Gun owners, gun writers, and shooters in general love to debate the best weapon for home defense. After 36 plus years in law enforcement, dealing with everything from confronting armed felons to apprehending people spotlighting deer, the answer to this has always been very clear to me, the defensive or fighting shotgun.
No other weapon is as versatile and capable of bringing more destruction upon our enemies in the least amount of time as the shotgun. AR platform rifle fans and pistol loyalists do not want to hear this, but it is what it is. Twelve gauge 2 ¾” shotgun #00 Buckshot loads generally contain eight .33 caliber pellets per shell. If you fire three rounds at your aggressor in a home defense situation you have delivered 24 .33 caliber projectiles in a very short amount of time.
A twelve gauge shotgun in a basic tactical configuration, whichis a short barrel and extended magazine loaded with the buckshot size of your choice, is the best weapon to protect home and hearth. I will argue this with anyone that cares to until Bossy and all of the bovines come home. Having said all that, there are definitely some myths and fabrications about shotgunsout there which cloud this issue. Here are a few.
You can’t miss with a shotgun. This one has been around since Hitler was a Corporal and actually nothing could be further from the truth. You just point the gun in the general direction and pull the trigger. With all those pellets it’s hard to miss, right? Wrong.
Home defense situations typically occur at very short ranges, often measured in feet instead of yards. Measure your bedroom or living room, and unless you are Elvis or Bill Gates we are probably talking twenty feet or less. Even with a cylinder bore choke found on most tactical shotguns the pattern will be very tight at this range. The eight #00 Buck pellets we talked about may appear in a four to six inch pattern. I have seen birdshot loads at these ranges shoot in practically the same hole, as if you had shot a slug. The point is this, most patterns shot at defensive ranges will be small and you can in fact miss.
Because of all this the shotgun needs to be aimed, and for that we need sights. A plain bead on the shotgun can be used if you pay attention, keep your cheek welded to the stock, and sight down the barrel or rib. A better method is to employ a rear sight. Rifle sights are good and a rear ghost ring type sight may be even better. The ghost ring sight gives you a much needed rear sight while allowing for quick target acquisition, very important when things go bump in the night.
Cha-Chunck! Racking a round into the chamber sends your assailants fleeing in terror. Well, yes and no. This one has also been around forever, or at least as long as the Remington 870.Think about it. The sound of a pump action shotgun being operated may affect an inexperienced and faint hearted criminal who has targeted your home or property. This is all well and good, the bad guy flees or gives up his weapon, you call 911 and let the local law enforcement agency have him.
What if the sound of the pump gun does not influence those you are facing in this way? Experienced criminals are familiar with firearms and may have faced gun play before. Your attacker could be toting a shotgun himself. The mere sound of the weapon operating may not have the desired affect if he is ready to fight. There is something else. Tactically you want to go into the fight loaded and ready to roll if necessary. Chambering a round may only take a second but the bad guy can shoot you while doing it. If there is to be an armed confrontation go into it with a chambered round and don’t rely on sound effects.
Use birdshot instead of buckshot so as not to penetrate walls in the home. Again, yes and no. The quandary here has always been the person defending the home wants to use ammo capable of putting down the aggressor but may shoot through a wall and hit a family member in another room.
If you compare the individual pellets in a #00 Buckshot load to those in a #7 ½ target or hunting load there is no doubt the #00 pellet will maintain energy and penetrate more than a single #7 ½ lead pellet. The problem is when we fire these loads in typical home defense ranges, the birdshot load can be just as devastating as the buckshot round, if not more so.
Remember we talked about the need to aim the shotgun and at close range the pattern can be extremely tight. The miscreant who breaks into your home and receives a load of #7 ½ lead at close range has had a bad day. The shot may not open up at all and be delivered in one payload which results in a wound resembling that of being shot with a slug. It’s not very pretty, believe me. Most interior walls in our homes are a layer of drywall on each side of a 2×4 frame with no insulation in between. The birdshot or the buckshot load will shoot through these walls with ease.
There is no easy answer here, if you prefer the #00 Buckshot round use it, but many experienced shotgunners believe in the birdshot round for home defense. With either keep in mind the basic shooting safety rule of positively identifying your target and knowing what is beyond it.
The 20 gauge is not enough gun. It is not unusual to hear a conversation at a gun club or gun store counter from a man of the house talking about how he got his wife “a 12 gauge pump or double barrel” for home protection. If the lady of the house is comfortable with that shotgun and can shoot and handle it proficiently there is nothing wrong with this choice. But can she?
While there is no doubt the 12 gauge delivers more payload, which is more lead to the target, the downside is it also may have twice the recoil. Dealing with recoil is a fact of life when shooting guns and ignoring it does not get us anywhere, in fact it hinders us. Less recoil with any weapon means we can control the gun better, stay on target, and deliver faster follow up shotswith greater accuracy. It’s really pretty simple, if you are not worried about the gun hammering you every time you pull the trigger you are going to shoot better.
Many times at shooting ranges I have seen lady shooters or men of smaller stature select a 20 gauge over the 12. When I attended the Defensive Shotgun class at the Gunsite Academy there was a guy in the class who shot a 20 gauge and he shot it very well. There are no prizes in the world of gun fighting for who carries the biggest gun into the fight. If you are confident and proficient with your shotgun you win the prize of surviving the fight and protecting your home and family. The 20 gauge is certainly capable of bringing enough firepower to a home defense situation, if you shoot a 20 gauge better than the 12 that is what you should use.
Don’t let old fables you may have heard keep you from using the best firearm on the planet for home defense and that is a shotgun. A shotgun you select that is best for you, the shotgun you train and practice with until you are entirely confident with, and then woe be to the poor soul who decides to break into your house.
Larry Case www.gunsandcornbread.com