Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Insight into the Myths About the Shotgun

The Fighting Shotgun is one of the most common yet most misunderstood weapons available to the public. I asked J.D. McGuire, who makes his living building fighting shotguns for folks, to share with us some of the things he has found over the years.

The Tactical Shotgun for Home Defense
“Keep it Basic”

By J.D. McGuire, Owner of AI&P Tactical
Web site:
This short write up is going to be very basic and many of the knowledgeable gun guys and gals are going to be bored to death reading this, however, there is a current trend in the gun world of people wanting a Tactical Type shotgun for home defense use. This is for them as many are also new to firearms.

You may have seen the term “HD” when reading about shotguns. That simply stands for “Home Defense” and any firearm can be used for this. However, there is one that is best for most people and that is the shotgun. These are also referred to as “Tactical Shotguns”

The Tactical shotgun is nothing more then a shotgun with some features that makes it easier to use in certain situations. These weapons are very much like the shotguns that have been used for sports shooting for many years, but with a few design differences. They are what many of you would know as Police or Riot Type shotguns. They have shorter barrels, a larger round capacity then a sporting weapon and other features not common on the type of shotgun you would hunt with or use on the skeet range. They are called Tactical Shotguns simply because they are designed to be used in a Tactical type scenario by Police, Military or Security Officers. In a worse case scenario, they are designed to be used by you or me to defend our loved ones or ourselves.

Design of the Tactical shotgun should start with the action of the weapon. Most common and reliable is the Pump action. With this weapon, you manually pull the forend of the weapon to the rear after each shot and the action ejects the spent shell and loads another shell into the chamber so you can fire again. The semi-auto loading shotguns perform this action for you each time you pull the trigger. The weapon operates by using gases from the shell being fired to force a piston to the rear initiating the same action that you performed manually on the pump action and an action spring forces the bolt back forward loading a new round into the chamber so you can fire again. Some models of semi-auto shotguns operate with other actions by using the force of the fired shell to initiate the action instead of using gases.

With that out of the way, remember this. I do not recommend any semi-auto shotgun for Home Defense, Duty or in any situation where your life is on the line. These weapons are not reliable enough for me to trust. There are too many issues that can cause a semi-auto to miss feed, jam or to malfunction in other ways. They are fun to shot, great to hunt with but a pump shotgun should be your choice for Home Defense. It comes down to the operational design of the weapon and I will not get into all that, however, if you are reading this and trusting what I am saying then trust this part most of all.

The most common pump shotguns used for home defense are 12ga shotguns. I believe the smaller 20ga to be a more affective HD shotgun but the buying public does share this opinion so there are more 12 ga shotguns on the market in the tactical design. If this is a weapon for a senior, a person small in stature or a person very new to firearms then I recommend you look that the 20 ga Tactical Models. A great example of this weapon is on my web site . Put your cursor on the links for the 20ga Tactical. The weapon that you are seeing there is a Remington 870 20 ga. Tactical with the SpecOps recoil reducing stock a synthetic stock that is shorter then a standard stock. It cost about the same as the 12 ga models. You do not need the exact one on my web site as that weapon has custom upgrades up with Police parts and is parkerized. If you have the budget for it then fine but the same stock model from Remington will fit your need.

The most common barrel length on a Tactical Shotgun is 18” or in the case of the Remington models, an 18.5” barrel. Barrel length is important as you will be moving through your home with this weapon and the short barrels are more “Doorway” and “Hallway” friendly. They are also faster to swing to a target close to you. The legal length for any shotgun barrel is 18”. Shorter then that requires a special stamp from the BTAF, a $200 Federal license fee and a lot of paper work.

Choke is the restriction at the end of a shotgun barrel that tightens the shot just prior to it leaving the barrel. This is done to give you tighter patterns of shot at longer ranges. The most common choke on these weapons is called Cylinder Bore or Cly Bore for short. This is pretty much no choke. Next is Improved Cylinder Bore or I/C and is a little more restriction. Next is Modified or Mod. Which is a little more restriction then I/C. I recommend the Cyl Bore or I/C choke for most HD weapons. Choke really does not matter at the close distances you are going to using this weapon in an emergency. If you have out buildings or property around your home and may to go outside, the I/C gives you a few more feet of assurance that your pattern will be affective on a threat. I have the modified barrel on both my HD’s since I have out building on my property but I/C would serve as well.

