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Best Home Defense Shotguns: Models, Tips, Accessories

Best Home Defense Shotguns: Models, Tips, Accessories

Shotguns are often recommended for home defense, for various reasons. They are very powerful when measuring energy per shot. There’s no question that the right shotgun shells for home defense can be absolutely devastating to an attacker. They are rarely considered “high capacity” and many use a slow-to-load tubular magazine system, so they aren’t normally the priority focus of anti-gun groups, and can often be legally owned in jurisdictions where handguns may not. They can be simple to operate (see more below). They have a reputation for being powerful among criminals, who may potentially be dissuaded from continuing unlawful activity if a “good guy” produces a shotgun. They can be very affordable. They are also very versatile firearms with many potential uses.

For whatever reason, if you’re considering a shotgun for home defense, you need to educate yourself about the best types, brands, and models of home defense shotguns so you can make an informed decision. Well, it’s your lucky day, because we’re here to help with that. Let’s go over the three major types of shotguns most people consider for home defense, discuss their pros and cons, and then we’ll talk about a few specific shotgun models that have earned excellent reputations for reliability and durability.



Different types of shotgun for Home Defense: what’s the best?

There are various different shotgun actions, including pump (or slide) action, semi-automatic, break-action, lever action, and even bolt action, but by far the most common for defense, and most recommended today, are the pump action and the semi-automatic, with the break-action design a distant third. Let’s go over the key characteristics, pros, and cons of each of these three shotgun designs, and you might be surprised by what you learn.

Pump action shotguns: not the best idea for novices

“Get a pump shotgun” is an oft-heard recommendation for people looking for a home defense firearm. But perhaps surprisingly, this popular choice can often be the wrong one for many people.

On a pump action (sometimes called slide action) shotgun, after each shot, the shotgun’s forend must be retracted quickly and firmly by the shooter’s support hand. This opens the bolt and ejects the spent shotgun shell. Then the shooter must smartly and rapidly return the forend to its fully forward position, chambering a fresh round from the magazine. This action must be performed before every shot. Additionally, on every modern pump-action shotgun, the breech is locked closed until either: 1. The trigger is pulled (firing a shot); OR 2. The action release (sometimes called the action lock lever, bolt release, slide lock lever, or action bar lock) is manually actuated by the shooter, which unlocks the action (without firing a shot) and allows the bolt to be retracted and the chamber opened for loading or unloading.

This sounds relatively simple, but to the uninitiated, it can be quite complicated to understand the function of the action release, and in which order the steps above must be performed. It’s a lot to remember for a new or inexperienced shooter, and often people will struggle to try to get the bolt unlocked for safe loading or unloading, and this has even caused unintentional discharges as people pull the trigger trying to unlock the action. So, if you decide to go with a pump shotgun, make sure you get proper training, practice with it, and work with anyone who may use it for home defense so they know how to safely operate it.

Advantages of pump-action shotguns:

  • They are relatively inexpensive. Compared to nicer/more reliable semi-auto and double-barrel shotguns, a good pump shotgun can be a real bargain. You can find reliable examples from Mossberg such as their Maverick 88 model, starting around $200 street price.
  • A quality pump-action shotgun is usually very reliable when operated by an experienced shooter.
  • They accept and function properly with multiple types of ammunition of various power levels since the action of ejecting spent cartridges and chambering fresh rounds is performed manually by the action of the slide.

Disadvantages of pump-action shotguns:

  • They are complicated to use, particularly for relatively inexperienced users (see above for the bolt-release issue).
  • They have heavy recoil compared to many gas-operated semi-auto shotguns.
  • Inexperienced shooters can cause malfunctions by short-stroking the action.
  • Smaller shooters can have trouble reaching the forend and can have difficulty fully racking or fully extending the pump/forend.
  • Improper handling can seriously pinch and injure the shooter’s hand, particularly if there’s any overlap between the forend and the receiver.
  • “Off-brand” models can be unreliable and even fragile.

So, again, if you choose a pump-action shotgun for home defense, it’s vital that you practice with it regularly, and instruct any potential users in its proper function.



Semi-auto shotgun for home defense: probably the best choice for most people

Many shotgun trainers now recommend a semi-auto for most defensive shooters, and they are also common in tactical and military use. There was a time when a semi-automatic shotgun was somewhat of a novelty and was not considered reliable enough for “serious use,” but modern semi-autos have proved doubters wrong. Let’s quickly cover the pros and cons.

