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.

See The Light

Finally, I prefer a weapon-mounted light on home shotguns. The odds favor any incident occurring in low light, if for no other reason than turning lights off in a typical house, day or night, can drop visibility in some or all rooms. You cannot, and must not, shoot what cannot be seen well enough to distinguish the threat.

If you intend to hunker down in your recommended safe room with shotgun and cell phone, weapon-mounted lights may suffice quite nicely, but have a handheld flashlight just in case. Just settle back with a cell phone and shotgun and wait for the local law enforce-ment representatives to arrive, while covering the entrance to the room with your smoothbore.

If you ever envision moving around your house in search of an intruder (not recommended with or without training), having a weapon light leads to a conundrum: searching a darkened house with a weapon-mounted light means pointing your muzzle at everything and everyone you come across. Aside from the potential dangers in this, pointing your shotgun muzzle at an unintended target might be legally construed as assault. I recommend learning to use a handheld light for searching with one hand, while maintaining control of the shotgun with the other hand. There’s that training thing again.

Lastly, sights on most shotguns are almost abysmal for defensive use. Usually, on the front there is a small brass bead, with nothing adorning the rear. No one makes sights that grab your eye as well as XS Sights. They offer their Big Dot front sight that epoxies onto the front bead. Pop the front sight on targets at home distances and hits are sure to follow.

Project Gun

I had a Remington 870 Home Defense (HD) on hand, which became the candi-date for tactical surgery. Off came the black synthetic stock, and on went Mesa Tactical’s recoil-reducing Adjustable Stock, with pistol grip, and slip-on LimbSaver buttpad, followed by Mesa’s Tactical Saddle Rail SureShell ammo carrier. This SureShell attaches solidly on both sides of the receiver. The top rail does a good job as an improvised rear sight while securely holding six 12 gauge shotshells. Up front, Mesa’s Barrel Clamp attaches to the barrel and magazine tube or possibly just to the barrel, with the other clamp opening holding a flashlight.

The Mesa Tactical Barrel Clamp attached to the 18.5-inch barrel and a Wilson Combat heavy-duty tubular magazine extension with sling connection (which arrived with an increased power spring and high visibility follower). This reliably added two rounds to the capacity. Wilson’s Jumbo Head safety was just right for quick and secure manipulation even with fingers clumsy from adrenaline.

SureFire’s 318LMG forend, with 100 lumens of LED light output, is an effective, easy to use package for a weapon light. Three separate switches control when the light beam is delivered and 100 lumens will definitely handle home confrontations. You can upgrade this to higher light output, or use another system with more lumens, but not without increasing the odds of being blinded by excess light bounce-back.

The average distance in a home defense situation, unless you live in a castle, should be less than 30 feet. Neither rifle-type rear sights nor exotic barrel treatments can be classified as mandatory. If you never plan on exiting the house while defending it, nor take the opportunity to transition from buckshot to slugs for an across the room headshot to rescue your spouse, then forego the rifle-type rear.

I add Vang Comp Systems’ barrel modifications to my shotguns because I feel better knowing they have been treated. The barrel is back-bored and ports are added near the muzzle. Back-boring produces a tight pattern with any buckshot load used, all the way to 25 yards and beyond, without hindering slugs. The ports are effective in recoil and muzzle rise control. Admittedly, in most home defense situations back-boring might not be necessary. However, should circumstances require, you would be ready for extreme ranges.

The one thing missing from my list of upgrades is a sling. This is normally where I recommend my favorite single-point sling. For a home-defense-only shotgun, a sling is probably unnecessary, perhaps even snagging something at just the wrong moment. Because a homeowner will not be handcuffing a suspect (Just stand there and wait on the cops!), or other activities where both hands will be needed, the sling can be skipped.

Bump In The Night

With our shotgun ready for home defense, there are a few pointers left. First, where you place the weapon is a very personal thing, and includes factors such as the number of children present. Some might want it in the safe room, others closer to the living area. No one can predict where you’ll be if someone invades your home.

Wherever you choose to store it, and regardless of whether it is pump or semi-auto, the condition of the shotgun should be what is known as “cruiser” or “closet” ready. This means the magazine tube is full (or down one, as I prefer), the chamber empty, the hammer down (trigger has been pulled), and the safety is off. Getting to this condition is not complicated but darn sure is fraught with a number of chances for a loud boom! Practice is needed. To prepare the shotgun for action, simply rack the action and chamber a round. No need to remember to disen-gage the safety or work a bolt release.

Further tactics are beyond the scope of this article. Training is where you’ll learn them. Should you choose the shotgun for home defense, make any modifications wisely. Pay attention to the few tips I have provided, plan ahead, and—you guessed it—get some training!

Up Next

“Stand Your Ground” taskforce holds Northwest Florida hearing (video)

One of the most popular options for home defense is the shotgun. Like frontier…