The 5 Best Shotguns for Home Defense (and How to Use Them!)

Just here for the list of best home defense shotguns? Here it is:

  1. The Molot VEPR-12 (especially the short-barreled version)
  2. The Mossberg 500, 590, and 590A1
  3. The Benelli M4
  4. The Kel-Tec KSG
  5. The Genesis Gen-12

Want to know just about everything there is to know about choosing and using a home defense shotgun? Keep reading.

If you had to pick one gun for home defense, it should be a shotgun.

No matter how powerful, comfortable, or fast-shooting your pistol or rifle may be, shotguns are always going to be more deadly round for round. 

But which shotgun should you get?

The shotgun market is crowded with competitors and copycats, which makes it hard to choose the right one for you.

Should you get a pump-action, semiautomatic, or something else?

Should you get a 12 gauge or 20 gauge?

Should you get a folding stock, iron sights, or a choke? 

Or should you go old school and get a double-barrel shotgun, like Creepy Uncle Joe said?

What’s more, there are all manner of upgrades, aftermarket accessories, and tactical toys you can buy for your shotgun, and it’s hard to decide which are worthwhile and which are just mall ninja knicknacks.

In this article, you’re going to learn: 

  • What the five best home defense shotguns are for every budget ($500 to $2,000)
  • What makes the best home defense shotgun
  • The best upgrades for your home defense shotgun
  • The best ammo for your home defense shotgun
  • How to use your home defense shotgun (including drills)
  • And more.

Let’s get started.

What Is a Home Defense Shotgun?

home defense shotgun

A home defense shotgun is more or less the same thing as a tactical shotgun—it’s designed to fire multiple, high-powered shells quickly and reliably.   

In general, a good home defense shotgun will . . .

1. Be chambered in 12 or 20 gauge

Shotgun shells come in many different shapes, sizes, and configurations, but the most commonly used shell for home defense is the 12 gauge. 

This is a large, high-powered shotgun shell designed for hunting, home defense, and military use. There are many different kinds of 12 gauge ammo you can choose from, which you’ll learn about later in this article. 

Shotguns designed to fire 12 gauge also tend to be larger and heavier.

You can find shotguns that fire 20 gauge shells, which are smaller, lower-powered shells generally used for bird hunting and skeet shooting. It’s not ideal for home defense as it’s not nearly as powerful as 12 gauge, but it’s a good option for smaller people who can’t handle the recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun.

2. Have a minimum capacity of 4 shells

Shotgun shells are wider and longer than most rifle cartridges, which is why most shotguns only hold four or five shells. 

A single well-aimed shell should be enough to end most fights, but in a high-stress, violent encounter, you’re likely to miss. That’s why you always want to have at least four shells in your shotgun, and more if possible. 

3. Have a 12 to 20-inch barrel

This keeps the overall length of the shotgun manageable when you’re moving inside buildings or vehicles or around obstacles. 

A shotgun with a regular stock needs to have a barrel at least 18.5 inches long to avoid requiring an NFA stamp, but you can have shotguns with short barrels as long as they have a brace instead of a regular stock, don’t have a foregrip, and are longer than 26 inches total.

Or, you can get a short-barreled shotgun (SBS) and get the NFA tax stamp (more on this below).

4. Have a fixed, folding, or collapsable stock

best shotgun for home defense

Shotguns without stocks look cool, but they aren’t nearly as easy to control as shotguns with stocks. 

Stocks allow you to properly aim and control recoil when firing multiple shots in quick succession.

Folding and collapsible stocks have the advantage of making the gun easier to store. In most cases, you can grab the gun, flip open or extend the stock, and you’re ready to rock. You also have the option of leaving the stock folded down if you need to maneuver in a really tight space, like inside a car.

Regular, fixed stocks are fine, too, though. 

5. Be pump-action or semiautomatic 

A pump-action shotgun requires that you rack the slide back and forth to chamber a new shell after you fire the gun. This is a relatively smooth, fast action, and most pump-action shotguns are also extremely reliable.

They aren’t nearly as fast as semiautomatic shotguns, though. 

Semiauto shotguns automatically load a new shell into the chamber after you fire the gun, which allows you to make rapid follow up shots.

Modern semiautomatic shotguns, like you’re going to learn about in this article, are also extremely reliable, and simply the best option for home defense.

6. Have sling mounts

Ideally, a shotgun for home defense should have sling mounts. 

You’ll learn more about the importance of slings later in this article, but the long story short is they allow you to use your hands without putting down your shotgun, and they prevent someone from ripping your gun away from you.

You can attach a sling to a shotgun without sling mounts, but they make it a lot easier.

What Makes the Best Home Defense Shotgun?

best home defense shotgun

Is it firepower, accuracy, a cool integrated tactical laser? 

