The Misrepresentation Of Defensive Shotguns: Debunking The Scattergun

I’m psyched that shotguns are making a comeback. To be fair, they never really disappeared, but good lord, that phase where they were considered uncool has come to an end. I think the attitude came from the GWOT era. The shotgun wasn’t largely issued or used, and the rise of the AR coincided perfectly with a ton of guys getting out of the military and entering the world of instructors. Lots of these guys know their stuff, but they don’t know shotguns. This led to this odd gap where shotguns were left out of the conversation.

The gap left by a lack of attention to shotgun instruction resulted in an internet’s worth of bad information, myths, and faulty old legends about shotguns. Today, we are going to break down the more common shotgun myths that filled this space. These myths often come from fairly experienced shooters who just lack a degree in shotguns. Most of these know the old ‘just rack it, and they’ll run’ myth and not to use birdshot for home defense, but will still propagate myths of their own.

The Misrepresentation of Shotguns

These misrepresentations can often appear to be true at the outset. It’s only when you dive a bit deeper into the world of shotguns that you realize they aren’t exactly accurate or true. The misrepresentation of shotguns often leads people to not consider them or explore them to learn the insides of how they operate and their benefits. Let’s dissect these myths and misrepresentations of the shotgun.

variety of shotguns
Shotguns and lever guns are famous for tubular magazines. Here is a Marlin lever action .30-30, a Remington 870, and a Mossberg Shockwave, all sporting tubular magazines under their barrel. Photo: Jim Davis.

Shotguns Have Low Capacity

Suppose you were to pull up the specs sheet for a Daniel Defense M4A1 and a Beretta 1301 Tactical and cruise to the capacity section. You’ll see the DD M4A1 has a capacity of 30 rounds, or well, 32 rounders, cause Daniel Defense is special. The Beretta 1301 has a capacity of 7+1 shells. The difference is immediate and clear, and it appears that the Beretta has a lower capacity. When you start looking at other shotguns from Benelli, Mossberg, Remington, and more, you’ll notice the same trend over and over.

ammo and shotgun
A little buckshot and a shotgun are always a good time.

This leads to the assumption that shotguns are low-capacity weapons. You certainly have more opportunities to pull the trigger with the M4A1, but that doesn’t mean the shotgun is a low-capacity weapon. My chosen shotgun round fires eight pellets per trigger pull. Since it holds seven rounds in the tube and one ghost loaded, it’s holding 64 projectiles per tube.

Shotguns can do more with less. A home defense scenario where a reload is needed with any weapon is an extreme one. A single press of the shotgun trigger fires a quarter of the ammo contained in the magazine of a DD-32. It’s quite rare for someone to soak up a load of buckshot and keep fighting. A miss with a shotgun hurts a lot more than a miss with a rifle. It’s a bit like a battle axe; if you miss, you pay for it.

Shotguns Have Brutal Recoil

Another misrepresentation that is rooted in a somewhat factual nature is shotgun recoil. When it comes to defensive shotguns, the recoil isn’t that big of an issue. It’s more than your 5.56 caliber semi-auto rifle, but a defensive shotgun with the proper setup isn’t too tough to handle. The rumors of 12 gauge shotguns dislocating shoulders are not accurate, and the fear of this recoil tends to steer shooters away from shotguns.

mossberg 590 reloading
The Shotgun can be easy to handle if you’re trained.

While it’s true a 3.5-inch waterfowl load in a pump-action shotgun isn’t necessarily pleasant, that’s not a realistic depiction of a defensive shotgun. A shotgun loaded with reduced recoil tactical load buckshot or even tactical slugs isn’t going to kick your butt. If you pair that load with a semi-auto shotgun, then you’ll have even less recoil to contend with.

mossberg 20 gauge and 410
The Mini 590s offer another low-recoil alternative.

Pair a tactical load with a semi-auto shotgun and the push-pull technique invented by Rob Haught of SymTac Consulting, and you can have a kitten. You can make it even better by having a properly adjusted length of pull. With my Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical, I can fire two shots of Federal Flitecontrol, and the red dot won’t even move out of the A-Zone at 10 yards.

Red Dots Are Dumb On Shotguns

If red dots are effective and efficient on handguns, then they are effective and efficient on red dots. Shotguns work well within handgun ranges, and those ranges are typically dominated by speed. Red dots dominate the speed market. Most people who say red dots are useless on shotguns think a bead is enough. It can be enough, but it’s the lowest form of acceptable sight.

Man shooting shotgun
A red dot really helps you shoot faster.

A red dot works in all lighting conditions. It acts as both a front and rear sight, which gives you a higher degree of precision. It’s faster and easier to see than a bead. It’s also adjustable, so you can adjust it to your pattern. I use Flitecontrol, so, at home defense distances, the shot has spread to about the size of a golf ball. That’s pretty accurate, but I still need to aim.

This misrepresentation dates back to the idea that you don’t have to aim a shotgun. Most people don’t think that, but they seem to think you don’t have to aim a shotgun much. The beauty of a red dot is the ability to focus on the target while still being able to hit that target accurately. For home defense, it’s really self-explanatory.

Semi Auto Shotguns Are Unreliable

Most of these misrepresentations are rooted in a little bit of truth. There was a time when semi-auto shotguns were regulated to bird guns, and for good reason: they were notoriously finicky. Shotgun ammo types vary greatly, and that has long caused issues with semi-auto shotguns. Some guns were designed to run only with a certain load and would fail outside of that load.

Benlli m4 cover
The Benelli M4 could clear the trenches of war for the next decade, should trenches come back.

That was the good old days. After Benelli hit the scene, the shotgun market began changing. It changed slowly, but by now, the semi-auto shotgun is quickly taking the place of the old pump for defensive use. Self-regulating gas systems have been extremely helpful in ensuring the same gun that reliably runs slugs at 1,600 feet per second can also reliably run reduced recoil buckshot.

While there are still loads that won’t cycle, like specialty trap/skeet loads, mini shells, and other oddballs, those aren’t a concern for self-defense. Modern semi-auto shotguns from Beretta, Benelli, Mossberg, and even Stoeger cycle a wide variety of ammunition with absolute ease.

Shotguns Suck For Home Defense

There is no perfect weapon for self-defense or home defense; everyone’s situation is different. However, shotguns most certainly don’t suck for home defense. They are very effective at stopping threats. Like any other weapon platform, they have their faults.

m&P 12 gauge
Shotgun go BOOM!

However, the power they offer cannot be understated. They are decisive close-range weapons. The repeating Claymore works very well at stopping targets. Like any home defense weapon, the user should be well versed in their weapon and well trained in its capabilities, and it should make sense for their situation.

The Truth About Shotguns

Shotguns are very capable weapons that have gotten a bad rap as of late. They do have their weaknesses, but they are still very effective firearms for defensive applications. Don’t let the internet myths and misrepresentations keep you away from the shotgun. It’s a weapon that earned the name “repeating Claymore” for a reason.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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