3 Home Defense Shotgun Myths

and 2 Important Realities

Spend ten minutes in a gun store and someone will walk in...

… and ask the so-called “expert” behind the counter, “What is the best type of gun for home defense?” Without missing a beat, the answer is usually some variation of this: “Buy yourself X brand of shotgun; you can’t miss.” At this point, I usually walk out because I can’t stand hearing sewage like this spewed at uneducated buyers. Now I’m not saying a shotgun is not a great home-defense weapon; in fact, it has been proven time and time again to be a great choice for home defense. What I am saying is shotguns are plagued by a few myths. Moreover, the amount of cool-guy accessories you attach to a shotgun has wrongly placed the venerable self-defense gun on a big white pedestal.

A shotgun is one of the most versatile but hard-to-master firearms available. With the exception of NFA items, they are usually bulky, heavy, slow to reload and carrying a laughable amount of ammo. Experienced shooters in multi-gun competitions around the country will testify to this. And they’ll tell you loading a shotgun is what makes or breaks you.

So, to be really clear, the shotgun is not a talisman that will scare away an intruder, nor will the spread of the projectiles fired from it insure you can’t miss. With that, here are three myths surrounding the use of a shotgun for personal defense.

A shotgun bead is for alignment, not for sighting. Where the eye is looking
— the gun is pointing.

Shotguns are meant to properly aimed. Don't spray and pray.

Myth No. 1: “You don’t have to aim; just point the thing down the hallway.”

This statement comes from someone who has absolutely no idea what they are talking about. I’ll even venture he or she has never fired any of the buckshot available on the market for a modern combat shotgun. This myth was driven home during a Tactical Response Fighting Shotgun class where we fired a single round of buckshot at a piece of paper 21 feet away. After the shot, the students unloaded and walked downrange. Beside me was a police officer using Federal Control Flight buckshot. At the distance of a typical hallway, he had a shot spread (how the pellets in the shotgun shell spread out when fired from a given distance) you could cover with your fist. Generally, the further away you are from the target, the wider the spread. To put this in real-world terms, it’s like throwing a tennis ball down hallway of your home. The width of the tennis ball is basically what your shot spread is like with this type of ammunition. In other words, there is a lot of opportunity to miss a target!

To accurately put down a threat you need to hold the shotgun at your shoulder and point down the barrel at the target. Put another way, you actually have to aim your shotgun. In shotgun terms, aiming means pointing the barrel at the exact thing you want to shoot. You can’t just hold it at your waist and pull the trigger. If you are paying someone to teach you and he or she recites some version of this myth, politely excuse yourself and find better instruction.

Myth No. 2: “All you have to do is rack the action and the intruder will run away.”

This one makes me laugh. Yes, every American who has ever watched an action movie knows the sound of a shotgun action being racked. But consider: Are you going to bet your life the meth addict who has come into your home with a pistol at 3am, planning on murdering your wife and kids, is going to hear the scary sound through all the chemicals spinning around in his brain?

Racking the slide of a shotgun in order to scare away a threat means you've
just chambered a round and/or ejected an unused round. In either case, you've
wasted precious time and not been ready to shoot.

The other problem is you have to be close enough to your threat for them to hear you. As such, you are basically walking into a danger zone with an unloaded weapon. The usual response to this is “I’m real quick with racking the slide. It won’t matter.” This sounds like someone trying to build themselves up because they lack realistic training. In all honesty, you will not rack the slide quick enough. You will only rise to the level of training you have mastered. I have never been in a training where we practiced sneaking up on a criminal with an unloaded gun. Then, to make matters worse, the same person tells me they will have the shotgun loaded but will rack it again when they get close. I can’t even begin to know why any person in their right mind would take a live shell out of the chamber of a weapon, giving them one less round to protect their lives in order to make a supposedly scary noise. Scary noises are not a good tactic for saving your life, just like a rape whistle will never replace a gun. Arrive to the fight ready to fight, not with a $500 scary-noise-making device.

Myth No. 3: "A pump-action shotgun will never fail."

Here's why this is a myth: One of the main problems with a pump-action shotgun is a phenomenon called short stroking. This occurs when a shooter fails to complete the action of loading the shotgun by not pumping the action to the end of the slide. As such, the shotgun fails to go into battery. In simple terms, you’ve got a serious problem: your gun will not fire when you pull the trigger.

