The shotgun is one of the most effective weapons for home defense available. While the semi-automatic rifle has mostly supplanted the shotgun as a duty/patrol vehicle weapon, the stopping power of a shotgun shell loaded with buckshot — spherical projectiles ranging in caliber from .24 to .38 — can rarely be beaten at close range. Shotguns, unlike handguns, cast a broad shot pattern. This allows inexperienced gun owners to easily take down an intruder in a home invasion.
Best Home-Defense Shotguns
When we think of shotguns, the first weapon that often springs to mind is a pump-action, also known as a slide-action. Chances are, it’s a Remington or Mossberg.
No discussion of home-defense shotguns would be complete without the Remington 870. Since it preceded the Mossberg 500, it seems only fitting to start from the beginning.
In a pump-action shotgun, the forend, held by the support hand, is connected to the bolt by one or two arms called action bars. When you need to cycle the action to chamber a round or extract a spent or unfired cartridge, you retract the forend, which opens the breech.
Introduced in 1950, the Remington 870 is a pump-action, side-ejecting shotgun chambered in 12- and 20-gauge. Loaded through a port in the receiver’s bottom, the 870 is fed from an integral tubular magazine, which typically holds between four and six 2¾” 12-gauge shells. However, magazine extensions that can increase the capacity to eight have been available for the Remington shotgun since the 1970s.
Favoring right-handed shooters, the safety catch is the cross-bolt type — a horizontally sliding button located at the trigger guard’s rear.
The Remington 870 has been a mainstay among law-enforcement officers as a patrol vehicle weapon for decades. Despite its age and the increasing substitution of patrol rifles, the 870 is still a highly popular choice for self-defense, hunting, and competition shooting. One of the heavier weapons on the list, the receiver is made from steel, which wears less than aluminum, especially when paired with steel action bars.
While more weight can increase fatigue in a military or hunting context, this increased weight can reduce perceived recoil as a home-defense or vehicle-borne weapon.
Although less relevant to self-defense than hunting, Remington offers an Express variant that can chamber 3½” 12-gauge shells.
Mossberg 590 Tactical
A decade following the introduction of the Remington 870, the Mossberg 500 emerged as a comparatively lightweight, ambidextrous alternative. Positioned on the receiver’s top, the safety catch falls naturally under the firing hand’s thumb when gripping the small of the stock. The safety is a sliding button that exposes a red dot when set to fire.
Made from an aluminum alloy, the Mossberg 500 receiver is noticeably lighter than its primary competitor. However, this comes at the expense of increased wear — the action bars that cycle inside the receiver are made from steel, which is more rigid.
An upgraded variant of the 500, the 590 features a heavy-walled barrel, equivalent to that of the Remington 870. It also has a redesigned tubular magazine and end cap to increase the capacity by one 2¾” shell. Designed for more reliable cycling, the shell lifter has been improved to avoid tilting. Dual extractors allow for a more positive grip of the shell casing rim, and dual action bars distribute force to equal sides of the bolt.
Unlike the 870, the loading port is not closed by the shell lifter so that shells can be inserted into the magazine tube more smoothly.
Stoeger Coach Gun
If you want simplicity, there are few weapons simpler than a Stoeger double-barrel break-action shotgun. Available in two configurations, double-barreled shotguns can be described as follows:
- Side-by-side: Two barrels parallel to each other on the horizontal plane.
- Over-and-under: Two barrels parallel to each other, one superposed on the other. Over-and-under shotguns have been mostly relegated to the role of competitive shooting sports.
To load and unload a double, there’s an opening lever that can be activated with the thumb. Rotated to the right, the barrels are unlocked from the frame and allowed to pivot around a hinge, exposing the breech. If the shotgun has automatic extractors, as the Stoeger Coach Gun does, any spent shell casings are partially extracted for manual removal with your fingers. This also permits you to fire one round and extract only the spent shell for replacement.
While single- and double-barreled break-action shotguns can have exposed hammers, the Stoeger is the hammerless type. The hammers are internal and are cocked as you break the gun open.
Below the opening lever is the safety catch, which takes the form of a sliding button. When you break the gun open, the safety is activated automatically.
For transport, the Coach Gun is easily broken down. With the gun closed, in the forend, you’ll find a slot with a recessed lever. Pressing the lever allows you to remove the forend by pulling it. Once removed, rotating the opening lever enables you to remove the barrels from the frame because the locking lug is no longer captivated.
