Duck Guns For Defense?

You Don't Have To Put Ol' Long Tom
Away After Waterfowl Season Is Over.
It Can Still Do Yeoman Duty For Home Defense
; .

Test patterning in progress. All four loads
were shot from five room-size distances.

Shotguns today are sort of like water, they seem to run either hot or cold based on the current vogue or what’s hot or considered cold in the firearms market. Like all present-day firearms technology there as been a massive amount of accessory add-on attention paid to them over the last few years. Shotguns have had a lot of tactical stuff added to them whether they needed it or not and
sometimes current buyers of new shotguns are awe struck if a plain Remington 870 shows up at the range dressed in it’s 20″ plain barrel with a beaded sight.

“I’ve never seen a shotgun like that before, where’s all the good stuff?” Good stuff being interpreted as the flashlight, the extra shell holders, folding stocks, magazine extensions, safety extensions, ghost-ring sights, red-dot sights mounted on a Picatinny rail and last, but surely not least, the tactical one-point attached sling. Tacticaled out, they weigh in the 10- to 15-pound range unloaded.

I am going to venture a wild guess that in the whole of American private gun safes and closets there are more “non-tactical” than tactical shotguns. Betcha. So, then could we — you or I — defend ourselves with a plain old 1950, ’60 or ’70’s vintage Remington 870 with a 20″ barrel beaded sight shotgun or better yet that 28″ modified choke duck gun? Or, heaven forbid is my home defensible with
grandpa’s 30″ full choke shoot’em-acrossthe-pond scattergun?

I thought I would find out. So, I took several old Remington 870 shotguns (because I like them and have a couple, don’t you know) and I shot some stuff. I used four types of ammunition; a couple of types those duck hunters might use and then a couple of those tactical kinda load thingies to keep the resident tacticals happy.


A Scattergun side saddle tocarry extra ammunition on the gun
is a good idea. You don’t want to bring an unloaded gun to a gunfight.


All the ammunition used for the test was factory-fresh 12 gauge broken down into these categories: Winchester AA 71⁄2 shot measuring .092″ diameter. I took one apart, counted 416 pellets. Next, was Remington No. 6 Express sporting the high-base case. Its 270 pellets measured about .114″ in diameter (or seemed to in my bifocals).

To keep the resident tacticals happy, I used Remington No. 4 buck with the caliber of pellets enclosed being a nominal .243″ and numbering 27 pellets inside the case. For the big-hole folks, I used Remington 00 Buck, which had 9 pellets per shell measuring about .325″ in diameter.

Inside the home, the size of the shot is probably not as important as the placement of the hit on the threat. All of the impacts on the test targets hit at room-size ranges varied from rat-hole type wounds to leaving quite a substantial mark which would be pretty devastating to the recipient.


The test guns (left to right) Remington 870 30" full choke, Remington
870 28" modified choke, Remington 870 18" beaded sight and a
Remington 870 20" with rifle sights.

The Guns

Three Remington 870 12 gauges were used. One 18″ barrel with about a .730 choke, a second 870 with a 28″ barrel with a nominal .700 choke and a third gun with a 30″ full-choke barrel measuring in with about a .685 constriction at the muzzle. Pattern sizes for five distances were documented using the three different guns and four different loads. Measurements were based on farthest pellet hole to farthest pellet hole and rounded to a 1/4″. All firing was done from kneeling to add some degree of stability and consistency to the testing.

Rounding corners with a long barrel poses problems. Keep the
muzzle down and if an attacker is too close, don’t try to raise the
muzzle — he might grab it — shoot him in the foot or leg and
keep shooting.

Tactical Touching

Probably the two key points of interest in this category is the overall size of the long-barreled shotgun for movement through the home and ammunition availability as it relates to number of rounds available before reloading.

The longer barrel guns require constant attention to barrel location so as to not “lead” it around corners. I personally would prefer to work with the butt of the shotgun in the shoulder and the muzzle depressed being sure to keep the muzzle from covering my feet. The overall length of the shotgun is an issue of concern, but not an overpowering one to anyone willing to spend some time practicing movement and application in their home. Should someone close the ground and make an attempt to disarm me I should be — or would be — in fear for my life, and would step back as well as I could to establish a platform while lifting the front of the shotgun up directing the muzzle towards said disarmer. If the muzzle came onto any part of them I would discharge the gun into their lower extremities. This again based on the fact that I was in fear for my life and willing to use deadly force on my opponent.

The short-barreled gun would not present much of, if any of a problem. The standard overall length of firing pistols extended at arms length are in fact not much shorter than the overall of the properly deployed short-barreled shotgun.

