Best home defense shotgun - a guide (photo credits to iris photos)

8 Best Home Defense Shotguns in 2021

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There are many reasons to look for a shotgun dedicated to home defense, did you know that a burglary occurs every 30 seconds in our country? And most of these happen during the day according to the FBI!

As some of you may know, I own over 150 firearms, many of which are shotguns that come quite handy when it comes to home defense, so if you’re currently looking to buy the best home defense shotgun, you’ve come to the right place. Here I’m reviewing the following shotguns:

  • Banelli M4: a nice semi-automatic shotgun currently used in the US Armed Forces, one of my favorite for home defense, although a bit pricey ($1.9k-$2.5k).
  • Beretta 1301 Tactical: a more affordable semi-automatic alternative to the Banelli M4 (~$1.2k).
  • Kel-Tec KSG: a nice semi-automatic bullpup design cheaper than the italian Beretta (~$800) which features dual tube magazines.
  • Maverick 88: a pump-action for sale at $300, the Maverick 88 is my budget choice home defense shotgun!
  • Mossberg 500: an alternative to the Mossberg Maverick 88, a pump-action that offers a lot more options than the 88.
  • Mossberg 590A1: the military version of the Moss. 500 it has a more durable built than the 500 and is the only pump action that passed the US Military torture test in the 80s.
  • Remington 870 Express Tactical: my second choice for a low price home defense shotgun, the 870 is a best selling pump action introduced in the 1950s.
  • Winchester SXP Defender: one of the smoothest, it comes with Winchester’s famous inertia-assisted action.

Introduction

Shotguns are excellent general purpose firearms that serve many roles, but one of their most important functions is for self-defense. In fact, many people choose to buy a shotgun for the express purpose of using it as a home defense weapon. 

In this guide we will cover:

  • Why a shotgun is a viable choice for home defense.
  • How to optimize your shotgun for home defense.
  • The best home defense shotguns on the market, with my pros and cons.

Why is the shotgun a viable choice for home defense?

The twelve gauge pump action shotgun has long been considered by many people to be the ultimate home defense weapon. 

  • Buckshot rounds are favored over the ammunition used by handguns and rifles for home defense.
  • In close quarters combat, the wider pattern of shot is much more effective.
  • Pump action and semi-automatic shotguns are dependable.

When it comes to home defense, there are many reasons why the shotgun remains an excellent choice. Despite the rising popularity of alternative choices such as pistol caliber carbine or AR-15 pistols, the shotgun remains first choice.

For one thing, a twelve gauge or twenty gauge buckshot round is incredibly effective as close quarters defense ammunition. Shotguns cast a wider pattern of shot than a handgun or a rifle. This can stop an attacker dead in their tracks if they are within a close enough range (which applies to most home defense scenarios).

As we will explore later, you can optimize your shotgun to make it even more effective for defensive purposes. Let’s discuss the three primary types of shotguns that are available on the market. Then we will explain the best choice for the average homeowner as a defensive tool. 

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Which kind of shotgun should you choose for home defense?

There are three primary types of shotguns available: double barreled, pump action and semi-automatic.

The downside of a double barreled shotgun is the inability to load more than two rounds at a time. Therefore, the only two types that you should seriously consider are pump action and semi-automatic.

Pump Action

With a pump action shotgun, the shooter manually racks the pump back to eject a spent shotgun shell and to load a fresh one in from the magazine. The only way it can fail is if you fail to pump the action all the way back.

  • Very reliable.
  • Can feed almost any kind of shotgun ammo you run through them.
  • Most affordable option.

Semi-automatic

Semi automatic shotguns are more complicated than pump actions, and as a result they are also more expensive. In general, a semi-automatic shotgun will cost at least twice as much as a pump action shotgun. They also generally require more maintenance than pump action shotguns as well. 

If your semi-automatic shotgun has inertia-driven (meaning its loading mechanism is dependent on recoil), you will need to make sure that you use a shell with a heavier charge and ensure that the stock of the weapon is pressed firmly against your shoulder. For this reason, gas operated semi-autos are usually the better choice as they are more reliable.

