Blanchard, Oklahoma, south of Oklahoma City. New Year’s Eve, 2011. Two men are trying to force their way into the home of 18-year-old Sarah McKinley and her three-month-old son. She calls 911 and is told that help is on the way, but 20 minutes pass. Eventually, despite a couch shoved against the front door, the invaders manage to get in. McKinley, who has retreated to the bedroom with her baby, is armed with a 12-gauge shotgun, and when the intruders come for her, she shoots one of them. The other turns and flees. The first invader was pronounced dead at the scene. The young mother and her infant were unharmed.

Independence, Missouri. November 2013. Two men force their way into a home and begin beating the two men who live there, asking about pills. The invaders robbed the men of money and valuables, but made the mistake of allowing one of the residents to go into his bedroom. When he returned, the resident had his shotgun and fired on the intruders, hitting one and scaring the other off. Police arrived and found the remaining intruder seriously injured in the house and sent him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Despite the tactical revolution and the exploding number of concealed carry permit holders across America, the trusty shotgun remains a mainstay in the arsenal of home defenders.

The reasons for this are many. Some of the traditional wisdom, such as the oft-repeated advice that simply racking a 12-gauge pump shotgun is enough to scare off intruders, is at least a bit suspect. While there is certainly some truth to the idea, it’s a risky move for a homeowner to pin her hopes on and can give away the defender’s position to invaders who might be ready to shoot first and steal stuff later. Intruders not fully in control of their faculties, such as those drunk or on drugs, might not even realize that they’re being threatened. Finally, the defender is either entering a potential shooting situation with an unloaded weapon, or he or she is giving away one of their few shots by cycling it out onto the floor.

Other reasons for choosing a shotgun, such as the idea that shotgun blasts won’t overpenetrate interior walls as much as centerfire long guns or pistols and won’t put those across the street at risk, have some basis in fact. But many shooters would be surprised at the ability of 00 buckshot, the most common shell used for defense, to tear through walls and cause severe damage to people and things on the other side of those walls. Most shotgun ammo that won’t harm stuff on the other side of an interior wall might not have enough penetration to harm an intruder wearing more than a T-shirt.

But the fact remains that the shotgun is a solid choice for home defense. It is easy to operate, its spread pattern makes it more likely than a single bullet to hit a target in rushed near-panic situations or when fired by less-practiced shooters, and its shorter range is actually a benefit in the confines typical of home defense scenarios. As the home defense market has grown, the selection of shotguns and accessories well-suited to the task has grown as well, and anyone in the market should have no trouble finding the right setup for their needs and budget.

Choosing A Gun

Though the 12-gauge is the standard shotgun, those looking for a home defense shotgun should also consider a 20-gauge. First, despite the drop in stopping power, a 20-gauge remains able to put plenty of hurt onto home invaders, especially at the close ranges that such fighting will take place.

Secondly, the 20-gauge will be more manageable for smaller shooters or those less familiar with shooting. Often, home defense scenarios occur when only women or older folks are at home, making that 12-gauge a little tough to handle for those with less body mass, strength or experience. A gun that is a little less intimidating to the shooter is much more likely to be used — and used effectively.

Though double-barrel side-by-side and over-and-under shotguns will be better than nothing in a pinch, and even a single-shot shotgun can take down an intruder, these are not great choices when selecting a gun specifically for home defense. One of the shotgun’s weaknesses compared to handguns and centerfire rifles is the limited number of shots.

In most cases, one or two shots will be enough. But if it isn’t, the time it takes to reload could be the difference between life and death. The ubiquitous pump-action shotgun, long a mainstay with hunters, law enforcement, military and home defenders, has lately been joined by semi-automatic shotguns. The semi-autos were long avoided because of their expense and uncertain reliability. But those issues are mostly a thing of the past. Today’s autoloaders are reliable with a wide range of ammunition. They’re not much more expensive than their pump-action cousins, and they’re easy to operate. Still, when long-lasting reliability and ability to feed all sorts of shells without requiring very much maintenance is the key, not much can beat a simple pump-action shotgun.

Tactical-style guns, whether pump or autoloading, will often fill the home defense bill better than standard hunting guns. One of the biggest reasons is the barrel length. Tactical-ish guns or those designed specifically for defensive use will generally have shorter barrels, making handling in the close quarters of a home interior easier and allowing the defender to get the muzzle on the target just a little more quickly. Long-barreled hunting guns will shoot a bad guy just as well, but they’re not as easy to maneuver in dark hallways.

Additionally, tactical-style shotguns will often come with many useful features not generally found on basic hunting guns. Tactical rails for accessories, ported barrels and extended magazine tubes are not uncommon. And while black synthetic stocks and furniture might not look as pretty as fine wood, the weight savings and features often available on polymer stocks, not to mention the cost savings polymer often brings, can be worth it.

Stockless pistol-grip-only shotguns are often marketed as defensive weapons, and they are obviously even easier to handle in tight spots than short-barreled guns with standard stocks. The problem is that shooting stockless guns accurately is not an easy task and requires a great deal of practice. Unless the gun owner is a Terminator played by Arnold Schwarzenegger or some other Hollywood action movie star merely pretending to fire a stockless gun rather than depending upon it for their real life in the real world, the best way to shoot a shotgun is with the stock planted firmly against your shoulder. Stockless pistol-grip-only guns should be reserved for emergency kits or other last-ditch scenarios where there is no other option.