Most shotguns of manageable weight and size hold four to six shells. This equates to or parallels about a cylinder full of revolver ammunition. The key to ammunition and ammunition capacities is in my opinion twofold, to keep continuity of fire downrange, while reducing loading manipulations required to top the weapons system off. So it then becomes simple, the more I shoot, the sooner I will need to reload and the ammo issue comes into play. Also consider that most hunting guns have the magazine plugged at for a total capacity of three. If you pull the plug, be sure you put it back in before hunting again.


The backside of the targets showing damage and pattern exit size.

Food for Thought

Know your gun and ammunition. Pattern your gun with whatever type or make of ammunition you like or whichever gives you the best results. Have extra ammunition on your shotgun. Shotguns are usually stored in racks or closets until needed. When and if the time comes you probably will forget shell belts and carriers. Shell carriers mounted on the gun avoids a major weakness of the shotgun — the availability of extra ammo. Mount a side-saddle-type carrier on your gun.

Shoot one and load one, conditions permitting. The gun will go “empty” quicker than you think because of a limited capacity, practice loading … a lot! You should practice loading the shotgun while keeping the butt on your shoulder and the shotgun muzzle on
the threat or threat area.

If the target is still available or a threat to you, shoot twice or more to overlay the patterns of pellets on the target, the more
holes in the bad guy the better.

As another point of interest, folks often think shotguns psychologically intimidate a threat, including the novel concept of cycling the action to intimidate or let the guy know you mean business. Me, I would rather thunk them with a load of shot in the centerline “just so you know I mean business.” If you want to scare them, wear an ugly rubber mask. It’s probably a bad idea to show off or “sound off” your playing cards so to speak before you use them. You never can tell, you cycle the action to scare them, and they shoot at the sound (and you first). It could happen to you and has happened to others before.

And one more thought to surely aggravate some folks. You want a pistol get a pistol. Put a stock on the shotgun and mount it to your shoulder and aim. The pistol grip things sans a shoulder stock are goofy. I have seen more than one guy bash his teeth out holding the stockless gun up near their face while shooting. Recoil, don’t you know.


Targets hit at five yards to show pattern size and damage to target by
impact. Even relatively small shot sizes are devastatingat close range,
especially from a full choke.


The shotgun is a powerful and effective weapon — especially if you hit the target. Shotguns are usually mechanically robust — especially the ones with the least amount of add-on stuff, and they can often work just swell without all the junk.

Good Add Ons?


I grasp the ghost ring sight concept, but find very few who enjoy shooting rifled slugs and even fewer agencies that allow them to be used on busy streets. Not to be misleading or misunderstood, rifled slugs are a valuable addition to the ammunition spectrum and may be useful for shotguns in some applications. Rifled sights help to shoot slugs more accurately, but slugs are not the norm nor are
they any fun to shoot in great amounts. The standard bead sight is more prevalent and would serve most shotgun shooters well enough for personal defense. Some of the factory beads are small and, in my bifocal mode with advanced aging eyes, I like and mount the XS Sight bead on my guns which happens to have a night insert and are larger thereby letting my eyes see the sights better, period.

Shell holders

Several people make good side-mounted extra ammunition carriers. The first one I ever had — and still have — is a Milt Sparks made leather butt cuff. Today, I also really like the polymer side saddles made by Wilson Combat which mounts on the side of the
receiver, is rigid, holds the shells well and allows a stock weld either right or left handed in case of injury or cover considerations.

Redundancy, one more time, extra ammunition mounted on the shotgun is a good idea.



Slings to long guns are equal to what holsters are to handguns. I am not wild about the vogue tactical strangulation and garrote slings and much prefer a normal carry strap. The less complicated the better. To be fair, the one advantage I can see for the tactical slings, if it is a relatively simple design, is it may — key phrase — may help in retention at close contact situations. You
will carry the gun more than you will ever shoot it in a fight so, carries and dismounts should be practiced.


Shotgun mounted lights may be helpful and serve a purpose on an individual basis. Each shotgun user will have to decide if the shotgun mounted light solves a problem for them that truly exists. Even if there is a gun-mounted light, one should practice hand-held techniques as well to preempt potential problems that may arise while using gun-mounted lights.


If you have room, raise the barrel and aim. The 12-gauge with
full or modified choke shoots real tight patterns at room distances.

In The Blind or Hallway

You can see from the patterning tests, regardless of the barrel length, it is probably a sure thing that you must aim, the closer you are the better you should aim, the pattern is smaller and it is more effective with a tight pattern, but only if the pattern of shot hits the target. Because you hit the target doesn’t mean the bad guy or the duck is down, it simply means you hit them. They may
— to your dismay — continue to fly or fight. If so, shoot again, and shoot well.

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