A Primer on the Shotgun

by Brett on June 6, 2012 · 181 comments

in Gun Skills & Safety, Manly Skills, Survival, Tactical Skills

Recently I’ve had the itch to buy a shotgun. It started after I read Creek’s post on how to build a survival shotgun. The itch only grew stronger after I became a homeowner (I kind of feel like Kevin McAllister). The shotgun is the perfect weapon for home defense and disaster prep. It’s powerful, reliable, and versatile. You can use it to fend off home intruders, hunt for food, or even shoot skeet with your buds.

But as I’ve discussed before on the site, I’m a complete novice when it comes to guns. I grew up around them, but I just didn’t take an interest in them until recently. Before I brought a shotgun into my house, I wanted make sure I knew how it worked and how to fire it safely and correctly.

So I headed over to the U.S. Shooting Academy here in Tulsa, OK to talk to Mike Seeklander, President of the Academy and co-host of Outdoor Channel’s The Best Defense. Mike’s helped me out before with articles on how to fire a handgun and a rifle. On this trip, he explained the very basics of understanding and firing a shotgun. Today I’ll share what I learned from Mike for those folks out there who are also interested in becoming first-time shotgun owners.

Types of Shotguns

Mike's pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns

Shotguns are fired from the shoulder and are typically used to hit targets at short distances. Unlike rifle and handgun cartridges that can only fire a single projectile, a shotgun cartridge typically fires multiple pellets called “shot” that spread out as they leave the shotgun’s barrel. Because the power of a single cartridge charge is divided among multiple pieces of shot, the energy of the shot decreases greatly as it travels away from the gun. That’s why shotguns are short-range weapons.

There are a variety of shotguns out on the market that serve different purposes. Below we highlight the most common types.

Break-action shotguns. Break-action shotguns have a hinge between the barrel and the stock that allows you to “break” or open the barrel to expose the breech in order to load your ammo. If you’ve ever seen pictures of old big game hunters or cowboys holding a shotgun, they were probably holding a break-action shotgun. Break-action shotguns are usually double-barreled, with the barrels either side-by-side or placed one on top of the other. They’re typically used by hunters and sport shooters. The big disadvantage of break-action shotguns is that they’re single shot guns, meaning once you fire the single round in each barrel, you have to reload.

Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun

Pump-action shotguns. A pump-action shotgun is a single-barrel shotgun that holds multiple rounds (unlike break-action shotguns). The way you extract spent shells and chamber a fresh round is by pulling a pump handle towards yourself, and then pushing it back into its original position along the barrel. Pump-action shotguns are widely used by police forces around the world because of their reliability and ability to hold multiple rounds. The Remington 870 has been the standby shotgun for American police forces for years, while the U.S. military has been partial to the Mossberg 500.

The general consensus in the firearms community is that pump-action shotguns are the top choice for home defense. They’re relatively easy to use, nearly impossible to break, and are super reliable. More importantly, the sound of chambering a hot round into a pump-action 12 gauge is sure to soil the britches of even the most hardened criminal. As an added bonus, they’re relatively cheap, with prices beginning around $200.

One of the things you have to watch out for when firing a pump-action shotgun is short-stroking. That’s when you don’t push the pump all the way back to its original position, resulting in a failure to chamber the next round in the magazine.

Browning semi-automatic shotgun

Semi-automatic shotguns. A semi-automatic shotgun fires a single shell each time the trigger is pulled, automatically ejects the spent shell, and automatically chambers a new shell from a magazine. This allows you to fire off shots quickly. Some states ban hunting with semi-automatic shotguns, so be aware of that if you plan on using your gun to hunt.

Because rounds are automatically loaded and the design is more complex, semi-automatic shotguns are more prone to jamming failures than pump-action or break-action shotguns.

Diagram of a shotgun

Understanding Shotgun Ammo

Shotgun ammo is broken down into three categories: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.

Birdshot. Birdshot is smaller than buckshot and is used primarily for hunting, you guessed it, birds. Birdshot size is categorized by a number: the larger the number, the smaller the shot. The smallest birdshot is #12 shot and the largest is size FF. All birdshot pellets have a diameter smaller than 5 mm. Birdshot is so small it’s simply poured into a shotgun shell until the shell reaches a certain weight.

Buckshot. Buckshot is typically used for hunting small to medium-sized game and for police and home defense purposes. As with birdshot, the buckshot is categorized by a number that decreases as the size of the shot goes up. The smallest buckshot is #4 and from there the sizes go past #1 to 0000 (quad-ought), 000 (triple-ought), 00 (double-ought), and 0 (ought). Unlike birdshot, buckshot is too large to be poured into a cartridge. Rather, the buckshot pellets are stacked into the shell in a fixed geometric arrangement in order to fit.

Slugs. Slugs are basically a giant bullet. Instead of firing multiple pellets, a shotgun shell with a slug in it only fires a single slug. Slugs are primarily used to hunt large game and for military and police purposes. Slugs are rifled which gives them spin as they leave the barrel of the gun, making the slug much more accurate and stable in flight.

Understanding Gauge, Chamber Length, & Choke Tubes


Unlike handguns and rifles that use caliber to measure the diameter of the barrel, shotguns use gauge. Measuring gauge goes back to the days of muzzle-loading guns. A shotgun’s gauge number is determined by the number of lead balls that are the size of the gun bore’s diameter that can roll down the gun’s barrel to make a pound. So for example, in a 12 gauge shotgun, twelve lead balls with a diameter equal to the diameter of the barrel adds up to one pound.

Confused? Don’t worry. It takes a bit to wrap your head around it. Just remember this: The smaller the shotgun gauge number, the larger the barrel; the larger the barrel, the bigger the boom from your boomstick.

The most common shotgun gauge sizes are: 10 gauge = .775 inch, 12 gauge = .729 inch, 16 gauge = .662 inch, 20 gauge = .615 inch, 28 gauge = .550 inch.

The 12 gauge shotgun is the most common shotgun gauge sold in America and is a good all-purpose gun — great for home defense, hunting, and skeet shooting. Because of their widespread use, ammo and accessories for 12 gauge shotguns are much easier to find than for other size shotguns. If you’re going to use your shotgun primarily for hunting or skeet shooting, you might follow the advice of shotgunning expert Bob Brister and go with a smaller gauge gun like a 20 or 28 gauge.

Chamber Length

In addition to a shotgun’s gauge number, another size you’ll see stamped on a shotgun’s barrel is the chamber length. The chamber is where the shell fits into the gun for firing. You need to make sure the length of the shell you’re loading into your gun matches the chamber length on your shotgun. Firing shells that are longer than the length of the chamber can generate dangerously high pressures in your gun. That’s a big safety risk.

Choke Tubes

As we mentioned earlier, when you fire a shotgun, the pellets in the shell spread as they leave the gun. When the pellets hit their target, they leave a spread pattern. Spread patterns can be small and dense or wide and sparse. The closer you are to your target, the more compact and lethal your spread pattern.

If you want to maintain a dense spread pattern when firing your shotgun at long distance targets (like you would when hunting), you’ll want to use a choke tube. A choke tube constricts a gun’s shot charge to hold it together longer before the shot spreads, thus giving a denser shot pattern at longer range than an open choke or no choke at all.  Choke tubes come in a variety of sizes depending on how dense a pattern you want. If you’re simply using your shotgun for home defense, you probably don’t need a choke tube. They’re mainly used by hunters and skeet shooters.