No, no, and no. 

The single most important criteria for the best home defense shotgun is reliability. 

When you pull the trigger, does the gun fire? 

If not, it doesn’t matter how accurate it is, how good it feels in your hands, or what brand name it is—it doesn’t work when you need it to and you should never depend on it.

In a life or death situation, when you have to make a decision to pull the trigger or not, you don’t have time to fix a malfunction. 

So, don’t rely on a cheap, unreliable, finicky shotgun for home defense. Buy something you know is going to work. 

This doesn’t mean you need the latest, most expensive model, but it needs to be reliable above all else.

With that in mind, let’s look at the best home defense shotguns in 2019.

Best Overall: Molot VEPR-12

shotgun home defense

The Molot VEPR-12, usually referred to as the VEPR-12, is a magazine-fed, AK-style semiautomatic shotgun first produced in 2003.

It was originally designed to be a true multipurpose shotgun—excelling at home defense, competition, hunting, and combat.

And it does. 

While it may not appear to be all that unique, there are a few features that make the VEPR-12 the single best shotgun you can buy for home defense.

First, it uses detachable box magazines instead of regular tube magazines, which makes reloading much, much faster. Most of the time you’ll get a small 5-round magazine when you buy a VEPR-12, but you can also by 8-, 10-, and 12-round magazines and 25-round drum magazines.

What’s more, the VEPR-12 is designed so that you can insert the magazines straight into the receiver, just like you would on an AR-15.

On most AK-style shotguns—like the Saiga-12—you have to tilt the magazine at an angle to reload, like this: 

This is a slower process that’s much easier to mess up. With the VEPR-12, you simply slam the magazine straight into the magazine well and you’re good to go.

The VEPR-12 also has a last-round bolt hold-open feature, meaning that when you empty a magazine, the bolt will stay retracted so that you don’t have to pull back the charging handle. 

In other words, you don’t need to “cock” your gun when you insert a new magazine—you insert a magazine, slap the charging handle forward, and start shooting. 

Here’s what I mean: 

If you’ve read anything about semiautomatic shotguns or played any video games in the past 10 years, you’re probably familiar with the VEPR-12’s cousin, the Saiga-12.

The Saiga-12 is basically an AK-47 that’s been modified to fire 12 gauge shotgun shells. 

Here’s what it looks like:

best tactical shotgun

There are a few important differences between these two shotguns, though.

First, the VEPR-12 uses the same receiver as the RPK light machine gun. The receiver is the box-like portion of the gun that houses the bolt carrier, trigger, safety, and “guts” of the gun. 

The receiver of the Saiga-12 is made of 1 mm thick steel, whereas the VEPR-12 is made of 1.5 mm thick steel to better withstand the stresses of fully automatic shooting. This may seem like a small difference, but it means that the VEPR-12 is a much stronger, more durable shotgun than the Saiga-12.

This also makes the VEPR-12 about a pound heavier than the Saiga-12, but this is barely noticeable when shooting. 

Second, all of the parts on the VEPR-12 that tend to wear out or corrode first—the barrel, chamber, gas piston, and gas-piston tube—are lined with chrome. 

Chrome is much harder and more corrosion resistant than steel, which means the VEPR-12 should handle many more years of use than a Saiga-12.

Third, the VEPR-12 is made using much higher quality control standards than the Saiga-12. Unfortunately, it’s a known problem among Saiga-12 owners that most of these guns require modifications and repairs right out of the box to get them to work.

On the other hand, the VEPR-12 has earned a reputation as one of the most reliable semiautomatic shotguns you can buy.

Finally, the VEPR-12 also has a number of modern features that the Saiga-12 and most other home defense shotguns lack. 

This includes things like . . . 

  • A picatinny rail on the dust cover for mounting optics
  • A picatinny rail under the barrel for mounting lights or grips
  • Ambidextrous safety levers
  • An adjustable cheek rest
  • Front and rear sling mounts
  • A last-round bolt hold open feature
  • A rubber butt pad

All in all, this is the single best shotgun for home defense you can buy, and it’s what I keep in my bedroom.

You can buy the VEPR-12 in a few different configurations, including: 

  • An 18.5-inch barrel with a folding metal stock ($1,200, the most common model)
  • An 18.5-inch barrel with a wooden stock ($860)
  • An 18.5-inch barrel with a fixed metal stock (price varies, for places where folding stocks aren’t allowed)
  • An 18.5-inch barrel with a plastic fixed stock ($870)
  • A 12.5-inch barrel with a folding metal stock ($1,700 my favorite)

Personally, I recommend you get the first option if you don’t want to deal with the process of buying an NFA firearm. If you’re okay with jumping through the NFA hoops, go with the last option. 