  • Significantly more expensive
  • Require additional maintenance
  • However, recoil tends to be significantly reduced, particularly if you opt for gas operated models. This can be major upside for some gunowners who want to feel more comfortable wielding the shotgun in a home defense situation.

In short, both pump action and semi-automatic shotguns are viable choices for home defense. Pump action shotguns are generally cheaper and more dependable. If you go with a semi-automatic shotgun, be prepared to pay more money for one and to invest more time into maintenance and upkeep. 

Check out renowned gun YouTuber hickok45 and his video explainer of the differences between pump action and semi-auto below.

How to prepare your shotgun for home defense

Here are some tips to keep in mind in regards to choosing a shotgun for home defense and optimizing it as a defensive weapon after you buy it:

Barrel Length

The best barrel lengths for a home defense shotgun are 18 to 20 inches. Anything longer than that is intended for field use, such as hunting or clay pigeon shooting. It is simply too long for the cramped indoors of a home defense scenario. 

Take note that 18 inches is the minimum barrel length that you can legally own under United States federal law without having to register the weapon with a tax stamp with the Federal government. For this reason, most home defense shotguns have a barrel length of 18 inches.

The ones with a 20 inch barrel are usually so in order to accommodate an extra round or two in the magazine tube that runs underneath the barrel. The 20 inch Mossberg 590A1, for example, holds 9 rounds of ammunition when the shorter 18 inch barreled versions of the Mossberg 500 hold 6 rounds. 

  • 18 inches is minimum barrel length shotgun you can buy under federal law without having to register the weapon with a tax stamp.
  • A shorter barrel usually makes the weapon easier to manage (particularly in tight spaces) however the downside is shorter barrels tend to handle less ammunition.
  • A longer barrel (20 inches is common) can often handle up to 50% more ammunition.

Calibers

Always go with 12 gauge or 20 gauge for a home defense shotgun. Both are perfectly viable options that will deal a lot of damage to an attacker. Contrary to what some people may think, the 20 gauge is not to be underestimated. A 20 gauge buckshot round going off at close range has roughly the equivalent firepower to two .44 Magnums going off at once.

20 gauge can actually be a superior choice for the simple reason that it offers less recoil than the 12 gauge. For smaller statured shooters or women, the 20 gauge will usually be much easier to shoot and therefore a better option for home defense.

Take note, however, that this only applies if the weight of the shotgun itself is not reduced. A lighter shotgun will have less weight and mass to absorb the recoil. Plus, a lightweight 20 gauge shotgun can often kick much more than the same, normal weighted shotgun in 12 gauge. Keep this in mind.

  • A 20 gauge buckshot at close range is as powerful as two .44 Magnums.
  • A 20 gauge has less recoil and is usually better if you have a slighter stature.
  • However, a lighter gun does not absorb recoil efficiently. You might find a lightweight 20 gauge kicks as hard as a normal 12 gauge.

Sights

Most shotguns come with a standard front bead on the end of the barrel. This should work just fine for home defense, but you may want to give consideration to a shotgun that comes with ghost ring sights. While this does come with extra cost, the ghost ring sights can make acquiring a target easier.

Another option is to install a red dot on your shotgun, which can be done if it comes with a Picatinny rail or some other kind of attachment system. A red dot will make it even easier to acquire a target, but again, at the expense of extra cost.

In short, the standard bead sights on shotguns work will just fine for home defense, but there are other (and arguably superior) sighting systems available if you so choose. 

Sling Mounts

Perhaps the most overlooked feature that your home defense shotgun should come with are sling mounts. This allows you to keep the weapon close to your body while you use your hands for other things, and means you don’t have to set the shotgun on the ground or on a table when you need to do anything else. 

We have a guide dedicated to the best tactical shotgun slings.

Stock

Pistol grip shotguns can be useful and they do look neat. However, shotguns with a traditional stock are much easier to shoot and do a better job of absorbing recoil. A shotgun without a stock will lead to a sore wrist after many shots fired. 