Advantages of semi-automatic shotguns:

  • They are generally easier to shoot than pump shotguns. For an inexperienced shooter, a semi-auto is much simpler to operate once it’s loaded and the safety is off. You aim the gun, pull the trigger, and the gun does the rest. If you want to unload, you can simply retract the bolt handle and the live cartridge is ejected. You don’t have to find any additional bolt release levers to safely open the action to check the chamber, load, or unload.
  • They have lower recoil. Semi-automatics, particularly those of a gas-operated design, are easier on the shooter since some of the energy of each shot is absorbed by the operating mechanism that ejects the empty hull and feeds the next cartridge into the chamber. This can be a big help for small-statured or inexperienced shooters. Shotguns generally kick pretty hard, and the wrong design with hotter loads can be truly punishing.
  • The proven models (see below) of semi-autos are usually very reliable when used with high-quality defensive ammunition. Modern semi-autos are arguably as reliable or even more reliable than other shotgun types, as there’s less opportunity for shooter-caused malfunctions.

Disadvantages of semi-automatic shotguns:

  • They are expensive. Although there are cheap semi-automatic defense shotguns available (typically from Turkey), we don’t recommend any of them. A good, reliable semi-auto defensive shotgun can cost well over a thousand dollars, and some, like the Benelli M4, are over two grand.
  • They can be ammo-sensitive. What this means is, since the power of the ammunition is used to operate the action, if the ammo is low-powered or out of spec in rim size or length, feeding issues can result. If you don’t fully seat the buttstock against your shoulder, it can cause short-stroking or other feeding issues as well, in some semi-auto designs.
  • They are more complicated to disassemble, clean, and maintain than other designs.
  • We said above that they are generally easier to shoot, which is true, but they can also be complicated to load and fully unload, and the manual of arms between various semi-auto designs can be very different, so make sure you read your manual and practice.

Break-action shotgun for home defense

A simple, break-action shotgun is the oldest style of a cartridge-firing shotgun, dating back to Lefaucheux’s 1836 pinfire breechloading shotgun. This type of shotgun has a hinge in its action and a simple locking mechanism holds the barrel (or barrels) closed for firing, and then a lever or button is pressed to release the barrel assembly to hinge open for unloading/reloading.

Many people wouldn’t necessarily recommend a break-action single-shot for a defensive shotgun, but there’s no question that these types of guns have been used effectively as home defense weapons for nearly 200 years. And if it’s what you have, it’s what you have. If you know what you’re doing, you can be pretty effective with a single-shot break action, and their simplicity, reliability, and low cost can be real factors in a decision. Let’s go over some pros and cons.

Advantages of break-action shotguns:

  • They are by far the easiest to load and fully unload. “Fully unload” means that the chamber AND any magazines/tubes are empty of cartridges. With pump and semi-auto guns, safely unloading the rounds from a tubular magazine without cycling them through the chamber can be pretty difficult. You may have to lift the follower and reach inside the (potentially sharp-edged) receiver and move the shell stops out of the way, releasing one cartridge at a time, then repeat. With a break-action, you just push the action lever or button to open the action, and drop cartridges directly into the exposed chamber/s or manually remove the cartridge/s from the chamber/s if desired. That’s all there is to it.
  • They are inexpensive. Since the mechanism is simple, a basic break-action single-shot shotgun can usually be purchased for well under $200.
  • They are reliable. There’s not much to go wrong, and the parts and springs are all quite robust.
  • They can fire all types of ammunition. Similar to a pump action, the break-action’s function isn’t limited by the power of the cartridge. However, unlike a pump action, the break-action can accept super-short “mini-shells” and still function perfectly. Most pump shotguns need to be modified to cycle them reliably, and very few semi-autos will run them.

Disadvantages of break-action shotguns:

  • Low ammunition capacity. You’ll have a maximum of 3 shots (if you have a rare 3-barreled model, which will also be quite expensive), before reloading, but usually, one or two shots is what you’ll have to work with until you effectively disassemble the gun by breaking it open to eject any fired hulls and reload.
  • Reloading a break-action takes a lot more time than racking the slide of a pump-action, or the split-second it takes a semi-auto to eject an empty hull and chamber the next round.
  • High recoil. Similar to pump-actions, the full force of the shot is transferred directly to the shooter’s shoulder, as there’s no mechanism to absorb any recoil. Plus, break-action shotguns are frequently quite light (since their mechanisms are simple and basic), so recoil can be even worse than with a pump. This can discourage newer shooters from practicing enough to develop proficiency.
  • There’s the potential to create a dangerous double-load. If an inexperienced or inattentive user drops a 20-gauge shell into a 12-gauge break-action chamber, it will usually go far enough into the barrel to allow a 12-gauge shell to be loaded behind it. If this happens and you fire the gun, it will likely blow up the gun and you are probably going to be injured, potentially fatally. This situation is much less likely in a pump or semi-auto, unless the 20-gauge shell is manually fed directly into the chamber because most 20-gauge cartridges won’t reliably feed into or from a 12-gauge magazine.

