Handguns are hip, but a home-defense shotgun, kept clean and handy, is the best tool to defend your family and property.
A shotgun’s superiority has little to do with its deadly pellet spread or the menacing sound it makes when its action is racked (more on that later). Rather, it’s about accuracy and control. If you’ve ever shot a handgun, you know how easy it is to miss your target. Combine a short sight radius with a single grip and the pressure of a life-or-death situation, and it becomes easier to understand that about 75 percent of all bullets fired by trained police miss their mark.
Conversely, a shotgun offers four points of contact to steady and guide an easier-to-aim barrel. And then there’s its terminal energy. In each typical shotshell of 00 Buck, there are nine pellets that combine to deliver roughly 1500 ft.-lbs. of energy to the target—or four times the energy of a .45 ACP bullet fired from a Model 1911 pistol. Factor in five to nine shells capable of being fired in rapid succession, and what you have is one of the most formidable arms for home defense ever conceived.
Here are six serious home defense shotguns of various price ranges to choose from, three each in two categories. Specs and prices follow.
If you have experience with a pump-action shotgun, you’re in luck because a pump (also called slide action) is one of the most reliable firearms available. That’s because the human strength used to manually cycle the shotgun’s action can overcome many hang-ups induced by a dirty action or weak loads. It’s also the most economical.
Tip: Whatever pump you choose, note that it’s often said that an attacker will stop whatever nefarious deed he’s doing and flee at the sound of a shotgun merely being pumped. Trouble is, this tip was gleaned from bad Sylvester Stallone movies, not the real world. The reality is that you never know what a criminal will do, so the last thing you should do is go into a confrontation with an unloaded gun. The better bet is to pump it smoothly after your first shot.
**Mossberg Model 500 Tactical Tri-Rail Forend**
If you’ve shot a Mossberg 500 for sport or recreation, as millions have, you’re in luck. Because you’re already used to its tang-mounted safety, you can shoot it as fast as any semiautomatic, and you won’t find a more reliable firearm. Mossberg currently has 45 versions of its Model 500, and the Tactical Tri-Rail Forend model is the one you want. It has a 20-inch barrel, bead sight, and full-size stock. It holds eight 2¾-inch shells. The only things I believe a home-defense shotgun needs added to it are a rail for a flashlight and an extended magazine, and this model has both.
Remington 870 Express Synthetic 7-Round
The 870 is one of the world’s most popular shotguns among sportsmen, military, and police because it works every time. This model, with an 18½-inch barrel and full-contour stock, is maneuverable yet controllable in tight confines. Fifty years ago and today, you simply can’t go wrong with an 870.
Winchester SXP Defender
This is a six-round slide-action with an 18-inch barrel that costs only $349. It features a rotating bolt head that unlocks and begins to open while the gun is in recoil, so it nearly ejects a shell on its own. You’re responsible for slamming another shell home. Its safety is located on its trigger guard like the Model 870. I like its ribbed fore-end that assures a good grip even when your hand gets clammy.
If you weren’t born with a pump shotgun in your mitts and don’t intend to practice with one, modern semi-automatics, when kept clean, are arguably more reliable than pumps. Why? Inexperienced shooters who are under duress have a tendency to “short shuck” pump-action guns–meaning they don’t work the slide fully the first shot, which means the next round won’t load in the chamber. Though semi-autos cost more, there’s no action to work when you’re under attack, reducing the chance of a misfire.
Tip: Whatever semi-auto you pick, realize that most defensive semi-autos are set up to handle heavy magnum slug and buckshot loads. So before using target loads or birdshot in your new semi-auto for home defense, thoroughly test them to make sure they function those light loads with 100-percent reliability. If they don’t, stick to the heavy stuff.
Benelli M2 Tactical
The M2 is supremely reliable with heavy loads because the Italian firm’s “inertia-driven” action blows most of the jam-causing grime out of the 18 ½-inch barrel and not back into the action, as do gas-operated guns. Its full-length stock is available with or without a pistol grip. While I prefer a traditional stock on a gun because it’s more intuitive to point, a pistol grip lends more one-handed control. It comes with ghost-ring sights, and though I like a simple bead better, many tactical gurus prefer ghost-ring sights for accuracy when shooting slugs.
Mossberg 930 Watchdog
This is the bargain of the group, and it has by far the scariest paint job. What matters, however, is that the 930 is a serious home-defense shotgun with its eight-round capacity (this is notable considering its short 18-inch barrel), oversized controls (including the Mossberg-standard tang safety), no-nonsense stock, and unfailing single bead sight. It is short at 39 inches and light for a 12-gauge auto at under 7 pounds. This makes it easy to wield. I suspect that if Mossberg wasn’t so famous for its pumps, it’d sell more semis, because the more fire I bark from the Watchdog, the more I howl its praises.
Remington Versa Max Tactical
This is my favorite home-defense gun is because it feels exactly like my old Model 1100—I can point it and work its action with my eyes closed. It’s a gas-action gun that’s been simplified and therefore made more reliable via Remington’s VersaPort system that self-regulates depending on shell length. With its eight-pound heft, gas-action, cushy buttpad, and gel comb insert, it’s likely the lightest recoiling 12-gauge on the market, and that’s important for fast, controlled follow-up shots. This eight-round shotgun has oversized controls for sure-handed operation and a flashlight rail bolted to the 22-inch barrel. All told, it’s one mean shotgun.