Blame short strokes on two causes:

First, the shooter is trying to operate the shotgun beyond their abilities, in turn causing them to become agitated and, with a shot of adrenaline, they failed to complete what should be a gross motor function.

Second, American sporting arms companies are notorious for including stocks that are simply too long for self defense purposes. The stock that works well for bird hunting doesn’t work well for a fighting tool. Further, take a person of small stature, add a bulletproof vest, and a full-length stock and presto -- you have a deadly combination for short stroking.

The 500 Super Bantam 20-gauge is offered as a shot and slug gun combo set with a stock adjustable for length-of-pull.

Modern shotguns offer stock options allowing a shooter to change the length of a stock for the gun's intended purpose. Sometimes shorter is better.

Until recently, the remedy was to take a wood stock and saw part of it off. I am 6′ 4″ and have long arms. But I shoot what most people would call a youth-style stock. Magpul has recently fixed this problem with their SGA stock. It is fully adjustable for length and rise. It’s a great product to fix a massive problem. In fact, the whole lineup from Magpul for the Remington 870 is a hit. You can shorten the length of pull and add a sling mount in minutes. Now I can stop sawing a couple of inches off  off people’s new guns.

Aside from the myths surrounding the shotgun as a home defense gun, I’d like to add a couple important realities should you choose to employ one in the defense of your domicile.

Reality No. 1: You Should Accessorize a Home Defense Shotgun

There are three things every fighting shotgun needs: a sling, a light, and a way to carry extra shells. Hardly any firearms bought for self defense are set up this way. So it’s up to you to make it happen.

First, a home defense shotgun needs a sling, allowing you to literally sling the shotgun out of your way. This is critical if you need to give yourself or someone else medical treatment, or you have to help move someone or something. Moreover, if the shotgun is attached to your body, then you will always have it with you. A word of warning: Do not skimp on a sling. A cheap sling will let you down when you need it.  You want it to be comfortable, and have a secure connection. I prefer a sling with some bungee cord built in. Regardless of the type of sling you choose, if you do not have a way to affix a sling to your shotgun then you need to make a change to the firearm. I prefer slings by SOE, Magpul, and Armageddon Gear. Choose what works best for you and the way you operate your shotgun.

This shotgun sports a sling and two shell carriers, allowing for 10 extra rounds on board.

Second, a home defense shotgun needs a white light. Warning: Gun store commandos may pipe up and let you know a light will give your position away. So be it. If you are worried about that then stay in a locked room. Since we are in the USA and not in some crappy cesspool of the world, you had better be quite sure you positively identify a threat. Even in states that have Castle Doctrine laws it is unethical to kill someone who is not causing or attempting to cause you harm. Yes, it may be legal to shoot someone for breaking into your house, but when you turn the light on and discover it is the neighbor's 15-year-old honor student who had his first drink and wandered into the wrong house, you will have to deal with the consequences for the rest of your life. Bottom line: Buy a light and attach it to your shotgun. Make sure you train with it in the dark. Check out the lights available from Crimson Trace. They are small, lightweight and a smoking good deal.

Third, a home defense shotgun must have a way to carry extra ammo. A $10 nylon bandoleer does not count. I know it looks cool and you feel like you rode with Poncho Villa, but it is impractical. And I despise plastic shell carriers. They require taking the factory screws out and replacing them with aftermarket parts. As such, the carriers can loosen up considerably and the shells can literally just fall to the ground. Sometimes the carriers just break off all together.

Reality No. 2: You Need Training

Training isn’t just for professional shooters but should be considered a regular part of the gun owning experience — especially if you intend to use a shotgun for home defense.

Training isn't just for professional shooters but should be considered a regular part of the
gun owning experience -- especially if you intend to use a shotgun for home defense.

At the end of the day, no amount of gadgets can top training. And you’ll only become proficient if you put in the time to practice, practice, practice. Practice what? Practice loading your shotgun from standing, sitting and kneeling. You never know how you will be firing. Practice shooting with the ammo you are going to keep loaded. Does it shoot in a strange way? Does it feed and extract properly? Do you train with a sling? A light? Is your stock too long? All of these questions need to be answered by you, the owner and operator of the firearm. No one else is going to be able to answer these questions or fix these problems for you. You have to put the time and money into protecting yourself and family. Yes, buy a good-quality shotgun, make sure you feed it with good ammo and accessorize it properly. But most importantly, know how to use it.