Is it Time to Retire the Defensive Shotgun?

Remington 870 pump-action shotgun

With the AR-15 crowned as the new reigning champ of semiautomatic rifles, there’s no doubt that the 5.56×45 is here to stay. These guns have never been cheaper, more reliable, or easier to customize. And the surging popularity of the defensive carbine has largely displaced the 12-gauge shotgun as the long gun of choice to keep handy for defense of hearth and home.

The pump-action shotgun was at one time considered the first and only tool to reach for when things went bump in the night, but it definitely doesn’t have the monopoly on protective force anymore.

So, is the defensive shotgun old news now? Has the faithful sidekick of the patrol cop and armed home defender finally jumped the shark?

Indisputable shortcomings

No matter which side of the camp you undoubtedly find yourself on, there are several disadvantages that come part and parcel with a 12-gauge defensive arm. There’s just no getting around the relatively low ammunition capacity issues. A comparably sized AR-15 can easily have 100 rounds on board. With a shotgun, you’re usually limited to an eight round magazine before things start to get unwieldy with an extended tube.

While it’s possible to stow extra ammo on a shotgun in the form of sidesaddles and other means, you’ll never be able to stash 30 extra rounds on the gun, like you can with an AR-15. And even if you could, the weight of 30 shells is prohibitively cumbersome.

If your shotgun happens to run dry (an admittedly rare occurrence in most home defense scenarios, historically), you’ve got to individually stuff each and every shell into the magazine tube, which takes time even when there’s no stress involved. With an AR-15, you can have 30+ extra rounds at the ready in a matter of seconds.

But it’s not all bad!

One of the biggest advantages to the shotgun is the raw power that it lends the user. Various 5.56×45 duty rounds are highly effective these days, but those choices pale in comparison to the bone-crushing attributes of a 1-ounce shotgun slug at supersonic velocities.

Shotgun gun
You can’t argue with a one-ounce shotgun slug!

Shots to the pelvic girdle with a 12-gauge slug do far more than simple tissue damage and temporary cavitation. They actually render the mechanical skeletal structure useless through major blunt-force trauma.

That’s incredibly powerful, especially for non-compliant adversaries under the influence of narcotics. It’s very difficult to advance if the ball part of your ball-and-socket hip joint suddenly finds itself… completely missing.

Truly, the shotgun’s greatest asset is the broad spectrum of ammo currently available. From the previously mentioned slugs to surgically precise buckshot loads, there’s something for every situation. And while the don’t-really-need-to-aim myths of the “street sweeping, room clearing shotgun” have little factual basis, there’s no denying the advantages that multi-pellet wound channels bring to a firefight.

And of course, shotguns are the only reasonable choice for shooting down errant drones.

Reliability issues?

It was once thought that the pump-action shotgun was the most reliable firearm in existence. The thinking was that if you can still work the action, you’re still in the fight. Over time, this has proven to be not quite true. Short stroking a pump action is remarkably easy to do if you’re not paying attention to how you’re running the gun.

Semiautomatic shotguns have become incredibly reliable over the past few decades. I worked at a private gun club for two years, and can attest that I saw more malfunctions induced by shooters short stroking a pump-action as compared to issues caused by a semiauto shotgun.

Regardless, as long as you work the action of a pump gun violently to the rear and forcefully forward, you’ll never have an issue with reliability. And using quality ammunition instead of aluminum case head bulk ammo will go a long way towards preventing stuck cases.

You aren’t giving any reliability up over a rifle if you choose a quality shotgun and use high-quality ammo.

Remington 870 pump-action shotgun
Tried and true—the Remington 870 pump action.

Still a viable choice?

Yes, there are many things that a shotgun cannot do. Shotguns can’t engage a target 400 yards away. They’re big, heavy, and have an outdated manual of arms that’s totally different from the AR-15 we’ve grown to know and love.

But as long as there are firearms, there will be the defensive 12-gauge shotgun. And while the venerable pump-action definitely has its unique downsides and disadvantages, there’s no denying they’re devastatingly effective when used correctly.

In the end, your home defense gun choice is completely up to you. And with modern rifles, pistols and yes, even shotguns; it’s hard to go wrong.

We know you’ve got thoughts about defensive shotguns and the role they play in your home defense plan. Let us hear ‘em in the comments!

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog. "The Shooter's Log", is to provide information - not opinions - to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decicions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (240)

  1. I still prefer shotgun for home defense. AR-15 rilfe has a lot of advantages, but what about over-penetration? You may hit your target, the door behind your target and your neighbor with one shot. Buckshot is ultimate home defense ammo which is guaranteed to stop the intruder.

  2. Philip, Haven’t you ever heard of the ‘Castle Doctrine’? It protects you if you shoot a ‘perp’ inside your home, but it’s MURDER if you shoot them outside so forget your high powered rifles for ‘home defense’. The fellow with the 9 x 18 Makarov, probably, has the best idea if he can hit a critical kill spot in the dark or half light. I prefer my double stack RIA 1911A2 with 240 hollow points as it has the knockdown power, but at about 850 fps isn’t going to travel for three miles if I happen to miss. I keep it under my pillow on quarter cock in a pancake holster to prevent ‘accidents’.

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