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A Guide To The Home Defense Shotgun

It might be time to get a new shotgun for home defense, because your grandpa’s bird gun is not the ideal home defense shotgun setup.

If you grew up in a home with firearms, chances are good there was a trusty pump-action shotgun somewhere in the house, likely leaning up behind a door. Versatile, powerful and easier to shoot than a pistol, the scattergun was a natural choice during a time when AR-15s weren’t nearly as common.

Grandpa’s old Remington 1100 dove gun isn’t great for clearing your home, but it can be devastating if you’re defending a barricaded position. Don’t forget to put the plug back in before next season!

As a direct result of the shotgun prevalence, there’s no shortage of misunderstandings and gun shop lore when “The Gauge” comes up. Many misconceptions about shotguns stem from how shot performs when hunting birds. Don’t buy into lore like, “you don’t even need to aim it, just point it down the hall,” that so often echoes off gun store walls.

Shotguns seem reasonably straightforward compared to a handgun, but the reality is they need to be practiced with just as often as any other firearm. Learning to keep the gun’s limited ammo capacity topped off—or managing the hefty recoil—takes range time. 

Scattergun Misconceptions

You Don’t Need To Aim

The misunderstanding that pointing the barrel in the general direction of a threat almost certainly has roots in bird hunting, where hundreds of pellets are launched at a target 25 yards away. At that distance with general sporting loads, the pattern has a sizable spread. Take that range down to typical home distances of feet rather than yards—with a limited pellet count of 00 buckshot—and your shot pattern is going to be significantly tighter. You absolutely need to aim with a shotgun; they aren’t magic.

As Soon As They Hear It Rack, They Run Away

Quit watching so much TV. Plus, a legally armed civilian should never use a firearm to intimidate through sight or sound; the act of displaying the fact you’re armed is often a legal issue. Could the sound of a shotgun being racked send someone running? Maybe. Retired law enforcement officer Darryl Bolke of Hardwired Tactical has shared, on multiple occasions, that in his first on-the-job shooting, both of the carjackers clearly heard him rack his 870 when he got out of the car. Did that stop the carjackers? They clearly didn’t scare easily.  

Anyone Can Use A Shotgun

Yes … but also, no. Between the substantial recoil and ergonomic issues, handing a shotgun to someone who hasn’t put in some range time can be a recipe for disaster. Most shotguns on the wall at your local gun store are fitted with a stock that’s better suited for hunting than in a defensive role. They seem to work fine on a square range, but the second you shoot from an odd position, that reach to rack the gun might be too long and result in a short stroke.

Choose A Platform

Do you need the latest tactical shotgun to effectively defend your home? Nope, but the ability to add things that make using the gun easier sure is nice. Plenty of folks have successfully used a hunting shotgun of the pump, semi-auto or even break-action type to defend those they love.

Even a competition shotgun, like the new Mossberg 940 JM Pro, is a step up from granddad’s 28-inch dove gun in a defensive role. The 22- to 24-inch barrel that you find on most competitive shotguns makes moving inside a structure harder, should you be forced to leave the safety of your barricaded position.

Mossberg-JM-940-Pro-home defense shotgun
Competitive shotguns like the Mossberg 940 JM Pro might not be ideal for defensive use but can be very effective.

Most home defense shotguns on the market come with an 18- to 20-inch barrel, which is ideal for a non-NFA gun. Another option to strongly consider is a Mossberg 590 Shockwave or something similar, which is designed specifically for a defensive role.

Gauging Your Options

The first step in figuring out what shotgun you want to use for defensive reasons is to choose what it’ll be chambered in. I’d narrow it down to a 12- or 20-gauge to make finding a good defensive load easy on yourself. Forget the off-gauges the bird hunters love.


A 12 gauge is generally the right call here because ammunition, parts and even the guns themselves are more widely available. That isn’t to say that a 20 gauge can’t serve you well, but don’t expect the recoil to be substantially lighter; a lighter gun that’s easier to hold is also going to soak up less recoil.

Semi-Auto Or Pump Action?