Sights. Here is where may people go wrong when selecting an HD shotgun. The best sight for you HD shotgun is a simple bead sight. It is the fastest sight to use and the most effective at close ranges. There are high visibility and tritium bead sights that enhance the effectiveness of this type of sight and these are fine with me. The trend is to go for “Tacti-cool” or as I call it “Tacti-fool” sights like Ghost ring sights or Optical sights. These sights can get you killed in a close quarters fight. Do not even think about them on a dedicated HD shotgun. In the type of situation you are going to use this weapon there is no time to find a threat in a small peep sight like the rear ghost ring sight. Optics are also a problem as they have to be turned on, they have batteries that can go dead and there is simply no need for them on a close quarters weapon.

The type of stock you decide on is very important. Length of pull ( LOP) of the stock is the distance from the trigger to the end of the stock recoil pad that is up against your shoulder. Standard LOP is 14” and works well for people over 5”10” tall. However, here again, shorter is better so I recommend the reduced LOP stock which is 13” LOP. If you are short I even recommend what is called the “Youth Stock” which has a LOP of 12”.

There are also adjustable stocks that adjust with a quick pull of a lever and look like the stocks you see on many AR type rifles. These are a good choice for the home where different people of different heights may be required to learn to use the weapon.

There are two very effective tactical stocks on the market that not only adjust, but they reduce the recoil of the shotgun. The Knoxx SpecOps stock uses a cam spring in the pistol grip and a spring in the stock tube to take up to 80% of the felt recoil. It is very effective and allows anyone to be able to handle the 12ga shotgun. The other is the Mesa Tactical stock. It also adjust but it uses an Endine buffer in the stock tube to take up to 70% of the felt recoil. The buffer works like a shock absorber on your car. The SpecOps sell for around $120-$140 and the Mesa stocks start at $315 so your wallet can often decide the type you decide on. Another recoil reducing option, and less expensive is to upgrade the recoil pad to one that helps reduce felt recoil. The best I know of is the Remington R3 pad made by Limbsaver or any of the Limbsaver pads. There are other great recoil pads on the market also. Upgrading the recoil pad on your shotgun is the best upgrade and shooter can do and your shoulder will thank you.

The capacity of the HD shotgun should be 6+1. This means six rounds in the magazine tube and one in chamber. I recommend this simply because most HD shotguns come with this capacity when they have the 18 or 18.5” barrel. If they have a 20” barrel they will have a three shot extension on them and can hold 7+1. I also recommend that if the weapon is going to be stored loaded that you do not have a round in the chamber. Keep only four to five rounds in the magazine tube so you do not compact the magazine spring over time.

Most of these weapon will come with sling attachments and you may want a sling should you take a shotgun training course. Most of these courses require one, however, take that sling off when you get home. An HD shotgun does not need a sling and that thing can get you killed. It can hang up on other guns in your gun safe or hang up on something in the closet. It will hang up on door knobs, furniture and things that I have not even thought of yet. NO SLING on an HD…..

Weapon lights. This is one accessory that I recommend. You need to see what you are dealing with in these situations and a quality weapons light can save your life and it can stop you from making a mistake and using that weapon on an innocent person. The best on the market is the Surefire dedicated forend lights. These lights are built into a forend that will replace the forend on your shotgun. Surefire is one the best companies in this industry and they warranty these light for a life time. They have the best customer service of all the vendors I deal with.

Other options are to use light brackets and a small weapons light or even some of the LED flashlights. You can see some quality brackets at www.cdmgear and these will hold lights like the Surefire G2L or G3L, other Surefire models or many of the other brands on the market. The Stream Light Poly-Tech is another quality light that will not brake the bank.

A shell holder is not needed on a basic HD but it is a plus if you have property or out-buildings to check. This accessory allows you to have additional shells on the side of the weapon. I have several different type of ammo in my shell holder as I have out-buildings and have to leave to house to check them if I think something is going on. One of the buildings is my custom gun shop and with a 20 minute responce time being average by the police where I live I may have to deal with something in or around that shop. Everyone's situation is different and it is better to have the extra ammo and not need it than to need it and not have it. If you live in a residential area, condo or you are certain this weapon would only be needed indoors, pass on the shell holder as it is very unlikely you are going to have a situation inside your home that requires more rounds then you have in the weapon.

