5 Great Types of Shotgun for Personal Defense

posted on March 4, 2021

For everyday home defense, it’s tough to beat a traditional semi-automatic or pump-action shotgun with a full-length buttstock and tubular magazine. But, some applications call for specialized shotguns—of which there are many. Here we’ll examine a few and their specific applications. 

Winchester SXP Marine Defender
Winchester SXP Marine Defender

Marine Shotgun

Examples: Winchester SXP Marine Defender, Mossberg 590 Mariner, Remington 870 Special Purpose Marine Magnum

For more than a century, shotguns have been the defensive weapon of choice on boats—from small fishing vessels to frigates—for several reasons. First, boats are normally moving or rocking, and a shotgun’s spread can make hitting a moving target easier. Second, shotguns are blessedly rugged and can withstand the occasional bump against portals and in tight corridors on a boat. Third, they are perfect for subduing unruly fish like sharks as well as unauthorized borders such as pirates; pellets often negate threats without over-penetration, a trait that could compromise the integrity of the boat’s hull. 

There’s one large problem with shotguns—or any firearm for that matter—on ocean-going vessels, however, and that is salt water. Even without direct contact, salt water can cause rust to form on untreated or even blued metal in mere days. If left for a month or more, the gun’s internal metal parts can totally seize, rendering the gun inoperable. To combat saltwater, shotgun makers apply non-corrosive nickel finishes to shotguns. These silver/nickel guns are dubbed “marine” to indicate their intended use. Many of them wear pistol-gripped stocks to aid in control in the aquatic environment.

Mossberg 590 Cruiser
Mossberg 590 Cruiser

“Breaching” Shotgun

Examples: Remington 870 Breacher, Mossberg 590 with breaching muzzle

Often called the “master key” by military and police door-breaching specialists, a shotgun is the weapon of choice for blasting hinges and bolts off doors, thereby granting entry. A shotgun loaded with 00-buckshot is chosen over a handgun or rifle due to its muzzle energy and the .729-inch swath of destruction it imparts on the door’s hardware with each shot. While any shotgun can be used for breaching, a specialized door breacher is short—often wearing a pistol grip—so it can be easily slung over the back or cased in a scabbard and carried until needed. Some models wear an aggressive “breaching choke,” the end of which has teeth that are intended to be stabbed into wooden door frames when needed. This helps anchor the shotgun in place on the frame and avoid moving while the breacher turns their head to avoid potential injury from debris resulting from the blast.  

Fostech Origin 12
Fostech Origin 12

Increased-Capacity Shotguns

Examples: Saiga-12, Mossberg 590M, Fostech Origin 12

Most people don’t need 20 rounds of 12 gauge loaded in a shotgun at one time—especially after that number is measured against the enlarged footprint and resulting weight of the gun. But, others might. Increased-capacity, box-magazine-fed shotguns such as the Saiga-12 with its 30-round, detachable-box magazine are sometimes preferred for competition, although they could be used to great effect when defending a static position, such as a safe room. However, some increased-capacity shotgun magazines are not known for their pristine reliability, so this should be factored into the whole risk-versus-reward equation before choosing. 

Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S
Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S

Birdshead Grip “Firearms”

Examples: Mossberg Shockwave, Remington Tac-14, Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S

While these short, pistol-length arms that wear pistol-grip-like “birdshead” grips aren’t legally defined as shotguns and therefore can sport short, sub-18-inch barrels, they fire shotgun shells. These guns are handy in tight quarters where a full-length shotgun isn’t practical, but where its advantages are needed. Although they can be difficult to shoot accurately, accoutrements such as laser sights and flashlights help. Perhaps most notably, their overall length allows them to be stored in places such as motorcycle lock boxes or boat holds, so traveling defenders can keep a shotshell-firing firearm handy.

Kel-Tec KSG
Kel-Tec KSG

Bullpup Shotguns

Examples: Kel-Tec KSG, TriStar Compact Tactical, IWI US Tavor TS12, Rock Island Armory VRBP 100, UTAS-15

A new wave of bullpup-designed shotguns provide home defenders with a short, handy shotgun package that sports a non-NFA-requiring barrel length while keeping the gun’s overall length as short as possible. The bullpup design accomplishes this by moving the action back into the buttstock, behind the hands, so no space is wasted. Although a bullpup shotgun is balanced much differently than a traditional shotgun, with practice these guns can be mastered and used to great effect.


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