There are as many shotgun myths out there as there are myths about Bigfoot. This effective fighting tool is many times trapped in painful clichés and misrepresented by those with very little shooting experience. From arguments about birdshot versus buckshot to shooting with or without sights, the fog is thick. It is time to set the story straight. Let’s take a look at the 10 things people should know about the shotgun and its use as a home-defense weapon.
1. Stopping Power
There are countless philosophies surrounding ammunition choices for home defense. Many are based on Hollywood unfortunately. The first thing to understand is that if you are bringing a shotgun to bear on someone, it is a life-or-death situation. As with a handgun or rifle, I want ammunition that will give me the greatest amount of damage to my target as possible. While birdshot can be useful if fired at extremely close distances, it simply does not have the mass to penetrate into a target.
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One often-mentioned myth is that it is “safer” to use birdshot indoors because it does not penetrate drywall and thus reduces other people accidentally being struck. Birdshot will go through drywall so let’s get that out of the way now. It is called birdshot for a reason and not home-defense ammunition. I encourage the use of buckshot as a home-defense ammunition. It offers multiple dense projectiles that penetrate well. In house-type settings, you can place all of the buckshot pellets into the center mass of a target with one press of the trigger.
Depending on the type of buckshot you get, it can be like shooting a target multiple times with a .38 Special. The most commonly used buckshot is 00 buck. The pellets are generally 0.33 inches in diameter and come eight to a shell. Three or four well-placed shotgun rounds with 00 buck can punch 27 individual wound channels into an adversary, which is a major game-changer. If you are going to load it up, make sure it is with something that will stop a fight.
2. Close-Quarters Precision
One of the most dangerous myths out there is the idea that you do not need to aim with a shotgun. Some people think that you simply point in your target’s general direction and press the trigger. While it is true that shotguns do fire projectiles in an expanding pattern, it takes time and distance for that to happen. Depending on your shotgun and ammo, your pattern may be 6 inches or less at 25 yards. That is pretty unforgiving at closer distances.
The plastic wad that holds the pellets simply will not have time to open at closer distances. As with a rifle or a handgun, you must take the time to aim your shots. It will always come down to shot placement. A similar myth is the idea that shotgun blasts are powerful enough to blow people through windows. Once again, this is another instance of Hollywood fiction. Shotgun ammo can carry a large amount of energy, but it does not have the mass to lift a human off the ground.
3. Ready To Rack?
You’ve heard the phrase “Racking a shotgun is the international sound of ‘get out’.” Actually, it is the international sound of “my gun is not loaded.” This cliché falls off the tongue and sounds witty, but it encourages people to keep their home-defense weapon in an unprepared state. Once again, if you are reaching for a gun, it is a bad day and you need it immediately. Any delay can have lethal consequences.
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One other point is that by racking the slide on your gun, you are revealing your position inside your home. Most criminals did not catch the memo about the sound of a racking shotgun and their need to scurry off. In fact, there is a chance that they will now present their weapon if they have one. While debates rage about the pros and cons of keeping a loaded weapon with one in the chamber, it is undeniably faster and more efficient to keep your boomstick ready to fight.
4. Double-Barrel Defense
“The best gun for home defense is a double-barrel shotgun.” Once again, we take a trip down Hollywood lane to the days of yesteryear. The reason why the double-barrel shotgun was popular in the days of the Wild West is that a modern semi-auto or pump shotgun did not exist. While this Old West fighter can indeed punch good holes, it is not a fighting gun.
The design’s biggest disqualifier is ammunition capacity. You would not carry a primary handgun that only fired two rounds before you had to reload, and your shotgun should not be limited to that, either. A trained and prepared gun owner knows that bad guys almost always come in pairs or more. You may indeed drop the first intruder but their friend may be right behind them. Loading a double-barrel shotgun is slow and cumbersome unless you have seriously trained for it. It is best to stay in the 21st century and keep a modern fighting shotgun.
5. End The Attack
The mantra “one shot, one kill” is used by professional snipers with the idea that they have to stop an assailant quickly and with minimum ammunition. This does not translate well to home defense, however, because it is much more dynamic and taking place in close quarters. If you have to shoot a home invader with a shotgun, you need to be ready to follow up with a second or even third shot.
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The human body is exceptionally resilient and there is no guarantee that a single shotgun blast will take them out of the fight. The phrase I teach in class is “shoot them to the ground.” Once they are out of the fight, then you can stop shooting. This is why it is a good idea to have a gun with a full-sized or even extended magazine tube. You do not want to be forced to reload in the middle of a fight.
6. Taming Recoil
One reason that the shotgun is many times put on the back shelf is that people fear the recoil. In fact, the general thought is that shotguns provide too much recoil for anyone but the largest and heartiest. This is simply not true. While the laws of physics do apply, the use of proper technique can allow just about anyone to effectively run a shotgun. If you have an interest in shotguns, then get professional training on how to really shoot this gun.
7. Less Than Effective
While this section discusses ammunition, it is important enough to be broken out on its own. There is a school of thought that dictates that you should use beanbag or rubber ball rounds in your shotgun. Law enforcement in some cases use these non-lethal rounds for crowd control, but at no time should they be considered for defending your life. If your life is in jeopardy and you are forced to grab a shotgun, you will need to effectively stop your attacker. Non-lethal ammunition can be painful but it is very unlikely to stop a dedicated adversary.
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8. Smoothbore Style
As with many things in the firearms world, people tend to be in different camps on subjects. This applies to shotguns as well. Some believe that pump-action shotguns are better because of reliability, while others talk about the speed of a semi-auto gun. The answer is yes—yes to both. While both arguments have merit, it is more important that you choose a shotgun that fits you and that you can run. I have seen my share of malfunctions with a pump gun, but I have also seen semi-auto shooters get skunked by a skilled pump-gun shooter. Find the gun that fits you and master it.
9. Tactical And Practical
Many people fall into the add-on trap. They purchase a gun and then spend the next year adding on to and modifying the gun. Shotguns are not immune to this phenomenon. Some justify their purchases by claiming that lights and lasers make the shotgun more accurate. This is not actually true. These modifications will only affect your ability to effectively run the gun. The challenge with this is weight. A shotgun is a heavy weapon to begin with, and when flashlight and lasers get strapped on it can be very unwieldy. While a flashlight is highly encouraged, much more than that will have a diminishing return on your investment. If the gun is too heavy, you will have problems using it for defense. Only put what you need on the gun.
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10. Target In Sight
One step above those who say that you don’t need to aim a shotgun are those who say the traditional bead sight is adequate for home defense. Granted, in good light and with no serious stress, the bead works well. However, in low light with your life on the line, you might want to evolve beyond a sight meant for birds. There are many options, but one of the main themes is an ability to see it in low-light environments. Red-dot optics have become popular on shotguns and with good reason. As with rifles, these optics allow you to shoot with both eyes open, thus allowing you a better view of the area you are working in.
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