Some may call it old school, even outdated, but the versatility of the coach gun makes it a timeless and proven self-defense alternative.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.