Although obvious action choices are semi-auto and pump-action, there are also lever-action shotguns as well as the very simple break-actions to consider. Break-action shotguns are less than ideal when you realize that most home invasions involve two or three people, and lever-action shotguns are finicky at best. That leaves us with the good ol’ pump and the semi-auto, but each have their own unique pros and cons.

A pump-action is the most common choice due to overall cost and availability. Accessories are easy to find, and getting a nice used police trade-in can net you a bargain. If you choose a pump, make sure you practice with it often, learn to manage the recoil and get in the habit of racking that action every time you pull the trigger.

Beretta’s 1301 Tactical is the most developed defensive semi-auto on the market today.

A semi-auto is going to shoot softer and be easier for those who don’t practice with a shotgun often, but it’s also a lot easier to outrun your headlights with one or have it go dry on you unexpectedly. Often, the largest objections to a semi-auto are that they can be finicky with ammo, and they’re significantly more expensive than the manually operated pump action.

Home Defense Shotgun Enhancements

Adding some doodads to the shotgun is going to make it easier to use under high stress levels, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. A defensive gun should be purposeful; you can leave the fancy parts to your range toys.

Replace The Stock

Shorter-than-average humans like myself are well-served by replacing the stock on a shotgun intended for defensive. Being able to run the action with room to spare, in any odd position I might find myself, hinges on the stock’s length of pull. A nice byproduct of the need for a shorter stock is that the Magpul SGA stock, which I put on nearly every shotgun, adds a sling attachment point as well as the ability to fit different cheek risers.  

Home defense Shotgun Magpul-Stock

On more than one occasion, I’ve short-stroked the gun when running it quickly because the stock was too long—the last thing I want is for that to happen when defending against an aggressor. Switching to a stock with a reduced length isn’t going to remove the possibility of a short-stroked action, but it happens far less often.

Shed Some Light On Things

Seeing things clearly is mandatory, because statistics prove that most home-invasions happen at night. There are a ton of options for adding some illumination to your gun, ranging from a cheap flashlight mount, on up to purpose-built forends with a built-in light.

Home defense Shotgun-Streamlight
Mossberg’s 590A1 holds the distinction of being the only shotgun to pass military testing and is lefty-friendly.

I generally prefer a forend with an integrated light like the Streamlight TL-Racker or SureFire’s DSF weapon light. The Streamlight offering is significantly brighter with 1,000 lumens to the SureFire’s 600 while remaining cheaper, but there’s a slight build quality trade-off.

There are even forend replacements, like the Magpul M-Lok forend, that allow you to mount a more traditional light without clamping something to your barrel or mag tube. If you have an oddball shotgun, your only option for a light may be a barrel clamp and a high-quality 1-inch flashlight.


Bead, Ghost Ring, Rifle Or Red-Dot?

It might not be a bad idea to upgrade that bead sight on your gun to something a bit easier to see in low light. The best bang for your buck is going to be adding a tritium XS Sights DXT Big Dot sight to your gun. Want to go further than that? Adding a ghost ring rear, or even stepping up to a red-dot sight, is possible.

Aimpoint Micro H-2 red dot sight.

Many of the shotguns on the shelf today have the ability to slap a rail section to the top of the receiver, which will work in a pinch but is far from ideal. Purpose-built products, like the Aridus Industries CROM mount or the Scalarworks Sync, are great options if you want a rugged optic mount for your shotty.  

Slings, Safeties And Small Enhancements

Do you need a sling for a home-defense shotgun? Maybe. It really depends on your needs. No sling is preferable; the fewer things to get snagged the better. I might suggest a single-point sling if there’s a possibility I might need to pick a child up or use both hands.

To round out the mods, small parts like enlarged safeties and enhanced followers are a good place to finish. Since I prefer a cruiser-ready configuration, an enlarged safety isn’t as important for me as it may be for those who keep a shell chambered.

Feeding The Gun

One of the largest downsides to using a home defense shotgun is the greatly reduced capacity over modern semi-auto pistols or mag-fed rifles. Adding some form of onboard ammunition carrier, such as a side-saddle ammo carrier, is a must.