Here’s what the short-barreled version looks like next to the long-barreled version:

IMAGE

The single biggest downside of the VEPR-12 is that they were recently banned for import into the United States, along with all other VEPR guns. 

This is because they’re made in Russia, and Trump passed a series of sanctions banning the importation of certain Russian guns into the U.S. 

As of this writing, VEPR-12’s are still relatively easy to find for sale at a reasonable price, but chances are good the prices will soon go up as availability goes down.

So, if you want to get one, I’d get one soon. (Luckily, we still have them in stock! Shoot me an email if you’d like one).

A second and much less important problem with the VEPR-12 is it doesn’t always work reliably with low-powered or reduced-recoil ammo, but this is true of all semiautomatic shotguns.

Finally, the VEPR-12 is heavy at around 10 pounds. While this makes it uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time, it also drastically reduces the felt recoil. It might be chunky, but this added weight makes it more comfortable to shoot.

Summary: The VEPR-12’s combination of reliability, durability, value, ease of reloading, and modern features make it the single best home defense shotgun you can buy.

Best Value: Mossberg 500, 590, and 590A1

mossberg tactical shotgun

Mossberg is one of the most well known, respected, and trusted shotgun manufacturers in the world, and for good reason. 

They’ve been producing guns since 1919, and they’re known for offering no-frills, reliable, effective shotguns at an affordable price. 

The Mossberg 500 series of shotguns is a simple pump-action shotgun that can fire a wide variety of different kinds of shotgun shells. There have been over 10 million Mossberg 500’s produced, making it one of the most popular shotguns of all time.

Here’s what the standard model looks like: 

mossberg 500 shotgun

One of the main feathers in the Mossberg 500’s cap is that it is the only shotgun to ever pass military standards for service shotguns.  

Specifically, U.S. Army’s Mil-Spec 3443E test involves . . .

  • Firing 3,000 rounds of full-power buckshot with no more than three failures
  • Being covered in mud, water, and various chemicals
  • Being dropped from 4 feet on a dense rubber pad from multiple angles
  • Exposure to -20 degrees F and 120 degrees F for 4 hours

Now, it’s worth mentioning that many other shotguns could probably pass this test, but the Mossberg 500 is the only one that’s been verified to have done so.

The reliability of the Mossberg 500 is due to its simple, rugged design.

Pump-action shotguns are some of the most reliable guns on the planet, because they rely on the shooter to operate them. 

This means there are fewer moving parts to break, and you don’t have to worry about different kinds or grades of ammunition causing a malfunction (which can happen on semiautomatic shotguns). 

The Mossberg 500, 590, and 590A1 all share the same general layout, but each is slightly different. 

The Mossberg 500 and 590 are designed for civilians, and the 590A1 is designed for military use. Here are the main differences: 

The 500 is the cheapest model, and features a relatively thin, light barrel and a plastic trigger guard, safety lever, and slide release lever.

The 590 is the same as the 500, but features a thicker barrel and a more durable magazine tube attachment.

The 590A1 is the most expensive and durable model and features the same thicker and more durable barrel and magazine tube attachment of the 590, along with a few other neat features: 

  • A metal safety lever, slide release lever, and trigger guard
  • A parkerized finish on the barrel and receiver for extra rust, corrosion, and scratch resistance
  • A bayonet lug for mounting an M7 style bayonet
  • A sling swivel on the stock for easily attaching a sling (you have to buy these separately for the 500 and 590 models)
  • Optional picatinny rails for mounting optics, depending on which model you get

Here’s what the Mossberg 590 looks like:

mossberg 590 shotgun

And here’s what the Mossberg 590A1 looks like:

mossberg 590a1 shotgun

Another advantage of the 590 and 590A1 models is that you can easily add a longer magazine tube, whereas if you want to do this on the 500 model, you have to replace the barrel, too.

There are also a dizzying array of different versions of each of these models, and you could drive yourself crazy trying to decide which one to get.

You can choose between larger or smaller magazines, ghost ring or regular iron sights, fixed or adjustable stocks, long or short barrels, and more. 

So, which one should you get?

If you want a shotgun mainly for home defense and you don’t plan on doing much else with it, go with the bare bones Mossberg 500 model. It’s affordable, extremely reliable, and easy to use. 

Specifically, the 50411 version of the Mossberg 500 Tactical. This comes with a durable synthetic stock, a 5+1 magazine tube, and a little nub on the barrel for sights (which works fine when shooting at close distances). 

The best part? It only costs $500.

Now, if you plan on shooting regularly, hunting, or running and gunning, I recommend you pick a nicer model. Specifically, I recommend the Mossberg 590A1 Tactical 51773 version.

This has all of the features you learned about a moment ago, along with an 8+1 magazine capacity, 20-inch barrel, Magpul synthetic stock and grip, a quick release sling mount on the front of the gun, a picatinny rail, and ghost ring sights for more accurate shooting. 