How to Stand When Firing a Shotgun

Now that we’re familiar with the anatomy and workings of a shotgun, let’s get down to how to fire it. But first, please review the four cardinal rules of firing a gun.

Mike and the folks at the U.S. Shooting Academy teach their students to assume an athletic stance when firing a shotgun. Square your shoulders up with the target. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart on a straight line. Stagger your strong-side foot about six inches behind your weak-side foot.

Place the buttstock of the shotgun near the centerline of the body and high up on the chest. Keep your elbows down.

Here’s Mike showing the athletic stance:

The biggest advantage of the athletic stance over the bladed stance (standing sideways) is that it helps in reducing the effects of recoil when firing a shotgun. Think about it. If you’re a lineman in football and you want to resist the other guy pushing you backwards, what stance would give you more balance? Being squared up with the other guy, or standing sideways with just one of your shoulders towards him? Squared up, of course.

Another advantage of the athletic stance is that it allows you to track a moving target better.

How to Hold a Shotgun

The act of putting a shotgun to your shoulder is called mounting the gun. But you don’t bring the gun to your shoulder straight off. You want to bring the side of the stock to your cheek first, before moving the buttstock to your shoulder.

Keeping your head up, bring the shotgun to your head. Press your cheek firmly to the side of the stock and then place the buttstock of the shotgun near the centerline of the body and high up on the chest,  like so:

Doing it this way ensures the gun is in exactly the same position each time you shoot.

Trigger Hand Grip

On most shotguns you’ll find a crook between the stock and the trigger guard. Simply center the crook  in the “V” junction of your thumb and index finger of your trigger hand. Grip the gun firmly, but not tightly.

If your shotgun has a pistol grip like Mike’s gun in the picture below, center the grip in the “V” at the junction of the thumb and index finger of your trigger hand. Grip the gun high on the backstrap (the backstrap is the back of the grip on the gun). Like so:

Support Hand Grip

The support hand should grip the fore-end of the shotgun roughly midway down the length of the shotgun. Here’s Mike demonstrating for us:

Putting your support hand further forward on the fore-end will give you finer control over the muzzle when aiming, which you want when precision is key. It will also give you more leverage against the gun which helps in recoil control.

How to Hold a Shotgun in Close Quarter Situations

You’ve probably seen movies where the action hero fires a shotgun in close quarters from the hip. I asked Mike about that.

“That’s a great technique…for the movies,” he said.

In other words, don’t use it in real life. It’s not safe and doesn’t provide any advantages other than looking cool.

If your target is really close to you, Mike suggests bringing the shotgun stock beneath your armpit in order to create more space between you and your target while maintaining more control. Here’s how it looks:

How to Aim a Shotgun

There’s a lot of debate among shotgunners about how you’re supposed to aim these things.  You’ll hear many folks say, “You don’t aim a shotgun, you point it,” (See Shotgunning by Bob Brister.) Others will say you should aim it just like you would a rifle.

I asked Mike about this, and he said that while you should definitely aim a shotgun, the way you aim will be different depending on what sort of situation you’re in.

“You’re responsible for every shot you fire, so you better be sure you know where they’re going,” Mike advises. “Don’t just point it and start firing action movie style.”

Aiming a Shotgun in Home Defense and Large Game Hunting Situations

If you’re using a shotgun in a home defense situation or if you’re hunting deer with slugs, you’ll want to aim your shotgun just like you would when firing a rifle. Some shotguns have a rear sight notch and a bead at the end of the gun’s barrel (most shotguns don’t have a rear sight). Align those just as you would with a rifle. After you have proper sight alignment, you’ll want to set your sight picture. I talked about proper sight picture in our post about firing a handgun. The same principles apply here. I won’t repeat what I wrote, so refer back to that post for tips on aiming a shotgun.

Aiming a Shotgun in Small Game Hunting or Trap Situations

When you’re bird hunting or shooting skeet, you don’t have time for the deliberate aiming technique described above. If you try to aim like that, your bird will be long gone before you get a shot off. When you’re hunting small, fast-moving game or shooting clays with a shotgun, instead of carefully lining up your sights and putting all your focus on them like you would with a rifle, simply focus on the target, and fire.

“You also need to lead the target when firing at fowl. Don’t focus on the target itself, but rather the target’s front edge,” says Mike.

Trigger Management (aka Pulling the Trigger)

Unlike with a rifle or handgun where you slowly squeeze the trigger, with a shotgun you can use a more direct and less controlled trigger press. Again, when firing a shotgun, speed in getting off a shot is the goal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The key to successful and safe gun training is practice. If you don’t own a shotgun, but are interested in purchasing one, find a local gun range and rent one for an hour. Ask to have someone show you how to fire it safely and correctly. Most places will be more than happy to help. If you already own a shotgun, here’s a friendly reminder to keep training.

Oh, and if you’re curious as to what sort of shotgun I ended up getting. It’s a Remington 870 Express.

Do you own a shotgun? Have any other tips for the first-time shotgun shooter? Share them with us in the comments!

Editor’s note: This article is about understanding the shotgun and how to fire one safely and correctly. It is not a debate about gun rights or whether guns are stupid or awesome. Keep it on topic or be deleted.


Special thanks goes out to Mike and the crew at U.S. Shooting Academy for their help on this article. Mike along with the U.S. Shooting Academy Handgun Manual were the sources for this article.   If you’re ever in the Tulsa area, stop by their facility. It’s top notch and the staff and trainers are friendly, knowledgeable, and super badass.

{ 181 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Cleaner June 8, 2012 at 10:53 am

How about CLEANING your guns? How to do it. How often to do it. What happens if you don’t do it. That’s the main reason I didn’t take my guns with me when I moved out of my parents’ place. My dad always liked cleaning ‘em. I found it to be a real bitch.

102 X man June 8, 2012 at 11:28 am

+1 Benelli Nova

103 Bob Robertson June 8, 2012 at 11:44 am

. Excellent article. A man must always be prepared to act, and act effectively, in any situation where action is needed. To defend one’s self, one’s family, and the innocent from predation, has often been the very definition of Manliness.
. Good discussion of posture. So many people without experience lean “back” to balance the weight of the weapon, and then wonder why they knocked on their butt by recoil. Leaning into the direction of force means all that recoil merely stands the shooter up straight. No loss of balance at all.
. On barrel length: For defense, make it SHORT. The NFA has removed the most effective inside-the-home defensive weapon, the short-barrel shotgun. Even 18″ can be cumbersome, search the “Ithaca Auto and Burglar”, a production defensive shotgun from before the regulators got involved.
. In home defense: Better the .22 you have than the .44 you don’t. As has been said, in the middle of the night the defender’s position is not optimal. Use whatever YOU are most comfortable with, be it carbine, shotgun, pistol, cricket bat, whatever. With two caveats:
. THINK about what you will do BEFORE you have to do it. Practice getting up in the middle of the night a few times, walk through your house, know where things are and what is “normal”.
. THINK about your use of your weapon. Get lighter loads, frangible ammo, flashlight, but most of all understand what works FOR YOU and YOUR situation.
. Do not pick up a weapon if you are not prepared to use it.
. Post 8: That’s a myth, pushed by folks are are afraid of guns in anyone’s but the police’s hands. Don’t trust me, don’t trust them either. Look it up.
. Post 41, A.S.Falcon, Hollywood did not invent it, but Hollywood’s fascination and especially their MISTAKES with weapons have helped those who hate firearms pretend that all those mistakes are real, which has made it very difficult for the 99.99% of firearms owners that don’t hurt anyone.
. The reality is that there is a very good reason cops carry firearms for defense: They work.
. If you’re really interested in the American situation, I recommend the books of John R. Lotte, “More Guns Less Crime” and “The Bias Against Guns”, and Clayton E. Cramer, “Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie”

Thank you, Brett. I enjoy that your posts are linked through LewRockwell.com, it reminds me to visit.

