Double-Barrel Self-Defense

Don't overlook the old coach gun as a viable modern self-defense option.

By Sheriff Jim Wilson (RSS)
March 7, 2012

Some may call it old school, even outdated, but the versatility of the coach gun makes it a timeless and proven self-defense alternative. The vast majority of these are well made and extremely handy to have around when crooks decide to call. However, you don’t have to get quite so New Age if you don’t really want to, or if your circumstances won’t allow it.

The double-barreled shotgun has been taking care of business for several hundred years. The Sicilians call it the lupara, and it was their weapon of choice for quite some time. Who knows, it may still be.


In our own American West, the short-barreled shotgun was often called the Wells Fargo shotgun because the company armed its express stagecoach guards with them. Virgil Earp went by the Wells Fargo office in Tombstone and borrowed such a gun just before the gunfight at the OK Corral.

His brother Wyatt used the same kind of shotgun to end the lives of a couple of the Arizona Wild Bunch a short time later.

However, while historical significance is nice, most of us are more concerned with personal protection these days. Well, the double-barrel shotgun can still do yeoman’s work for us. There are a couple of significant reasons why it might be just the right choice for home defense.

To begin with, a person is going to shoot best with the gun he shoots most often. Nearly all cowboy-action shooters use a double barrel in competition, and there’s absolutely no reason why it should be unloaded and put away once they get home. Due to its ease of operation and simple design, the double-barrel shotgun is generally a gun the whole family can learn to handle and shoot well.

This is most important in matters where family members are not really into the shooting sports and just want to be able to defend themselves. A few quick lessons and a few trips to the range will have them up to speed in no time.

Of the short-barreled double guns, my favorites are ones with exposed hammers and double triggers. When loaded, it has no springs compressed. It can literally sit in the corner or under the bed for years without any fear of spring fatigue. Yet, the shotgun will be ready to go by simply cocking the hammers.

Some newer exposed-hammer shotguns, such as the CZ-USA Hammer Coach, also have a conventional tang safety. If, for some reason, you have cocked the hammers, but decide sending lead downrange is not immediately warranted, just engage the safety and wait to see what transpires.

Double-barrel shotguns also have a strong intimidation factor. Crooks will often begin to think peaceful thoughts just by getting a good look at the business end of such a shotgun. The intimidation factor should not be relied upon entirely, of course, but if hostilities don’t cease, two loads of the proper shotgun ammo will generally take care of things. For years, Col. Jeff Cooper collected reports of shotguns being used in gunfights. He once said he had yet to find a case where more than two shots were fired.

As we have pointed out before, buckshot is not the best choice for firing indoors. Our tests have shown it will penetrate several interior walls of an average house, and keep going. At close indoor ranges, a load of birdshot will do quite nicely. But, the beauty of the double-barrel shotgun is one barrel can be staged with a birdshot load, while the other contains buckshot. Should a heavier payload be necessary, the homeowner has two ammunition choices handy, and the transition is instantaneous by simply selecting the proper trigger.

People who live in the country understand what we call “the back-door gun.” It’s there by the back door to take care of poisonous snakes, rabid animals and other undesirable varmints that might wander into the yard. Since exposed-hammer models feature two triggers, different loads can be delivered on the fly, depending upon the size of the varmint in question.

Finally, too many city dwellers live in areas where handguns and semi-automatic rifles are looked down upon. While the kind of weapon a person uses to legally defend himself or his family shouldn’t make any difference, we know it sometimes does. Things might go a whole lot smoother if a jury discovers the citizen used the old family double barrel for protection.

Several companies import decent exposed-hammer double barrels into this country. CZ-USA, Cimarron Arms, Navy Arms and Taylor & Co. all offer quality models, to name just a few. It’s also a good idea to install a butt cuff to carry extra ammunition in case you do need a reload. And, it is also wise to have both birdshot and buckshot loads readily available. Most importantly, the gun needs to be patterned with those particular loads to determine if they throw a uniform pattern and to ascertain the effective range of each load.

So, not to take anything away from pump and semi-automatic defensive shotguns, but you should give some thought to checking out a short-barreled, double-barrel shotgun for your home-defense needs. It’s one of those guns with a long history that is still around for one good reason—it has always been an effective fight-stopper.

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16 Responses to Double-Barrel Self-Defense

  1. John says:

    Friends don’t let friends buy into this.

  2. dan l. says:

    My Stoeger SxS breaks down to fit in a 21″ camera tripod bag. Assembled, it measures in at 26”. Only a pistol grip on a pump will allow this length. My arthritis does not allow ANY control with a pistol grip. A stock is 100% necessary.