Opt for a traditional shotgun stock like the one illustrated above.

Capacity

As a golden rule of thumb, make sure that your home defense shotgun has at least five rounds – four in the magazine and one in the chamber. However, more is always better. The Mossberg 590A1, for instance, holds a grand total of nine rounds with eight in the magazine and one in the chamber. Even if you don’t use all of your shells, simply having the extra capacity can give you good peace of mind. 

Flashlight

Most shotguns don’t come with flashlights installed from the factory, so you will need to add them yourself. A flashlight on your shotgun is absolutely critical if you’re going to be shooting or fighting in dark or low light conditions. We have put together a guide on the best shotgun lights to help you make a decision.

Spent Shotgun Shells credits to SCFiasco

Ammunition Choice

As noted previously, the primary reason why shotguns are so versatile in their defensive applications is because of the wide variety of ammunition available.

There are three primary kinds of ammunition available for a shotgun (birdshot, buckshot, and slugs), and each serve a unique purpose. Let’s explore each one in greater depth here.

Birdshot

Birdshot contains very small pellets in the shell. As the name suggests, they are intended for bird hunting use and will disperse shot in a wide pattern to increase the odds of bringing down a bird. However, they are a poor choice for home defense because of their weak penetration against human targets. While effective for bringing down turkeys, grouse, or even certain kinds of small game, birdshot is not an effective choice for self defense purposes. 

Buckshot

Buckshot is arguably the best choice for self-defense. It contains less pellets than birdshot that are of a much larger size. Being hit with a double aught buckshot 12 gauge round at close range would be very similar to being hit with nine 9mm FMJ rounds at once. As you can imagine, the results are simply devastating. 

Slugs

Slugs are a single projectile located inside the shotshell. They penetrate the most deeply and also offer the greatest range, but the expense of a much smaller pattern since it’s just the one projectile. Furthemore, slugs have the capability to easily penetrate through walls, which should make you think again about using them for home defense. 

Slugs are most commonly used when it comes to hunting big game; certain states in the United States such as Ohio or Iowa actually mandate the use of slugs for deer hunting rather than rifle rounds due to the lack of mountains or hills.

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Best Home Defense Shotguns

Here are our choices for the best shotguns for home defense today:

Benelli M4

The Italian-produced Benelli M4 is one of the best overall choices for a semi-automatic shotgun and currently sees service with the United States armed forces. 

One of the potential problems with semi-automatic shotguns (as discussed previously) is that they can be more finicky than pump action shotguns. Fortunately, the Benelli M4 comes with a self-regulating gas system to help improve reliability as much as possible. 

The M4 comes in two different primary versions, one with a six round capacity and the other with an eight round capacity. It also comes standard with ghost ring sights (which are easier to lie up than standard bead sights) and a Picatinny rail for adding optics such as a red dot sight. 

Beretta 1301 Tactical

Another good choice for an Italian-made semi-automatic shotgun is the Beretta 1301 Tactical. While still expensive, it’s notably more affordable than the Benelli M4. 

The main standout feature of the 1301 Tactical is its BLINK gas operating system, which utilizes a cross tube gas piston to cycle faster than most other semi-automatic shotguns. This means that the 1301 will have a notably faster rate of fire than other home defense shotguns if you continuously pull the trigger.

The 1301 Tactical is also notable for being extremely user friendly, coming with an adjustable stock, a Picatinny rail system to add optics such as red dots, and a ghost ring rear sight and front blade sight that can be easily interchanged. 

To increase capacity to ten rounds from the standard six, a magazine extension tube can be purchased and installed if you so desire.

Kel-Tec KSG

The Kel-Tec KSG has been in production since 2011. But even to this day, it remains one of the more interesting shotguns available on the marketplace due to its bullpup design and dual tube magazines. 

The use of a selector switch allows you to switch between these magazines, which holds seven rounds each, permitting faster reloading. The total of fourteen rounds of 12 gauge is very impressive for a home defense shotgun. Once both magazines have been expended, you will need to manually thumb in more shells. 