A fancy side saddle with interchangeable cards makes changing ammo types a snap, but in a pinch, a cheap buttstock ammo carrier is better than a pocket full of shells.

Cumbersome ammunition bandoleers and slings with shell loops aren’t as fast to load from, and they oftentimes don’t retain the shells well, making them less than ideal. Besides that, they tangle easily and catch on things … especially in the dark. If you feel you need more ammo than a side-saddle holds, Velcro cards or an Aridus Industries quick-detach carrier are good options to replenish your onboard ammunition.

Shotgun-stock-shell-carrier-1, home defense shotgun, shotgun for home defense

Home Defense Shotgun Storage

Should you keep a shell chambered or is it better to keep the shotgun with a full mag tube, empty chamber and the hammer down? That’s personal preference. You might be influenced by the fact that most shotguns don’t have a firing pin block and instead rely on a spring to keep the firing pin retracted—I know I was.

While I’m generally a round-in-the-chamber kinda dude with rifles and pistols, I’ve heard enough horror stories from folks who teach shotgun classes—as well as buddies in law enforcement—to sway me toward keeping an empty chamber when the gun is stowed.

Lock It Up!

It should go without saying that putting the gun on a top shelf with an empty chamber isn’t enough. Find a way to lock up your home defense shotgun that’s easy to access. Tons of options out there will make gaining access to the gun much harder for a kid or a thief.

A bracket-type wall lock will run you a couple hundred dollars, but this design presents some challenges if you have optics or a side saddle. Hornady’s Rapid RFID wall lock is worth a look, as is the cheaper from ShotLock that doesn’t rely on newfangled RFID tags to unlock it. 

Don’t discount an under-bed safe like the one from SnapSafe … or even a very small gun locker in your bedroom closet.

If I Could Have Only One

The shotgun is a wonderful defensive tool that can also put meat on the table in a pinch. If I was forced to get rid of all my guns with the exception of only one, a 12 gauge of some type is likely the one that makes the cut. It might suck as a concealed firearm, but in regard to everything else you could want from a defensive firearm—a 12 gauge will do well … and then some.

A shotgun is going to treat you right … as long as you don’t buy into the myths. Set your gun up right, choose the right ammo and verify it patterns well.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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Hardware Talk: Dillon Wrench Rack Set

Hardware Talk: Dillon Wrench Rack Set
The Dillon wrench kit comes complete: All you have to do is assemble it onto your press. They are press-specific, so make sure you get the correct one.

Do you ever say to yourself you’ve had enough? More specifically, have you had enough with the litter of tools on your loading bench?

I have.

I’m regularly swapping toolheads to change calibers on my presses as I test this or that, trying something new or swapping calibers. I tried to keep the Allen wrenches for those adjustments in a plastic box, but they always ended up on the bench.

And then, where on the bench were they? Mumble … mumble … mutter.

I finally had enough, so when I saw the wrench rack from Dillon, I knew my 550 and 750 were each going to get a set. The rack is simple: It’s a heavy-gauge stamping that you bolt to the top back of your strong mount, behind your press. You don’t use a strong mount? We’re going to have to talk about that in the next issue.

Dillon has it all covered. You bolt the plate by means of the rear bolts on your press/strong mount setup. The kit comes with the Allen wrench sizes you need to work on your press, plus a die ring wrench as well. They all slide right into their reserved spots. And, just to make it even easier, Dillon includes a strip of label, with the sizes already printed on it, and they’re spaced to line up with the spot for each of them.

The Dillon wrench kit bolts into your strong mount, on the back of your Dillon press. Once there, it’s in easy reach to put each one back when done.

Hot tip: Install the label before you bolt on the plate to save yourself the stretching and reaching to get the label in place after you’ve bolted things together.

Wait, there’s more. The wrenches come with the angle to the short leg of each one pre-dipped in vinyl, so you have a good grip and can see the wrench clearly when you go to pluck it out of the rack. As an extra bonus, the working end is a ball-end wrench tip, so you can spin the wrench even when you approach the screw you’re tightening from an angle.