Plus, it’s an extremely good value at only $836.  

It’s also worth mentioning another very similar shotgun—the Remington 870. 

This shotgun is nearly identical to the Mossberg 500, except for a few small differences: 

  • The receiver is made of steel instead of aluminum. 
  • The safety is a small button on the trigger guard instead of a lever on top of the stock.
  • The bolt only has one extractor, whereas the Mossberg 500 has two.

Many people make a big deal out of the fact that the Remington 870 has a steel receiver and the Mossberg 500 has an aluminum receiver, but it’s not that important. Many guns (including most AR-15s) have aluminum receivers and are plenty durable even for hard use. 

The two extractors on the Mossberg 500 make it slightly more reliable, but this is also a relatively minor benefit.

The main reason I recommend the Mossberg 500 over the Remington 870, is that Remington’s quality control has sharply declined in recent years. 

While Remington still makes some good guns, there are more and more complaints of broken parts, accuracy issues, gritty, inconsistent actions, and other shenanigans. Seeing as how this isn’t a common issue with Mossberg, I recommend you go with the Mossberg 500 shotgun. 

Summary: The Mossberg 500 series of shotguns are known for being extremely reliable and an excellent value for the money. 

Best and Most Expensive: Benelli M4

benelli m4 shotgun

The name “Benelli” is to shotguns what Ferrari is to cars.

They’re known for making the highest quality, most technologically advanced, smooth-shooting shotguns money can buy. 

One of their most popular models is the Benelli M4.

This is a semiautomatic 12 gauge shotgun that was originally designed for the U.S. Military, and was quickly adopted by the Marine Corps in 1999.

During initial testing, the U.S. Army took the Benelli M4 through a variety of torture tests. Although the results aren’t publicly available, it’s reported that the gun was able to fire 25,000 shells before any parts needed to be replaced. 

This is largely thanks to the Benelli M4’s construction, which features parkerized steel and anodized aluminum parts for corrosion and wear resistance. 

Aside from its impeccable looks and fastidious fit and finish, one of the most unique aspects of this shotgun is its “auto regulating gas operated” (ARGO) operating mechanism.

This consists of two small steel pistons that sit directly in front of the chamber, which use gas from the barrel to force the bolt backwards.

Unlike many other gas-operated shotguns which have a number of complex parts, Benelli’s ARGO system only has four parts: two steel rods and two shrouds to hold them. 

Here’s what this looks like: 

benelli m4 argo

This system has a few major advantages over other semiautomatic shotguns: 

  • It’s lightweight 
  • It’s extremely reliable
  • It automatically adapts to operate smoothly when firing different kinds of shells

This last point is particularly important, as gas-operated guns all depend on the energy of the cartridge to operate the gun. If a cartridge is too weak, then the gun won’t work properly. 

For example, subsonic 5.56 cartridges are generally too weak to properly operate an AR-15, which is why .300 Blackout is generally the better choice for suppressed shooting.

Shotgun shells vary considerably in their power, with many being too weak to properly operate semiautomatic shotguns. The Benelli M4’s ARGO system automatically adjusts to the power of the cartridge, requiring no manual adjustment from the user.

That said, if you want a pump-action version, you can get the Benelli M3. This is more or less the same shotgun as the M4, but it’s pump-action instead of semiautomatic. 

In 2017, Benelli also released a new model of the M4 with a silver Cerakote finish.

The only downside of the Benelli M4 is the price, which is $1,999 for the base model and $2,269 for the new version with the silver Cerakote finish. 

Unfortunately, this also means that it’s harder to find gun stores that stock Benelli shotguns, so you may need to poke around some to find one. 

You can buy both versions either with or without a pistol grip. 

Summary: If you absolutely positively have to have the nicest home defense shotgun money can buy, or you want a home defense shotgun that will also double as a competition, hunting, and training gun, the Benelli M4 is worth the price.

Best Bullpup: Kel-Tec KSG

kel-tec ksg shotgun

The Kel-Tec KSG is a bullpup, pump-action shotgun that can hold up to 14 shotgun shells.

Kel-Tec is a gun company known for their innovative designs, and in my opinion, the KSG is one of their best products. 

Instead of a single magazine tube like most shotguns, the KSG has two magazine tubes located on either side of the gun. 

This allows the gun to hold up to fourteen 2 ¾ inch shells or twelve 3 inch shells—more than just about any other shotgun with tube magazines. 

This dual-tube design doesn’t just allow you to carry lots of shells. You can also switch between different kinds of ammo by flipping a switch in the ejection port.

For example, you could load one magazine with buckshot and the other with slugs. Or one magazine with dragon’s breath and the other with birdshot. Whatever.

