Thoughts On The Defensive Shotgun

A scattergun bring a lot to the party.

posted on July 17, 2023
Sheriff Jim Wilson

Of all the arms available to citizens, the shotgun, when properly applied, is the most devastating at the close ranges where criminal attacks occur.  Consider this: Defensive handgun cartridges might deliver up to something like 400 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. With the .223 Rem. rifle you’d have about 1,200 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. In comparison, the 12 gauge, loaded with a standard 00 buckshot load, will give you in the neighborhood of 1,900 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. With the 12-gauge slug load, we’re talking 2,300 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. 

Although the shotgun has been used as a defensive tool for hundreds of years, not everyone really understands its full potential. You hear comments like, all you have to do is just point it in the general direction and cut loose. Or, someone always brings up the fact that racking the slide on that old pump will scare the daylights out of a crook. Sorry, folks, there’s more to it than that. 

To begin with, regardless of the particular shotgun you choose or the ammo, you need to pattern the gun at various ranges. I would suggest 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, and 25 yards for buckshot loads. Using a clean target each time, fire one shot at each of the ranges. You will quickly see that, in fact, the payload is so small at close ranges that misses are possible. Even with a shotgun, one needs to index on the target in order to deliver an accurate shot. 

Racking a shotgun for the chill effect is a really good idea if you are an actor in a movie, otherwise, not so much. The shotgun, pump or semi-auto, should sit in what we call cruiser ready. That is, with an empty chamber and full magazine. The time to chamber a round is when you first perceive that you are in immediate danger. You don’t do it for effect; you do it to get ready to fight.

Another defensive-shotgun mistake is that if big is good, bigger is better. I hear some folks talk about loading up with the hottest 3-inch magnum ammo that is available. That might be fine if you are built along the lines of Paul Bunyon. The problem is that your recovery time between shots increases greatly with the extra recoil. For what it’s worth, I, being a mere mortal, load my gun with standard-velocity Federal 00 buckshot that has the Flite Control wad. This load gives me tight patterns and I can get back on target in a reasonable amount of time.

My own gun, a Remington 870 Police model, has ghost-ring sights so that I can reach out to 100 yards with slugs. I’ve added a simple carrying sling so that I can have my hands free when needed.  And it has a butt cuff that carries my slug loads. The action and barrel were worked over by Hans Vang of Vang Comp to give me a smoother action and extend the range at which I can keep all nine 00 pellets on target. 

Fighting shotguns are different from that favorite bird gun and one needs to learn to run them as a defensive tool. Fortunately, Thunder Ranch and Gunsite both offer defensive shotgun classes that will open your eyes and broaden your horizons. Such classes will help you understand why the fighting shotgun is still around after all these years and still the choice of many savvy gunfighters.


Ed Brown
Ed Brown

First Look: Ed Brown Kobra Carry Dual Caliber 1911

Easily Ed Brownchange your 1911 to suit your needs.

Jim Cirillo’s 1-2-3-6 Drill

Learn the lessons of a master gunfighter.

I Carry: Glock G19 Gen5 MOS Pistol in a Tulster Holster

In this week's episode of "I Carry," we have a Glock G19 Gen5 MOS 9 mm pistol in a Tulster Range+ Outside-the-waistband holster with a C&H Precision Weapons Duty enclosed-emitter optic.

First Look: G-Force Arms Chronicle 1911

A blend of modern features with classic 1911 style.

First Look: 1791 OLG Retro Military Holsters

Carry your retro sidearm in a retro holster.

Grocery Stores Lining up for Ammo Vending Machines

Now available in four states, with more to follow.


Get the best of Shooting Illustrated delivered to your inbox.