A Brief Primer On Home Defense Shotguns

A Brief Primer On Home Defense Shotguns

Whether it’s Grandpa’s old Remington or a modern Kel-Tec KSG, the psychological deterrent of a shotgun cannot be argued with. Ammunition choice is rather simple. Buckshot is preferred, due to the spread effect, but accuracy is still required, of course. Much like a rifle, the larger chassis of a shotgun allows for less-experienced users to effectively manipulate the weapon. Also, for those in restrictive jurisdictions, shotguns tend to be the easiest weapons to acquire.

A shotgun loaded up with buckshot is less likely to overpenetrate as well. Objects may stop those pellets from sailing through walls and striking unintended targets. However, remember always what your target is and what is beyond it.

Like a rifle, close-quarters manipulation becomes problematic. The length of the weapon might be an issue when traversing a narrow corridor, and yes, a determined assailant would find it easier to attempt a “grab”. Yes, you can shorten a shotgun’s barrel, but there’s legal hurdles and a wait time to make a short-barreled shotgun, or SBS as it is known.

Also, until recently, shotguns were not able to be suppressed. With the introduction of the Silencerco Salvo, a shotgun suppressor is a reality. In home defense, having a suppressed firearm gives the user a decisive tactical advantage, as the concussive blast of the shotgun is mitigated, allowing for more effective follow-up shots since the user is not deafened and disoriented. However, unless pending legislation changes the situation, acquiring a suppressor (where legal) involves significant bureaucratic hurdles and (as of December 2016) about a nine month wait time for the ATF approval to come in.

Below, you’ll see over a dozen shotgun models, sortable by various criterion such as ammunition and action-type. The models we’ve chosen here vary widely on price and expertise required, but we’ve provided brief descriptions and specs to help make your gun shopping easier, and to allow you to explore the differences between major models and manufacturers.

At the very bottom of this article we have an additional section on “Ammunition Selection” and no “Shotgun Actions”, in addition to a robust “Resource Guide” of links for people who’d like to learn even more.

Enjoy exploring the models below!:

1. Action

2. Caliber

3. Capacity

4. Price Range

Remington 870

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $400-$500 depending on configuration   |   Capacity: 4+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


The Remington 870 is the AR-15 of the shotgun world. Endlessly customizable, one can acquire this American classic for under $500. With it’s legendary reliability and low price point, this is typically the first shotgun that many users will acquire. An entire universe of aftermarket upgrades can turn this traditional piece into a modern tactical firearm eminently suitable for home defense. Due to it’s status as the “king” of American shotguns, a huge online fanbase exists for the 870, and the purchaser can rest assured that he or she will have this massive support network for the shotgun.

Also, due to this ubiquity, most qualified firearms instructors will be more than able to train the user on the effective defensive use of this American legend. The 870 has seen service with all major police departments and is one of the “go-to” shotguns in the United States military, and thus has a proven combat and professional track record. If hard-use operators rely on this weapon to safeguard their lives, then so can a civilian interested in effective home defense.

Mossberg 500

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $450 (can cost more depending on setup)   |   Capacity: 5+1 and up to 8+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga or 20 ga depending on specific configuration

Product Details:


If you’ve ever considered getting a pump-action shotgun, it is almost guaranteed you came across the Mossberg 500. Manufactured by O.F. Mossberg & Sons, this firearm can be considered another American classic. With regards to it’s status versus the Remington 870, it can easiest be compared to the Mac vs Windows battle in the computer world. Each has it’s own adherents, and extensive universe of aftermarket upgrades.

With a professional pedigree ranging from major law enforcement agencies to elite US military units, the 500 is certainly one of the most reliable shotguns around. Where the Mossberg really shines though is in it’s versatility between users. Fully ambidextrous, the Mossberg can easily be customized with innumerable aftermarket accessories to suit the specific use case. If the Remington 870 is the “AR” of the shotgun world, the Mossberg is the “AK” with it’s simplicity, battlefield ruggedness, and reliability.

