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Let’s start with a disclaimer. I like shotguns. I like them a lot. I’ve heard them called niche weapon but, in fact they are one of the most versatile weapon platforms available. That doesn’t mean that a shotgun is ideal for every situation though. 

Just like any other tool there are things that are best done with a shotgun and there are other things that are best done with different tools.

Among the mantras that I hear all the time is “I’ll just use my shotgun if someone breaks into my house” or “a shotgun is the best gun for home defense”.
While there is no doubt that the 12 gauge shotgun is the ultimate man stopper, it has so many disadvantages when using it inside your home that the pistol is still

the tool of choice when it comes to home defense.

Here are a few points to consider:
First, there is the issue of training and practice.
The shotgun is the gun that’s always there. Your trusty Rem 870 or Mossy 500 is always next to your bed or it’s always next to your door. It may be always at arms reach but, how often do you shoot it and more importantly how often do you train with it? Do you know how to perform a tactical reload, transition to a secondary weapons system or present the shotgun from positions of low ready, high ready, indoor ready or Sul? Do you even know what those positions are and why they are important to know?

How about ammunition management techniques and switching from buckshot to slug and vice versa?

These are all concepts that knowing or not knowing them could mean the difference between you and your family living or dying when you choose to use your shotgun for home defense.

It’s often said that it is not necessary to aim a shotgun and that it should be “pointed” rather than aimed. However, when you are confronting a criminal inside your residence, you do indeed need to aim. Contrary to popular opinion, you can easily miss with a shotgun.
Think about it . . . The pattern at inside the home distances will only spread to the approximate size of a softball at most. So, can you miss a bad guy with a shotgun? Yes, of course you can. Would that suck? Yes, it would suck big time.

Long guns including shotguns require two hands. In a home defense scenario chances are you’re going to need a “spare” hand to fend off physical attacks, call the police, open doors, push kids out-of-the-way, pull kids to safety, turn lights on and off etc. 
If you continually answer your door holding your shotgun you’ll soon get a reputation among your neighbors and it won’t be a good one. However, you can answer your door each and every time with a concealed handgun and nobody will be the wiser.

It’s easier for a bad guy to grab a shotgun barrel than a handgun’s. Negotiating corners with bad guys in your house can be . . . problematic. Seemingly routine tasks associated with moving from one room to another in your home can become a challenge.

If you load your shotgun with 00 buck, it may be difficult to ensure that all eight or nine pellets hit your intended target. While it may not take all of the pellets to incapacitate your adversary, stray pellets could injure or kill the very people you intend to protect.
Rifled slugs can be very accurate, but there are tremendous over-penetration issues associated with these projectiles. With slugs you need to worry about your neighbors as well as the occupants of your own home. Slugs also pass through home appliances very easily, so you could also run the risk of burning your house down should one pass through your kitchen range, furnace, water heater or any other gas burning appliance.

What about Birdshot for use inside your home? Really?
Just how effective is birdshot (#6, #8, etc.) as a defense load?
The problem with birdshot is that it does not penetrate enough to be effective as a defense round. Birdshot is designed to bring down little birds.

I know of a police officer that tells of seeing a guy shot at close range with a load of 12 gauge birdshot, and was not even knocked down. He was still walking around when the EMTs got there. It was an ugly, shallow wound, but did not STOP the guy. And that is what we want… to STOP the bad guy from whatever he is doing. To do this, you must have a load that will reach the vitals of the bad guy. Birdshot will not do this.

A frequent poster on AR15.com who is an EMT relates this experience: 
“I saw a gunshot victim, about 5′ 10” and 200 lbs, taken to the operating room with a shotgun wound to the chest. He was shot at a range of six feet at a distance of just over the pectorals muscle. He was sitting on his front porch and walked to the ambulance. We explored the chest after x-rays were taken. The ER doc had said ‘buckshot’ wound, but this was obviously not accurate. It was # 6 shot. There was a crater in the skin over an inch in diameter. When the shot hit the level of the ribs, it spread out about five inches. There was ONE pellet that had passed between the ribs and entered the pericardium, but not damaged the heart at all. As you say, ‘use birdshot for little birds.” 

Tests have shown that even #4 Buck lacks the necessary penetration to consistently reach the vital organs. Only slugs, 0 Buck, 00 Buck, and 000 Buck penetrate enough to reach the vital organs.

Unless you expect to be attacked by little birds, do not use birdshot. Use 00 Buck. It will do the job.

How about a 20 gauge shotgun?

At inside your home distances the differences between 20 and 12 gauge is negligible. You are still dealing with the same types of ammo and that ammo whether 12 or 20 gauge still has the same issues regarding over penetration or lack of penetration as the case may be.

As far as recoil is concerned, barring a medical problem, if shooting a 12 gauge hurts your shoulder you are doing it wrong. Proper training could fix that for you. If you simply prefer 20 gauge over 12 gauge that’s fine, I get it.

So, should we rule out the shotgun for home defense? The answer is….wait for it…..NO!
The shotgun has a place in home defense but, should never be your “go to gun” provided you have better options.

I call my shotgun my “Alamo Gun”. It’s the gun I’ll transition to when I’m backed up in my safe room (Read master bedroom), I know where each family member is and I have nowhere else I can go. Then and only then will I turn to the shotgun while inside my home.