104 G3Ken June 8, 2012 at 11:51 am

I’d like to point out a few points that I believe are VITAL (I apologize if some or all have been previously mentioned, but I couldn’t tread all 100+ comments.

1. Do NOT buy any gun for home defense unless you are 100% POSITIVE that you can fire it if you have to. My father-in-law wanted me to help him buy one and knowing him, I asked if he could shoot someone if necessary. He seemed uncertain and said, “maybe I’ll just scare them”. I immediately escorted him from the store, sans gun. He’d be more of a risk to himself and others.

2. Know your firearm intimately and practice, practice, practice. I know so many people with dusty shotguns under the bed. Those folks are also a danger to themselves and others.

3. Whatever gun you choose, be sure you can hit your target and KNOW YOUR BACKGROUND.

4. For my foreign friends who don’t understand our fascination with guns: guns=freedom. Our forefathers bought their freedom with guns and we were the first truly FREE people on the earth, although the “I need to be protected” class are rapidly, surrendering our rights in the name of safety. Every genocide in history was perpetrated on an unarmed populace. It won’t happen here without one hell of a fight.

105 IPSC Master Mike June 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

The shotgun is a terrible choice for home defense in all but the largest of homes. One thing you should have shown in the article is some actual “patterning” at various distances. The longest shot I can fire inside my home is about 25 feet. At that distance, even an open-choked “riot-gun” will only cover a few inches. If you’re missing with a handgun, you’ll probably miss with a shotgun too.

Additional downsides of the shotgun include its length and two-handed use. Try moving through your home in the stances recommended. Every corner you go around requires the redirection of the muzzle in an un-useful direction (up or down). Now imagine swinging this cumbersome stick around a corner only to have a bad guy grab it. Now neither of you have a gun….and you both do. The stronger man gets to keep it and kill the other.

The sheer size of this weapon makes it a poor choice for anything other than getting behind the bed, and laying it across the mattress pointed at the bedroom door. Even then, this assumes that you woke up in time to get in said position.

When it comes to CQB (close quarters battle) the handgun is king.

106 Mike June 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

An interesting post. Good for the author for learning.

I have to say that as a lifelong gun owner (literally, I was given a single shot .410 on my sixth birthday), who has owned and owns many rifles, shotguns, and handguns that I often find self-appointed “gun-experts” both embarrassing and dangerous.

Firearms, ALL firearms, are lethal weapons. They were designed that way. A single shot from a .22 long rifle(generally the lightest common rifle/pistol round out there) will, and has, easily instantly kill an adult male-of ANY species. They used to kill cattle with .22 SHORTS(about half the power of the .22 LR, increasingly rare) because they were inexpensive.

Similarly, bird and game load(usually 6-8 shot) at the bore and out to several feet is the effective equivalent of a slug-the damage will be breathtaking. Anyone who says otherwise…well, I’m afraid I have to wonder how much time they have spent shooting. That does not mean I endorse 6-8 shot for defense-though there is nothing wrong with it-but the notion that it is anything other than devastatingly lethal at short range(like in a house) is simply irresponsible.

Of course, nothing is ALWAYS lethal, people have been struck by artillery rounds and survived. People have also fallen out of airplanes and survived falling thousands of feet. Care to try it? Me either.

Anecdotes about some guy surviving being shot in the head with “bird shot”, or shot accidentally and being but “bruised”(well outside the effective range for waterfowl shot, by the way, particularly steel shot) are just that, anecdotes.

If someone is shot with a firearm, any firearm, it is almost certain that they will be seriously wounded or killed. If you shoot them, you are very likely going to go to prison-at least that’s what you ought to have in your mind while you’re planning your “home defense.” If you are in a position where you need to use a firearm against another human, you have two threats, the immediate one, and the later, potentially even more dangerous, one when the cops show up.

If you really think you will need to use a firearm in self-defense, more important than the choice of weapon is your choice of attorney. Anyone “training” you in firearm use that brings up self-defense really ought to bring this up.

I would encourage everyone to at least try shooting, it is a wonderful, and fun, sport. Shotguns are a great place to start. I suspect that if you find someone to show you the ropes about skeet shooting, or perhaps upland hunting, you are more likely to encounter the sober conversation about safety, etc., that is so important, than if you listen to the ruminations of your local gun shop cowboy with the camo and the beer gut.

107 James June 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm

This was a good article, especially as a beginner’s guide to a class of firearms. I grew up handling firearms. I’ve fired any number of variants of rifles and handguns, but shotguns have always been my favorite. One variant of shotgun you didn’t mention is a bolt-action. They are pretty rare now a days, but they are interesting weapons. They used to be fairly ubiquitous as JC higgins and Sears crafted several cheap models aimed at poor farmers. I’ve got one of my own that I picked up a while ago (Dad always said to jump on one if I see it); if anything it makes for a great conversation starter, but it is a fine firearm that is in good condition for a weapon made in the 40s.

Regarding firearm safety and storage- strict enforcement of firearms safety, training, and storage procedures will mitigate much of the risk associated with firearms. It will never completely eliminate the risk. My father taught us early to respect firearms and understand the damage that can result from misuse. We learned early that firearms are not toys but tools and that they should always be treated as such.

I plan on taking the same approach with my daughters as they get older and I have faith that this approach will make them smart, safe shooters.

Be safe and keep it at the low ready.

108 Samuel H. Digan June 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm

+1 on “Practice, Practice, Practice”. My drill:
load one shell directly in the chamber
load one in the magazine
shoulder the weapon while disengaging the safety
fire both shells
scan for threats

There is a local indoor range so I can practice rain-or-shine after work and weekends. Shotgun is A-OK however they frown upon rifles. Review the posted range rules and if not covered always ask.

Mike in the pictures has a semi-automatic. With a pump shotgun, before firing, apply tension from your hand on the pump towards your shoulder. This has two benefits: the isometric tension improves recoil management and immediately after a trigger pull you begin ejecting the spent shell. Good article.


PS Mossberg 590 model 50668

109 Meathead June 8, 2012 at 12:55 pm

If you are only going to use your shotgun for home defense, which will be at close range, you might consider the following.

I purchased a 12 gauge Mossberg Maverick; a relatively inexpensive pump shotgun. I removed the barrel and using my miter saw, I reduced the barrel length to 18 1/2 inches (18 inches is the minimum legal barrel length, but allow some extra for ‘legality’ sake). I took a half-round jewelers file and carefully beveled the inside of the barrel end to a 30 degree angle to enable the shot to properly spread I removed the rear stock and replaced it with a “pistol grip” stock which allows the weapon to be fired similar to the position of holding the shotgun rear stock under your armpit (DO NOT attempt to hold the shotgun as if you were aiming it as the recoil will cause injury). The legal overall length of the shotgun must be 26 inches, so be careful to stay “legal”

I took a large nail, cut the head off, and nailed it into a wall stud by my bed at the height of my shoulder while sitting on the bed. I wrapped one layer of electrical tape around the nail to prevent marring the shotgun. I slipped the shotgun over the nail between the barrel and the front slide support so that it hangs vertically and is easy to reach (cover the barrel end with a piece of masking tape to keep dust out).