Kel-Tec KSG

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $990   |   Capacity: 7+7+1 (two tubes of 7 shells and one in the chamber)   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


One of the most controversial pieces to hit the shotgun market in recent times is the Kel-Tec KSG. Thanks to an ingenious bullpup (the action sits behind the trigger) design, the KSG shook the shotgun world and forced it out of it’s decades-long design doldrums. No longer were people content with just having a clone of Grandpa’s old scattergun (maybe done up in black), the KSG made them want for a true “space gun”.

With it’s futuristic sci-fi looks and high capacity, the KSG has proven to be a market leader, despite it’s high entry price. Due to it’s bullpup configuration, the KSG is one seriously short shotgun. The overall length of 26.1 inches makes it a true champ for home defense and close-quarters combat. This is probably one of the shortest shotguns you can get without having to file additional paperwork and endure an onerous wait time courtesy of the ATF. In addition, the dual magazine tubes (you can switch between them via a manual lever) in theory allow you to load up a mix of ammunition types.

You could put slugs in the right tube, and buckshot in the left, to make a truly versatile configuration. It’s out of the box configuration includes a Picatinny rail, so you can mount all manner of sights, lights, and accessories to the weapon. While the availability of aftermarket components is limited as compared to the Remington and Mossberg offerings, one shouldn’t be dissuaded. One small thing to note when shopping for a KSG is to look for the second-generation version of the weapon. The first-generation setup was beset with small issues where selector and safety switches would break and the occasional double feed. If you happen to acquire a first-gen KSG with these issues, Kel-Tec’s excellent customer service will resolve these issues for you.

Black Aces Tactical DT

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $1300   |   Capacity: Varies. 2, 5, and 10 round magazines available along with 20 round drum.   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Over the past decade, there has been a bit of a renaissance in the firearms industry, with scores of new companies popping up, including ones like Black Aces Tactical out of Orlando, FL. Their hallmark product, the “DT”, made waves in 2015 due to it’s unusual configuration. With an 8.5” barrel, and a folding brace, the DT is one seriously compact shotgun.

With it’s diminutive dimensions, the DT makes for a serious contender in the home defense shotgun market. And for those of you asking about the legalities of such a firearm, rest easy. The DT is configured in such a way (brace as opposed to a stock, overall length of more than 26” for the entire weapon) that additional paperwork need not be filed to possess it. Buy it, undergo your background check, and take it home the same day.

Compact and extremely portable, this would be a choice worth considering for those who live in more confined settings such as an apartment, condo, or townhome where a larger type of firearm may prove impractical or confining.

Benelli SuperNova Tactical

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $500   |   Capacity: 4+1 for a total of 5 shells   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Benelli’s SuperNova Tactical is a modular design concept in a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun configuration. At the heart of this firearm is a lightweight steel frame encased by a modern polymer, making the SuperNova Tactical a truly survivable shotgun. Inside, it’s no slouch either – dual-action bars and a two-lug rotary bolt head that locks up steel to steel inside the barrel ensures that the SuperNova Tactical is a solid performer, capable of handling any load.

With a 4+1 configuration, this is a great option for users who live in capacity-restriction jurisdictions such as New York City. Robust and reliable, this Italian-American champion is a definite option for those on a budget.

Ithaca Model 37 Defense

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $600   |   Capacity: 8   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


The Ithaca Gun Company enjoys a storied reputation in the United States. The Model 37 has existed in one configuration or another since (you guessed it…) 1937. First being deployed in World War 2 for close quarters action, this venerable firearm is still being produced today, despite Ithaca themselves changing hands over the years. Nowadays, the 37 is produced in a modern factory in Sandusky, Ohio, using state-of-the-art fabrication techniques while keeping the firearm in it’s same, super-reliable configuration, noted for it’s downward-facing ejection mechanism. The key advantage of this method is that any muck that may find it’s way into the firearm will have a tendency to fall out with minimal user intervention. In a defensive situation, you want reliability, and the Model 37 has that in spades.

Not to say the firearm hasn’t benefitted from the progress of gun design over the past 80 years. Newer Model 37s can be upgraded by the user, with a respectable aftermarket universe of stocks, sights, enhanced chokes and grips available. Your classic firearm can become a modern tactical beast in short order, if you so wish.