Different makes and models of home defense shotgun: which is best?

Now that you know a little more about the pros and cons of each popular defensive shotgun type, you can look at some of the top sellers and see what fits your needs, your tastes, and your budget. Here are our picks for the home-defense shotgun brands and models to consider.

Remington

The Remington 870 is undoubtedly the most popular and most recognizable pump-action shotgun in history, with more than 11 million sold since its debut in 1950. Over the years the 870 has earned a well-deserved reputation for durability and reliability, and a well-used 870 has as smooth an action as you’ll find in a pump shotgun.

Remington has struggled over the past decades and the original company filed for bankruptcy in 2018, but RemArms bought the rights and tooling for many of the classic Remington firearms and is earning a reputation for quality and customer service that the old company had struggled to maintain before its unfortunate demise. Bottom line: The new RemArms-built Model 870 looks to be just as good as the “good old 870s” Remington used to make, so you can feel confident in buying a new one. Prices start around $429 for basic models.

Remington 870

Mossberg

The Mossberg 500 is a durable, reliable, inexpensive, long-time competitor to the Remington 870, with some design attributes that make the Mossberg a superior choice for some shooters:

  • The 870 has a steel receiver (which some prefer) while the Mossberg’s is a lighter-weight aluminum alloy.
  • The 870 has staked-in shell catches, while the Mossberg’s are easily removed for cleaning and replaced without special tools by the home hobbyist.
  • The 870’s “action bar lock” (slide release) is located far forward from the shooter’s grip, in front of the trigger guard, and the shooter must break his or her firing grip to reach it. The Mossberg’s “action lock lever” is located behind the trigger guard and is easily reached by either right- or left-handed shooters without breaking a firing grip.
  • The 870 uses a cross-bolt style safety behind the trigger guard and is set up for right-handed shooters. The 500’s safety is ambidextrous, located on the top/rear of the receiver, and is vastly preferable for left-handed use.
  • The 870 uses a traditional sheet-metal shell carrier which must be moved up out of the way each time when loading rounds into the magazine. The 500’s elevator assembly moves up into the receiver, out of the way, when the bolt is closed, so shells are easily loaded into the magazine without having to press against spring tension on the carrier.
  • The 500 features an “anti-jam” elevator, while the 870’s carrier can potentially cause a nasty double-feed jam and had to be modified with a U-shaped cut to allow these jams to be cleared.

The Mossberg 590 is essentially the same as the 500 internally, but with an updated magazine tube/barrel interface that allows easier cleaning and greater magazine capacity for the same length barrel/tube. The 590A1 is a military-grade heavy-duty model with a thicker barrel, all-metal trigger group and safety, and other upgrades. Basic Mossberg 500 home defense shotguns start at about $340 at many retailers.

Mossberg 590A1 Retrograde

Benelli

Benelli offers several excellent “tactical” or defense-oriented semi-automatic shotguns, and all are excellent choices for the well-heeled buyer. The M2 Tactical is the simplest and least expensive (at $1,249 MSRP) of the Benelli semi-auto defense shotguns, and has a well-deserved reputation for reliability, as long as you keep the gun free of a lot of heavy accessories (see below). The M3, with an MSRP of $1,599, is a super-cool and relatively rare variant that allows you to select either pump or semi-auto function, which is unique in the shotgun world since the Franchi SPAS-12 went extinct in 2000.

However, the cream of the crop has to be the Benelli M4, which the US Marine Corps adopted in around 1999 as the M1014 for their semi-auto shotgun platform, and which has served them well in multiple conflicts. The M4 has also been adopted by 20+ other countries and is currently the US’s Joint Services combat shotgun.

The M4 features Benelli’s ARGO system, or Auto-Regulating Gas-Operated piston system, which was developed specifically for the Marine Corps trials.

The advantage of the M4’s gas-operated system is that it is immune to the problems that can face inertia-operated shotguns (like Benelli’s own M2). Inertia guns can start experiencing malfunctions when users start adding weight in the form of optics, lights, lasers, and other accessories since this changes the physics and weight of the gun. Gas-operated guns like the M4 are immune to these issues (as long as proper defensive loads are used) since the gas system doesn’t depend on the weight or inertia of the shotgun to function properly.

The M4/M1014 has been featured in dozens of popular video games and movies, which adds to its cachet for some people. If you want one, though, bring money, because the M4 is not an inexpensive gun. MSRP for the most basic variant is a staggering $2,099, and they go up from there.

