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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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Concealed Carry

Customization and Concealment: How to Modify Holsters for Perfect Fit


Finding the right holster for your firearm is essential for comfortable and secure concealed carry. However, off-the-shelf holsters may not always provide the perfect fit for your specific needs and preferences. In this guide, we’ll explore the art of holster customization, offering tips and techniques to modify holsters for a personalized fit that ensures both comfort and concealment.

Understanding Your Needs: Identifying Areas for Improvement


Before diving into holster customization, take some time to evaluate your priorities when it comes to concealed carry. Consider factors such as comfort, concealability, retention, and accessibility. Determine whether your current holster meets your needs in these areas or if there are specific areas for improvement.

Examine your existing holster for any discomfort or issues that may arise during daily carry. Common pain points include pressure points, sharp edges, or inadequate retention. Take note of these areas as they will guide your customization efforts to improve overall comfort and functionality.

Holster Modification Techniques: Tips for Customization

One of the most common methods for holster customization is heat gun molding. This technique involves using a heat gun to soften the holster material, typically Kydex or polymer, and then molding it to fit your firearm more closely. Be cautious not to overheat the material, as it can lead to warping or damage.

If your holster lacks sufficient retention or is too tight, consider adjusting the retention screws or adding retention devices such as adjustable tension screws or retention straps. Experiment with different settings until you find the right balance between retention and ease of draw.

To address discomfort caused by pressure points or sharp edges, consider adding padding or cushioning to your holster. Options include foam padding, adhesive-backed fabric, or leather lining. Apply padding strategically to areas that come into contact with your body to improve overall comfort during extended carry.

Concealment Enhancements: Tips for Discreet Carry


Adjusting the cant and ride height of your holster can significantly impact concealment and comfort. Experiment with different cant angles and ride heights to find the optimal position for your body type and carry preference. A slight forward or reverse cant can help improve concealment and draw efficiency.

Consider adding concealment wings or clips to your holster to enhance concealment and stability. These accessories attach to the holster and help distribute weight more evenly, reducing printing and improving overall comfort. Choose options with adjustable angles and tension to customize the fit to your body shape and clothing style.

For added safety and concealment, consider modifying your holster to provide enhanced trigger guard coverage. This can help prevent accidental trigger access while ensuring a smooth and consistent drawstroke. Add-on trigger guard extensions or molded-in trigger guard covers are available for many holster models and can be easily installed.

Customizing your holster allows you to tailor it to your unique needs and preferences, ensuring a comfortable and secure carry experience. By identifying areas for improvement, exploring modification techniques, and enhancing concealment features, you can create a holster that fits you perfectly and provides reliable performance day in and day out. Remember to take your time, experiment with different adjustments, and prioritize safety throughout the customization process. With a little creativity and ingenuity, you can transform your holster into the ideal companion for concealed carry.

Has this guide helped you to pick a holster? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Holster Materials Demystified: Leather vs. Kydex vs. Hybrid Options


Choosing the right holster material is crucial for effective and comfortable concealed carry. Each material, whether it be leather, Kydex, or a hybrid of several materials, offers distinct advantages and disadvantages. This guide will help you understand the differences between these materials, aiding you in making an informed decision based on durability, comfort, maintenance, and functionality.

Leather Holsters: Traditional Comfort and Elegance


Leather has been used in holster manufacturing for centuries due to its durability and the unique way it conforms to the firearm and the wearer’s body over time. A well-made leather holster can last for many years if properly cared for. Leather’s natural give ensures that it doesn’t scratch or dent your firearm, protecting the finish over long periods.

One of the primary advantages of leather is its comfort. Leather holsters tend to be more flexible than Kydex, which allows them to mold to the body’s contours, providing a personalized fit after a break-in period. Aesthetically, leather also has a classic look that appeals to many gun owners who appreciate its traditional appearance and craftsmanship.

The main drawback of leather is its higher maintenance requirements. Leather needs to be regularly cleaned and conditioned to prevent drying out or cracking. It is also less resistant to moisture compared to synthetic materials, which can be a consideration in wet climates or for everyday carry.

Kydex Holsters: Modern, Durable, and Low Maintenance

Kydex is a lightweight, thermoplastic material that is both durable and maintenance-free. Unlike leather, Kydex does not warp, crack, or require regular conditioning. It is highly resistant to moisture, making it an excellent choice for humid environments or active individuals who might sweat during carry.

Kydex holsters offer a firm, secure fit that doesn’t change over time, which means consistent retention and a reliable draw every time. These holsters are generally designed to offer an audible click when the gun is properly holstered, providing additional security feedback. Kydex is also easier to clean; usually, a simple wipe-down is all that’s required to keep it in good condition.

The primary disadvantage of Kydex is that it can be less comfortable for extended wear, especially directly against the skin, as it does not conform to the body the same way leather does. Additionally, the rigid nature of Kydex can sometimes cause wear on the finish of the firearm with repeated drawing and holstering.

Hybrid Holsters: Combining the Best of Both Worlds

Hybrid holsters are designed to offer the best features of both leather and Kydex. Typically, these holsters use a backing of leather (or sometimes a breathable synthetic fabric) that rests against the body, providing the comfort and flexibility of leather, coupled with a Kydex shell that holds the firearm. This combination ensures that the holster is comfortable against the skin while maintaining the structural integrity and easy re-holstering benefits of Kydex.

