Some folks make the very dangerous assumption that owning a shotgun is the same as knowing how to fight with a shotgun. Such is not the case.

Today, we are going to talk about the best way to use a shotgun in a self-defense scenario.

The shotgun would not be my first choice for a home defense weapon, but they are certainly a viable option. The shotgun has both advantages and disadvantages.


1. Effectiveness at short distances - Shotguns (and in this discussion, I am always talking about 12 gauge shotguns shooting buckshot) are very effective at "in the home" distances. As Clint Smith always reminds us, "At short distances, shotguns will remove meat and bone".

Past 30 yards, they become less effective without a different load (slugs), but for inside the home, they are very effective.

2. Cost - An AR15 carbine will start at about $700 and go up to several thousand dollars, depending on how many bells and whistles it has on it.

A very functional 12 gauge pump can be found for $150 or less.

Nearly anyone can scrape up the funds for a shotgun.

3. Intimidation factor - Not to over-state this one, but I when I was a police officer, I saw that a shotgun commanded a lot more respect than a handgun. Maybe justified, maybe not, but there it is.

And no doubt about it, a shotgun is much more powerful and effective than the typical centerfire handgun.


1. It has low ammunition capacity, requiring more "manipulation", which is a bad thing. Carbines can have 30 round magazines, therefore requiring much less manipulation.

2. Heavy recoil - Some folks have a hard time dealing with the heavy recoil of a shotgun. This can be dealt with in many ways, but it will always kick more than a carbine.

3. Shot spread - Buckshot tends to spread from an open bore at about 1 inch per yard. At longer ranges, some pellets may miss the bad guy. Where will they go? You had better know, as you are responsible for every pellet.

Carbines allow much better "accuracy" which might be an advantage in some scenarios.

4. Difficulty of manipulation - Some actions, such as pumps, can be difficult for some to operate. And anyone that has experienced a "short stroke jam" with an 870, knows what I am talking about.

This can be overcome with training, but many do not have the time or desire to devote the time required to master this problem.

5. Poor design - Many variations of shotguns, such as those with a pistol grip and no buttstock, are horrible to use. Of course this is easy to fix, but it is a disadvantage for those that do not know better.

6. Weight - A shotgun loaded with a full load of 5 to 8 rounds in the magazine and a carrier with 6 rounds in it, is a heavy weapon.

Basic Shotgun Requirements

I suggest the basic shotgun used for home defense should have the following characteristics:

1. It should be a 12 gauge.

A 20 gauge can be effective with the proper ammunition, but you don't get something for nothing and it will not be as effective as a 12 gauge.

2. It should be loaded with Buckshot.

Any buckshot will reach the FBI required minimum penetration of 12 inches, but studies seem to suggest that #1 or 00 buckshot are best.

Birdshot is only for practice or shooting little birds.

3. It should have a sling.

"A sling is to a shotgun what a holster is to a handgun."

4. It should have a light.

Every 24 hours has 12 in daylight and 12 in darkness. Be prepared.

We will not cover low-light scenarios in this lesson, but be prepared and have a light.


5. Action types

I do not hold any type of action to be "the only acceptable" action. Pumps, semi-autos, or even a double barreled or single shot shotgun can be used effectively. If you doubt this, you ought to watch Clint Smith run an H&R single shot shotgun with a side-saddle.

Regardless of action type, any defensive shotgun should have a buttstock. Pistol gripped shotguns without a buttstock may look "cool", but they are horrible to fight with.

6. Extra ammo.

Side saddles are required if you wish to be able to reload your shotgun.

As Clint reminds us, "You will fight with what is in and on the shotgun".

Is it best to load the side saddle with the shells base up or base down?

Answer: Base up is preferred.

Shells loaded base down can fall out of the carrier from recoil, while those loaded base up will not fall out.


Fighting With a Shotgun

A shotgun is best utilized as a shoulder fired weapon.

Can you fire it from the hip?


Sure. But you aren't going to be as accurate as you will when shooting it from the shoulder.

And, as we all (at least ought to) know, you must aim a shotgun, if you intend to hit your target.


Keeping a shotgun on your shoulder also allows your off hand to release the shotgun if needed for tasks such as reloading the shotgun.


If we engage a bad guy (BG), we will shoot him until he STOPS what ever he is doing that threatens our life.

If he continues to threaten us after being shot, what do we do?

Answer: Shoot him some more.

When he STOPS, we stop shooting.


Just a word of caution.

Most malfunctions induced by the operator of the shotgun are related to operating the pump.

Do not try to operate the pump with your "wing" sticking out.


Instead, get your arm directly below the pump and operate it smartly, all the way back, and all the way forward,


But what do we do then?

Answer: We scan the area for additional threats, while keeping an eye and the muzzle on the BG, as he was the last threat we faced.

He may be down, but always be expecting him to get up and attack you again.

Why do we scan?

Answer: Because wolves travel in packs.

Never "assume" that the BG is the only BG.


Do not scan with your muzzle.


Keep it pointed at the last known threat, even if he's down.


Scan with your head and eyes.


If there seems to be a lull in the fight, you may consider a reload.

To reload, we do not remove the muzzle from the last known threat.

Immediately retreat to cover, if possible.

A common mistake for those new to the game is to want to relax and lower the shotgun to reload it.

Some want to turn it over to make reloading easier.


Some want to rest the buttstock on their hip to make reloading easier.

This might work for quail hunting, but quail don't shoot back.

Do not do either of these things.


Keep the muzzle pointed at the BG and keep the buttstock on your shoulder to reload.

This will allow you to immediately engage the threat if he becomes aggressive again.


Keep the muzzle on the BG and use your off hand to take one round at a time from the shell carrier and reload the magazine.

(Notice how a right side mount requires me to place my hand in front of my face. This is a good reason to use left hand mounts for shell carriers.)

Top it off completely, if possible.

Why? Because you never know when the fight may start again and you do not know how many shots may be required to finish the fight. Always keep the gun topped off, if possible.


What if he re-engages?

Answer: Shoot him some more.

Then, when he stops, scan and reload.


What if I have a failure?

Answer: Fix it.

The Failure Fairy isn't going to drop down to help you. You are on your own and had better be prepared to fix the problem.

The optimum solution to this problem is to sling your shotgun and transition to your handgun.

(This, of course, assumes that you have a handgun, we will cover the other option in a minute.)


Sling the shotgun and transition to the handgun and point it at the last known threat. If he starts fighting, shoot him some more with the handgun.

If there is a lull in the fight, you should retreat to cover and try to get the shotgun back into service. It is the superior weapon and you should try to get it working.

This is why we need a sling. Never lay down the shotgun. Why?

Answer: Because you may need it again and if you can get it working, it is the superior weapon. Also, if you lay it down, the fight may separate you from the shotgun and the BG may find it, fix it, and you are then in a world of hurt.

If I am using a 2 point sling, what if it slides down my arm in the fight?


Answer: Leave it there.

Fight with your handgun, if that is all that you have that works.

You can fix the shotgun when and if you have time behind cover.

You can put the shotgun sling back on your shoulder when things get quiet again.

What if you don't have a handgun?

Answer: Then you had better be quick with fixing that shotgun.


Shotguns are very commonly used for home defense. Be sure that you receive some professional training if you plan on trusting your life to the proper use of a shotgun.

Practice, practice, practice.

And when you think you have it all down and can do it without even thinking...

Practice some more.