This ability to change ammo types isn’t all that useful for home defense, but it’s a nice feature nonetheless.

The KSG also ejects spent shell cases downward out of the bottom of the stock, which makes it fully ambidextrous. 

There isn’t any official data on the reliability of the KSG, but most users have reported very few issues. Quality control has been a problem on some Kel-Tec products, but they got it right with the KSG. 

Another nice feature of the KSG is it comes with picatinny rails on the top and bottom of the foregrip for mounting optics, lights, grips, and lasers.

The KSG is also very affordably priced for what you get, at only $990 for the base model.

You can choose three other versions of the KSG: 

  • The KSG25, which features a 30-inch barrel and can hold 20 to 24 shells.
  • The KSG Tactical, which features a 13.7-inch barrel and can hold 8 to 10 shells. It also comes with an integrated foregrip and weapon light. (This is legally a short-barreled shotgun, so it requires an NFA tax stamp).
  • The KSG Compact, which is exactly the same as the KSG Tactical but features an 18-5-inch barrel, so you don’t have to buy an NFA tax stamp.

There’s also a new version of the KSG called the KS7, which is basically identical to the KSG but for two changes: 

  1. There’s only one magazine tube instead of two, which makes it more compact.
  2. The top picatinny rail is replaced with a carrying handle. 

I recommend you go with the standard KSG. It’s plenty compact, has more firepower than you’ll probably ever need in a gunfight, and doesn’t require a tax stamp. 

The KSG is best suited for people who want as much firepower as possible in the smallest package possible, and who aren’t afraid to try something new. It’s also a good choice for left-handed shooters.

Summary: The Kel-Tec KSG is a pump-action, downward-ejecting, bullpup shotgun that can hold up to 14 shotgun shells, despite being only 26 inches long. 

Best AR-Style Shotgun: Genesis Gen-12 

One of the biggest problems with shotguns is that the controls and ergonomics are completely different than the AR-15, which is what most people are used to shooting. 

Specifically, the safety and charging handle are in different locations, reloads are entirely different (unless you have a VEPR-12), and the way you hold the gun when firing is typically different as well. 

This is one of the reasons many new cartridges are designed to work in AR-15s and AR-10s—these are the guns people are used to shooting. Plus, they’re extremely reliable, accurate, customizable, and affordable. 

All of this is why Genesis Arms created the Gen-12—a 12 gauge shotgun that you can attach to an AR-10 lower receiver. 

Here’s a video of Ivan Loomis putting it through its paces: 

This isn’t just an AR upper adapted to fire 12 gauge shells, though.

Instead of direct-impingement gas operation, where a small amount of gas from the barrel is used to operate the gun, the Gen-12 uses a recoil operated design. 

This is the same operating system used in the M2 Browning and just about all semiautomatic pistols, like Glocks.  

This is an extremely simple, reliable system. Although it hasn’t been used in this exact configuration before, recoil operated shotguns like the Browning Auto-5 have proven to be very reliable.

The Gen-12 also features a side charging handle, M-Lok attachment points and a full length picatinny rail for mounting accessories, and a threaded, free-floating barrel. 

There are two main drawbacks to the Gen-12, though: 

  1. It’s expensive, at $2,230 for the standard version.
  2. It’s usually out of stock. Hopefully this will change as the company grows, but these are remarkably hard to find for sale right now. 

You can choose between a few different versions of the Gen-12: 

  • The Gen-12 shotgun, which features an 18.25-inch barrel and adjustable Magpul stock ($2,230)
  • The 18.25-inch Gen-12 upper, which you can put on an AR-10 lower ($1,550).
  • The Gen-12 “Firearm,” which features a 14.5-inch barrel and a pistol brace, making this a non-NFA short-barreled shotgun (no price available).

Genesis is also coming out with 14.5-inch and 10.5-inch Gen-12 uppers in the near future, and you can buy a stripped lower if you want to build the gun with different parts.

Although this gun is expensive, one advantage this shotgun has over the VEPR-12 is the magazines are much more affordable. A 5-round Gen-12 magazine is $22.95, whereas a 5-round VEPR-12 magazine is $50 (though you can find knock-offs for less).

All in all, this is one of the most innovative and interesting shotguns I’ve seen made in a long time. While it’s still a new design, chances are good it will hold up well. 

Summary: The Genesis Gen-12 is an AR-style, 12 gauge, magazine-fed semiautomatic shotgun. Although it’s a new design, the principles behind it are well proven, and it’s a good choice if you want a reliable, unique, ergonomic home defense shotgun.

The Best Upgrades for Your Home Defense Shotgun

You don’t need any accessories for your shotgun aside from ammo.

That said, it pays to pick the right kind of ammo, and a few choice upgrades can make the shotgun much easier to use and more effective. 