Of course, gear doesn’t come cheap. The kit runs $46 from Dillon.

“Ouch,” you say?

You can buy the wrenches for a buck each. Yes, you can. But then you’ll still have them scattered on your loading bench or in a box you have to find. Once you lose one or use it someplace else and leave it there, you’ll buy another. And another. You’ll end up with three, four or five sets of them scattered to the winds.

With the Dillon kit, you have a place for them. And the Dillon blue vinyl coating lets you know “This is a loading room wrench; I have to get it back there.”

I’m not saying you need to go full-on Marie Kondo on your loading room, bench and components storage, but keeping the tools that get things properly adjusted is a smart thing to do. And when you can make a change by simply grabbing the handy wrench and put it back right where it was, your loading process will be less distracted, more focused and more productive.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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Practice Or Panic: Team Tactic Basics For Couples And Families

Practice Or Panic: Team Tactic Basics For Couples And Families

If you and your loved ones expect to keep cool in an emergency, you need to practice team tactics.

When most think of team tactics, they envision highly trained Delta Force operatives—or a SWAT team—breaching a door and conducting a dynamic entry. That’s a good example of team tactics in action … but few of us will ever participate in an activity like that.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t develop your team tactics. Well, unless you’re a hermit who has no friends and has moved to the mountains to live alone and write a manifesto. Most normal humans have other humans they often hang with, whether they’re their good friend, a spouse or children.

I’ve had some team tactics training. As a soldier, and back in my badge-wearing days, it was part of the curriculum. I’ve also attended a team tactics course at Gunsite Academy that focused on civilian teams, like a husband and a wife. Recently, I also did some work helping Benghazi survivor and master firearms instructor David “Boon” Benton, who was portrayed in the movie 13 Hours, train our local SWAT team.

You’ll learn tactical theory at a team tactics class, but most learning occurs during after action reviews following tactical simulations.

Regardless of the group or situation, there are two things that team operations—whether they involve a six- or two-man team—have in common: A tactically proficient and successful team must have a plan, and they must have good communication.

Determine Your Team

If you’re a loner, you’re your own team (and hopefully someday you’ll find another human who finds you moderately tolerable). For the rest of us who are at least semi-normal, we’ll have a good friend and/or a significant other with whom we’re commonly around. This is your team, and it might also include children.

A good civilian team tactics course will address common situations like you might experience around vehicles and in parking lots.

Each team member should also have a job. These jobs could be as simple as following your mother, calling 911 or holding on to the hands of your siblings. A job for a team member could be as simple as being armed and making sure an emergency first aid kit is present and accessible, and all team members should be responsible for not forgetting to have their cell phone with them.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s best when kept simple and generic, and don’t put excessive responsibility on the backs of untrained or juvenile team members. However, every team member should know what the job of the other team members are. At a minimum, this tells them who to look to for guidance, and if capable, others know what each team member is responsible for and then they can assume that role if necessary.

A team tactics course isn’t a shooting course. It’s primarily a course to teach you and your partner how to work—stay alive—together.

In fact, establishing a team chain of command is important. If you’re identified as the team leader, but your wife and kids are out without you, generally your wife would assume that role. This means one of the kids—if capable and of a responsible age—can assume the duties of your wife. This goes a long way toward answering the question, “Dad’s not here. What now?”

Have A Plan

It’s impossible to develop a comprehensive plan for every situation that might develop. However, you can institute operating guidelines for common tasks that might occur. These are established tactical responses, predetermined to deal with things that have a high probability of happening.

Dealing with doors is a perfect example.

During one team tactics course, my partner and I were presented with various reality-based scenarios we had to react to. This was during force-on-force exercises where all the participants were armed with handguns that fired Simunitions. During the prior day while under the guidance of an instructor, my partner and I were given an opportunity to establish some operating guidelines: make a plan.

Don’t go to team tactics course planning to learn how to shoot or to run your gun. You need to know that before you get there.