If you are not mechanically inclined or don’t have the tools, any gunsmith can do the modifications.

I recommend NOT keeping a shell in the chamber in order to not keep applicable springs depressed and stressed.

When the grand-kids and great-grand-kids visit, we keep the bedroom door locked for safety sakes.

110 Jared June 8, 2012 at 1:01 pm

I’m sure that the few points I have to add have already been said (if not here, then they are elsewhere on the web).

- A 12 gauge pump shotgun is literally the most versatile firearm in the world.

- Some shotgun barrels come with an integrated choke tube, like the Maverick 88 and Mossberg 500. Most people do not need to worry about choke tubes for home defense purposes. I don’t think the bad guy will be complaining that you used a modified vs. open vs. improved.

- Racking the slide of a pump shotgun is the equivalent of a big dog’s growl. I would wager that most people will scurry off in search of clean britches if they were to hear that in the dark

111 Vic June 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Great article.

I grew up in a rural area of the country. Guns were just tools we had around. I learned to hunt as a teen and have had guns around ever since I bought my own first one at about age 19.

Since my teen years, I’ve always lived in urban areas of the U.S. I think where you live would have a definite impact on the type of weapon you should select for HD
Although I carried and fired AR type weapons in NAM, I would not personally select one for HD. I also would rather use a shotgun than the revolver I use as a carry weapon. My preference is an 18″ 12 gauge with a pump action. Even though I live in a single family home at a reasonable distance from my neighbors, penetration of walls is a strong consideration.

I’m surprised to see no discussion of laser disignators.

112 A.S Falcon June 8, 2012 at 1:06 pm

@Rogerharris – I think you misread my comment, sorry if I offended anyone. I thought it was a legitimate question, I guess not.

113 Javi June 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm

Love my Mossberg 500!

114 Chris Goodwin June 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I am an Englisman, living in Denmark. My wife’s niece, a doctor, attended a conference in America recently, where the discussion turned to children killed in shooting accidents -and she was asked what the statistics were in Denmark. She said she had never heard of such a thing happening in Denmark – and she said it got quite tense – because nobody believed her! All right, I will read Lotte: are there any other books I should see ?

115 Mah-10 June 8, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Please! No more gun articles! While I love shooting and have several rifles, handguns, and shotguns, I tire of the know-it-alls who feel compelled to share all their “expertise” on CQB, gun-handling, caliber, ammo selection, etc etc in the comments.

116 Spinman June 8, 2012 at 3:08 pm

I don’t have strong opinions to share on home defense or the Bill of Rights, but I do really enjoy this blog (to be contrasted against a growing number of “men’s blogs” out there which are poorly written), and say the following:

- I didn’t grow up with guns, but came to be interested in hunting;

- I bought a 12 ga. Benelli Nova pump for waterfowl and turkey, and do love its simplicity;

- I feel like I’ve caught “the bug” and find myself drooling over Browning over/unders.

Keep up the good work on the blog!

117 Rick June 8, 2012 at 3:49 pm

The best gun item I’ve laid money down on was a 870 Reminton (used), added an extended tube magazine, with a “surfire” built-in, high end flashlight as part of the fore stock. The wife knows that what ever coon or bad guy is going down by simply putting the light beam on the target and pulling the trigger.

118 Bailey S. June 8, 2012 at 4:30 pm

You NEVER keep a LOADED gun in the house. EVER.

And if you’re going to have a gun in the house with kids, you teach them how to respect it and use it properly (and up to a certain point, never without supervision) just like you would if you had a table saw in your house. Both are tools that are beneficial when used properly, deadly hazards when not.

119 Gene T June 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm

The only thing I can think of that may be questionable is that the slugs in shotguns spin. The ones I have seen in the past have the wads screwed into the back of the slug so that the slug flies like a dart. The little fins in the back of the slugs that are supposed to spin it have nothing to grab in the barrel of the gun, they may spin some when in the air on their way to the target but it is such a short time that I don’t think they would spin that much. There are some slug guns that have rifled barrels but I don’t consider them shotguns, they are large bore rifles.

The advantage of a shotgun in a defensive situation is, at least to me, its deadliness. Even bird shot at 10 or 20 feet is much more effective than a shot from most any pistol. And it won’t penetrate the walls into your neighbors house and harm him too.

120 jbc June 8, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Just bought a Benelli Supernova 12-gauge. Accepts 2-3/4″ through 3-1/2″ shells. Will use it for waterfowl hunting but could double for home defense. Handles well, very reliable, a great shotgun.

121 P.M.Lawrence June 8, 2012 at 9:19 pm

In comment 104, G3Ken wrote “Every genocide in history was perpetrated on an unarmed populace”.

No, not unless you mean that by the time they died they didn’t have weapons left. But they frequently did have weapons when it began. For instance, in the Armenian Genocide the victims had been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that for the very first time they had been allowed into the military and were learning how to use weapons properly – and they could get shotguns and the like back home, legally or not (plus being able to steal weapons they were issued). Likewise, the Jewish Ghetto Police were armed under the Nazis, and the Kaffirs in 19th century Afghanistan were armed.

Most of these genocides weren’t just carried out by outsiders (who had even better weapons and training), they were also assisted by neighbours with similar resources to the victims but who outnumbered them.

122 Alex June 8, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Flash! Bang! I have read that in close quarters, a shotgun may flashblind you and will certainly leave your ears ringing if you don’t wear hearing protection. A smaller weapon like a handgun loaded with shot for 1st 1-2 rounds might be a better choice for a quick response in the dead of night.

apologies If I repeat – didn’t have time to read all.

123 Tony June 8, 2012 at 11:23 pm

What about the 410 much lighter and still versitlle. Thanks.

124 Cris June 9, 2012 at 6:04 am

Anyone considering a shotgun type, at least as a secondary consideration, should factor in maintenance. It’s definitely an issue with clay shooting when you can easily fire 100+ shots in a session.

I love my Beretta auto loader, but cleaning all the gunk out of every nook and cranny of the gas system’s parts can either be relaxing, enjoyable, and rewarding or it can get to be a hell of a chore depending on what else I have to do that day. My Remington pump takes less than half the time to clean thoroughly, and though I don’t own one, break action guns are even simpler.

A clean gun can be the difference between life or death or it can be a nuisance at the firing line as everyone has to wait for you to clear a jam, but either way, an honest evaluation of your levels of time and patience for maintaining the weapon should be a consideration when buying a shotgun or really any gun.

125 James June 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Great article, I own an 870 myself. Though I consider more or less purely as for sport.

As far as cleaning goes, with many modern shotguns it isn’t absolutely necessary to always clean it after shooting, but I still would, it really isn’t that difficult. If you don’t know how to simply ask the man you’re buying it from.

Also, remember to always store the gun separately from your ammunition.