Here are the first things you should buy after buying your shotgun, in order of most important to least important.

Home Defense Shotgun Ammo

best home defense shotgun ammo

When most people buy a new shotgun, they typically buy birdshot shells. 

Why? 

Because they’re cheap and don’t have much recoil. 

When it comes to home defense, though, it’s a terrible choice. 

Birdshot typically fires several hundred small pellets, each one smaller than a BB. 

These little pellets rarely penetrate more two to six inches of flesh, which means they often don’t reliably reach vital organs. They can kill people, but only if you’re lucky.

Birdshot pellets are also going to spread apart much faster than buckshot, increasing the likelihood of accidentally shooting something you don’t want to. 

 What should you use instead? 

Buckshot.

Typical 00 buckshot fires 8 to 9, 50 to 60 grain, .33 caliber pellets moving between 1,100 and 1,600 fps. That’s like nine lightweight 8 mm bullets. 

These pellets can penetrate 10 to 20 inches of flesh and create much larger wounds, which is what makes them so effective at killing people. They also keep a much tighter group as they fly through the air, which reduces the chances of errant pellets hitting something they shouldn’t. 

The “00” is pronounced “double aught,” and it refers to the size of the pellets. 

Here’s what buckshot (left) and birdshot (right) look like side-by-side: 

buckshot vs birdshot

So, make sure you get some high quality 00 buckshot for home defense. 

Personally, I like Hornady’s Critical Defense buckshot. It fires eight pellets at 1,600 fps. Assuming each pellet hit your target, that’s a combined total of 2,728 ft⋅lbs of energy—7.5 times more than a single 9 mm bullet.   

If regular buckshot has too much recoil for you, you can also get less powerful 00 buckshot like Fiocchi Law Enforcement Reduced Recoil shells.

You should only use reduced recoil shells like this if you have a pump action shotgun, though. Most semiautomatic shotguns won’t operate properly with this low powered ammo.

Now, you’ve probably heard of people using shotgun slugs for home defense, but I don’t recommend this. 

Slugs are exactly what they sound like—big blocks of lead. Here’s what they look like: 

best shotgun shell for home defense

Although slugs have a reputation for causing extreme damage, they’re actually inferior to buckshot when it comes to killing people.

The fastest way to kill a person or animal is to either hit them in the brain, the heart, or a major artery. While a slug will cause more damage than a single buckshot pellet, with buckshot, you have eight or nine projectiles that can potentially hit one of these lethal points. With slugs, you only have one chance to hit them. 

For example, let’s say that you shoot an attacker in the chest with a slug, and it passes through their right lung. It’ll hurt them, they’ll bleed a lot, and they might even fall down, but they probably won’t die quickly. They’ll likely have plenty of time to continue attacking you before they bleed to death. 

If you shoot someone in the chest with buckshot, though, there’s a very, very good chance that at least one pellet will severe a major artery or penetrate their heart, causing them to bleed out quickly and die. 

Slugs also produce a lot more recoil than buckshot, making it more difficult to fire multiple shots. 

This makes 00 buckshot the best all around choice for home defense shotgun ammo. 

Summary: After buying a home defense shotgun, your next purchase should be a few cases of 00 buckshot like Hornady Critical Defense.

Weapon Light

According to a Special Report conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, most burglaries occur between 6 AM and 6 PM (when people are at work). That said, 26% of burglaries occur during the night, and 61% of the time someone is at home when this occurs.

In other words, you’re a lot more likely to be at home when someone breaks in during the night than during the day, which is why you should have a weapon light on your home defense shotgun.

Now, a gun without a light is still better than no gun, but it’s worth spending a few extra bucks to be able to identify your targets before pulling the trigger. 

Not only does a weapon light help you identify an intruder, it also helps you ensure that you don’t accidentally shoot someone or something who isn’t a threat.

Moreover, if you think there’s an intruder in the house, it’s often better to leave the house lights off, and instead only illuminate your surroundings with your weapon light when you’re ready to fire.

You can mount a weapon light on most shotguns, but it’s easiest if your shotgun has a picatinny rail on it somewhere near the front (like the VEPR-12). 

In terms of specific weapon lights, I recommend the Surefire Scout M600DF or the Arisaka 600 Series weapon lights. These are durable, extremely high-powered, and are easily mounted to most shotguns. 

If your home defense shotgun has a picatinny rail on the top rear or doesn’t have one at all, you can buy mounts that will go on the front of your gun (like this one for the Benelli M4).

If you have a Mossberg 500 series shotgun or Remington 870, you can also buy a Surefire Forend Weapon Light: 

This is a foregrip that replaces the normal one on your shotgun, and includes an integrated weapon light that’s activated by two small switches on the sides.

Summary: Most home invasions occur at night, so it’s helpful to have a weapon light mounted on your home defense shotgun.

