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Buying your First Defensive Shotgun: Where to Start?

Buying your First Defensive Shotgun: Where to Start?

Home defense is different than hunting – and the shotgun you use on the hunt may not be the perfect weapon to defend your home. While your current bird gun will certainly accomplish the task of home defense in a life threatening situation, it is far from the best shotgun choice. The right gun for defending your home and your family will be maneuverable in your particular floor plan and ideally sized for every qualified member of your family.

defensive shotgun - clark armory

From the way your new gun works to its size, portability and stopping power, consider the following features when you select the best home defense shotgun for your family.

Home Defense Shotgun Features and Options

Gauge Matters

At its most basic, the term “gauge” refers the actual diameter of the barrel bore of your shotgun. The lower the number, the wider the bore hole is – and the bigger and heavier the ammo; a 10 gauge gun will be heavier and have a harder kick than its 20 gauge cousin. Shotguns range in size from 8 gauge (mostly obsolete) to the small and fine 32 gauge (also outdated, but considered a collector’s item.

The balls inside a shotgun pellet scatter when the gun is fired, resulting in a wide coverage area and catastrophic damage to the target.

12 vs 20

The gun you choose for home defense needs to do two things. It needs to stop an invader in his tracks without harming others in the vicinity. Both 12 and 20 gauge versions can work for home defense; the differences lie in the type of home you wish to defend and the size and capabilities of your qualified family members.

For most applications, a 12 gauge with .00 buckshot will stop an attacker instantly – the spread pattern coupled with heft sized ammo designed to fell deer and other large mammals is more than a match for a human invader.

To take it a step further, consider a 12 gauge slug. These rounds focus on penetration and maximum damage, delivering one large round instead of multiple buckshot balls. The latest ammunition designs for defensive shotguns focus around the slug - some expanding, creating a larger projectile to deliver maximum devastation, with minimum over-penetration so your shot doesn’t pass through and into surrounding structures or innocent bystanders.

Rounds like the OATH 12 gauge expanding slug expand inside a target, delivering catastrophic damage to the target, while reducing the risk of pass-through collateral damage.

The 12 gauge shotgun is also the most common size you’ll find today and will work well for home defense in a single family dwelling, but if you are living in an apartment or other densely populated living space, it might have too much firepower.

If you are worried about common walls or being overwhelmed by the weapon, then a 20 gauge with birdshot may be a better option. Since gauge impacts both the weight of the weapon and the amount of recoil, if you have shooters at home who are of smaller stature, a lighter weight but still effective 20 gauge might be your best option. A 20 gauge may not have the overwhelming stopping power of the 12 gauge, but a blast of birdshot in the confines of a residence will expand to a 6-8" spread pattern and is enough to stop even a determined attacker.

Barrel Length

Shotguns come in different lengths, and some sizes are better suited for home defense than others. The best home defense shotgun is short enough to maneuver indoors, lightweight enough to carry easily and ideally small enough to be easily handled by all trained members of your household. A barrel length of 20” or less will work for most homes and allows you to move the shotgun around in a narrow space like a hallway without getting caught up.

various shotgun barrels

Barrel length impacts your weapon's maneuverability and usefulness as a home defense piece.

Barrel length matters for more than just maneuverability inside a home; if you want other family members to be able to use the gun to defend themselves and your home, it needs to be easy to lift, control and fire. Smaller women and teens may find a long barrel gun difficult to maneuver and control; paying attention to barrel length can help you ensure that every qualified person in your home is able to defend your residence and family. The majority of the models the National Rifle Association recommends for small statured shooters have a barrel length of 21 inches or less.

woman shotgun shooter - clark armory

Smaller stature shooters might be better able to aid in home defense with a lighter weight weapon.

Pump Action vs Semi-Automatic

The click of a pump action shotgun is often described as having almost the same amount of stopping power as the gun itself; while the distinctive sound certainly can’t hurt, the pump has other benefits to consider. A pump action shotgun allows for a wider range of ammo options, is less likely to seize or misfire and can usually be fixed quickly if something goes awry. The pump action requires the user to manually slide the forearm to chamber a new round – this motion and the seating of the ammunition create the distinctive and familiar “click” most of us recognize.

While a semi-automatic might be simpler to work and lighter than the pump action counterpart, the robust stopping power of a pump model can’t be beat for most home protection applications. A semi-automatic shotgun will generally come with a higher price tag than its manually operated counterpart, so if budget is a concern, look to the pump action model and save.

According to Guns and Ammo Magazine, ”In experienced hands, a pump shotgun is almost as fast as a semi-auto, and sliding the fore end forward helps to shooter return to the target and stabilizes the gun.”

Stock vs Pistol Grip


Stock design can vary greatly from shotgun to shotgun.

The pistol grip shotgun was very popular for a few years and is certainly a big screen staple, but its poor aiming capabilities combined with the propensity to kick back a lot harder than anticipated when fired makes a pistol grip a poor choice for home defense. A pistol grip can make the shotgun easier to handle with one hand, but in a home protection scenario, that one handed maneuverability may not matter as much as good aim and stopping power.



KSG Tactical Shotgun - Clark Armory

Accessories help to customize your defensive shotgun to fit your individual needs.

The accessories you choose for your gun can make it more user friendly and increase your ability to hit the target you are aiming at, but choose with care. Too many additions can detract from the guns usefulness and make it heavy and unwieldy. Experts at the NRA recommend considering an improved sight, a mounted light and a sling if you are outfitting a shotgun for home defense. Other additions add weight and complexity and make it more difficult for you to use the gun for its primary purpose, home defense.

According to gunsmith and range master Mike Moore, speaking with experts at the NRA, “Trying to make shotguns into something they’re not” is a typical mistake made by those seeking a shotgun for home defense. “They are intended to be close-quarters weapons in home-defense, not rifles.”

Still not sure which shotgun to choose? Ask an expert! Many gun shops and retailers are happy to discuss your individual situation, and help consult in what shotgun would be the best application for your and your family's needs.

home defense shotgun
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