A reader from California recently sent me some questions about long gun use for home protection. Due to his state’s restrictive gun laws, he can’t legally own a “normal” AR-15 and is considering using either a pump shotgun or lever action rifle for home protection. His questions (edited for clarity) are below. I get these questions so regularly that I felt compelled to write an article to steer people in the right direction.
“I know you prefer shotguns for home defense, mine has currently extra ammo in butt cuff. Do you think it is necessary to have a light, sling and side saddle?
What is your top pick for home defense & travel shotguns? I live on 3 acres and have few neighbors surrounding my property.
If you would go with long gun (shotgun or level action) is a mounted light an absolute?
I value your advise and would love to take your classes if you make it to Central California.”
I am a big fan of shotguns for home defense. A 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buck shot is one of the most formidable fight stopping weapons humans have ever invented. I have a bunch of AR-15 rifles. I carried an AR-15 rifle every day in my cop job for more than 20 years. I really like the AR platform, but all of mine are currently locked up in safes.
My accessible home defense long guns are both shotguns. I have two concealed short barrel shotguns (Benelli M-1 and Remington 870) ready for immediate access in my apartment. All my rifles and other shotguns stay locked in my gun safes.
Let’s get to my reader’s questions…
Do I need extra ammo? If so, side saddle, butt cuff, or bandolier?
The answer really depends on your shotgun’s role. Will it strictly be a home protection weapon or will you also be hunting bad guys, competing or doing shotgun shooting schools with the gun?
I dug deeply into the details of almost 1800 shootings for my study on firearm stopping power. Outside of cops shooting at barricaded suspects, I never saw a single gunfight where the defender emptied his shotgun. If you plan to miss a lot, you’ll probably want to have some extra ammo on board. But the reality is that if you hit your target, I rarely see cases that required more than two shotgun rounds. One or two hits with 00 buck or slugs tend to be very decisive stoppers.
With most defensive shotguns holding between four and eight rounds, you probably will not need any extra ammo for your home defense shotgun. I would not criticize you a bit for wanting to minimize weight by just carrying the rounds in the magazine tube. Take a look at my SBS 870. It only holds four rounds in the mag tube and I have no spare ammo on the gun. The reality of the situation is that I’m exceedingly unlikely to need more than four 00 buck cartridges in my home defense gunfight.
If, instead of protecting my home, my mission was hunting down bad guys and arresting them, I might make a case for having more ammo on the gun. As my friend Darryl Bolke noted, “There is a difference in the type of gun you are carrying just to get out of trouble and the type of gun you carry when you are actively looking for trouble.” The home defense shotgun definitely fits into the former category.
As my reader lives in California, the shotgun is likely to also be the weapon he might carry to engagements on his property outside his home. In that situation, having a couple extra slugs carried on the gun is a good idea. With the best buckshot, my maximal effective range is about 40 yards. Slugs extend that to 100 yards or more. As the reader lives on three acres, having some longer range capability of using slugs seems like a good option.
Additionally, if you are competing or going to shotgun schools with your gun, you will most certainly want the ability to carry extra ammunition on the gun. I find that side saddles are generally faster than butt cuffs. If you are going to a high round count shooting school, you’ll definitely want a side saddle.
One thing to note is that the side saddle may negatively effect reliability in some weapons. In the Benelli armorer school, they taught us that any accessories weighing more than 500 grams forward of the action MAY reduce reliability. Take a look at my Benelli M-1 Super 90. It has a side saddle. But it also has a light (300 lumen LED replacement head on an original Laser Products forend).
Note that I only have two spaces (both slugs) loaded on my side saddle. Lots of shooting experience showed that with the light and all the extra shells, my shotgun started malfunctioning. It runs perfectly with two rounds in the side saddle, but if I add any more, the gun starts malfunctioning.
I don’t like the bandoleer style slings to carry more ammo. They are slow to load from. With vigorous motion, they start swinging from side to side, making accurate hits more difficult.