126 bob dole June 9, 2012 at 2:35 pm

what about .410 my favorite gun for squirrel hunting

127 Jimmy June 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Great article. Every man should have a pump-action shotgun.
They’re reliable, they’re versatile, they can save your family’s life.

128 toby June 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm

Before you buy a shotgun consider a Taurus Judge pistol. 3″ or
2 3/4″shells which can be slugs or buckshot. Remington makes a PDX home defense round which has a special load of discs and buckshot. If you like you can shoot .45 ammo through it as well. I shoot one pretty often at the range. No recoil to speak of but deals a lot of damage. It burps fire and lead. No regrets with this purchase. One other thing, some indoor ranges allows you to rent a weapon and fire it. A test drive so to speak. Can save someone from buyers regret.

129 Hal June 10, 2012 at 10:40 am


An unloaded HD gun isn’t of much use. Being that adamant that guns stay unloaded in the home is a bit much. If you have kids, there are options (other than the obvious proper EDUCATION).

130 Evan M June 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

Nothing like a gun article to bring out the mall ninjas.

The Remington 870 is the most commercially successful shotgun ever made. They are rugged, reliable and inexpensive. With a 12 bore, you have the option of hunting small to large game and any bird from dove to turkey. The 12 bore Rem 870 is also an excellent weapon for self defense with many options for chokes, barrel lengths and ammunition.

You can use other guns for these purposes and there’s no reason you shouldn’t but if you want something that can do it all, get a pump shotgun. And keep in mind that if you need to defend yourself, you’ll probably be more experienced shooting in adverse conditions with the gun you hunt with than with the latest overpriced tacticool toy.

131 robtvoss June 10, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I have an old Remington 12 ga. pump. If I remove the wooden plug (which limits the number of shells that can be loaded into it) is there any downside except for the game warden?

132 Evan M June 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

@ A.S Falcon

You really have nothing to be sorry about. Your explanation for American gun culture was pretty accurate.

The United States has a history where private gun ownership has been very important and fundamentally different from that of Europe and many other parts of the world. Not all of it has been pleasant but that doesn’t change the facts. You see similar gun cultures in other nations with histories of settlement like Australia. Gun cultures also exist in places like Siberia and the Mongolian steppes for the same reasons they developed among American settlers; namely hunting and defense against bears/wolves in places where there is little contact with or aide from the official government.

133 Dave June 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Alex, if you think “flash-bang” isn’t an issue with handguns, or smaller-caliber anything, short of an air rifle, your are mistaken. Indeed, revolvers are the worst offenders. They have fire coming out all over the place!

The “bang,” especially in close quarters such as a house, is really, really loud, even with a .22 – although all else being equal, the .22 would be the least problematic. But then it is also among the least effective.

The “flash,” on the other hand, can actually serve a useful purpose in that it: 1. can illuminate your target (NOT that I recommend you shooting ANYTHING that you cannot see!) and 2. is much more likely to dazzle, confuse and temporarily blind the character located in the front of the muzzle.

I disagree with those who hold that the shotgun is not a good choice for a home-defense weapon. I consider it to be a very good choice. But no choice isn’t with trade-offs. Regarding any long gun is the issue of where to keep it, with due consideration of who lives in or visits the house. A long gun is not likely to be kept in a spot where it is most likely to be needed. And here’s where the handgun does really stand out. I think it was Jeff Cooper (but I could be wrong) who said that the primary function of a handgun is to fight your way back to your long gun.

134 Hal June 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm

It was Jeff Cooper that said it. He said a lot of very smart things. While I’m not completely in agreement on every single part of his “scout rifle” requirements, he definitely knew a thing or two about rifles.

… and yes, the flash and bang out of revolvers are horrendous. As someone who’s done a lot of low-light indoor shooting with hot .357mags, I hope I never have to touch one off in a dark room with NO hearing protection.

… and no, there’s no problem with taking the plug out. It’s only an issue for certain hunting situations when you’re limited on how much your gun can hold.

135 Evil Steve June 10, 2012 at 7:28 pm

I have an 870 pump with a few modifications as one HD option. I have an aftermarket barrel,and a recoil reducing stock (Knoxx when I bought it but I think a Blackhawk makes them now).

Given the choke tube discussion, a shorter barrel for HD purposes won’t have a choke tube, but hunting and skeet/trap barrels will. My original 870 kit came with a shot hunting barrel, an unrifled slug barrel, I purchased an aftermarket 18″ barrel. If you bought a new Mossberg 590 it would already have a center bore(no choke tube) barrel installed.

If you do have a choked barrel, a choke tube will have little effect on buckshot, but could alter the accuracy of slugs, although they should be safe to fire.

Furthermore, If you’re talking about slugs there are different types, and different barrels. Standard slugs are meant to be fired from unrifled shotgun barrels and sabot slugs have a plastic sabot around them and are only meant to be fired from rifled shotgun barrels. Sabot slugs will be clearly marked, and they are more expensive. Sabot slugs will tumble in flight if fired from an unrifled barrel, so don’t do it.

Along those lines, if you have a rifled shotgun barrel do not fire buckshot from it, the rifling increases the spread pattern in an unsafe manner for HD purposes.
This spread pattern due to rifling is also why there is some criticism and discussion about using .410 buckshot in the Taurus Judge for self defense, which you can research for yourself.

136 Xenocles June 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm

“The “flash,” on the other hand, can actually serve a useful purpose in that it: 1. can illuminate your target (NOT that I recommend you shooting ANYTHING that you cannot see!) and 2. is much more likely to dazzle, confuse and temporarily blind the character located in the front of the muzzle.”

These cannot both be true. If the flash illuminates your target then you’re going to be staring right into the flash over the front sight every time. If it’s dark where you are, your rods have saturated and your night vision is now gone. Maybe your target was looking at the flash too, maybe not. You better have been, though, since the flash is on the line that you were aiming along.

137 jr June 10, 2012 at 10:44 pm

thanks for this article!I hunted and trap shoot with my brothers when younger but never learned first thing about guns.Found out going to store most men won’t really help you they’ll ask something you obviously don’t know instead of explaining so you do know! sorry guys! NOW I know enough to go in and confidently ask for a 12 guage pump and the ammo to go with. I am alone so I have to learn myself to defend me and my son. Then a hand gun class is next. I intend to have both readily available!

138 Matthew Bryant June 11, 2012 at 10:53 am

One thing I did not see mentioned was recoil. Shotguns are notorious for it.

A 12 gauge is going to pack a punch, on both ends. Lightweight shotguns increase the felt recoil. After running two boxes of shells through a break action last week, my shoulder was tender for the rest of the weekend. For reference, I’ve been shooting this same shotgun since I was a boy, about 15 years ago. It still gets to me.

For those new to shotguns, I’d suggest a 20 gauge. Something with a little more weight to it, like a Remington 870 (heavier steel receiver when compared to a Mossberg) will mitigate the recoil even more. And for those that doubt it’s effectiveness, 20 gauge 00 has the same muzzle energy as two rounds of .44 Magnum at point blank range.

People won’t shoot a gun that hurts them Well, sane people anyway. I enjoy a 12 gauge, but I’ve been shooting it most of my life.