This is very important. Take a shotgun training course from a reputable trainer. No some EX Delta Ninja Special Ops Commando trying to turn students into some kind of Special Operators, but a reputable trainer at a reputable training facility. You will not only learn to use the shotgun but will learn about the laws of you state pertaining to using deadly force in self defense. After the training course get out and shoot your weapon as often as you can. Learning the weapon and becoming proficient with it is what is going to save your life.

It is important that you avoid the Tacti-fool mess that so many people put on these weapons. Keep it basic and there is less to go wrong with it when the time comes to protect your life and the life of you family. My contact information is on the top of each page of my web site, and you can call with any questions any time. I always have time to talk shotguns.

Also, be warned. If you call and are asking for a HD shotgun and then inquire about something like my “Police Elite” model, well, we are going to have a serious debate about what you need and what you want. If you have that kind of money, and want one then fine. Just so you understand the difference. There is a big difference in what you want and what you need. I recommend on my web site that someone on a budget go buy the basic Remington HD Shotgun model 25077. That weapon will serve you well and would fit the needs of 90% of the people that call me and can be found anywhere for around $330. Some one asked me why I would send my customers away like that and I replied “because it is the truth.”

If you get little else from this write up, please get this. Anyone trying to sell you Ghost Ring sights, Optic sights, pictinney rail forends, laser or strobe sights, heat shields or bayonet lugs on an HD shotgun or to put on your HD shotgun is just trying to get as much money from you as they can. On my web site on the "build your weapon" page is a link to a video of a man named “Clint Smith” the founder of Thunder Ranch. In this video he talks about the shotgun for home and self defense use and this man knows what he is talking about. He also tells you to keep it basic. If you will not believe me then please believe him.

So let us review.

1. The HD shotgun should be a pump action shotgun
2. The HD shotgun should be kept basic, no frills and tacti-fool mess.
3. Barrel length should be 18 to 18.5 inches with a bead sight
4. Stock length should fit the shooter but short is better
5 Weapon capacity should be 6+1 or 7+1
6. Weapons lights are optional
7. A shell holder is optional
8. No sling on a an HD shotgun
9 No tacti-fool mess on this weapon
10. You don’t need a high dollar shotgun as long as it is well built from any of the leading manufacturers.
11. Take a shotgun training course from a reputable trainer.

So there is the basic HD shotgun. It is that simple and understanding that gives you the right starting point.


  1. I have had considerable experience in what the Army used to call, “fighting in a built up area”, i.e. in a house and I agree with almost everything this writer says. The only exceptions are, if you only carry three of four rounds in the magazine, which you should, then you should carry four or five more rounds on the stock. There are few things worse than shooting at someone and running out of ammunition before they run out of fight. I also like the idea of a laser sight, particularly for a person that does not shoot regularly. One of the rounds on the stock should be solid and all the rest would be #2 shot because I don't want to put a round through a wall by accident. At the range inside a house #2 shot will do more than enough damage to a bad guy, and the risk of killing someone you love by accident is reduced. Since there are few things more intimidating to a bad guy, or anyone else, than the sound of a round being jacked into the chamber of a twelve gauge the chamber should be empty.

  2. Thanks for your input, John. It's important for folks to remember, as you bring out, that "fighting in a buiilt up area" for the military is quite a bit different than "defending your home from bad guys" that most of us need to be concerned about. We all need to remember that sometimes what we need for our tactics as well as out equipment can change based on our goal.

  3. I think "proven" is a bit excessive, since if one can provide a single example it destroys the proof issue, and there are plenty of examples of #2 shot (and smaller) penetrating sufficiently, depending on things like what the person is wearing, distance, and so on. I personally use and suggest buckshot or slugs exclusively for fighting with the shotgun, but I think using smaller is OK as long as the person realizes that they are dealing with different dynamics than are usually considered with the shotgun.

    As for pump versus auto, keep in mind the premise of the article. What one of the top shogun shooters in the world can do, or what is best for active competitors, does not necessarily translate into what is best for a beginner. I think it is much like the revolver versus auto handgun argument. Certainly in the hands of a trained individual the auto has some distinct advantages. But for someone with little or no training the simplicity of the revolver may be a better choice.