For those of you who use a Beretta 1301 for home defense, the match saver single extra round might be a useful addition. My 1301 holds six plus one rounds. I use the match saver to carry a single slug in case I need to take a longer range shot or one through cover.
Bottom line? If you are going to shooting schools and competing with the gun, you need a way to carry extra ammo. If only using the gun for home defense, you probably don’t.
Do I need a sling?
Probably not for home defense. The primary role for the shotgun sling is when you are transitioning to a pistol or some other type of weapon. That just doesn’t happen much in home defense gunfights.
The downsides to having a sling are:
– The sling might get caught on something as you are moving.
– Depending on where you place it, the sling might interfere with your weapon mounted light
– The slung weapon is more difficult to jettison if you need to do so.
You’ll note that both my home defense shotguns have slings while I am telling you they aren’t absolutely necessary. Old habits die hard. All my shotgun training was in the context of being a cop. We regularly had to transition to other weapons or handcuffs while holding on to a shotgun. The sling makes that easy.
Even though weapon transitions aren’t likely in a home protection scenario, I like having the ability to sling my long gun. I’ve personally never had any issues with snagged slings outside of operating from within the passenger compartment of a car. I don’t think the downsides are super relevant in my personal case, so my shotguns all have slings.
Do I need a light?
Have you ever tried searching a building with a shotgun using a hand-held light? The shotgun is a two-handed weapon. That doesn’t leave you many options for searching with a handheld light. For that reason, I’ve always advocated mounting a light on my defensive shotguns. You’ll note that both of my home protection gauges have integrated weapon mounted lights.
Taking a Tom Givens shotgun class a couple years ago changed my stance on gun lights for home protection shotguns. Now I don’t think they are a hard and fast requirement. You aren’t hunting down bad guys and searching buildings with your home defense shotgun. It’s your home. You control the lighting situation. Why don’t you keep the lights on at night in some or all of your house?
I keep a light on in my apartment living room and kitchen during the night. My bedroom and the hallway leading up to it remain dark. If an intruder breaks in and I have to engage him, I will appear as a dark hole. He will be backlit by my living room lights. I don’t need a weapon mounted light for that particular home defense engagement.
Again, all bets are off if you are taking the fight to bad guys outside your home. In those situations, having a light is almost a requirement. There aren’t many downsides to a weapon mounted shotgun light except for cost and the additional weight (and potential cycling problems associated with that in the earlier Benelli autos).
As for shotgun weapon lights, by far the best option is to purchase a light that is integrated into the forend. Having a separate tail cap activated light mounted to the mag tube or sling swivel is almost impossible to operate on a momentary basis. It must be clicked on and left on in order to operate the pump action of the gun. That is suboptimal. I like having the ability to go dark as I move, reload, or fix malfunctions.
The best shotgun light is the Surefire integrated forend. It costs around $350. A decent substitute is the Streamlight TL Racker light at about half that price. The Streamlight is actually brighter than the Surefire, but the switching isn’t as intuitive and the ergonomics don’t favor the “push/pull” method of recoil mitigation.
Top Defensive Shotgun Picks
Right now, I think the best defensive shotgun on the market is the semi-auto Beretta 1301. I put the Benelli models in a close second place. They are equal in quality but heavier, recoil more, and are more picky about ammunition.
If you are looking for a pump gun, the Remington 870 (get the “police magnum” or “Wingmaster” version instead of the “express” model) and the Mossberg 590 are the right choices.
Other guns MAY work just fine, but I’ve seen significantly more problems with them in the classes I regularly teach. Buy once, cry once. Don’t try to save pennies by picking a lower tier shotgun. You will be disappointed in the end. Stick to my recommendations if you want the best choice available.
I realize that this article might go against the ‘prevailing wisdom” of using the shotgun in combat. I hope it provides some food for thought that will allow you to make a better decision about which accessories you actually need and which are more useful for law enforcement and shooting competitions.