139 John June 11, 2012 at 11:41 am

Excellent article and comments! I carried a Mossberg 500 during my USN tour and have a Mossberg Maverick 88 with riot length barrel and heat shield for home defense. Contrary to what one person posted, the shottie is an EXCELLENT home defense weapon. If you choose the right load (#6 or #8 birdshot), your risk of overpenetraton is low and you WILL do some serious damage. Also makes you look better in court than if you used buckshot or an extra lethal specialty round. My only other comment is to stay away from pistol only grips. They look cool but prevent you from properly shouldering and aiming the weapon, plus they mishandle the recoil.

140 Willard June 11, 2012 at 12:11 pm

I am a new shotgun owner. A sport shooting friend took me to his sporting clays range and let me fire 100 rounds with a variety of guns he owned. As a septuagenarian, I chose a lighter Browning BPS 20 ga because I love the beauty of guns as much as their utility. Now I need a lot of practice, because I stil can’t hit a clay bird with it. Next step is the patterning board.

141 Hal June 11, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Keep at it, Willard. The first clay is the hardest one to hit, particularly with a new gun. You may also want to take a crack at skeet shooting. It’s a great way to get an eye for calculating lead for various angles. It’s tough with a pump, but I’ve seen it done.

142 Chris June 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm

As a red-blooded American, veteran, ex-public servant, and professional historian, I’m frankly disappointed by the rampant ignorant jingoism I’m seeing from some of my countrymen in these posts. I apologize to the non-Americans on this board for the American exceptionalism on display.

That being said, I think this was a decent article. The only thing I’d add to the shotgun vs carbine vs handgun debate is that the best firearm for home defense is the one that you can use the best. That means training and practice and safety.

143 Robert June 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm

A great aiming technique for leading birds is butt, belly, beak, bang. That is, as you swing on a bird flying by, track the tip of your barrel from its butt past its belly past its beak and then pull the trigger. You will have led it perfectly.

144 Coop June 12, 2012 at 10:27 am

I can still remember my first shotgun… A simple pump 12ga. Being young, we converted it down to double pistol grips and a shortened barrel. One of the coolest looking guns. Nothing looks scarier than a shortened shotgun with a sidesaddle holding a few shells.

145 Samuel H. Digan June 12, 2012 at 5:06 pm

@Cleaner You can go a very, very long time w/o cleaning simple firearms like non-semiauto shotguns and AK rifles. Remember two things: use quality, clean ammo and store them carefully (and safely). I clean mine a few times a year and I shoot 40+ rounds 2-3 times a month.

@toby Have you shot a Taurus judge? I’d suggest a quality semi-auto pistol w/ high-capacity magazine like a Glock 9mm. If pistol is not your preference, a 7 (or 8!) round 357 (alt. choose 38 sp). The Taurus Judge is not pleasant for practicing. Not against .410 or other lesser gauges, just the marketing hype.

@Dave, @Alex Turn on the lights. Unless they disabled power to your home the lights will come on. Also, quality ammunition in an 18″ barrel will have burned completely.

Samuel Dighan

146 Jason June 12, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Hmm, the best gun for home defense?

A dog with a menacing bark (preferably a rescue). The dog will have scared off an intruder well before you can manage to pump the shotgun (which on the other side of the door won’t sound like much). If you want something for personal defense in the home, buy a baseball bat to go with the dog. You won’t kill yourself or any loved ones with a bat.

I live in a city with a pretty high murder rate (New Orleans) and the number one suggestion here is: get a dog. Or get two. But a gun? Only if you want to target shoot or hunt. If you don’t, then chances are you won’t gain enough experience with the gun and will end up killing something you didn’t mean to. And, yes, I own guns (two, in fact) and unless I am using them to target shoot or hunt they remain locked in a case with the ammunition locked in a second case.

This whole article (and the comments) remind me of how I once saw an “Osama Bin Laden: Wanted Dead or Alive” poster at a gas station right outside Yosemite National Park, which is the last place in the U.S. Osama Bin Laden would ever have attacked. As Christopher Hitchens has pointed out, funny how extremism has a tendency to develop at the edges.

147 Chris J June 14, 2012 at 10:54 am


Although I dissagree on the idea of not using a firearm for home defense, I agree that if you are going to use a firearm for home or self defense, you need to know how to use it. There are too many people that think they know how to shoot because they can put 5 rounds in the center of a target at 50 yards. That is an impressive feat, to be sure, but its not the same kind of skill as drawing from concealment, clearing malfunctions one handed, speed or tactical reloads, and engaging multiple targets quickly.
(To the prospective gun owners in the audience)
There are some better known shooting schools in the US: Thunder Ranch, Gunsite, and Massad Ayoobs Mag-40 come to mind. If one feels that those are too pricey or intimidating, I believe many ranges offer instruction in the area of using firearms defensively.

I believe previous posters have mentioned bird shot. While I agree with the gentleman from New Zealand that, yes, bird shot, like any other projectile, is dangerous, and should be treated with respect, that alone does not make it the best choice for a self defense firearm.

148 Anders June 14, 2012 at 12:49 pm

“Gun=Freedom” and other “On the Soapbox” nuts aside, safely shooting shotguns can be a lot of fun. I have an iconic 870 and a O/U 20 guage for upland hunting (respect the 20, 28 and .410, any serious shooter does) and appreciate both. Get out there, take a course and try a few on for size!

149 Chad June 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm

In reference to the gentleman asking about cleaning your weapon, there is no simple answer for that. A clean weapon is a happy weapon, and a happy weapon treats you well, so my rule of thumb is to clean after every fourth or fifth extended shooting session (100+ rounds for long guns, 200+ rounds for handguns). If you load your own rounds, as I do, you have to consider the cleanliness of the powder you are using which can dramatically impact the frequency with which you clean. If your weapon jams frequently, clean it. If your weapon is difficult to load, clean it. If your weapon is visibly dirty, clean it! Cleaning is the best way to get to know your weapon inside and out, and that is a tremendous help when troubleshooting simple problems. Happy shooting!

150 elanvacationsnc June 15, 2012 at 9:51 am

I like the shot guns.. and love to read an article on how to use the shot guns

151 Greg June 16, 2012 at 1:15 am

I forgot to mention two other things in my early post.

1. Skeet
2. Trap

Without a shotgun, what kind of manly sport would those ever be?

152 Jesse June 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm

I love a shotgun, but I ended up choosing a Saiga 12 gauge which is one of the few magazine fed shotguns that exists. My personal opinion is that this fixes one of the deficiencies of the tube fed shotgun in that they have a limited ammunition capacity and by necessity are slower to load and loading is an intensely skill driven procedure.

153 Jim H June 16, 2012 at 10:08 pm

In the ammo section you forgot to mention TACTICAL buckshot and slugs.

Original “full house” buckshot is meant for more than just small to medium game, it was meant for the largest game animals on the continent. A typical buckshot charge is punishingly brutal because game animals are built different than you or I and the lead projectiles need to travel further into it to render it dead in a humane fashion.

but humans are upright animals, and it only takes a couple of inches in order to penetrate to vital organs in most cases the penetration needed to stop a human is way less than that needed to stop a black bear. Regular buckshot was brutal enough that training with it was something cops avoided, but liability dictated that the shotgun receive regular qualification too – enter “tactical buckshot”.

It’s reduced charge ammunition, same pellet or slug charge, but in some cases 400fps less velocity (hence less recoil). It’s easy to manage recoil and easy to keep on target (essential stuff). Contrary to popular belief shotgun loads don’t spread out all that much at self-defense distances, getting all pellets on target is crucial – hit the bad guy AND the neighbor and you’ve got a problem.

when possible buy/train and use TACTICAL buckshot and/or slugs in your home defense weapon, otherwise you’ll avoid training with it and that’s a bad thing.