Iron Sights 

Many shotguns don’t have sights, but instead have a small metal nub on the end of the barrel that you use as a sight, like this: 

tactical shotgun sights

This works fine for blowing stuff up around the yard and blasting clay pigeons, but it’s not ideal for home defense.

When you’re using a gun defensively, you want every shot to hit where it’s supposed to, and sights or an optic make this easier.

That said, most home invasions involve very close ranges, so don’t get too worried about getting sights on your shotgun. They’re nice, but not essential. 

If you want something cheap and easy, get a tritium front sight that you can see at night, like this one from XS Sight Systems. This is a glow-in-the-dark front sight that goes over the nub on the end of your barrel. 

You can also buy front and rear ghost ring sights, which have an enclosed ring as the rear sight. While these are nice to have when shooting at longer range, they aren’t necessary or all that helpful when shooting at close ranges. 

If you don’t want to use iron sights or don’t have good vision, I highly recommend you mount a red dot sight on your shotgun. This allows you to see your target faster and see your sights more easily at night and during the day.

Summary: You don’t need to put sights on your shotgun, but they do make it easier to accurately hit targets, especially at longer range.

Red Dot or Holographic Sights

Red dot and holographic sights are glass sights that have an illuminated red dot that you impose over your target. Here’s what red dot sights look like: 

shotgun sights red dot

And here’s what holographic sights look like:

shotgun sights holographic

These sights make finding your target much faster, as you only need to put the dot on the target and fire. With iron sights, you have to line up the sights and then line them up with your target. 

Red dot and holographic sights are also much easier to see at night than even tritium iron sights. 

The downsides are they’re bulky, expensive, and rely on batteries (which can always run out). They also aren’t necessary at close ranges, but they’re nice to have. 

If you still want to go with a red dot sight, I recommend you get an Aimpoint Micro T-2

It’s nearly indestructible, has a battery life of 50,000 hours (five years), and only weighs 3 ounces. The downside is that it costs $846.

If you want a cheaper red dot that’s still quite good, but not as durable, go with a Holosun HE403B-GR Elite. It has most of the same features of the Aimpoint, but only costs $217.64.

Sling

As I mentioned earlier, a sling makes it easier to use your hands without putting down your shotgun, and it prevents someone from yanking away your gun in a fight. 

For example, if you need to call the police, you can let the shotgun dangle off your body using the sling while you make the call, and then quickly brace it against your shoulder should you need to shoot.

I recommend the Edgar Sherman Designs ESD sling or the Ferrow Concepts Slingster.

Side Saddle

A side saddle is a bracket that attached to the side of the receiver or the stock of a shotgun and holds spare shells. Here’s what it looks like on a Benelli M4: 

shotgun side saddle benelli m4

It’s unlikely you’ll ever run out of ammo in a home invasion situation, but it never hurts to have extra shells. 

Which side saddle you get depends on what model shotgun you choose, but they aren’t expensive. 

How to Use Your Home Defense Shotgun

If you buy a shotgun for home defense, then you need to learn how to use it.

Obviously the more you practice with and know about your shotgun, the more effective you’ll be at shooting it, but here are a few quick tips to get you started in the right direction.

Practice Regularly

Try to get to the range at least a couple of times a year, ideally once every month or two. 

Shooting is a perishable skill, even with something as easy to use as a shotgun.

Here are a few tips for improving your skill with a shotgun: 

  1. Practice controlling recoil
  2. Shoot at smaller targets
  3. Learn to reload quickly
  4. Practice with the ammo you’ll use in a fight
  5. Practice target acquisition 

Practice Controlling Recoil

One of the most unpleasant parts about shooting for most people is the recoil, or “kick,” and this is especially true of a 12 gauge shotgun. 

There are a few simple things you can do to make handling recoil much more enjoyable: 

  1. Place your feet about shoulder-width apart with your left foot slightly ahead of the other (if you shoot right handed, the opposite if you shoot left handed).
  2. Lean slightly forward and toward your target.
  3. Pull the gun into your shoulder and keep it locked there while firing. 

The first time you go to the range, fire 10 or 20 shells using different stances until you find one you’re comfortable with. If you make these changes and the recoil is still uncomfortable, you can also buy a hard plastic or neoprene pad on the stock of your gun to help absorb the recoil.

Shoot at Smaller Targets

One of the biggest mistakes people make when they go to the range is to put up a torso-size target at 5 yards, blast it apart, put up another target, and continue this until they run out of ammo.

This requires very little skill, and even beginners quickly outgrow this simple drill. 

Instead, take a few sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper, fold them in half, and use these as targets. When you can reliably hit these from 5 yards, move them out to 10 yards and then 15 yards. 

This forces you to become a better marksman at both close and long ranges.

