The 5 Best Home Defense Tools
Latest By Louis Spencer JR | November 30, 2018
If the old cliché “any gun beats no gun” is true, than it is doubly true that any shotgun beats no shotgun at all. That being said, having the right kind of shotgun, and stoking it with the right loads will make your job of repelling invaders so much easier.
In this article, we’ll be taking a look at some factors that will help you choose a good shotgun specifically intended for home defense, and make sense of the wide array of choices you have on the market today. After we do that, I’ll give you my list of recommendations for top-tier brands and models if you want to skip researching your options and just grab a good gauge.
So grab a box of shells and let’s get going.
Important Criteria for Home Defense Guns
As always, the single most important attribute for any defensive arm is reliability. If the gun will not go bang with near certainty when you pull the trigger you may be facing down an intruder with an inoperable hunk of metal in your shaking hands instead of a lead-spewing, fire-breathing dragon. Also knowing your gun is fussy will nibble away at your confidence in it, affecting your mindset.
Reliability is not purely mechanical for some guns; any manually operated shotgun like a pump or lever action is vulnerable to user induced malfunctions if the action is not cycled smartly and fully through its full range of motion. A pump gun suffering from binding is no better off than a semi that chokes on a certain brand of shotshell.
After that, a host of other factors are important; all shotguns are powerful, but for defense against humans we want to ensure we are choosing a gauge of sufficient potency to maximize effect on our badguys. 12, 16, 20 and 28 gauge are all more than potent enough, and even the wee .410 bore is nothing to sneeze at, but for our purposes a 12 or 20 gauge will maximize not only the availability of ammunition but the choice of loads to suit the task. If you should already have some other gauge, you can certainly rely on it if you have something other than birdshot to stoke it with (more on that later).
The size of a shotgun intended for in-home defense is important if there is any chance you will not be able to simply defend in place in your bedroom. Maneuvering any shotgun with barrels longer than 20” or so through confined spaces is tricky work, and even 20” is definitely pushing it.
Shorter is better for maneuverability, even if that short barrel comes at the expense of a shell or two of capacity. A hunting gun with a long 22”, 24” or 28” pipe will be almost impossible to negotiate around corners efficiently while keeping it safe from a grab attempt. Luckily, most shotguns’ barrels can be easily swapped if a shorter version is available.
Which Action is Best for My Needs?
All of the following assumes you have a choice, or can purchase the shotgun you desire. If all you have is an old, trusty side-by-side, then that’s your best choice. If you do have a selection of guns or are willing to buy what you want, I would strongly urge you to look at a semi-auto or pump action shotgun, as these guns have the most advantages for the most people.
Nonetheless, all action types have their perks and flaws, which I will broadly categorize below in my order of preference, from most desirable to least. Note that my situation and preferences are the result of my training, experience and expertise derived from teaching civilians on use and operation of shotguns for self-defense. Your specific needs, or the needs of a loved one, may be different. At any rate, keep my advice in mind as it will likely keep you from making a bad mistake on selection.
Semi-automatic, or autoloading- Minimal recoil, simple to shoot and easy to shoot well. All great attributes in a defensive shotgun. Modest capacity of 3-8 rounds. Still slow to fully load (if tube fed) or hard to manage spare ammo for (if box mag fed). Quality options will be more expensive than comparable choices in a pump action. The most ammunition sensitive by far, many examples may struggle with anything less than full-power, high brass loads.
If you can afford a reliable one, a very formidable defensive tool, and a fair choice for a novice or less experienced shooter on since it need not be manually cycled.
Pump-Action- Generally reliable, adaptable and versatile. Fine choice for defense and can be shot quickly with practice. Very insensitive to most ammo so long as it is of halfway decent quality. User can also induce malfunction from weak or short cycling of action, which can be difficult or time-consuming to clear. Capacity anywhere from 3-8 rounds, though larger capacities and detachable mag versions becoming more common. Recoil is stout compared to semi-auto.
Good news is high-quality pumps are cheap compared to other actions and if you buy used you can get a great buy on a high-end gun.
Break-Action- Possessed of 1, 2 or very rarely 3 or more barrels. Double barrel guns arranged in over-under or side-by-side configuration. Simple manual of arms, and very easy to load and fire for those with minimal training. Often has more perceived recoil than pump or semi due to typically light weight and slender stocks. Low capacity may be an issue, and many variations on ejector/extractor arrangement will require some practice to speed up reloads.
Depending on make and grade of gun, can be very cheap field guns to fantastically expensive hunting or sporting masterpieces. Not my first choice, but a break-action shotgun is still a formidable weapon.
There are a couple other actions; bolt- and lever-action. Bolt-action shotguns are very rare, and typically round with rifled barrels for slug use, intended to be employed as long-range hunting shotguns when rifles are regulated by season or forbidden. Lever-action shotguns operate much the same as lever-action rifles, and are similar to pump actions as far as perks and flaws. That being said, lever-action shotguns are antiquated and even modern production guns are all replicas of older designs. Not the best option for defense, but can work in a pinch.
What Load Should I Use for Defense?
Oh, the great debate. You’ll get as many recommendations as there are people, each with their reasons why their chosen load is “the best.” Fact is, there is no “best” load for a shotgun, even for defense. There are definitely some very poor choices, which I will detail below, but each loading has its own advantages and disadvantages in a defensive context. It helps to consider what we need our ammo to do in order to be effective against a human attacker.
Generally, we want a significant amount of penetration, no less than 10-12”. Any less than that and we have no guarantee of hitting vital anatomical targets in the body (you don’t have any guarantees anyway, but I digress). Add in to account heavy clothing and perhaps interference from a limb or a quartering shot and you need to go even deeper to overcome additional obstructions.
Additionally, the size of the permanent wound channel, or total crushed tissue, is an important element in determining effectiveness. More crushed tissue causes more blood loss, and more blood loss is good so long it is the badguy shedding it.
These two factors eliminate birdshot as a viable option for defense. While dangerous, birdshot does not penetrate deeply enough anywhere close to reliably enough to cause significant wounding, and its tiny size, even with all pellets in totality, means blood loss will be less severe than larger pellets. While it will cause serious and horrific-looking superficial wounds, it is a poor choice for home defense.
Your best choices for home defense will be buckshot of some size, which ensures greater hit probability and positively dreadful damage to the target, or some type of reduced recoil slug. Buckshot in either 0, 00, No.1 or No.4 sizes is a fine defensive load, as are reduced recoil Brenneke and Foster slugs. Take care with either, as their adequate penetration in humans also means they will certainly penetrate drywall and other material in the home and as with any gun can pose a substantial hazard to other people in the house.
Best of the Best Shotguns
The following is a shortlist of the best all around defensive shotguns money can buy. Some may not be the newest, or even the most expensive, but they are all reliable, hard-running and good shooting scatterguns.