A favorite of specialist units throughout history, as well as prison guards and urban law enforcement teams, the Ithaca Model 37 would be a welcome selection to the serious student of armed home defense.

CZ 612 HC-P

Action: Pump Action   |   Cost: $325   |   Capacity: 5+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Ceska Zbrojovka, aka CZ, has enjoyed something of a renaissance since the fall of the Iron Curtain. Unlike many of their Eastern Bloc competitors, CZ produced and continues to produce quality firearms at more than reasonable prices. Known mainly for their handgun and rifle offerings, CZ has recently begun offering shotguns to the civilian market.

Designed in the Czech Republic, assembled in Turkey, and imported by CZ-USA in Kansas City, CZ’s HC-P has become a truly low-cost home defense shotgun option. As an aside, we know someone at CZ must be a fan of zombie movies, as “HC-P” stands for “Horde Control – Pump”.

Hopefully hordes of the undead will not be a problem in your home defense situation, but if it were ever to come to that, one could rest assured that this sub-$400 firearm would be there to help you get out of a bind. Simple and forgiving, with a smooth action even out of the box, this budget-minded piece should appeal to shooters of all stripes as a primary or backup home defense tool.


Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $800-$1200 depending on configuration   |   Capacity: varies, but usually ships with a 10-round magazine   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Hailing all the way from Russia, the Saiga-12 is the shotgun cousin to the venerable AK-47. As a matter of fact, it is manufactured by Izhmash, and was designed with input from Mikhail Kalashnikov himself. This heavy bear of a shotgun bears more than a passing resemblance to it’s famous rifle cousin, even sharing a modified version of the AK’s reliable piston-driven operating mechanism. Due to it’s weight and the aforementioned operating mechanism, the Saiga is a very forgiving shotgun despite it’s aggressive styling, with a very pleasant shooting experience.

Fans of rifles will immediately feel at home with the Saiga. With it’s roots in the Kalashnikov family tree, there exists a fairly robust universe of aftermarket accessories and configurations. The semi-auto configuration has it’s use in a home defense situation. With the inherent stress in this scenario, having “one less thing to do”, i.e. operating the pump, could prove decisive in an engagement.  

Currently (December 2016), Izhmash firearms are prohibited from being imported to the United States due to the arms embargo put in place by President Obama. However, the existing Stateside inventory of Saigas ensures that this Eastern Bloc performer is not exceedingly difficult to find.

Molot VEPR-12

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $1200   |   Capacity: varies, usually ships with a 5-round magazine. 10 & 20 round magazines available   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Former President Obama’s executive order restricting Russian arms imports only covered products made by the Kalashnikov concern, parent company of Izhmash. So in steps Molot (Молот), manufacturer of the RPK rifle. With a piston-driven operating system similar to the AK-47, the VEPR is a heavy Russian semi-automatic shotgun, favored by Eastern bloc tactical units, and fans of the “tacticool” look here in the US. With a robust receiver almost 50 percent thicker than the Saiga, the VEPR can take a serious beating and keep on performing. While there’s no excuse for lack of maintenance, having confidence that the firearm will operate even after being unattended for a length of time is critical in a home defense situation. Retailing for around $1000, these aggressive-looking shotguns aren’t cheap, but still represent the most affordable way to get a reliable magazine-fed shotgun without going to a custom shop.

Beretta 1301 Tactical LE

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $1000   |   Capacity: 4+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


Beretta is the oldest currently-operating firearms producer in the world, with the roots of the company going back to the 1500s in Italy. With literally centuries of experience in building firearms, Beretta is a name to be reckoned with in the firearms world. And their latest semi-automatic offering, the 1301 Tactical LE, lives up to the tradition. With modern innovations such as a lightweight polymer exterior, and the ingenious “BLINK” gas operating system (it scrapes and ejects residue each time the weapon is fired i.e, it self-cleans…), the 1301 is a user-friendly firearm that will appeal to civilians and professional users alike. In addition, a Picatinny (accessory) rail mounting system allows for several custom sighting options to fit the user’s preference. Ease of use, coupled with an inherently reliable operating mechanism make the 1301 a true contender in the home defense market.

