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Shotguns for Home and Business Defense

The Why and How of Shotguns for Home and Business Defense

A shotgun was once considered an essential tool for home or business defense. In recent years, shotguns have been overshadowed by both pistols and modern sporting rifles as defensive arms. I believe the shotgun, whether classic or modern in style, still reigns supreme for defensive purposes. In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why, and discuss the few complementary products that can take your defensive shotgun from useful to ideal as a protective device in your home or business.

The Long Gun for All Environments

All shotguns can technically “do it all,” from the duck blind to the bedside, but the longer barrel and smooth top of the hunting-purpose firearm can be an impediment when it comes to defense.

Give consideration to the primary function of your shotgun if you can only buy one for hunting and defense. Semi-auto and traditional actions abound in both categories. Consider your planned shell lengths and whether the gun will accommodate them. Are there other family members who’ll need the gun for any reason? The smallest operator’s height and length of pull might make a difference in the weight, length, and action type your family prefers.

The Rock island Armory Lion Tactical 12-Gauge has Become a popular choice for home defense and personal protection.
Many owners are wanting more of an AR style look to their shotguns like this Tokarev TAR12P

Ammunition:  Where the Shotgun Reigns Supreme

Vast flexibility in ammo choices is the unique advantage of a shotgun. Pretty much anything that can fit in a shell can be launched downrange! But let’s consider commercial loads only here, starting from the softest-hitting to the hardest.

Birdshot gets a bad rap as a defensive tool. You may have seen some of the several photos floating around the internet of a home-invader-turned-ER-patient with newly peppered skin on his torso. Fatal injury? Generally not. And for it so-called lack of stopping power, the fine lead or steel fragments that comprise birdshot are maligned by many armchair experts. But, as someone who has continually stayed aware of defensive gun use news for many years, I know of not one case in which birdshot wasn’t effective in causing a home invader to flee. In addition, it has the tremendous advantage of a very low risk of so-called overpenetration, that is, traveling through walls or furniture to strike an innocent person or pet. A vast majority of the population lives with mere drywall or even thinner material between rooms in their residence. Dwellers of manufactured or recreational vehicle/camper housing must furthermore consider risk to their neighbors. For all of these folks, birdshot represents a good choice, perhaps better and more responsible than even handgun bullets with the exception of hard-to-obtain frangible ammunition.

Winchester is one of the most popular and purchased Birdshot ammo manufacturers.

For the recoil-sensitive, birdshot delivers the most options for defense as it’s readily available in all the popular gauges:  12, 28, 20, and 410. For the budget-sensitive though, bigger is better. Probably due to market share, 12 gauge is oddly enough the most cost-effective and easiest to find.

Buckshot is a popular, viable, and effective choice for defense, with the ability to achieve bodily penetration at distances up to 30 yards or more. Usually packaged with 8-9 pellets in a 12 gauge shell, so-called double-ought buck (commonly abbreviated as 00B) offers superb defensive capability. As with birdshot, pinpoint accuracy is not something 00B is going to accomplish, however with the right ammunition and time spent “patterning” an individual gun, pellets can be kept in a torso-size target at distances of 25 or so yards for 12 gauge loads. Federal Premium’s Flite Control wad 00B ammunition delivers great results. If recoil gets you down, ammo such as Remington’s Reduced Recoil Ultimate Defense can help, although the smaller powder charge in such loads results in less reliable groups on those long-range shots.

Federal is another Popular manufacturer who makes a nice Buckshot round in many guages

Slugs deliver massive power and penetration at close or longer (up to 100 yards) ranges. If you live in an area where bears are almost as likely as a home invasion culprit as the two-legged variety, a slug is an ideal choice where the other two, especially birdshot, pale in effectiveness. Rifled slugs such as  Winchester’s Super-X will deliver more predictable performance. With all shotgun loads, it’s important to spend time patterning your gun with each ammo type so you know your point of aim at the likely engagement distances of your home or property, and to ensure that your firearm will reliably feed the ammo of your choosing.

Extra Ammo:  Sometimes More is Better

Even if your shotgun is one of those competition models with a magazine long enough to double as a fishing pole, having a choice of ammo at your fingertips is peace of mind. Consider an ammo carrier that slides onto the stock or is mounted on the receiver. My personal favorite is an aluminum sidesaddle carrier from Mesa Tactical.  But more economical choices abound, including web/elastic sleeves that slip over the stock.

MESA Tactical Aluminum Sidesaddle

Picking your method and location for loading and storing extra ammunition is a valuable aspect of readiness with a shotgun if your engagement area or targets include humans versus bears, or longer ranges across a warehouse, for example, versus in your bedroom. Most law enforcement shotgun carriers, the few that remain, carry specialized rounds like less-lethal shells or slugs in a different direction and at the farthest end from their natural reach on their auxiliary carrier. This decreases the chance for error under stress and can hasten response time.

Optics:  Aiming is Necessary for Defensive Shooting

I prefer a ghost ring rear sight and tritium front sight on my shotgun. Tritium provides all-important awareness of where the front sight is in dimly-lit conditions. And iron sights never require me to change batteries or turn on switches to see my sights. That said, an always-on, non-magnified red dot style sight has great advantages too. Selecting a red dot for your scattergun may also require outfitting the gun with a rail for mounting; one accessory that may not be a possibility with a gun made primarily for hunting. Be sure your optic of choice is shotgun-compatible. There are many airsoft-oriented knockoff products out there that won’t stand up to shotgun recoil. Among my top choices for a simple, affordable, and reliable optic is the Four Peaks Red Dot.

Four Peaks Red Dot in 3MOA

If your gun of choice has a plain bead front for fowl hunting, it can work just fine. Just be aware that, at night, the silhouette of the bead becomes the front sight. Many shotgunners who don’t also use a rifle or pistol struggle to achieve front sight-on-target orientation for defensive shooting. If you’re in this category, spend some time on this, preferably under tutelage by a knowledgeable instructor.

Lights:  for Target ID

“Know your target and what’s around/behind it” is a tenet of gun safety. Light is necessary to identify a threat and mount a legally defensible defense, if needed. A forend-mounted light is a good accessory on any defensive gun in addition to a handheld light.

Selecting a gun or components that can accommodate a light is often a bigger job than choosing the light itself. Or if you have or can mount a short section of Picatinny rail on the front of the gun, there are many other choices. Among the easiest to install and operate is Surefire XH30.

Surefire XH30 is a simple choice for a Weapons Mounted Light

Make it Work For You

The shotgun is the gun for all. For reasons discussed here and more, it can secure food, defend life, compete for prizes, or simply be part of a great time at the range. Whether self-defense is your shotgun’s only job or it’s one of several, there’s a way to accessorize and deploy it that can work when it’s most needed for family or workplace safety.


Eve Flanigan is a defensive shooting and lifestyle student, practitioner, and instructor based in the American Southwest. Flanigan holds numerous NRA Instructor certifications and is licensed to instruct New Mexico’s intensive Concealed Carry course. She regularly designs, conducts, and co-teaches classes on concealed carry, introduction to pistol, defensive pistol, basic rifle, last-ditch medical, and use of force for civilian students.  Flanigan enjoys competing in run-and-gun biathlons that include carbine and pistol.