One of our plans was how we’d deal with opening closed doors that led into the unknown. Just before the Simunition training began, I told my partner we should deal with every door just as we had decided during the previous day. This worked well and eliminated unnecessary communication and possible confusion. When we approached a closed door that we had to go through, each of us knew—without a word—what we were supposed to do.

This same concept can apply to a lot of situations.

Let’s say you want to establish a plan to tactically exit a location by vehicle. In this instance, you could identify the person who will drive, where each team member shall sit and how to access the vehicle depending on the direction of approach and even the direction of the potential threat. Sure, when the time comes to implement the plan there may be extenuating circumstances—the pre-identified driver might be injured—but you can plan for that as well: If team member A is injured, then team member C will drive.

What do you do if your partner gets hurt? You should have a plan for that.

If you have children, it’s very important to include them in these plans. It’s also important to dry run the plan to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you have an infant, who is going to carry him or her? It could be your wife or an older sibling. If you’re planning a response to a home invasion or burglar, the kids need to know what to do when the alarm sounds.

You should also always have at least one contingency; if you cannot do plan A, execute plan B. Similarly, you should also have a rendezvous point established outside the home, and you should also do the same for commonly trafficked locations such as malls or shopping centers.

Instructors at a team tactics course not only evaluate your tactics, but they also critique and help you learn to communicate with your partner.


More than anything else, communication is the most important aspect of team tactics.

Let’s say, for example, you and your wife are engaged in a gunfight and you either need to reload, have a stoppage or maybe you dropped your gun. Your wife needs to know about this while it’s happening; she needs to know why you aren’t shooting or why you’re hiding behind the car. And she needs to be made aware of this without having to watch you or look to see what you’re doing.

How will you and your partner handle a corner like this? You need to know beforehand, and that’s part of planning.

Screaming, “I’m reloading!” or “I’ve lost my gun!” takes too many words and might not be a good idea. Establish simple and direct communications for potential issues ahead of time. You could simply yell out, “Working!” and your wife would know you’re temporarily unavailable. To let her know the problem has been solved, your communication could be as simple as “Up!”

You and your partner should know how to solve simple tactical problems with minimal communication.

Talking while shooting or while responding to a lethal encounter doesn’t come naturally. It’s something that needs to be practiced. Also, if you’re in a face-to-face encounter with a potential threat, having an action word that’ll key your partner in on an action you’re about to take is a good idea—kind of the opposite of a “safe” word, if you know what I mean. But in some situations, your communication can and should be non-verbal.

You should have hand signals that help convey actions or actives like to cover or watch, to move or maybe even run. Similarly, you should be able to convey the direction you want to move or the location of a potential threat. Think these communications through, keep them as simple as possible and limit them to the obvious. This isn’t a time to establish a new and comprehensive sign language; you simply want to be able to convey highly probable observations or instructions without words, as clearly and quickly as possible.

Team tactics should be developed with your partner and include the weapon systems you’ll be using.

Go To School

The best way (of course) to learn team tactics is to take a class from a reputable school. But keep in mind that most team tactics courses aren’t shooting courses: Don’t expect to attend a team tactics class to learn how to shoot. In fact, many schools offering team tactics training have a training prerequisite so that they know you can shoot and handle a firearm safely before they’ll let you in the class. Yeah, you’ll do some shooting in a team tactics class, but you won’t learn to shoot in a team tactics class.

Gun-handling skills should be learned before attending a team tactics course.

This might seem overly stringent, but it makes perfect sense. It takes about five, 8-hour days of training to go from a non-shooter to someone who is safe and reasonably competent with a defensive handgun. A basic team tactics course should be, at a minimum, 2 to 3 days long … and ideally 5 days. To learn to shoot and to learn team tactics could consume 2 weeks, and most of us can’t take 2 weeks off from life to do that. It’s just like with any other firearms discipline—you learn to shoot and then you learn the tactics.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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New Guns And Gear March 2024

New Guns And Gear March 2024

Looking for a new iron or piece of kit to enhance the one you already own? Check out these 7 new bits of guns and gear to grow your firearms wish list.

