Home Defense Shotguns for Beginners

A shotgun is arguably one of the best self-defense firearms you can own. Handguns are more compact and easier to hide and carry, but a handgun doesn’t hold up to the blast of a 12 gauge. Rifles can hold much more ammunition and shoot faster, but most rifles will have the problem with over-penetration. At any close to moderate range, a 12-gauge shotgun has the most knock-down power while minimizing penetration concerns. But even with the enormous power generated from a 12-gauge shell, capacity, and the speed at which you can reload are still important factors for some.

It can be hard to pick the right weapon for home defense. A 12-gauge shotgun has a lot of knock-down power with a lower risk of over-penetration than many rifles would have.

Most tube-fed magazines hold 4-5 shells. That number can increase up to a total of 9 with tube extenders. Pump shotguns have been around since the late 1800s and shotguns that use box-fed magazines came shortly after. Semi-auto shotguns have also been around for a while, but their reliability has just recently been improving. The amount of recoil, the possibility of a jam, length of the gun, and weight can all be factors to consider when picking a gun for self-defense. So, what are you looking for in a home-defense shotgun?

Which one is more reliable?

When choosing a shotgun for home defense you want something reliable. There are some great options in pump and semi-autos, but one has the edge over the other, in my opinion. There are a lot more parts in a semi-auto shotgun, which leaves more room for error like a magazine not seated correctly or the gas system not being adjusted properly for the shells being fired. There are some good quality semi-auto shotguns out there but it’s not uncommon for a semi-auto to malfunction. I have rarely used a pump shotgun that malfunctioned. I’m not bashing semi-autos, just saying to be careful when buying a semi-auto shotgun. In this case, you will get what you pay for.

semi-auto home defense shotgun with saddle full of shells and magazine
There are some good quality semi-auto shotguns out there, but in general, I have found the pump, tube-fed shotgun to be the most reliable out of the box.

Pump shotguns on the other hand tend to be cheaper than semi-autos and are very reliable. Remington, Mossberg, Winchester, and others have all made some great pump shotguns. In general, a pump shotgun can run longer between cleanings than a semi-auto without malfunctions. That may not factor in for home defense, but it’s still a good thing to be aware of. While semi-autos have come a long way in the past decade, I would still put the pump shotgun above the semi-auto in terms of general reliability.

Does recoil matter?

A pump shotgun will have much more recoil than a semi-auto. This may not matter to some, but to others, it makes a huge difference. I have watched some people fire a 12-gauge pump so fast that I had trouble counting how many times they fired. But I have also watched an inexperienced shooter almost fall over from the blast of a single shot. The person’s size, age, and shooting experience can all factor into how they handle the recoil.

A semi-auto gives an advantage to someone who does not like recoil or cannot handle the recoil of a pump action shotgun. Of course, if there are issues with shooting anything that recoils significantly, there are other options besides a shotgun—but that is for another day. The speed at which you can shoot a semi-auto will be much faster, but you will also need to be more experienced with a shotgun to fire rapidly with a 12 gauge.

Long vs. Shorter Gun Design

Some do not mind the length of their full-size shotgun for home defense, but I prefer shorter guns when I know I will be indoors. A long-barrel shotgun will be harder to maneuver and could limit where you keep it on standby for that intruder. Thanks to all kinds of shotgun makers, the length will not make you choose between a pump or semi-auto.

Most states have regulations on barrel length, but with companies adopting the bull-pup style of shotgun, you can still find one shorter if you prefer. The Kel-Tec KSG is a great gun for the price and is very short compared to a traditional pump shotgun. Between the two tubes, the KSG can also hold 14 rounds. IWI, Smith & Wesson, Kel-Tec, Standard MFG, and others have made some great shotguns that are shorter (Bull-Pup style) and easier to maneuver inside a home.

Kel-Tec KSG
A lot of companies like this Kel-Tec KSG offer a compact size 12 gauge. The double tube magazines allow it to hold up to 14 shells. (Photo: www.clasicfirearms.com)

Tube-Fed vs Box Magazine Fed

Another thing to consider when selecting a firearm for home defense is your extra ammo. While box magazines can be faster to reload, you may not have extra mags on you at 3 a.m. It is true a vest carrier full of loaded mags and a good semi-auto shotgun can do some serious damage. But it’s not as likely you will have multiple mags ready to go when you hear an intruder in your home. The benefit of a tube-fed shotgun is the ability to attach a shell holder to the side of it. If extra ammo is needed, it will be with the gun, and you can re-load on the go.

shotgun shell holder on Mossberg 500 home defense
A shell holder is a great way to keep extra ammo on that traditional pump-action shotgun for home defense.

While 5, 10, 20 round magazines or even drums can be used with semi-auto and tube-fed shotguns, those magazines can become very long and bulky. For me, the choice comes down to what setting you will be using the shotgun in. Mag-fed shotguns can also have more of a tendency to jam than tube-fed shotguns. Because of this, I tend to lean more toward tube-fed shotguns for home defense. This of course is personal preference and I know plenty of people who like mag-fed shotguns for home defense.

It comes down to this:

  1. Pump or semi-auto?
  2. Box-fed magazine or tube-fed magazine.
  3. Traditional (rifle length) or compact.

You can scan the web all day and you will find articles leaning any way you want them to. This is because there is no right or wrong answer. In the gun world, what someone chooses to use for CCW, home/self-defense, hunting, or sporting depends on training, knowledge, and personal preference. The good thing is there are endless guns and calibers to pick from. If you choose the 12 gauge, you have lots of options when it comes to ammunition. 00 buck, slugs, and some of the new self-defense rounds work great for home defense.

To sum it up, my personal preference is a pump action, tube-fed, compact shotgun. I like the Kel-Tec KSG, Smith & Wesson M&P 12, Standard Manufacturing DP12, and others that offer pump action with high capacity. If you are not sure what type of shotgun you are looking for, go to some gun stores or gun shows and check them out. Ask your buddy to shoot his and have some fun during the search for that perfect home defense weapon.

Sheriff Jason Mosher is a law enforcement generalist instructor as well as a firearms and tactical weapons trainer. Jason graduated from the FBI-LEEDA (Law Enforcement Executive Development Association) and serves as a Sheriff for his day job. When he’s not working, he’s on the range, eating steak, or watching Yellowstone.

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