Patterning the Defensive Shotgun

posted on May 17, 2016

When it comes to defending yourself and others, there are few better firearm choices than a good shotgun. Defensive shotguns, whether for use in the home, on the road or for law enforcement use, are some of the most versatile guns ever developed. My first defensive shotgun was a Remington 1100 auto-loader. As any Remington fan knows, the 1100’s barrel is quickly and easily changed out. When not carrying my 28-inch 1100 12-gauge in the field, I had an 18-inch riot barrel that I could quickly change out, providing me with a dandy self-defense gun. Loaded with 00 Buck or #4 Buck, the riot version of that shotgun was, and is, a deadly piece of equipment. 

While the defensive shotgun provides its user with maximum protective potential, there are several considerations to keep in mind. Many folks defend their homes with field shotguns designed for wildfowl hunting or clay target shooting. This is certainly an option, particularly if that person owns only one scattergun. One of my concerns in this case is that some folks tend to use birdshot, (generally smaller than #4 Buck), which potentially could be a defense problem. Birdshot might provide a decent pattern, but it’s unlikely to provide significant penetration. I’ve heard the argument that the birdshot won’t go through walls making it a viable home defense round, but it also may not stop an armed intruder at the crucial moment. Of course, at very short ranges, the small shot may be effective, but it will quickly lose its punch as the distance increases.   

During my law enforcement career, I preferred a shotgun as my primary duty long gun. During my time as a federal plain-clothes agent, I carried a Remington 870 with a 14 inch barrel. I loved the little gun as it was light, easy to maneuver in tight places and extremely reliable. I switched between carrying 00 Buckshot and #4s. The short barrel was extremely effective at shorter ranges, but I found that the 00 Buck spread out a good deal from twenty-five yards and beyond. #4s did as well, but the smaller pellets provided a larger coverage of the target. 

My current home defense shotgun is also a Remington 870 pump gun, but it’s been modified by Nighthawk Custom. It’s by far the slickest pump shotgun I’ve ever fired. The gun is fitted with the Vang Comp barrel option, designed to pattern shot similar to, or even tighter than a full choke. 

To get an idea of just what sort of group the 18-inch Nighthawk 870 might provide, I recently gathered a couple of my favorite law enforcement shotgun loads–Winchester Super X #4, 2¾ buck shot and Federal 00 Buck Maximum 2¾-inch.  I chose to fire each load from fifteen yards and twenty-five yards.  We know that virtually any shot shorter than fifteen yards will be devastating with either load, and that the pattern will spread out significantly past twenty-five.  

The #4 buck performed well at fifteen with all 27 pellets grouping in a 13¾-inch pattern.  My target was made of ¾-inch particle board and the penetration was significant. At 25 yards, the pattern spread to 22 inches, with much less penetration. The 00s performed splendidly at 15 yards, producing a 7½-inch spread with impressive penetration. The twenty-five yard spread was 12 inches.  

There are many fine defensive-style shotguns available on the market today, along with many excellent loads not mentioned here. Just choose the ones that suit you best. Regardless what you choose in the way of shotgun/shot combination, it’s a good idea to pattern the outfit so you’ll have a good idea what it’s capable of. 


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