The New Guns And Gear:

WOOX Titano

Heirloom looks with state-of-the-art performance, the WOOX Titano stands out in competition stocks. Tailored for Benchrest and F-Class shooters, the stock boasts a stunning American walnut stock and an aircraft-grade aluminum chassis. With a 3-inch fore and wide barrel channel supporting up to 1.20-inch diameter barrels, it accommodates large fire tubes common to comp rifles. Furthermore, WOOX’s Suspense weight system allows you to precisely balance the system with six 2.5-ounce weights. The buttstock is fully adjustable for both the length of pull and cheek rise. Other notables include a smooth-bottom bag rider butt and Integrated thumb rests to enhance grip comfort.
MSRP: $999

Taylor’s & Company 1875 Outlaw Revolver

Taylors 1875
A collaboration with Uberti, Taylor’s & Company offers up a faithful reproduction of a classic Remington single-action, but with a modern twist—it’s chambered for 9mm. While no Old West outlaws pitch Parabellum, the modernization effort makes it easier on contemporary cowboys’ pocketbooks. Available in 7.5- and 5.5-inch barrel lengths, the 1875 Outlaw features smooth walnut grips, a forged blued steel frame, a rear frame notch and a fixed front blade sight. Also, the webbed ejector rod helps the wheelgun cut an unmistakable profile. It’s enough to make Frank James envious.
MSRP: $698

StopBox Chamber Lock

chamber lock
New or old, it’s wise to stop the unauthorized use of a firearm. That’s where the Chamber Lock comes into play. At once, it keeps a firearm safe, yet at hand. Construct-ed from Type II hard-anodized 6061-T6 aluminum, it features a patented mechanical hand gesture code lock, ensuring intuitive use even in low-light or high-stress situations. The lock offers six configurable combinations, expandable to 16 with the Actuator Accessory Pack, although preset combinations are recommended for optimal security. Compatible with most AR-15s and shotguns.
MSRP: $150

MTM Case-Gard Bull Rifle Rest

MTM rifle rest
Dialing in a rifle is the key to a solid shooting platform. MTM Case-Gard provides just this with its affordable Bull Rifle Rest. With an adjustable length between 18.3 and 26 inches, it accommodates nearly any long-gun you shoulder. Additionally, the lightweight rest features slip-free rubber feet and a wide stance, for a wobble-free shooting base. And front elevation adjustments are easily made on the rest, thanks to a screw system allowing you to get a rifle or shotgun situated just right.
MSRP: $43

Mission First Tactical Leather Hybrid Holsters

MFT holster
What a looker! Too bad it’s meant to be kept under wraps. This Kydex and leather gem offers exact tolerances, secure retention and easy re-holstering. Plus, the hanger requires no break-in time compared to its traditional leather cousins. Versatile for AIWB, IWB or OWB use, it accommodates right- and left-hand positioning. Additionally, the American-made hybrids are red-dot compatible and have an audible “CLICK” when you re-holster.
MSRP: $70

Ruger Diamond Anniversary Limited Edition SR1911 Pistol

Ruger Diamond 1911
In celebration of its 75th year, Sturm, Ruger & Company presents its limited-edition 75th Anniversary Ruger SR1911. This iconic pistol features a finely detailed, laser-engraved slide and custom grip panels with intricate scrollwork. Ruger’s CNC-controlled machining ensures precision, while the classic 1911 fire control and positive barrel lockup enhance accuracy. You’ll have to act fast on these beauties, only 750 units are being produced in 2024, and each pistol bears the special R75 serial number prefix and ships in a marked case with two stainless-steel magazines.
MSRP: $1,800

Federal Premium Hydra-Shok Deep .32 Auto

Federal 32 Auto
In the day and age of deep carry, good ol’ .32 ACP is making a bit of a comeback. Federal Premium is supporting its renaissance with the introduction of Hydra-Shok Deep in the pocket caliber. Rigorous testing and stringent manufacturing processes ensure superb accuracy and consistent ballistic performance of this ammo. Furthermore, the notched copper jacket of the Hydra-Shok bullet ensures consistent controlled expansion and adequate stopping power trigger pull in and out.
MSRP: $35, box of 20

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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