Maverick 88

If you want a quality home defense shotgun on a budget, you’ll want to take a close look at the Maverick 88 shotgun. The Maverick 88 is a cheaper version of the Mossberg 500, and many accessories and parts are actually interchangeable across the two platforms. 

The Maverick, being a budget model, has few options offered. It’s available in synthetic stocks only with a blued finish, but All-Purpose and Security versions are both offered. The security model with the shorter barrel is the best choice for self-defense purposes. The Security models also have a higher capacity of up to 8 rounds, while the All-Purpose models have a shorter magazine tube with a reduced capacity of 6 rounds. 

Mossberg 500

The Mossberg 500 holds the distinction of being the second most popular pump action shotgun in the United States, only after the Remington 870. Since its introduction 1960, the Mossberg 500 has grown to become one of the most revered shotguns in the United States. 

The 500 is affordable, very reliable, urable, and has strong aftermarket support meaning that you can easily customize your shotgun as you see fit. The safety lever switch is located on the rear of the receiver and is therefore naturally ambidextrous and easy to reach. Meanwhile, the slide release is also very easy to reach as it is located behind the trigger guard. 

The Mossberg 500 is available in numerous different configurations; the standard model has a blued finish with a 6 round capacity and either synthetic or wood stocks. The version with the 8 round capacity and longer magazine tube would be the better choice for home defense, although this also means that you can’t add a longer barrel for hunting purposes if you so desire. 

Mossberg 590A1

The Mossberg 590A1 is the military version of the Mossberg 500. It holds the distinction of being the sole pump action shotgun to pass the United States military’s torture tests back in the late 1980s, and it remains in service to this day along with the Benelli M4 semi-automatic like we talked about previously. 

The Mossberg 590A1 is built out of more durable materials than the 500, having a heavier barrel and an aluminum trigger guard rather than the polymer trigger guard of the 500. It also has a parkerized finish, which is far more rust and corrosion resistant than the standard blued finish of the 500. 

The 590A1 holds a total of 9 rounds in the 20-inch barreled configuration, and also has a bayonet lug for the option of adding a bayonet if you so desire as well. 

Remington 870 Express Tactical

The Remington 870 has been the bestselling pump action shotgun in the United States ever since it was first introduced back in the 1950s. One of the most popular variants today for home defense is the 870 Express Tactical.

This version of the 870 comes with a shorter 18.5 inch barrel with a fixed cylinder choke and a 7 rounds capacity. There is also a version available that comes with a more ergonomic polymer Magpul stock, along with ghost ring sights for faster target acquisition. The standard version comes with the typical bead sights.

Winchester SXP Defender

Another pump action shotgun to consider for home defense is the Winchester SXP Defender. This shotgun comes with Winchester’s inertia-assisted action, which is one of the smoothest actions available for a pump shotgun today and makes cycling the action much faster. The rotary bolt design further assists in making the action easy to rack.

Other standout features of the SXP include the incredibly durable bolt lugs and the fixed cylinder choke barrel. Standard capacity of the SXP is six rounds, and it comes tapped by the factory for rails so you can add optics later on if you so choose.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article has served as a valuable guide for you on the best shotguns to use for home defense and how to optimize your shotgun as a defensive tool after you buy it. Any one of the shotguns that we have covered here today will be an excellent choice for home defense. 

Just remember that equally as important as owning a quality shotgun in the first place is knowing how to use it, so make sure you get plenty of practice in at the range so you’re prepared for a true home defensive situation should the scenario ever arise. 

Moreover, you should check out our article on concealed carry insurance to ensure you have the legal protection behind you in case of a home defense incident.

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  1. My RemTac-14 in 20 gauge will put 22 #3 buck pellets laser guided inside 16″ at 30 feet so is my go to home defense weapon with 4 rounds in the tube plus one chambered. My 6 shot 2″ .357 in a clip on holster sits right beside it for back up.

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Hi! I'm Mike, one of the oldest writer of Sniper Country! If you have any feedback or question about my articles, please submit it here, it's always appreciated!

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