Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The practical home-defense shotgun

Shotguns. For defense of hearth and home, there's not much that's better. A good shotgun is easy to use, relatively child-proof compared to that pistol on the nightstand, and can deliver awesome knock-down power without the over-penetration problems that may come with rifles and many pistols. And they're also affordable, with a good used shotgun selling for about half of what you'd pay for a decent handgun. And used is fine, so long as it's been taken care of.

My personal home-defense shotgun is a Remington 870 with just a few modifications intended to increase it's utility as a fighting tool. If you're serious about defending yourself and your loved ones, I would recommend some or all of these modifications to your shotgun, but the weapon still works just fine without any of them.

I started out with a basic used Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun with an 18" barrel that looked a lot like this one and cost well under $200.
This gun, as it sits, is perfectly adequate as a defensive tool. In fact, it's last owner was a police department and they never saw fit to modify it before issuing it to their knights in blue.

Now the biggest complaint that can fairly be levied against a shotgun is that it doesn't hold a lot of shells. Well that's true, to a point. The shotgun above holds four shells in it's magazine tube, and if you like, you can keep a 5th shell in the chamber. While it's a fact that most defensive uses of a firearm involve either a display only (you show the gun and the bad guy runs away) or the discharge of relatively few rounds fired, there are always those exceptions. And I'm one of those who plans for the exceptions.

I chose to increase the magazine tube capacity from 4 rounds to six with the addition of the Choate Machine & Tool extended magazine.

I further increased my access to ready ammunition by adding a sidesaddle shell holder to the left side of the shotgun. It installs in a couple of minutes and it puts six more shells at my fingertips. This also increases the gun's versatility, because now I can carry buckshot in the magazine and slugs on the sidesaddle (or vice-versa) and it only takes a second to pop one round out of the chamber and toss another one in from the sidesaddle, thus allowing you to transition from one ammo type to the other should your shooting situation change. So now I've got 12 rounds--6 in the gun and six on the gun, and a shotgun's magazine can be "topped off" during any lull in the firing just by grabbing a shell and stuffing it into the mag tube opening. People trained to run a shotgun generally do this automatically.

Going further, I replaced the wood stock on my gun with a Speedfeed 1 synthetic stock that also has two short magazine tubes--one on each side--that each hold two more shells. Now I have 16 rounds available the moment my hand touches the gun and even more choices as to what kind of shells to carry and where to store them. I don't have to fumble around in the dark looking for extra boxes of shells or silly elastic bandoliers that never seem to work right. I'm good to go right from jump street with enough ammo to ensure that I'm not going to run out any time soon.

Now this brings me to what I consider to be a very important upgrade--a tactical light. Since it's dark approximately half of any given day, I prefer to put a quality light on my gun to ensure that I can identify my target before making that final decision to fire. Since I like quality, I use Surefire weaponlights almost exclusively because they make good stuff and stand behind it with excellent customer service.

When all is done, my gun looks a little different that it did before, but it's a lot handier and still cost me about what I would have spent on a quality handgun. Now it looks like this:And that's really it. No silly-assed heat shields on the barrel, no clumsy folding stocks or bayonet lugs...none of that extra goofy crap that tells a savvy bad guy that you haven't a clue about what you're trying to do. Simple works, and simple is best, because when the glass breaks at 3AM, you need something that's simple, reliable and intuitive to operate, and all of that extra mall ninja/rambo crap is just going to slow you down and fuddle you up.

Frankly, if you're serious about defending yourself or your loved ones, you'd be hard-pressed to beat the venerable 12 gauge shotgun in most home environments. If you already have one, good for you. If you don't...well what are you waiting for?


  1. What do you mean by the other 'extra' stuff that some people might get that's of no value? Just curious. Like the 870 all right, I bought 2 used ones, one a police model exactly like the "before" picture you posted, the other with a Choate (sp?) stock and +2 mag extension.

    Fwiw 20 years ago when I was on a submarine, Remington 870s exactly like that police model were the mainstay of our small arms locker, along with some 1911s and a few M14s. The rifles almost never came out, so it was always the handguns and the shotguns for the topside watches.

  2. Other stuff...

    Well the current rage among mall ninjas is to put "breacher" muzzles on their shotguns. While these may be handy for SWAT officers or military entry teams, they serve no real purpose on a home-defense gun. What are you going to breach? Your own bathroom door? The heat shields on the barrel are another one. I've never managed to get a shotgun so hot that the barrel would burn me and I've shot some serious rapid-fire shotgun courses. And then there are the folding stocks, many of which aren't very stable or don't securely lock. (Buy cheap, get cheap.) But my favorite useless modification is the pistol grip put on in place of a buttstock. Now there's no way to aim the gun or absorb the recoil other than accepting it all into your hand. But people do it because it looks "badass" least to them.

    By all means, modify a gun if you think it'll make it more effective. But if you just drape stuff on it because some guy in a catalog is holding it looking all cool, or because some guy on a website who is probably 14 years old in real life says that it's a good idea, you might want to re-think it. If it's not helpful, it's probably just in the way.

    Sub service? Way cool. Thanks for your service.

  3. Never mind, just re-read the post again. Bayo lugs and heat shields, check. Don't have those, do have the other stuff though except for the speedfeed stock.

  4. My home defense shotgun has Centurion Buck & Ball (6 buckshot and a .65 cal round ball - kind of like an all-in-one LeMat revolver) in an elastic carrier on the buttstock.

    But, in case of zombie attack, I might get a Kel-Tec KSG...

  5. Concur, looks just like mine, except mine's a Mossy...