If you favor a cheaper and less-complicated pump-action design, Benelli offers the Nova tactical shotgun family as well.

Benelli M4 Tactical

Beretta

Beretta has been making firearms for almost 500 years (the firm was founded in 1526), and actually owns Benelli. Beretta is known for high quality, stylish, reliable firearms, and their excellent 1301 Tactical shotgun is no exception. This good-looking boomstick is a lightweight, compact powerhouse, with a 7+1 capacity (using 2 ¾” shells) and remarkably mild recoil due to Beretta’s integrated BLINK gas operating system that, according to Beretta, allows for 36% faster cycling than its competition.

At an MSRP of $1,509 for the standard model and $1,529 with a pistol grip, the 1301 is not for the bargain-hunters among us, but by all accounts, it’s worth the money. For a reliable, soft-shooting, semi-automatic defensive shotgun, in our view, the 1301 is the top of the heap.

Beretta 1301 Tactical

Here’s a good video demonstrating the features and benefits of the 1301 Tactical.

Winchester

Winchester’s legacy model 1200/1300 pump shotguns were typically considered a “budget” alternative to the more well-known Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 families, but the Winchester generally performed well and offered a potential speed advantage due to its inertia-assisted, rotating bolt design, which allows the shooter to press rearward on the forend as the trigger is pulled, whereupon the bolt opens rapidly as soon as the shot is fired. This can speed up follow-up shots and may help inexperienced shooters cycle the action reliably.

Due to a plastic magazine throat design that also helps secure the magazine tube, this shotgun is arguably less robust than offerings from Remington and Mossberg, but it’ll still take a lot to wear one out. Winchester/Browning has also gone through multiple “reorganizations” and mergers over the years, but this shotgun platform is still available, in the current iteration known as the Super X Pump, or SXP. With an MSRP of $359 and a typical retail street price of around $329, the SXP can be a solid choice for a home defense shotgun, if a pump is what you decide you want.

Winchester SXP Defender

Best home defense shotgun accessories

It’s common to see “tactical” or home defense shotguns tarted up with every kind of doo-dad you can think of, but in our view it’s best to keep things simple and spend your money on ammo and training. A basic, unencumbered shotgun will likely solve 99% of home defense problems, but we’ve found a few add-ons that can make sense, so check them out below.

Stocks

A pistol-grip-only (PGO) shotgun is, in our view, nearly useless at best and painful at worst, so don’t be that guy (or gal). However, upgrading a standard shotgun buttstock to a more ergonomic and customizable Magpul SGA stock ($109) can pay dividends, particularly if standard stocks don’t fit you properly or if you use iron or red-dot sights on your shotgun. Magpul also offers replacement MOE forends with M-LOK slots for easy customization ($30).

Lights

It’s a very good idea to have a tactical light mounted on any home-defense firearm. In fact, if we could only choose one add-on for an HD shotgun, a white light would be top of the list. Surefire and Streamlight are the two brands we’d look at first, and the lowest-price model we’d consider for the hard-thumping defensive shotgun is the Streamlight Polytac at around $40. Consider a GGG shotgun flashlight mount.

Red dot optics

Red dot sights are gaining popularity on defensive handguns and shotguns, similar to how they’ve taken over the tactical rifle scene. Their advantages are many and their downsides are few. For hard-recoiling shotgun use, we’d stick with brands and models well-known for durability and reliability, like Trijicon’s RMR or Aimpoint’s T2 micro red dot sight. At around $500-$600 street price, they’re potentially more expensive than a basic pump shotgun, but if you’re going to use a red dot sight for defense, you absolutely need it to work properly and stay in place on the gun.

Side saddles or shotgun cards

Ammunition capacity is a constant issue for defensive/tactical shotguns, and if you think you might need more than a few shots from your defensive shotgun, a “sidesaddle” ammo carrier or elastic “shotgun card” mounted to the non-port side of your shotgun receiver can be extremely useful. Esstac makes highly regarded shotgun cards holding 4-7 rounds that you can velcro onto your shotgun and swap on and off at will ($12-15). If you favor a more traditional sidesaddle, TacStar has given us good service (~$40), but most people will recommend the pricier offerings from Mesa Tactical or Aridus Industries.

Store your home defense firearms in a Liberty safe

When you’re not at home or your firearms are not under your direct control, they should be securely locked up. Liberty’s line of USA-made gun safes can help prevent theft, unauthorized access, corrosion, and fire damage, not just for your guns, but all your valuables and important records. Check out our online catalog, or visit a dealer near you.


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