Shotgun Defense: Are You Really Better Off With a Shotgun? [VIDEO]

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If you read this blog often, you’re probably aware that I’m a big proponent of the pump shotgun for home defense (see my top 3 recommendations here). In fact, I often counsel students that if you only own 1 firearm, and you’re by no means what you might call a “firearms enthusiast,” I believe a pump-action shotgun is the best choice going away…

Recently, I’ve received several questions about the true worthiness of a home defense shotgun. Specifically, many doubters argue that a shotgun is no better than handgun for home defense.

While it’s true that a handgun is easier to handle in confined spaces, many doubters have focused on the shotgun’s “effective range.” Their assertion is that, at close range, a shotgun offers no real advantages because its pattern doesn’t have time to fully expand… a concern worth investigating.

In order to get to the bottom of this home-defense conundrum, let’s take an objective look at what the “effective range” of a shotgun is. As you will see, it’s not the easiest thing to agree on.

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  1. I enjoyed this site; it gave me a lot of insight into us getting ready to protect ourselves.

    I have some concerns. We live in the Denver area and currently do not own any weapons. But that requirement is to change soon. I like the idea of a shotgun; it makes sense. However, what shotgun?

    My wife and I are senior citizens. I am a retired USAF officer and for one duty assignment was required to carry a .38 while on duty (nuclear weapons). I always shot “expert” with the .38. I also qualified on the M-16 before going to Vietnam. But, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve used a gun.

    That’s me. My wife and I are short – 4’11” for her and 5’4″ for me. What would you recommend for us? Also, is there a gunshop/range in the Denver area that you could recommend to us?

    Thanks. So far your information has been very illuminating. We appreciate your work.


  2. Has anybody with the wherewithal considered building a shotgun that would spread the shot pattern out to say, 3 feet at a distance of 10 feet? Or would this be impractacle?

  3. Hi Wade. Here are my top 3 picks for home defense shotguns:

    Shorter barrel lengths make these models a bit easier to maneuver indoors, as well as create a wider spread pattern at closer ranges.

    I don’t know of any specific ranges or stores in the Denver area, but I bet another reader may have a recommendation for you.

  4. Having been a SWAT Instructor in the past I considered all the facts. One of those is “Who is going to be firing the weapon?” My wife and two of my daughters are not into shooting at all. My other two daughters can effectively use any weapon in the house! So I set up a shotgun with the shortest legal barrel length possible. I keep #2 shot for it.! I selected this one because I gave a good pattern and it has the stopping power. But I recommend that any user try several and find the one best for their needs.

  5. @wade – visit the Tanner Gun Show. Once a month on 58th street. Dozens of vendors. You can talk to some and then pick one to do business with.

  6. Back in the day when I was in the Security Business I carried a .38 S&W revolver and became pretty proficient with it, I also carried a 10Ga shot gun, because of the stopping power. Since then I have carried a 9mm when carrying, and become fairly proficient with that. However, I have shot both standard hunting length Mossberg 500 and most recently a Mossberg 500 Persuader short barreled “riot gun”. The Persuader is reasonable to use in the home if necessary, and being short barreled it will provide a larger spread sooner. It can be mounted with a full stock or a pistol grip whichever suits your needs. And while the pistol grip makes it look “Bad” for a smaller person or someone with wrist difficulties might cause them problems holding and firing it. So the Full stock option might work out better as it can be properly aimed and fired with the stock properly held to the shoulder. So consider a Mossberg 500 also because it is also American Made.

  7. For a spread of (3 feet spread at 10 foot distance) that you mentioned the barrel may have to be shorter than legal length. The shortest legal barrel length would be 18.5 inches however, I am sure some people would or could make a barrel length anything they desired if they were ready to handle the consequences if the law caught up with them. And yes, it would be impractical because you are then limiting yourself to a very short distance because after 10 feet your shot pattern may spread too greatly to be of much benefit since it would only be good for close shots.
    Short barreled shotguns were used in the old days by stagecoach drivers to sweep a large area at a close proximity. Hope this helps.

  8. I have a remington 870 3in … I use to load with 00 buckshot. I have since changed my load to #4 duck hunting load in a 3 in… I thought 00 3 in magnum was to powerful for home protection… You don’t want to penetrate wall’s where your family might be…

  9. For Hostage situations the Shotgun is a Fatal mistake.Perhaps a deer slug might work .In the old days the rifle was considered a more surgical tool in hostage matters.A second choice would be an accurate shooter/pistol.In hostage situations you need a single projectile hitting the perp and not the victim. Shotgun pellets are too unpredictable. Thank you for the opportunity to speak my mind on this important subject.

  10. I am an expert shooter with several popular handguns, however for home defense I have a KSG 14+1 bullpup shotgun. No sights but It does have a magpull forgrip handle for easier racking of a new round into the chamber for tactical use. To address Gregory concern about hostage situations–hopefully the situation is handled by the sound of racking the slide and letting the intruder see just how big the bore of that shotgun looks when it is pointed in his direction before anyone has the opportunity to create a hostage situation in the home.

  11. Carol Pate, the consequences Dave G mentions; I just want to make sure you understand something, if you were to shoot an intruder with an illegally sawed-off shotgun you would be crucified in court. Any sympathy you may have had would be lost. Don’t do it, just practice a bit and you won’t need a 3 foot spread, geez, that’d actually cut someone in half, yeah, you don’t want to go into court with that one.

  12. No it wont be.If they are in your home at night they are after you and YOURS.Rack a round into that shotgun and then they know where you are .A gunfight is over in less than 5 seconds.By the time you pull the pump you may have been wounded or dead for three of those seconds. Well I have had my say.Good Luck to all of you.

  13. The racking sound comes right after the explosion of the round that lives in the chamber. One of the perps won’t hear it.

  14. Perhaps addressing the question of whether you are better off or not with a shotgun as a defensive weapon is in fact as easy to answer as there are people who own guns. There may be a certain consensus on a limited number of weapons as potential solutions, yet the question is really will a shotgun work effectively or not? As has been mentioned in the text the scenario provides the correct answer. As a former LEO, I’ve had my own opportunities to arrive at MY personal solution, it may not be yours. However allow me to explain! I also worked on the Alaska pipeline in security. There I had far more opportunities to initiate LIVE FIRE than under a normal law enforcement environment. At one time, I was assigned to patrol recently closed work camps to secure their contents and discourage both thieves and bears from ransacking the sites. It was the bears who had a propensity to break into trailers looking for food and were a viable threat to humans when workers were still on site. We were armed with pump shotguns and developed a shooting sequence when confronted by a less than cooperative bear. The loads were two dumdum loads, followed by a single double 00 buck shot load, then followed up by two rifled slugs. Fortunately the dumdums usually were enough to drive them off!! As a security measure, our own, the buck shot was available, then a rifled slug if all else failed. We never wounded any animals and the most persistent bears were live trapped and air lifted outside their normal habitat range. As you can see, scenarios are the key… I would caution, don’t use your weapon unless you have to. Pump a few dumdum at the dumb intruders and they’ll run like the wind and usually will not be back thinking that they were lucky to get out of there alive!! .

  15. I read, some years back, a story written by a professional hunter in Central America that his last chance weapon for dealing with wounded Jaguars ( a species that may approach or exceed 400 lbs in weight) was a 12 ga shotgun loaded with #1 Buckshot. He said that the #11 buckshot could cut a charging Jaguar in half…

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