Savage Stevens S1200

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $580   |   Capacity: 4+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


One of the more venerable names in the American firearms pantheon is Savage. Founded in the 1890s, Savage has always had it’s eye on the budget-minded shooter, producing firearms renowned for their simplicity and reliability. And their latest offering, the Stevens S1200, is no exception. Whether you choose it in classic walnut finish or a modern black synthetic kit, the S1200 is a solid, no-nonsense performer whose familiar ergonomics will appeal to shooters of all tastes, skill levels, and age ranges. In a certain way, having an familiar operating mechanism as opposed to the latest “wündergun” can be advantageous if one lives in a household with residents of multiple generations. Grandpa can pick this up in an emergency as easily as Junior. Whether it is for home defense or sport, the S1200 is an excellent choice for the budget-minded.

Escort Gladius

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $580   |   Capacity: 5+1   |   Gauge: 20 ga

Product Details:


20 gauge shotguns are comparatively rare nowadays. With the supremacy of the venerable 12 gauge chambering and newer engineering techniques helping to mitigate recoil, even novice users are comfortable with 12 gauge shotguns. That isn’t to say there is not a place for the 20 gauge caliber though. 12 gauge shotguns can be pricey in comparison, and in some cases, the load might be too powerful for some defensive uses. Enter the Escort Gladius. Made in Turkey by Hatsan and imported to the US by Legacy Sports under it’s Escort brand, the Gladius is a welcome alternative to the mainstream home defense shotgun market. Simplicity, along with a very forgiving recoil with the 20 gauge loading, the Gladius should fit in well in any household where multiple residents of different abilities could need access to the firearm in an emergency. This isn’t the latest tactical sensation fresh off the battlefields in the Middle East, this is a simple, yet effective firearm for everyone. Ammunition is plentiful, so frequent training should be a snap.

FN SLP Mark I Tactical

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $1100   |   Capacity: 8+1   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:

FN SLPNowadays, Fabrique Nationale (FN) is known more for their handgun and rifle offerings such as the FNX-45 and SCAR16, but this reputable Belgian firm has a long and storied history with the shotgun, culminating in their latest offering, the SLP Mark I Tactical. Designed from the outset for law-enforcement use (SLP stands for “Self-Loading Police”), this weapon has garnered itself a small and loyal following since it’s release.

With an “Active Valve Gas System” and several included butt pads for user customization, the SLP Mark I is one of the most operator-friendly shotguns on the market. The operating system and a properly-selected butt pad reduce the felt recoil to a quite manageable level, allowing for a diversity of users to handle this simple, yet elegant firearm.

Robust and reliable, this specially-overbuilt shotgun can and does survive the daily bashing about that law enforcement and military professionals give their guns. If it’s a choice for the “operator” community, one can rest assured of it’s eminent suitability for home defense.

Mossberg SA-20

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $450   |   Capacity: 4+1   |   Gauge: 20 ga

Product Details:


With regards to home defense, it’s easy to overlook the fact that other people in the residence may need access to a firearm in an emergency. The head of the household may be a qualified marksman or a hardened veteran, but others may have less experience, or none at all. This is where very simple and forgiving firearms come into play, such as the Mossberg SA-20.

A very simple semi-auto shotgun, the SA-20 is chambered in the forgiving 20 gauge caliber. With a unique system which vents excess gas away from the operating components, this already soft-recoiling firearm has it’s impulse reduced further. Technically this firearm is marketed as a “youth” model, but don’t let the classification fool you, as this piece can be devastatingly effective, even in inexperienced hands. This is also worth considering as a secondary firearm for people who already have a primary home defense weapon in place, whether it’s a handgun, rifle, or another shotgun.

Beretta A400 Xplor Action

Action: Semi-auto   |   Cost: $1400   |   Capacity: 4+1   |   Gauge: 20 ga (though 12 ga is avaliable)

Product Details:


20 gauge shotguns might not be the first that come to mind when one thinks “shotgun”, but that doesn’t mean the caliber should be discounted. With it’s mild recoil, the gauge is great for those just starting out with shotguns, or for the young and elderly who may not have the strength or dexterity to handle the more formidable recoil of a heavier gauge.

