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Is a Shotgun Ideal for Home Defense?


I’ve had discussions with people considering a shotgun for defense purposes. What I hear on a regular basis is that people choose shotguns for self and home-defense purposes because they have this misconception that you can’t miss with a shotgun. I strongly disagree.  Before you get defensive (pardon the pun) let me remind you that I am a Marine veteran, avid supporter of the second amendment, NRA life member and owner/operator of my own range and training facility.


The theory that you can’t miss with a shotgun is simply incorrect.  If you disagree, attend one of my shotgun courses and let me prove to you that a shotgun miss is possible.  We could sit here all day and debate distance, load, barrel length, etc., but if your theory is based on what you see in Hollywood you will be sorely disappointed when reality hits.


I believe shotguns have their place and with adequate training and proper set-up (right load and equipment) a shotgun can be used very effectively. Unfortunately, most gun owners will purchase a shotgun for defense purposes as a poor substitute for training.  The bottom line is that regardless of the weapon system, training should always be your top priority.


We are huge advocates of thoroughly understanding the fundamentals of shooting. Once you can apply the fundamentals on a regular basis you should be able to handle and shoot any weapon system safely and accurately. The key is that good training is a vital foundation and maintaining that proficiency is even more important. One concern I’ve had with shotgun owners is their failure to pattern their shotguns. Not being aware of your shot pattern at different distances is a liability waiting to happen. If you are shooting 9 shot 00 buck you must hold yourself accountable for 9 .30 caliber pellets. All it takes is one hit in a vital area from one of those .30 caliber pellets to neutralize someone. Shooting 00 buck is like firing 9 pistol rounds at one time. As the shooter, you are responsible for every pellet fired.  There will be a deviation in pattern from 5 yards to 20 yards especially if you’re not using a reliable choke. By patterning your shotgun, you can visually verify your hold and shot pattern at the required distances to insure all your shots can be accounted for.  


What to buy

There are quite a few manufacturers out there, but I can only suggest what I’ve had experience with.  Personally, I’ve had exceptional success with the Mossberg military 590: it’s dependable, accurate, and reliable. Mine is almost 20 years old and keeps thumping. I also like most Remington 870s. I can’t speak for anything else except the Benelli (semi-automatic version), which is another extremely durable and reliable shotgun.


As far as stocks go, I am not a fan of a pistol grip stock by itself. Regardless of what you’ve seen on TV, you’re not a hit man for the cartels and locking the full-size stock into the pocket of your shoulder to get a good grip on the shotgun is imperative.  To accomplish this, we highly suggest a full-size stock and pistol grip. Rifle stocks are just fine, but when it comes to manipulating the action and getting behind the weapon, a pistol grip is very accommodating. Don’t forget a reliable sling, a good sidesaddle for extra ammo and a light source. Remember, most of your deadly force confrontations happen in low light conditions yet most if not all of our training is done during the day.


Pattern your shotgun

Most people purchase shotguns, shoot some birdshot, convince themselves it works, and leave it loaded in a safe. We suggest you pattern your shotgun with the right load for the environment you will be utilizing. For example, there is a deviation in pattern for 00 buck at certain distances.


Once you purchase a reliable shotgun (whether pump or semi-automatic) we suggest you head out to the range and pattern it accordingly. Make sure you use the same ammo from the same manufacturer and preferable from the same lot. We highly suggest 00 Buck and some good rifle slugs. Yes, you need to zero your shotgun with rifle slugs so you can verify your hold and zero at certain distances. There will be some deviation. Start at 5 yards with a single shot of buckshot and repeat the process at the 7, 10, 15 and 20-yard lines, checking your pattern deviation at every distance indicated. Make a note. The farther you go back, the harder to maintain a tighter shot pattern on your target.  Remember, you are responsible for all pellets!


Know your rounds.

One manufacturer makes a 12 shot 00 buck and that means more pellets for which you must be accountable. There is also 000 buck, 0 buck, and numbers 1 through 4 buck.  Before you load up your shotgun’s magazine tube make sure you are thoroughly aware of what you are shooting. It all shoots differently. At 10 yards or less, most smooth bore shotguns will hold a 00 buck pattern of 8 inches or less.


And now to answer my earlier question – YES - a head shot at 10 yards or less with 9 shot 00 buck can be accurately made on a suspect holding a victim at gunpoint with all 9 pellets hitting its intended target! We win this bet every time we ask our students if they think it can be done. Most say no until they finish patterning their shotguns; then, they are surprised and educated. The moment you decide to buy a different brand of ammo, it’s back to the range to reconfirm your patterns! This is very important when using a shotgun for self and home-defense purposes.


Zero your shotgun

Shotgun slugs can also be a very effective for longer range shots. One disadvantage of most shotguns is limited range capacity. However, with slugs you can easily make an accurate shot out to 100 yards and in some instances even farther. Again, it boils down to taking the time to zero your shotgun with some reliable shotgun slugs and knowing your hold. Some shotguns are rifled making them even more accurate and while they can be used, those systems are more for hunting rather than defense purposes. Once you can confirm your hold or zero with your personal shotgun with a certain type of ammo, avoid changing ammo.  Again, the moment you change ammo there is a good possibility the shot placement could be different.  You are responsible for every pellet!

Lastly,  remember that if you own firearms for self-defense purposes, you have to train on a regular basis. This is a perishable skill and most of what you learn in a class you will forget within a week. This is a proven fact, during elevated levels of stress YOU will fall back on your lowest form of training!!!

Semper Fi!

Mac Mackinzie

Interested in taking a shotgun course? Click the pic! 

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