    Thanks for your comments. Maybe we can get a post up on the autoloading shotgun soon!

  4. Should one have to shoot using only one hand then the auto would be simpler to handle than a pump. In that case a gas action seems better than an inertial action i.e. no 'limp wrist' jamming.

  5. True, and the gas action would shoot a bit softer than the pump or the inertial action. Shooting the pump one-handed isn't a difficult skill to learn, but it is an action that does take a bit of time to perform.

  6. My house mates and and I live in Portland Oregon (a liberal city) with neighbor houses (and people) very close by. Our house was built in 1914 and double-00 will easily go through the walls. I seldom get out to a range to practice.

    Based on my situation, I've chosen to go with the Stoeger SxS 12 gauge Coach Gun as my initial greeter gun. My backup is a Ruger Sp101 357/38 revolver. Ammo is personal defense rounds that do not over-penetrate.

  7. As long as "do not over-penetrate" does not also become "does not penetrate enough" it sounds like a good setup. For home defense a good side by side shotgun has a lot going for it, and the SP101 is about as solid and reliable a small revolver as one will find anywhere.

  8. Thank you David. I need/want to keep it as simple as possible. If something goes BUMP in the middle of the night between being half-asleep and the stress of an intruder breaking in, I want guns that a monkey can operate.

    BTW, I've read about some Stoeger owners having problems with the SxS model that uses a single trigger. That model sometimes fails to fire the second shell. The model I own is the popular cowboy action shooting SxS with double-triggers.

    Anon in Portland

  9. Ghost ring sights are not needed for home defense, since they are a more effective sight for longer range shooting with slugs. However, if you focus on the front rifle sight rather than the rear ghost ring sight you can fire more quickly. At closer ranges you can point shoot the shotgun using the front rifle sight only.Pistols and revolvers use the same principle at close range. Though the beaded sight is easier for home defense, the ghost ring has greater versatility allowing loner range accuracy if needed.

  10. I teach basic students home defense with a shotgun,
    for the less experienced I suggest a single shot hinge action , short and 12 gauge.
    Past that, Ruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun.

  11. There is a lot to be said for the ease of use, simplicity and reliability of the single shot shotgun. Lots of problems have been solved with them. There are fancier things out there but as I always say, it is hard to argue with a history of success.

  12. I think shotguns are the most helpful Gun used for the basic training of shooting.

  13. They have a lot going for them. Unfortunately the recoil creates problems for many.

  14. The opinions of this author are very sound. I also feel he should be commended for his ethics is providing people what they need vs. merely enriching himself. But I do take strong issue with the typographic and spelling errors in this commentary. The term 'brake' was used when he meant 'break' as one example. Sir, your wisdom is undeniable and your heart is in the right place but you need a proof reader.

  15. Thanks, L.A. It would be nice if everything on the net (including myself!) had the benefit of a proofreader, but that is not to be. Sometimes the vagaries of spellcheck create problems instead of fixing them!

  16. Those of lesser experience should listen to those who have more. Follow Mr. McGuire's suggestions - they will keep you alive.

  17. Thank you,author for sharing your wisdom

  18. My husband wants to get me one for when he is out of town. He says it's the best choice for me, because you don't have to be a good aim. Plus, just the sound of it will scare most intruders.

    Alena |

  19. I do think the shotgun is the best choice for many when it comes to home defense, but don't be fooled by some of the stories out there. The shotgun still needs to be aimed accurately within the limits of most homes. You might not need to be as good an aim as with other guns but you still need to control where the shot is going. And yes, while the sound of the racking of the shotgun has been known to send folks in another direction certainly don't plan on it working, always be ready to use the gun and not just threaten with it.

  20. Hello David, I've read your article and am looking at a shotgun for home defense. Having read it, I can see my initial idea to get ghost ring sights may have been... well, completely wrong. So thanks for that. I'm looking at the Benelli Supernova at the moment. Would you recommend the normal stock (comfortech), or the stock plus a pistol grip? The gun is going to be used primarily for home defense, but it will also be "my first/only shotgun", so I may go skeeting with it just for fun. (Just with friends for fun, nothing at a big proper skeet range.) Which do you recommend? Is the gun I've chosen a good one?