Learn to Reload Quickly

You probably won’t run out of ammo during a home invasion, but if you do, you need to know how to reload quickly.

The exact method you use to reload will vary based on personal preference and what kind of shotgun you use. If you’re using a pump-action shotgun, here’s a good video demonstrating some of the different ways to reload: 

An old rule of thumb when using pump-action shotguns is to “fire two, reload two.” In other words, after firing two shells, you reload two shells, assuming the circumstances allow for it. This way your gun is loaded at all times during a fight. 

And if you use a magazine-fed shotgun, like the VEPR-12, then practice rapidly ejecting empty magazines and inserting new ones. 

Practice with the Ammo You’ll Use In a Fight

There are a wide variety of different shotgun shells, and home defense shells tend to be more powerful than most of the cheap ammo you’ll find in a gun store. 

Birdshot, which is what many people practice with, also produces less recoil than 00 buck. 

So, to learn what your shotgun will feel like when firing at an attacker, you need to practice with the ammo you intend to use in a fight. 

If all you’ve ever shot are low-powered birdshot shells, and when the chips are down you fire a high-powered buckshot shell, you’re going to be surprised.

To prevent this, make sure you train with that you’ll use in a life or death situation.

For example, if you plan on keeping your shotgun loaded with Hornady Critical Defense 00 buckshot, you should shoot some of these shells in your training, too. 

Notice that I said “some,” not all. 

Home defense and hunting ammo loads tend to be a lot more expensive than training ammo, so it’s fine to use lighter, cheaper loads for most of your training. 

Just make sure you fire off a magazine or two of your home defense shells every time you go shooting.

Practice Target Acquisition

During a home invasion, you probably won’t be sure where or who the intruder is, so it’s best to keep the shotgun resting against your shoulder but pointed at the ground until you’re ready to fire. 

Here’s what this looks like: 

IMAGE OF ME

You also need to be proficient at quickly leveling the shotgun and aiming at your target, so you should practice this at the range, too. 

An easy way to do this is to set up a target at 5 yards, and start with the shotgun in the low-ready position (as shown above). 

When you’re ready to fire, quickly bring the muzzle of the shotgun up, aim at the target, and fire, making sure to keep the stock locked into your shoulder the entire time. Practice this until you can reliably hit your target, then increase the distance to 7 yards, then 10, and so forth. 

The Bottom Line on the Best Shotguns for Home Defense

If you had to pick one gun for defending your home and family, it should be a shotgun.

For every pull of the trigger, a shotgun is going to deliver more killing power than any other gun you could buy. 

Generally, the best shotguns for home defense will . . . 

  • Be chambered in 12 or 20 gauge
  • Have a minimum capacity of 4 shells
  • Have a 12- to 20-inch barrel
  • Have a fixed, folding, or collapsable stock
  • Be pump-action or semiautomatic 
  • Have sling mounts

The most important distinguishing characteristic of a home defense shotgun, though, is reliability. 

No matter what other features your shotgun has, if it doesn’t shoot when it needs to, it’s not worth using for home defense.

The five shotguns that best meet these criteria are: 

  1. Best Overall: Molot VEPR-12
  2. Best Value: Mossberg 500, 590, and 590A1
  3. Best and Most Expensive:  Benelli M4
  4. Best Bullpup: Kel-Tec KSG
  5. Best AR-Style Shotgun: Genesis Gen-12

After buying a shotgun, your next purchase should be some good 00 buckshot ammo, like Hornady’s Critical Defense 00 buckshot.

You don’t need anything else at this point, but you can buy a few upgrades that will make your shotgun easier to use. Here are the most important accessories to get, in this order: 

  • Weapon light
  • Iron sights
  • Red dot or holographic sight
  • Sling
  • Side saddle

Finally, you need to practice somewhat regularly with your new shotgun if you plan on using it when your life is on the line. 

Here are the main things to focus on in your training: 

  • Practice controlling recoil
  • Shoot at smaller targets
  • Learn to reload quickly
  • Practice with the ammo you’ll use in a fight
  • Practice target acquisition 

That’s it! 

Buy a good home defense shotgun, buy some good ammo and whatever accessories you can afford, and practice, practice, practice. 

What’s your favorite home defense shotgun?

Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

Let me know in the comments below!

Oh, and if you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the best kinds of ammunition for defending yourself with rifles and pistols, you want to check out the American Arms Guide to Cartridge Ballistics. 

This is guide shows you the muzzle velocity and energy, bullet weight, and bullet drop for over 50 different cartridges, including various kinds of 9 mm, 5.56, .308, .300 Blackout, and more. Using this guide, you can choose exactly the right kind of ammunition for your shooting goals, whether they be hunting whitetails, defending your family from a home invader, stopping a criminal while on duty, or winning your next 3-gun competition.

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