marinecoat finished receiver and barrel. The JIC Cruiser has a capacity of six rounds and costs around $450.

Tactical Pumps

Going full-tactical in a slide-action shotgun is another option. There are a wealth of makes and models with adjustable shoulder stocks, pistol grips, special sighting systems, optical sights mounted on the top Picatinny rail, and combinations of laser sights and tactical flashlights. Full-tactical models are generally larger and heavier, requiring greater practice and familiarity. An outstanding new example is the Mossberg FLEX 590 Tactical Adjustable in 12 gauge with a 20-inch barrel, a six-position shoulder stock, a tactical forend, and a capacity of nine rounds of standard 2 3/4-inch shells. The FLEX can be easily changed to a full-length shoulder stock or tactical pistol grip in seconds, making it a more versatile shotgun for the money. There is also the new 500 Cruiser 12-gauge with an Insight Tactical Light forearm in a six-shot pistol grip configuration—it is a strictly tactical-style shotgun. Another highly versatile tactical model is the new Citadel LE Pistol Grip 12-gauge with Picatinny rail receiver and forend. This model, with an overall length of 32.5 inches and a seven-round capacity, has a top-mounted rail and rails on the slide handle for mounting multiple accessories.

The game changer in the slide-action category is the most tactical of all new shotguns: the formidable Kel-Tec Shotgun with dual seven-round side-by-side magazines for a total capacity of 14 rounds of 12 gauge. This is also a remarkably compact shotgun at only 26.1 inches in overall length. The Kel-Tec can be set up in multiple configurations with optical sights, ghost ring sights, a tactical flashlight or a laser sighting system.

Sweet Semi-Autos

The semi-auto option is all about choices in guns, capacity and handling. They have faster firing capability, but most only offer a four-round capacity because they are intended for hunting. However, there are a handful of exceptions on the civilian market today that were originally created for law enforcement and military use. Paramount among these is the Benelli M4, a no-nonsense shotgun that police and military the world over have used for years. Fitted with a matte black synthetic stock and pistol grip, fully adjustable ghost-ring aperture rear sights and military-style fixed-blade front sights, the Benelli packs six rounds in its magazine. The combination of a shoulder stock and pistol grip makes the M4 into a shotgun that can, if necessary, be fired with one hand. And the trademark ComforTech stock is designed to absorb nearly 48 percent of felt recoil, making it quicker to get back on target.

Another famous name in military and law enforcement is FNH. They provide many options, the top choice for home protection being the SLP Mk I tactical, which specs out very similar to the Benelli. Differences include an eight-round capacity and a longer overall length of 43 inches compared to the Benelli’s 39.75. The SLP Mk I and the Benelli are both expensive shotguns with suggested retails exceeding $1,200—either is ideal for home security. Both 12 gauge models can handle lighter 2.75-inch shells and more powerful 3-inch magnum rounds. But let’s say you want a semi-auto that can be used for sports shooting and home protection and you don’t want to get a second mortgage to buy it: Mossberg has the five-shot 12-gauge Model 930 Home Security/Field Combo that comes with two interchangeable barrels (an 18.5-inch for the home and a 28-inch field barrel for bird hunting). In security mode, length is a modest 39 inches overall. Switch barrels and the field gun measures 48.5 inches.


Getting back to basics, we have the good old-fashioned double-barrel shotgun. You load it, close it, (cock the hammers if it’s a hammer gun) and go to work. Usually built with hunting and competition in mind, the barrel is long, the weight is often considerable and, depending on the maker, the cost is high. But if you look for a design that goes further back—say, to around the 1870s—you’ll find a number of western-style short-barreled double guns on the market that do the same job today they did over 100 years ago. Back in the day they were called “coach guns” because they were often used by stagecoach guards riding along to protect cargo.

Using a double gun is almost instinctive—it’s also an intimidating sight for home invaders, as it was for outlaws in the late 19th century. Two big barrels pointed in your direction spells trouble. What you load those barrels with is the bigger decision. You have two shots: first, one #2 or #4 shot (such as Remington HD Ultimate Home Defense loads for a wider spread and maximum impact), while the second tube delivers a double-aught if needed (such as Federal Premium’s Vital-Shok 12 gauge 2.75-inch buffered 00 copper-plated buckshot, Fiocchi low recoil 12 gauge nickel-plated 00 buckshot, or Federal Power Shock 2 3/4-inch buffered 000 buckshot). The chambers fire in order on single-trigger models. On a double-trigger shotgun or hammer gun, you decide which to fire first.

There are precious few side-by-side tactical shotguns. The Stoeger Double Defense is one and equipped with Picatinny rails for mounting a tactical flashlight on the bottom of the barrels and any number of tactical scopes or sighting devices on the top rail. The Stoeger has a full stock and an overall length of 36.5 inches.


On the flip side are over/under doubles, and there are a number of specially designed tactical models that make shooting quick and efficient, and the guns are easier to reload. These are essentially shortened versions of popular O/U game guns used for hunting and shooting sports. Again, these are very familiar designs but in a specialized defensive package.

An O/U tactical shotgun is easier to handle than a side-by-side, and it is also a bit more inherently accurate. Mossberg offers the 12-gauge Maverick HS12 with 18.5-inch barrels, an overall length of 36.6 inches and a receiver-mounted Picatinny rail for attaching open or optical tactical sights. An even more advantageous design comes from Stoeger, who has introduced the Double Defense O/U available in either 12 or 20 gauge. The DD is a pure tactical design with receiver and under barrel–mounted Picatinny rails allowing the use of a tactical flashlight or laser targeting system under the barrel or any type of top rail–mounted open or optical sights. The DD also uses a single trigger, a tang-mounted safety and ported 20-inch barrels to reduce recoil.

Final Shots

There is one other alternative to a home-defense shotgun, one that has its roots planted in the late 1880s: the 1887 Winchester lever-action shotgun, one of the most feared and respected 12-gauge repeating scatterguns of the American West. Back in the day there were hunting models with barrels over 30 inches long and lawman models with 20-inch barrels. For the most stalwart, there were cutdown versions with barrels as short as 12 inches and even stocks cut off at the wrist. For 2012, ArmiSport Chiappa has added three versions of the famed cutdown 1887 to its line of lever-action shotguns: a standard 12-gauge version with a hardwood pistol grip and an 18.5-inch barrel; a tactical T-Series model with matte black finish and Soft Touch rubber-coated pistol grip; and a deluxe version (available on special order).

After you have selected a shotgun that meets your needs and worked up a practical combination of shotshells or one-load that works best based on your skill level, your environment (apartment, condo or private residence), your physical condition and that of family members who may also use the shotgun, your final task is ensuring the weapon’s security. This must be decided according to family parameters, location, ammunition, gun-lock requirements, children, and so forth.

Last, the rules of engagement. Never go hunting for an intruder unless other family members are in imminent jeopardy. Make that 911 call as quickly as possible once you are certain there is a break-in. Let the intruder come to you, at which point you have a tactical advantage, and never allow an adversary to close the distance between you—distance is your best friend in a fight.

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