Guns To Stock

It’s difficult to discuss shotguns without bringing up the pump-action Remington Model 870 early in the conversation. The 870 has been a leader in the world shotgun market since its introduction in 1951.

In the seven decades since, more than 10 million Model 870s have been produced, and it’s been a common sight in the hands of law enforcement, military and competitive shooters in addition to the countless hunters and recreational shooters who have pumped shells through it over the years.

Remington currently builds more than 30 different 870 models, many of which are well-suited to the home defense role. One of the best in the lineup is the Model 870 Express Tactical. This gun has an 18.5-inch barrel with an extended and ported Tactical Rem Choke. The Tactical Rem Choke has a series of jagged teeth around the muzzle, multiple ports, and a knurled ring to make it quick and easy to insert or remove. It also aids in reducing muzzle rise for better accuracy and quicker, more accurate follow-up shots.

The 870 Express has an XS Ghost Ring rear sight and XS blade front sight for quick and easy target acquisition. The forend is tactical-style polymer, and a two-shot extension increases the 870 Express’s capacity to 6+1 3-inch shells. The stock is black synthetic and has an XS tactical rail mounted on the receiver, which is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.

There are additional Remington Model 870 Express models, including the Remington Model 870 Express Tactical Magpul — which replaces the standard Express tactical stock with a Magpul SGA Stock. The SGA is an ambidextrous configurable unit with a spacer system to adjust length of pull, improved grip ergonomics, a recoil-absorbing pad and an optional cheek riser for use with optics. It also includes a Magpul MOE forend with improved ergonomics.

The Model 870 Express Tactical with Blackhawk! Spec Ops II comes with a stock/pistol grip unit that incorporates a recoil reduction system. The ergonomic pistol grip has interchangeable rubber inserts to create the perfect fit for comfort and better control. The stock is adjustable from 11.25 inches to 15 inches length of pull to fit virtually any shooter and features a SuperCell recoil pad for even more recoil reduction and comfort.

Almost as ubiquitous, Mossberg’s pump-action 500 series of shotguns includes a number of tactical guns which will serve well as home defenders.

The new Mossberg 500 Tactical Tri-Rail with Center Mass Laser is available with either an 18.5-inch barrel (six-shot capacity) or a 20-inch barrel (eight-shot capacity). It features a LaserLyte targeting unit which displays a ring of red dots around the central aiming laser dot for quicker target acquisition and more shots on target. The laser has three modes: Constant On, Pulse and Off. The 20-inch eight-shot model has a black synthetic shoulder stock, while the 18.5-inch six–shot Cruiser model has a pistol grip only.

Mossberg’s 500 SPX 6-Shot has an 18.5-inch barrel and a six-round capacity. It has an adjustable black synthetic stock with shell holder, a Ghost Ring rear sight, an M16-style fiber-optic front sight and a tactical rail.

While 20-gauge guns are also a good option, some customers might opt for the lighter Mossberg HS410 Home Security model chambered for .410. It has a six-shot capacity and an 18.5-inch barrel, bead sights and a spreader choke. A vertical grip on the forend helps with tactical maneuvering and cycling the action.

The HS410 Home Security is available in either black synthetic or with the bold pink, purple, neutral colored Muddy Girl camo scheme.

The Winchester Super X Pump Defender has textured gripping surfaces on its black synthetic stock for a sure hold and a ribbed forend for better control and reliable pumping in high-pressure situations.

The fixed cylinder choke can handle both slugs and buckshot. It has an 18-inch barrel and a six-shot capacity (five shots when using 3-inch shells). The drop-out trigger group allows for easy cleaning, and the black chrome protection on the bolt and other surfaces lasts longer than conventional bluing. It has a brass front bead sight for quick and simple targeting.

The FN SLP Tactical is an autoloading 12-gauge from FNH USA with an 18-inch barrel and a 6+1 capacity (5+1 for 3-inch shells). Its gas-operated action fire all the rounds in less than one second — an output that can’t be matched by the smoothest pump gun operated by the most skilled shooter.

The aircraft-grade alloy receiver mounts MIL-STD 1913 tactical rails and an adjustable rear sight, while the barrel sports a wing-protected front sight. The magazine extended tube has three tactical rail sections for lights, lasers or other accessories. The SLP Tactical has a black synthetic stock with a nonslip recoil pad and interchangeable comb inserts. It has an ergonomic pistol grip with checkered gripping panels.

Legacy Sports International offers two Escort Gladius Home Defense shotguns in 20 gauge — one pump and the other autoloading. They have 18-inch barrels and 5+1 shot capacity. Both have a black polymer stock with a cushioned pistol grip, an adjustable comb and an integral two-round shell holder for backup ammo. The forends are lengthened and include a three-sided tactical rail and a mounted vertical forward grip.

The barrels have heat shrouds, muzzle brakes, and an elevated fiber-optic front sight. A ghost ring-style rear sight is mounted on the receiver’s upper tactical rail. The Gladius Semi-Auto features Escort’s SMART valve technology for sub-second cycle rates, and the Gladius Pump has a short throw cycle that allows for rapid reloads.

While any old shotgun can serve as a home defense gun, these models and guns similar to them offer many features that will make defending the castle a little easier, allowing their residents to sleep a little easier and keep everyone a little bit safer.