The leather backing of a hybrid holster conforms to the body, similar to a full leather holster, improving comfort for daily wear. The rigid Kydex shell keeps the gun securely in place and allows for smooth, consistent drawing and reholstering without the holster collapsing.

While hybrid holsters attempt to offer the best of both materials, they may also inherit some disadvantages. The leather component may still require maintenance, and the overall bulk might be greater than a single-material holster. Additionally, depending on the design, the sweat protection for the firearm might not be as robust as with a full Kydex design.

Choosing the Right Material for Your Needs

When selecting a holster, consider your personal needs, daily activities, and the environments in which you will be carrying. Leather offers a traditional, comfortable fit at the expense of greater care and potentially less durability under extreme conditions. Kydex provides excellent security and low maintenance but may sacrifice comfort. Hybrid holsters balance these factors but check that the design fits your specific requirements and comfort preferences.

Ultimately, the best holster material depends on your unique situation and preferences. Testing different materials and types can provide firsthand experience and help you make the best choice for your concealed carry needs.

Do you have a preferred material for your holsters? Why? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Concealed Carry

Concealed Carry Essentials: Choosing the Right Holster for Your Firearm


When it comes to concealed carry, choosing the right holster is as crucial as selecting the firearm itself. A good holster not only secures your weapon but also ensures comfort, accessibility, and concealment. Whether you’re a seasoned carrier or new to the world of concealed carry, understanding the different types of holsters and what makes them suitable for certain situations can help you make the right choice for your needs.

Understanding Holster Types

Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) Holsters

IWB holsters are one of the most popular choices for concealed carry because they offer excellent concealment. Positioned inside the wearer’s pants, these holsters sit just behind the hip or at the appendix position. They are designed to conceal the gun effectively beneath a lightly draped shirt or jacket, making them ideal for those who wear casual or business attire regularly. The key is to find an IWB holster made from a comfortable material that minimizes discomfort against the skin.

Outside-the-Waistband (OWB) Holsters

While OWB holsters are less concealable than their IWB counterparts, they are often more comfortable for extended wear, especially if you spend a lot of time seated, such as driving or working at a desk. These holsters sit on the outside of the pants, held close to the body by a belt. OWB is a preferred choice for open carry, duty carry, or when using larger frame pistols that are harder to conceal inside the waistband.

Pocket Holsters

For those preferring to carry smaller handguns, pocket holsters are a viable option. These holsters protect the firearm from debris and lint while ensuring that it stays upright and accessible in your pocket. The holster’s design also masks the shape of the gun, helping to prevent ‘printing’ (when the outline of the gun is visible through clothing), thus maintaining concealment.

Material Matters: Selecting the Right Fabric


Leather Holsters

Leather is a traditional choice that combines durability with comfort. Over time, leather holsters can mold to the shape of your gun and body, offering a custom fit. However, leather requires maintenance to keep it supple and functional, and it might not perform as well in very wet conditions.

Kydex and Other Synthetics

Kydex, a type of thermoplastic, is a popular alternative to leather due to its robustness and low maintenance. Holsters made from Kydex are resistant to water and sweat, making them suitable for humid climates. They also retain their shape over time, which facilitates quicker re-holstering. However, they might be less comfortable against the skin than leather and can wear the finish of your firearm faster.

Hybrid Holsters

Hybrid holsters combine materials, usually leather or a soft fabric backing with a synthetic shell. This design aims to offer the best of both worlds: comfort from the backing material and durability and easy access from the synthetic shell. These are particularly popular among those who carry daily as they balance comfort and functionality.

Fit and Comfort: Ensuring a Proper Holster

Custom Fit

It’s crucial that your holster fits your firearm snugly. A good fit prevents the gun from shifting, falling, or being difficult to draw. Most holsters are built for specific models, which means a one-size-fits-all approach might not be the best when it comes to holsters.


Comfort is key, especially if you plan to carry your gun daily. A comfortable holster should distribute the weight of the gun evenly without chafing. Padding can be crucial, particularly for IWB carriers. Test different holsters to see how they feel when sitting, walking, or bending.

Retention and Accessibility

Good retention keeps the gun securely holstered but allows for quick drawing when necessary. Some holsters offer adjustable retention screws to tighten or loosen the hold on your firearm. Moreover, ensure the holster does not obstruct your grip; when drawing, you should be able to get a full grip on the handle.

Concealment and Practical Considerations

Pistol in the holster.


Choose a holster that keeps your firearm out of sight but within reach. The best concealed carry holster offers a balance between accessibility, comfort, and invisibility. Consider your daily activities and the type of clothing you wear when selecting a holster for optimal concealment.

Practical Considerations

Lastly, consider other practical aspects such as the ease of holstering and unholstering, the holster’s profile (does it add too much bulk?), and its compatibility with your wardrobe. Some holsters, especially those designed for deeper concealment, may require practice to achieve a smooth and quick draw.

Choosing the right holster is a personal journey and often a matter of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to test different types, materials, and positions until you find the perfect combination that offers safety, comfort, and confidence in your ability to carry concealed effectively.

Do you have any tips for people looking for holsters? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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