Beretta, having over 500 years experience in making firearms, knows this, and their latest offering in the 20 gauge spectrum is the A400 Xplor Action. With it’s neo-traditional looks and lightweight construction, this new firearm has been a top seller from the storied Italian firearms maker. Much like it’s burlier Beretta brethren, the A400 Xplor sports a unique self-cleaning system to make maintenance a breeze, and the firearm itself can be field-stripped for detailed cleaning with no tools. In addition, an innovative shock-absorbing buttpad makes the already-mild 20 gauge recoil a non-issue. Combined with a “don’t have to think about it” semi-automatic action, this firearm is a definite contender for your safe if you have multiple people of differing skill levels in the household.

Fostech Origin-12

Action: Semi-Auto   |   Cost: $2400   |   Capacity: varies, but ships with a ten round magazine.   |   Gauge: 12 ga

Product Details:


If you really want a “space gun” for home defense, look no further than the Origin-12 by Fostech Outdoors. This beast of a weapon has looks straight out of the Terminator franchise. The admittedly high price tag will equip you with the ultimate in ergonomics, reliability, and accuracy. With advanced recoil mitigation features, even novice users can land “minute-of-bad-guy” accuracy. The piston-driven operating system is specifically designed for hard use.

While some may question having a pricey firearm such as this for home defense (trust us, a Mossberg 500 will suit you just fine…) having the ultimate shotgun in terms of ease of use, reliability, and functionality may prove comforting to a certain subset of users. If you can afford it, go for it. Fostech’s intention is to develop the Origin-12 into a full-fledged platform, with an offering to convert this über-weapon into a 7.62x39mm rifle with a quick swap of the barrel and bolt carrier. Yes, you read that right, convert your shotgun into a rifle. The Origin-12 could prove to be the (expensive) dark horse in the home-defense shotgun market.

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Shotgun Ammunition Selection


The two major types of shotgun ammunition are birdshot/buckshot and slug. Your shotgun can take either type. The deciding factor, of course is the “gauge”. Gage refers to the diameter of the shotgun shell. Common gauges include 12 gauge, 10 gauge, and 20 gauge, with 12 being the most common.

Birdshot/Buckshot ammunition is what most people think when you mention “shotgun” to them. They imagine a concussive boom and a bunch of little metallic pellets flying out of the barrel. Loaded into the shell, these pellets, made of lead, steel, various metallic alloys, or even polymer, are called “shot”. The smaller sized pellets are called “birdshot”, as the original use was to intercept a bird in flight. The larger sized pellets are called “buckshot”, and are generally used for larger game and home defense.

Slug ammunition differs in that instead of the shell holding several smaller projectiles, it holds one larger projectile, typically a larger lead (or other metallic composition) slug. The advantage to a slug load is that you can get longer range (sometimes in excess of 100 yards) than with a shot load.


Shotgun Actions


Pump action – this is what comes to mind when most people think “shotgun”. A sliding forearm handle (the pump) works the action, extracting the spent shell and inserting a new one while cocking the hammer or striker as the pump is worked. A pump gun is typically fed from a tubular magazine underneath the barrel, which also serves as a guide for the pump. The rounds are fed in one by one through a port in the receiver, where they are lifted by a lever called the elevator and pushed forward into the chamber by the bolt.

Semi-auto – This action works on the same principle as a semi-automatic rifle such as the AR-15. Either gas or recoil-operated, these are generally referred to as autoloaders or semi-automatics. Instead of having the action manually operated by a pump or lever, the action automatically cycles each time the shotgun is fired, ejecting the spent shell and reloading a fresh one into the chamber.

Break-action – For most of the history of the shotgun, the break-action breech loading double was the most common type, typically divided into two subtypes: the traditional “side by side” shotgun features two barrels mounted one beside the other (as the name suggests), whereas the “over and under” shotgun has the two barrels mounted one on top of the other. This is the simplest and most reliable configuration for a shotgun, though the user is hobbled by the low capacity of 2 rounds at the maximum. In addition, the comparatively cumbersome reloading action is a limiting factor. Thus, for home defense purposes, we can’t really recommend any break-action shotguns, but we have discussed them briefly for clarity.