Many tactical guys nowadays think a defensive shotgun should look exactly like their AR-15, but I disagree. Fact is, a shotgun for home defense is different from the tactical shotguns used by military and law enforcement because those guys use them for door-breaching and accurate, less-lethal-round aiming. Therefore, their guns often feature ghost-ring sights and collapsible stocks that can be wielded easily while wearing body armor. But, for the average American who wishes to defend his or her home, the best shotguns have simple bead sights that are lower in profile and quicker to acquire, and their stocks are fully contoured for maximum recoil mitigation. Whether you choose a pump or semi-automatic depends on your prowess and your budget. To that end, here are five of my favorites.
Remington Versa Max Tactical Currently “Big Green’s” top-end defensive shotgun is my favorite on the market for several reasons. First, it’s proven to be quite reliable with buckshot and full-power loads—of which it holds nine. Secondly, it’s the softest-recoiling 12-gauge on the market thanks to its gas action, 8-pound heft and buttstock that features an incredibly soft recoil pad and gel-comb insert. The stock can be adjusted for drop-at-comb, so your eye will naturally be aligned down its rib without having to correct it after the mount—but one reason I like the gun so much is it points just like most Remington shotguns we’ve grown up shooting. As such, I have no problem shooting a round of clays with this thing. Its Versa-Port system is a new gas-action system that only uses as much gas as it needs to cycle the action. The gun’s express-style, shallow-V-and-bead sight system is superior for in-home distances and also provides great accuracy at longer ranges. I also like its oversize controls and rubbery stock that makes the gun easy to handle even with clammy hands. It comes with a railed receiver and a small forward rail for mounting a flashlight. MSRP: $1,456
Mossberg 590A1 9 Shot There’s nothing at all wrong with Mossberg’s venerable 500-series pump shotgun, but I prefer the company’s 590A1 because it holds nine shells. It also comes with a no-nonsense stock and an aggressively ribbed fore-end to minimize the chance of short-stroking due to slippage. I like its synthetic stock and Parkerized-metal finish, that—along with its battle-proven Mossberg action—make it virtually bomb-proof. And if you prefer a tang safety to a Remington 870-style crossbolt, you’re in luck. It’s also available in a left-handed model and with multiple stock- and sight-configurations. This may be high-priced for a pump, but in my view $600 remains a bargain for such a formidable home-defense arm that is proven to always go bang when you need it most. MSRP: $657
Mossberg 930 JM Pro Series If you prefer Mossberg shotguns for their tang safeties, reliability and economical price but you prefer a semi-automatic, the 930 Pro Series is your gun. It was built in consultation with perhaps the world’s best all-around shooter, Jerry Miculek, and he doesn’t prefer a bunch of junk on his shotgun. He just wants one that’s instinctive to point, has a full-contour stock for max recoil mitigation—and therefore fast follow-ups—is reliable as the moon and holds a double handful of shells. And while the resulting 930 Pro Series is perfect for competition, it’s also perfect for home defense. The 22-inch-barrel version holds nine shots and features oversize controls, all in a gun that will fire as fast as you can point it at a threat and pull the trigger—for much less than comparable semi-autos. MSRP: $790
Remington 870 Express Tactical 7-Round If you grew up shooting a Remington pump there is no reason to switch now, because familiarity is probably the most important quality in an arm for home defense—which is often used in low light and always under duress. But rather than using your old duck gun with the 28-inch barrel that can be difficult to maneuver and only sports a magazine capacity of four, Remington offers a tactical version of the venerable pump. It holds seven rounds total, comes with a full-size soft-touch stock, a foolproof bead sight and a super easy-to-wield 18.5-inch barrel. If you do your part, you can trust that this 870 is going to work every time. I happen to like the crossbolt-style safety located on the trigger guard, because that’s what I’m used to. Plus, it’s the most-economical gun listed here. MSRP: $443
FN America SLP MK1 FN-Herstal owns Winchester firearms, so if you’re a fan of its excellent Super X3 action that uses the “active-valve” piston system, know that it’s available in a defensive shotgun, just not from Winchester. All told, FN’s SLP line of shotguns consists of wonderful defensive guns based on this ultra-reliable, fast and smooth action. I prefer the base model MK1 that comes with the full-contour stock and express-style sights. (The cantilever mount for an optic if you so choose is a bonus). The shotgun holds nine rounds total, which add more heft to its 8.2-pound-empty weight. Therefore, combined with its excellent recoil pad and low-profile design, it’s extremely forgiving to shoot and quick in emptying the magazine into a target. In sum, you can’t go wrong with this gun for your home, and it’s a tossup between it and the Versa Max because frankly, they feel very similar and cost about the same. MSRP: $1,429