154 Bob June 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm

I have Winchester Model 12 made in 1928 from my grandpa. That old 12 gauge is STILL going strong.

155 Lonna June 16, 2012 at 11:30 pm

I’m glad others have asked about the .410. My father gave my mother one for Christmas one year (knowing she hated guns) and I inherited it. (it needs work – ejector).
They are still made aren’t they? (I think it would be a great starter for kids.)

156 Deltaboy June 17, 2012 at 9:04 am

If you didn’t grow up shooting go with a 20 gauge .

157 Moeregaard June 18, 2012 at 11:10 am

I’m with Deltaboy. The 20 is just nice to shoot–and throws enough shot that beginners won’t become frustrated by not hitting anything. I like the 16 even more, but it doesn’t enjoy the popularity it once did. There are probably more folks who’ve been turned off by the .410 than shooters who’ve become proficient with it.

158 Matt B June 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I’m actually fixing to do a post on the reliable shotgun on my blog, but there are other factors involved to a shotgun. One is recoil. Recoil can kill your shoulder if your shotgun kicks back into your shoulder too much. A 12 gauge and a 20 gauge have a lot of recoil(especially if they’re like mine and haven’t been made since the 80′s), but their ammo is easier to find, than say, 28 gauge ammo. A .410 is a good one to have, since the recoil is almost nonexistant and the spread is a tight grouped pattern. I’m actually more into archery and knife/tomahawk throwing, but I love shotguns and revolvers. As far as practice goes with a shotgun, you pretty much just point and shoot, unless you’re bird hunting, skeet, trap, or clay pigeon shooting, then it does take a little practice. One thing I can say is to get a recoil pad. It’ll soften the recoil, which can make your shoulder seriously hurt after putting 20 rounds through it. But with any gun, safety is key. If you’re done shooting, when you put your gun away, depending on the type, leave the break open, or the pump open, that way you can see for sure that it’s unloaded. You can’t really do that with a semi automatic, so just pull the slide back and look inside the chamber. And always leave the safety on

159 EJF June 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm

One thing that was only touched on is the sheer joy of holding a fine shotgun. I have been bird and clay shooting for over 50 years and to me there is no better feeling than handeling a trully fine shotgun. I started with a 20ga SXS at 10 went to a 12ga at about 22 now I have settled on a 28ga O/U and love it That is what alot of non shooter do not understand is just the love of a beautifully made gun and the fit and function of a fine weapon. I now have somewhere close to 40 long guns and 15 hand guns and they are all shooters, I keep saying I’m going to sell a couple but just can’t figure out which ones.

160 Luc June 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

Bond and Largo while examining a shotgun in THUNDERBALL–

James Bond: That gun, it looks more fitting for a woman.
Emilio Largo: You know much about guns, Mr. Bond?
James Bond: No, but I know a little about women.

161 Big John June 19, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I have had a Mossberg 500 for over 20 years
and fitted it with a six shell side saddle,and a speedfeed stock which holds 2 extra shells per side of the stock,with 5 shells in the magazine 6 on the side saddle and 4 in the stock +1 in the chamber I have a full 16 rounds on and in the gun ready to go just by picking it up..Great article..

162 ThatGuy June 22, 2012 at 12:11 am

Great article!

As far as “Practice, practice, practice” goes…
I occasionally do some skeet shooting and have to use a shotgun with slugs in some areas where I hunt deer. I recently found an interesting article in a hunting magazine that mentions using a Mini-Mag-Lite for patterning your shotgun for the first time, or for off-season indoors practice. You basically place the mag-lite in the barrel of the shotgun (unloaded, of course), and follow the light across the room, taking note of where the bead is relative to your “pattern”. I used this a little and found it easy to help train my eyes relative to where I am pointing, especially since it’s sometimes hard to tell if you miss high, low, or off to the side when at the range.


163 FiddleDog June 22, 2012 at 3:45 pm

An important thing to think about when firing any firearm, shotgun included, is the potential for over penetration. Inside a home, having 9-12 32 caliber pellets traveling at around 1200 fps will effectively ignore drywall. As a general rule, IC will spread around 1 inch per yard travelled, so, at 12 feet, you’re looking at the entire payload, regardless of pellet size, delivered in a 4 square inch area. Granted, penetration is greatly reduced, but that’s actually a good thing if you have people that you care about elsewhere around the house.

164 Vern June 22, 2012 at 5:06 pm

@BaileyS #118

I have to respectfully disagree about keeping a loaded weapon in the house. If you should ever need it in the middle of the night, in the dark, perhaps half asleep, that will be a poor time to try to load the weapon. At bedtime, mine is locked and loaded within my reach. When I leave in the morning for work, it gets locked in the gun safe. 100% of the time, without fail. BTW, I have no children in the house, so loaded and within reach at night is very safe in our household.

165 Bobo June 25, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I love my shotguns – both Ithaca 37′s. Although both are bird guns, they will serve me well in home defense if someone is dumb enough to enter univited and quick enough to get past the dog. I tend to think the dog will work 99% of the time after someone enters univited. Nobody has entered univited, likely because of the dog.

Anyway, I think consideration needs to be given to the enormoust joy in shooting clays as the primary reason for buying a shotgun. The secondary reason – home defense – is also served. If you buy primarily for home defense, you really can’t enjoy shooting clays – a 20 inch barrel won’t give a tight enough pattern.

Also, increasing gun ownership creates decreasing violent crime rates. As seen in Chicago, decreasing gun ownership creates increasing crime rates. At least both of these trends are the case today.

166 Steve Williams June 25, 2012 at 11:15 pm

The best gun to use is not the one you’re using, it’s the one you can hit your target with consistently, regardless of caliber or guage.

Birdshot can be very deadly at close range. Regardless of choke (Or lack thereof) the typical pattern doesn’t start to really spread until about 10 yards. 1 1/2 drams of bird shot is the same weight as 1 1/2 drams of buckshot.

No man portable weapon (especially a firearm) is a one shot man stopper 100% of the time. I therefore find caliber/guage and platform arguements more of a form of ego justification than anything else. See the above portion about being able to hit your target for clarification.

I find it most disconcerting that there are people that are emasculated by the idea of owning, much less using a firearm for self and home defense. The misguided concept that a person or group of people that has entered your home by force will run off with your TV and laptop and not bother your wife and children is ludicrous.

Owning a firearm of any type, even your grand daddy’s .22 rifle is a responsibility. If a person is unwilling to accept the responsibility that goes along with owning a firearm (but is willing to allow strangers who have forcibly entered their home free reign) by all means don’t own one. Please show those of us that are willing to accept that reponsibility the same amount of respect. Don’t drop everyone down to the lowest common denominator.

Brett, a well written article. There were a few errors but it appears they have all been addressed.


167 steveo September 30, 2012 at 1:19 am

imho…if you have other family members/loved ones living and sleeping in other rooms in your abode…buck shot of any kind is not optimal for self-defense puposes, due to the possibility of over-penetration…bird-shot is perfectly adequate for self-defense at hallway-distance

168 Doug October 11, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I recommend using 2 3/4 inch high brass turkey shot such as BB for indoor home defense. The 12 gauge you use for hunting will do just fine. My father had one gun in our house when I was growing up. It was a Remington model 10 pump that he bought used in 1939. I believe they stopped making that shotgun in the 1920′s. If you have a remington 870 or 1100 that you use for hunting It will last you a lifetime if you take care of it and will provide great service in the field or protecting your home.