The Stoeger Coach Gun exemplifies the type most commonly associated with self-defense and security — the side-by-side. Carried by guards tasked with protecting stagecoaches during the Old West, hence the name, the Coach Gun design provided two shotshells that could be fired rapidly to repel highwaymen. Adorned with a classic walnut stock, the Stoeger Coach Gun is available in 3 different chamberings: 12- and 20- gauge, and .410 bore.
Remington 1100 Tactical
In continuous production since 1963, the Remington 1100 is a semi-automatic, gas-operated shotgun. Like the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 pump-action shotguns, the 1100 is fed from a tubular magazine loaded through the receiver’s bottom and ejects its spent shells out the right side. The controls mirror those of the 870.
The 1100 is neither the first gas-operated shotgun nor the first semi-automatic that Remington has manufactured. Following the Sportsman 58 and 878 Automaster, the 1100 is the third gas-operated shotgun that the firearms manufacturer has brought to the market.
Before producing gas-operated shotguns, Remington produced derivatives of John Browning’s famous Auto-5, which used the long-recoil operating principle.
Semi-automatic shotguns operated by one or more gas pistons are generally thought to produce softer recoil relative to manual-action repeaters and those guns cycled by long recoil, such as the Browning Auto-5.
One explanation for this is as the expanding gases exert force against the piston to drive it rearward, they’re also exerting equal force against the front of the gas cylinder, opposite to the direction of recoil.
This tactical model provides homeowners with the convenience of semi-automatic shooting but the power only a shotgun can offer. It features a 7-round capacity, an R3 recoil pad, black synthetic forend and stock, sling swivel stud, and bead sights.
Benelli M2 Tactical
The M2 embodies what the company is known for pioneering in shotguns: Inertia-driven self-loading operation. Unlike long recoil, as seen in the Browning Auto-5 and Remington Model 11, the barrel is fixed in the inertia system. For the action to cycle, the gun must recoil against a surface that provides sufficient resistance, such as your shoulder.
When firing, the rotating bolt is locked to the receiver. The entire gun recoiling causes a spring between the bolt head and bolt carrier to compress, as the bolt head moves with the gun while the bolt carrier remains stationary. When the spring expands, it pulls them apart, camming the bolt and unlocking it from the receiver. This rearward force is sufficient to extract the spent shell casing, eject it, compress the return spring, and recock the hammer. Once the return spring contained in the stock expands, it performs the reloading cycle.
Clean and straightforward, the inertia system is considered highly reliable and requires minimal maintenance.
The semi-automatic Benelli M2 Tactical provides you with a 5+1 capacity, ghost ring sights, synthetic forend, stock, and pistol grip.
Benelli M4 Super 90
Known primarily for its line of innovative inertia-driven semi-automatic shotguns, the M4 Super 90 represents a departure from the Italian firm’s recoil operation.
Gas operated using two short-stroke stainless-steel pistons located on either side of the barrel, the Super 90 gas system is designed to be self-regulating. This avoids a common complaint regarding semi-automatic shotgun actions: Inconsistencies in gas pressure or bolt thrust may cause stoppages or cycling irregularities.
As a result, due to the A.R.G.O. (Auto-Regulating Gas-Operated) system, the M4 Super 90 can reliably cycle everything from field loads to 3” Magnums without the need for manual adjustment.
Adopted by the United States Armed Forces in 1999 and designated the M1014, the Super 90 is fed from an integral tubular magazine, which holds seven 2¾” 12-gauge shells in the military/law-enforcement variant and five in the civilian/commercial offering.
Living up to its name and military pedigree, it was determined during testing that the M4 Super 90 could fire more than 25,000 rounds without the need for major parts replacement.
While the military and police receive a collapsible stock for increased maneuverability and convenience of transport, Benelli only supplies a fixed semi-pistol-grip stock with the civilian variant.
Mossberg 930 Tactical
If you’re interested in purchasing a semi-automatic shotgun, but the Benelli is outside your price range, rest assured there are more affordable options available. One of these is the Mossberg 930. No slouch regarding either reliability or performance, the 930 is favored by competition shooter Jerry Miculek, known for breaking world speed records.