  3. Bob says:

    I too have a Stoeger Coach Gun and I love it. My only complaint is that it is not the open hammer model. I think I will be shopping for one soon!

  4. Mark says:

    The Sheriff has been around long enough to be considered a reliable source. The hammer double just makes good sense, which is why I rely on one regularly when investigating what the dogs are barking at. A slide safety is too easily disengaged unintentionally. For quick home defense shots from a hammer gun, press the trigger, thumb the hammer back and let it fall. Good rabbit gun too!

    • Murray says:

      I think your right, listen to a man who`s learned from experience, I also think a lot of the guys on here are mistaking self defence while in fear for your life for gun fighting or a fire fight, wait for a burglar to come to you, get your carbine or shotgun, put an ounce of shot or a 357 into him, his friends lose their enthusiasm and you have defended yourself, its about defence not aggression, you want a firefight either buy a tank, mount an M2 on the bed frame or join the military and get paid for doing it!

  5. Mitchell A.M. Ota says:

    My beloved 12ga SG is a Mossberg 510 pump. The mere sound of the action racking is far more intimidating than the sight of a second barrel. And seven continuous rounds of OOO buckshot is very comforting here in the hills of VT.

  6. J.J. Bilenki Jr. (USN.RET.) says:

    Is a new A-Grade Stoeger, 12 Gauge, 3″ Chamber, IC & M Chokes, 20 ” Barrel, Coach Shotgun a good buy at $449.00.?
    Hit me up at my e-mail address and let me know your feelings. Thank you.


  7. jerry3894 says:

    This is nostalgia and nothing more. Multiple perps is becoming the rule in attacks. Need more than 2 rounds. Sorry.

    • Tim Hutson says:

      Always amazed at how people think reloading a double some how makes you endangered. Shoot, cover, reload, I don’t think 8-10 bad guys are going to charge you at once with a shotgun blast killing their friends. Plus there safer for inexperienced open see shells….. It’s loaded.

  8. jerry3894 says:

    Double-barreled coach guns are heavier and have more limited capacity than their pump-gun counterparts. What’s not to like?

    Oh yeah. They’re heavier (slower to swing), and only carry 2 rounds instead of up to 9.

    For defense? No thanks. I can get a pump gun with more capability and in a lighter package – CHEAPER!

  9. josh jones says:

    Comments… Its impossible to short shuck a double barrel [(]can’t say that about the beloved 870[)] and its less complicated to load/unload a double barrel than a pump or autoloader. While a double is generally heavier, that is not necessarily a disadvantage, if its not TOO heavy. It just means less felt recoil than a pump. For a woman, a handicapped person, or an older person, the more managable recoil may be worth the extra pound. You dont have to swing a shotgun [(]or even hold it unsupported for a long time[)] to cover a bedroom door. IME, two shot sizes/ choke choices can be the differnce in needing a followup shot or not. I have a 28′ 7 shot 870 Magnum, and two striker fired SxS Winchester 24′s [(]26′ and 24′[)], and I dont’ feel undergunned with the 24′s at all. I don’t necessarily agree with the ‘birdshot advice’, but I think anything from #4 up to 4BK is fine for indoors, close range if youre worried about overpenetration.

  10. dave says:

    Honestly, if it takes more than two rounds of 12 gauge at point blank range, one might consider investing heavily in a good pair of running shoes. You don’t have to kill the intruder (but a 12 gauge certainly will without a doubt), you just have to make him not want you to shoot him again. Two ounces of anything flying at a person should be an awful good persuader unless your house is burgled by an elephant. If not, it’s certainly enough to slow him down enough to let you beat the crap out of him with the gun.

  11. Doc says:

    I Like a double barrel.If you fire one shot,quickly reload and fire another,do you think an intruder will rush you,thinking you are emty.In my most stupid moment,I wouldn’t charge a shotgun thinking it (might) be empty.For the guys who think you need nine shots,you got that may intruders,then you need a fifty cal machine gun at the foot of your bed.

  12. Roger Strout says:

    I recently purchased a Stoeger 12 gage double barrel coach shot gun. There is just that special feel in your finger tips when I run my fingers along the barrel. No one but no one is is making it up the stairs that go to my living room. Two rounds would be plenty.

  13. jimmy says:

    i recently brought a century international arms spm-20 20 gauge double barrel with hammers on top and double triggers. i haven’t gone to the range to shoot the shotgun yet. i have a battery security alarm next to my back door. the alarm will let the intruders know that it will wake-me-up.
    two rounds will be enough for me..

  14. kent payne says:

    I mounted a light with a pressure switch on my stoeger coach gun it’s my bedside buddy

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