169 JMW86 October 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm

Birdshot is meant for birds; if you are using a shotgun for home defense, load it with ammunition (12 or 20 gauge buckshot) meant for shooting something larger… like a person, who may be wearing bulkier clothing, may be high on something, and possibly intent on killing you and your family to cover up whatever crime they are committing, and that’s IF their target isn’t you to begin with. Using marginally effective ammunition can get you and your family killed in a defense situation, and your concerns of overpenetration won’t matter at that point.

Train with your weapon of choice, get to know its strengths and weaknesses… and don’t miss. You won’t have to worry as much about overpenetration if you hit what you’re shooting at.

170 cody October 22, 2012 at 4:52 pm

why will my shotgun not fire when i onley have 1 shell in it but when i have 6 it cycles perfectly but when i get to the 6th shot it wont fire it unless i have more loaded. someone please help me

171 Jo October 22, 2012 at 9:13 pm

a quick note from the fem side—I have found that as I’ve gotten older and raised a child, I am completely sure that I will have no problem whatsoever shooting anything or anyone that’s a threat. So far I’ve only hunted, but I’ve practiced for HD. Everyone should be properly educated and prepared.

172 Westhampnett November 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Good discussion all around. Shotguns used for hunting and sporting clays (trap, skeet etc) have a barrel length of 26″ or greater, and therefore are not good guns for home defense. They are too long to move rapidly around doorways, halls etc without banging against walls and jams, and exposing the shooter. A shorter “tactical” shotgun is best.

173 Harry O November 11, 2012 at 2:48 am

To those worried about the cons
equences of using deadly force now your states laws and check the final results from such actions. In Texas these cases are given to the Grand Jury without charges. If you were justified they will clear you. If you tamper with the evidence, like draging them back in your house then you are in trouble. The evidence must add up. In most cases you will not see one minute of jail time or have a criminal record. State Court case records are your best source to see what realy happens if you pull that trigger.

174 Damon Newcomb November 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm

I load 2 rounds of Federal Black Cloud FS steel BB birdshot, followed by 3 rounds of Remington 00 Buckshot. All 3 inch. I’m a big guy, and can handle the recoil. At 20 feet, with good shot placement, I suspect the BB shot will explode a head like it had 1/4 stick on dynamite in it! AND I can say to a jury that I was not planning on killing the bad guy.

175 Chris Mulcahy December 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I am trying to select a home defense shotgun. A professional is telling me many (some?) semi auto shotguns might not cycle properly if not held tight against the shoulder. Obviously in a home defense scenario unanticipated things might happen, like one handed shooting. Could a semi auto misfeed?

176 Aaron January 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Great article. 12 gauge is awesome, and I’m not arguing for anyone to get rid of theirs…If you’re a small – medium frame guy, or you’re primarily focusing on target/ small game, don’t try to be “a man” through machismo…be a man by being accurate, wise and using the appropriate tool. 20 gauges are wonderful tools, as well. Trust me, if your main concern is home defense, buck shot from a 20g within 10 – 15 yard is effective. Get the right fit, right gauge and right action…rather than a sore arm and inflated ego.

177 karlos February 14, 2013 at 8:24 am

I don’t recall how I came across your site but enjoy most of the articles and find them entertaining and relevant. I’m an avid sportsman and have been most of my young and adult life. I’ve accumulated several weapons over my lifetime, ie., knives, tomahawks, long rifles, handguns, bows but my latest acquisition is probably the most fun to shoot. http://www.tristararms.com/TEC-12-tactical-shotgun.php I never would have predicted the state of affairs we have found ourselves in but I think alot of it is media hype but one can never be too cautious. Anyway, I’ll continue to read AOM. Thanks, Kp

178 John July 10, 2013 at 1:20 am

Gotta sweep birds out of the sky with your shotgun like you had a broom (sweep shooting). Sounds crazy but it works all you have to do is slap the trigger.

179 Rooster August 11, 2013 at 9:42 pm

just a few comments:
let me preface this by saying that i am prior military and law enforcement trained, my view is more tactical but i do shoot for sport regularly, with pistol, rifle and shotguns.

*”More importantly, the sound of chambering a hot round into a pump-action 12 gauge is sure to soil the britches of even the most hardened criminal” – this anecdotal myth has been around a long time. many reputable defensive fire arms instructors will tell you that it is a greater tactical advantage to keep one loaded in the chamber with the safety on and the weapon securely stored. the logic being two fold, 1. any sound you make gives away your position, now the intruder a. knows where you are and b. that you are armed. if the intruder has already broken into your home they are much more likely to become aggressive and unpredictable, as they are already nervous. 2. especially if it is a newer model, well made fire arm, the springs for the firing pin and magazine follower will not weaken for years even if they are never released from the cocked position. modern firearms are made to last from much more resilient materials than your grandfather’s shotgun ever was.

*rotating ammunition. whatever you choose to load, shot or slugs, keep enough ammo on hand to refill your magazine at least twice. on a regular basis, remove the ammunition that is in the weapon and replace it with fresh. take the shells that were removed and store them in a box, brass up, with a piece of brown paper in the bottom of the box. the logic being that when you store a shotgun it should either be on its side, breach down, or vertically. if you are unfamiliar with proper maintenance practices it is common to over oil the weapon when you clean it. by placing the brown paper in the bottom of the box it becomes a witness paper to tell you if excess oil has penetrated the folded plastic end of the shell. oil will seep out onto the paper and let you know that the shells are no longer useable and that you need to alter your cleaning/lube practices.

*if you do not shoot and clean your weapon regularly, try to rotate ammo and inspect your weapon at least monthly. I have one 20ga Mossberg that stays on a spring clip behind my bedroom door. this is my wife’s SHTF gun and being that i am over a foot taller and have arms 6 inches longer than her, it is difficult for me to shoot it comfortably, so it doesn’t get shot much. my routine is on the first Saturday of each month i collect all of my weapons from my safe, both cars, my bedroom and office and perform tear-downs and ammo rotation all at once. i field strip every weapon (basic take-down, not complete disassemble) check for proper lubrication, debris and signs of corrosion. this process does two things for me, it keeps me familiar with the workings of the weapons that i do not carry or shoot regularly and it allows me to inventory my ammunition stock as i rotate the ammunition in each weapon.

*i agree with all of the other comments regarding proper training and mindset for owning firearms. if you have any qualms about taking a life, a gun is the last thing you need to own. many areas in the country allow civilians to own tasers/stun-guns, pepper-spray and knives or batons, chose something that better suits you, and invest in better alarm systems.

i don’t claim to be an expert if my 2 cents helped someone please pass along the wisdom.

180 John January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am

This is an epic post I have ever read about short gun.

181 ParaWolf April 10, 2014 at 6:18 pm

In reference to post # 109. I too own a Maverick 88. Great inexpensive shotgun. And I too needed a shorter barrel.

I just went to the Mossberg website and ordered an 18.5″ barrel. Now I have it and a 28″ ribbed barrel.

LOT easier that all that cutting and filling.

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