Like the M4 Super 90, the Mossberg 930 is a semi-automatic, gas-operated shotgun fed from an integral tubular magazine. However, rather than using two short-stroke pistons like the Benelli, the Mossberg uses dual gas ports to actuate a 1-piece annular piston encircling the magazine tube.
Another feature you may notice is the charging handle, which is oversized and knurled for increased traction.
The Mossberg 930 Tactical variant provides eight rounds, a synthetic pistol grip, bead sights, and an aluminum receiver.
Remington 870 Tac-14 20-Gauge
When you need the power of a shotgun in as compact a package as possible, Remington offers the Tac-14. While not technically a shotgun, the Tac-14 is legally classified as a firearm. As a result, you’re able to benefit from the maneuverability and ease of transport that a short barrel (14”) and pistol grip afford.
The Tac-14 is equipped with an ergonomic bird’s head pistol grip made from durable glass-filled polymer. It is chambered in 20-gauge rather than the standard 12. Controllable in both chamberings, 20-gauge reduces the felt recoil, which is necessarily intensified in the absence of a shoulder stock, while still providing a significant amount of power for deterring violence.
Despite the 26.3” overall length, you’re supplied with four 20-gauge shotshells + 1 in the chamber in what is, functionally, a large handgun.
For a home-defense shotgun, the ability to attach accessories, such as flashlights, can be vital. The short barrel makes it easier to maneuver around tight corners in your home as you clear each room. To accommodate illumination devices, the forend is M-LOK compatible.
Slugs — single, solid projectiles — are also decisive. However, these are primarily intended for hunting and defense against dangerous game because penetration may be excessive for urban/suburban use. Slugs can easily pass through walls, hitting other apartments and houses that are in close range. If that’s not a concern, a .72-caliber sharp-shouldered slug weighing more than an ounce can strike like the hammer of Thor.
The shotgun is commonly thought to descend from the blunderbuss, an 18th-century flintlock muzzleloading weapon whose name translates to “thunder pipe” in Dutch. Intended to repel boarders on ships at close range, the blunderbuss’s flared muzzle was packed with multiple spherical lead projectiles referred to collectively as shot.
Shotguns are available in a wide variety of configurations, and all with their own unique characteristics. When selecting a firearm for home defense, it’s often necessary to balance several factors, some of which may conflict. These are:
- Power: If you place your shot correctly, does the weapon fire a sufficiently powerful cartridge to stop a determined aggressor? Few rounds are likely to stop an enemy at close range than a 12-gauge shell loaded with a charge of #00 buckshot (9 .33-caliber, 54-grain lead balls).
- Accuracy: Is the weapon relatively precise? A riot-length barrel with an open choke/cylinder bore offers a good balance, especially under 25 meters. Despite popular misconceptions regarding shotgun accuracy, you still need to aim at the target, and missing it is possible.
- Capacity: How many rounds does your defensive weapon hold, and how simple is it to reload, especially under stress? Shotguns do not have a high magazine capacity, typically varying between 4 and 9 rounds. You won’t need the extra ammo to compensate for a lack of punch.
- Weight: How heavy is the weapon, and how balanced is the weight? As weight decreases, the recoil velocity increases. To maintain accuracy in every shot, weight is a critical factor.
- Recoil: How manageable is the recoil? Will you need to use lighter loads, muzzle brakes, or recoil-reducing butt pads? This depends largely on you and what your expectations are.
- Maneuverability: How easily can you move with the weapon in restrictive spaces, such as hallways and stairwells? Unlike shotguns designed or configured for deer hunting or wing shooting, a short riot-type barrel — 18–20” — is generally considered preferable. Here, the layout of your home may also be a determining factor. Where could the attacker come from? How large are the rooms that have entry points? What is the fastest route to that room from where you usually sleep?
- Price: Is the weapon affordable? You don’t have to be wealthy to own effective tools for personal protection.
While 12-gauge offers a wider variety of shotshell loads and more powerful payloads, 20-gauge is a recommended alternative for those shooters who are more susceptible to recoil. If that’s still too much, a .410 bore, while not technically a gauge, offers the lightest substitute.
Whether single-shot or repeating, the 12- or 20-gauge shotgun offers a time-honored, battle-proven, and exceptionally powerful answer to the question of what weapon to choose for home defense. From Old West stagecoaches to European trenches, the shotgun has been the default option for close-range combat and warfare for more than a century. As a weapon for protecting what you most hold dear, you’d be well served by this capable tool.