On Shotguns

Like many (most? all?) people, I started out in the “shotgun for home defense” camp. For whatever reason, it’s the mantra firearm to utilize in that situation.

However, if you think beyond that towards the actual realm of application, plus if you do any actual work in that realm of application (e.g. a class like Defensive Long Gun), you start to see it’s not the best tool for the situation. For example, consider the longest shot you may have to take in a home defense situation. What if it’s something like 25 yards? Take a look at The Box O’ Truth #20 and notice the size of the spread at 20 yards: from 9″ to 17″. That’s a huge variance. Even at best, can you be sure to get all 8-9 pellets on target and not in an innocent person? Maybe, but maybe is of little comfort when the flag is flying. It’s due to that and many other factors that I’ve settled on an AR for home-defense. It’s the entirety of the platform that makes it a better fit for the context.

But for some reason I still had a desire for a shotgun.

Now, I still keep shotguns for home defense. Why? Easier manual of arms. It’s very simple for Wife or my kids to operate a shotgun, especially if something goes wrong (just keep pumping and shooting, and if all else fails it’s a club). Heck, it’s difficult for my young kids to operate that charging handle on an AR, but they can easily work the pump action on a youth 20 gauge shotgun. Some gun is better than no gun.

A few months ago it was maybe 10:00 PM. We heard a helicopter overhead, which isn’t usual because of medical helicopters. What became unusual was that the helicopter didn’t pass over but stayed in the area. We found a police scanner feed and listened in. Apparently the police were chasing someone and he hunkered down in a patch of woods close to my house. I went Code Orange. The reality was, he certainly could have run and wound up near or in my house. Slim chance? Yes. But better to be prepared and on guard.

What surprised me about my reaction to the situation? My gut response was to grab the 12 gauge, not my AR.

I’m not sure why.

On the one hand, I’ve been very handgun oriented lately and haven’t been practicing with my AR as much as I should. If I have been doing anything with a rifle, it’s been more along hunting or target shooting, not fighting. Monkey brain mode kicked in and brain reverted to “simple point and click interface” of the shotgun, not “OK, gotta figure out the holdover, blah blah”. While the logical part of my brain still buys into the AR for home defense, that night the shotgun just sung to me. In the end I didn’t have to pick anything up, eventually the police scanner provided no more information on the matter and the sounds of the helicopter faded. No idea what happened, doesn’t really matter.

Recently on the InSights Training Center mailing list, someone was asking about the SAIGA 12 for home defense. Now, these guys are big on the AR, but lead instructor Greg Hamilton gave the shotgun its due:

For general civil situations, the 7-8 shot, tube feed, pump shotgun is already more gun than is required to solve the situation. I’ve shot 1000s if not 10,000s of rounds though every type of shotgun over 25 years.  Just shoot pumps now. I have a nice 11-87 that I don’t use and I would like a saiga with a really short barrel but it would just be for fun, as I don’t know what else I would do with it.

The shotgun is still a great weapon especially if you are poor. For $250 you’ve got something that you can take on multiple opponents with, with confidence in the reliability of the gun and in the cartridge. A screw on rail to the forend, weaver ring, and $50 flashlight and your looking good. Throw some extra ammo on the gun someway cheap and for <$400 you are ready to rock. It won’t win any picture competitions on AR15.com but it will smoke a couple scumbags with extreme prejudice.

and that’s what it’s all about.

Granted, this doesn’t take away some inherent limitations of the platform (e.g. those 25 yard shots). But with a little investment of time, money, and ammo, you can do you best to figure it out. For instance, back in that BOT #20 you saw that different ammo provided different patterns. You must take the time to seek which ammo will work best in your gun. Furthermore, if your shotgun has different chokes, try them out and see what difference they make. I’ve tended to lean towards whatever gives you the tightest possible pattern, minimize spread. Furthermore, with some additional way to carry ammo on the shotgun (e.g. side-saddle), throw a few slugs in there.

And practice. Pick up some dummy rounds and practice loading, reloading, getting that one slug in there, and so on. Take classes if you can.

So on that front, I opted to run the Team Tactics course a couple of weeks ago with a shotgun. I just wanted to see.

On the one hand, it was just plain fun to do. 🙂  There’s something viscerally satisfying about BOOM rack BOOM rack BOOM. 🙂  Of course, reloads were slow, but you manage the best you can. Even with a shorter 18.5″ barrel, it’s still cumbersome to move and navigate with the shotgun: an AR with a 16″ barrel and collapsible stock is overall much shorter and easier to move around with. Shooting weak-side (e.g. around the left-side of a barrier) was difficult with the pump, but do-able… just a matter of training those motor skills.

In the end, I’ve softened my “anti-shotgun for defensive purposes” stance. In the end, it all comes down to you and your particular situation — there is no blanket answer. I do look forward to doing more work with the shotgun, classes if I can. Curious to study it more in this context.

8 thoughts on “On Shotguns

  1. Great post. I use a shotgun as my long arm of choice, for a couple of reasons. When I acquired the first gun, I was only working part time and didn’t have a lot of cash. I spend $200 on a Remington 870 with a 21″ barrel, and bought two cases of ammunition to go with it. I still feel confident with the gun in my hand and both the lady and I practice regularly with it. I’ve always felt it was a good choice for many and the versatility of a good shotgun is hard to beat, everyone needs at least one.

    A quick comment, part of the versatility of shotguns is slugs. For shots beyond about 20 yards, it’s best to move to that type of ammunition. It can be difficult to tell how far a target is and the distance you are engaging out. My idea is that if you have a doubt that you can hit him with buckshot, you need to go to a slug. Now, realizing that and doing it is a more difficult proposition. Ideally, it’s best done behind cover, but with practice you can do it while moving. This also requires the carrying of one or two slugs in your spare ammo carrier of choice. I do exactly that, two slugs and three spare rounds of buckshot, with the gun fully loaded on buckshot.

    -Rob

    • I do the same: side-saddle holds 6 rounds, 3 of which are buck and 3 are slugs.

      The main problem is the slow speed of manipulation. But again, it’s where practice and training comes in. Heck, I’ve seen that reload technique of Jessie Abbate:

      so one CAN get fast. But that’s a lot of dedication and practice to get there, something most folks aren’t willing to do. And no matter how good you are, you still won’t get them off as fast as you could 30 rounds out of an AR, and there you don’t need to change ammo based upon the distance you’re shooting.

      But bottom line for me, I want to do more work with the shotgun. If nothing else, it’s just fun. 🙂

  2. I will concede that you won’t get the rounds as fast and grant you that you won’t have to change ammo for up close vs. far away. I do have my own meditations on which I prefer up close vs. far away though. Over penetration being a valid concern at distances less than 25 yards with a high velocity rifle, I tend to give the edge to a quantity of buckshot at those shorter distances.

    -Rob

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