  21. Sights are sort of personal and depend on what you want the gun for. Since you say you may want to go skeet shooting and this is going to be your only shotgun I’d stay away from the ghost rings myself unless you could get one that allows the rear ring to fold out of the way or such. The ghost rings are great for shooting slugs and precision work, but that really isn’t the forte of the shotgun. To pistolgrip or not? Again, what are you using the gun for and what is comfortable to you determines that in large part. I don’t use pistol grip stocks on my shotguns but they do have some advantages is certain situations. Personally for a good general-use shotgun I’d still go with the standard stock. The gun itself is a good one and should provide plenty of service for you. Good luck!

  22. My HD/go-everywhere firearm is a Mossberg 500, 18.5" barrel, 5+1 shell capacity, pistol grip and adjustable stock. Admittedly, I did spring for the rail-equipped forend, though I'm happy with it. I'm still in the market for light mount that I like, but that's not really the point.

    I agree with pretty much all of the points you've made, though I'm curious to know where you stand on foregrips.

    I have a Magpul stub grip mounted far back on my forend's bottom rail. While in the Army and when shooting in the civilian world I feel that I have better control of my firearm in close quarters if I have some kind of grip. For my M4 I was perfectly comfortable using the magazine well, but there is no such option with my Mossberg.

  23. I don't particularly like foregrips on any of my shoulder-mounted guns, but that probably comes as much from decades of learning without them than anything else, as many of my friends swear by them for their ARs. But I'll pass your request on to J.D. at AI&P Tactical for him to address.

  24. J.D.'s Response:
    Vertical grips on pump shotguns can damage your weapon. In a perfect world the forend of a pump shotgun is racked perfectly back, however we all tend to torque the forend some when we rack a pump back. Some more then others. I can get a gun in and tell to which side a guy torques his forend simply by looking at which side of the magazine tube has the most wear. I can also tell simply by racking the weapon if a vertical forend was ever used on it. How? Here is how:

    The vertical forend or a vertical grip attached to the forend acts as a lever and the shooter will serious over torque the forend tube assembly. Some shoottorquegue so much the twist and bend the action bars over time with the original forend. Add a lever to that which multiplies ttorquegue and you magnify the damage. I can tell if one has ever been on that weapon and used for any length of time because weapon will not rack smoothly. When you take the forend tube assembly off and hold it with the action bars pointing at you the damage is obvious. One action bar is twisted in and pointing up and the other is twist out and pointing down or reverse that if he is torquing in the other direction. The twisted action bars are preventing the action from racking smoothly in the receiver. If you find this on a pump you can bend the action bars back straight but as with most metal they are going to return to damage state. The only real fix is a new forend tube assembly which is a $40 part for a Remington 870.

    So these devices will damage your weapon and eventually negate what we all love most, which is of course a slick racking pump.

  25. I've posted this site before, but this is a good time to remind folks. The author of this article has a forum at that is a great place to ask questions about assorted items and shotguns in particular. J.D. is a factory certified Armorer for Remington and a few other places, builds custom shotguns in use by some of the best agencies in the country (and out of it!) and really enjoys sharing his knowledge with others. I recommend it highly!

    1. I own a maverick 88 pistol grip only. will adding a laser help with accuracy since not good practice of put it up to me eye to aim. can't afford another HD gun

    2. Hi Mike. Sure, a laser is an option and a pretty good one for non-traditional sighting needs. Unless there is a need for the compactness of the pistol grip, you might consider getting a regular stock installed. It will make it easier to aim and shoot, and is probably less than the laser will cost. Good luck to you!

  26. Not really a laser fan for close quarter HD. in stress and fast shoot that light beam takes too much time to find.

    1. As mentioned earlier, the laser is an alternative sighting method and its effectiveness depends on how appropriate that particular alternative is for any particular situation. I have found the laser very good for hip shooting or using pistol-grip only guns, not so much when shoulder mounting a full stock gun.

  27. Thanks! One of the best articles about home defense shotguns.

  28. I'm finding more and more things about AI&P Tactical that continues to reinforce my choice to have J.D. build me a duty shotgun. I can't wait to take possession of it and take it to the range

  29. Good choice, Michael. J.D. does top-notch work and for a true fighting shotgun it is hard to find any better.