Home Defense Precision Shotgunning

Your tactical home-defense shotgun has more capabilities than you may think.


Here’s a not-so-far-fetched scenario you might want to consider: You awaken in the middle of the night to a noise that doesn’t belong in your home. Prudently, you grab your shotgun and cell phone. Suddenly, you hear the screams of your daughter coming from her bedroom. You rush toward the room and are confronted with a bad guy using your daughter as a human shield. The bad guy starts to point his gun at you. What are you going to do?

The Boy Scout motto is “Be prepared.” In that vein you may practice diligently with pistol and carbine, but most do not train a great deal with the shotgun, which is a pity. The shotgun may not be suited for taking out a 200-yard threat, but at in-home ranges it can be utilized as a precision tool—provided that you know its behavior intimately at those distances.

Of course, the way to get that familiarity is to train for it, and that means rounds downrange. Unfortunately, for this kind of familiarization, you will need to shoot the same ammo you plan to utilize when it’s real—no light practice loads. We’ll examine whether to use bird shot or buckshot as your “for real” ammo at another time, but if you plan to use 1 1/4 ounces of No. 6s, or eight or nine 00 buck pellets, that’s the ammo you should use for this training.

Like rifles, every shotgun is an individual when it comes to patterns with a given load and its point of impact. I have found that the best way to pattern a close-range shotgun load is with cardboard. Paper is too flimsy to capture the true essence of the pattern. You’ll need enough cardboard to shoot a minimum of seven rounds—doubling, or even tripling that amount would be better because of a larger sample size. Whether you choose to shoot individual targets or put them all on one huge piece of cardboard is up to you.

For this exercise, I recommend having an aiming point so that you can determine the impact point, vis-à-vis your point of aim. This is a great argument in favor of an adjustable rear sight on your home-defense shotgun. A felt-tipped marker will produce an excellent aiming point.

Using your home-defense shotgun with “for real” loads, shoot at least one round (better two or three at individual targets) at 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 and 25 yards. Measure both pattern size and any deviation between point of aim and point of impact. If you were smart enough to shoot multiple rounds at each distance, take an average of the results. Record—even photograph with each distance clearly marked on it—the results of each target. If you have an adjustable rear sight on your scattergun, zero it at 7 to 10 yards—the most likely distance you’ll have a deadly encounter.

Now you can start training for that encounter with a bad guy holding a loved one as a human shield. Set up the targets at various ranges and learn how much to hold off the shoot target in order to secure a hit without harming the no-shoot target. Typically, at most home-defense ranges, the point of hold is on the outboard side. There will be a range at which it is imprudent to attempt this shot, and the only way to determine that for you and your shotgun is to shoot it enough at various distances.

The home-defense shotgun has garnered some impressive euphemisms: intimidator, great equalizer, street howitzer and such. Relatively few are aware of its precision capabilities. But having that knowledge could come in handy when you need it most.

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22 Responses to Home Defense Precision Shotgunning

Kenneth wrote:
March 30, 2012

I'm getting a judge or defender .45/.410 and will alternate starting with .410. If that doesn't change their mind, the .45 colt will stop them.

Jerry wrote:
November 16, 2011

"CDNlifeNRA 6/16/2011 9:57:27 AM Unfortunately, my brothers in the USA are currently deprived from acquiring Neostead NS2000 shotguns (one of the few freedoms Canadians enjoy over our southern neighbours) that have two separate, selectable magazine tubes, and therefore the capability to load one with slugs and the other with shotshells... " Indeed we do, the Keltec KSG.

justin b wrote:
September 08, 2011

I use a Remington 870 pistol grip pump shot gun for hunting ,a its the best out their

Doug wrote:
June 24, 2011

If the hostage knows to go limp when grabbed,the BG will either struggle to hold them up or stand out in the open for a clear shot.Problem solved. How many burglars will continue to try & hold up sudden deadweight when they are confronted by an armed resident?

Mike wrote:
June 21, 2011

My experience has shown considerable powder burns in a circle larger than the shot pattern. Paper targets dont show it. In a training scenario we used "popper" rounds and at 7 yards it caused 2nd degree burns to a guys arm. So dont blind your loved one when you head shoot the bad guy.

Orlando wrote:
June 17, 2011

What's up with Dick? "The Judge" is made by Taurus, not Ruger. And along with the .410 shot shell, it also takes the .45 Colt, not the .45 ACP.

JohnR wrote:
June 17, 2011

Training is tantamount to using a shotgun in a hostage situation; and every scenario will be different. Another consideration would be "Do I have close neighbors or live in an urban area?" If so, slugs may not be the best choice due to the potential for over penetration. There are several almost life size photo printed targets available that have a bad guy holding a gun in one hand and the other arm wrapped around a hostage. These make excellent practice targets however it will be wise to check local regulations because I read that there are some locales where even shooting at a picture of the bad guy is illegal.

nmbdvc wrote:
June 17, 2011

I think a great rule of thumb for learning how your shotgun patterns is to stay on the gun and look through the sights/bead at each pattern immediately after shooting it. Observe the relationship of the size of the pattern to the size of the bead, front sight, rib, ghost ring, etc. Establish a visual reference throughout various ranges. Patterning should look consistent (linear) out to a certain distance before it begins to open up. I will respectfully submit that the "point gun in the general direction and don't need to aim" quote is nonsense. Do not follow it--go to the range and do the work instead.

leland wrote:
June 16, 2011

2 for one shot--hit the perp with the buckshoot and hit your loved one with the wad. Really a desperation deal.

Brick wrote:
June 16, 2011

I've trained with a shorty Rem 870 at various distances and have patterned my shotgun for 00Buck. But like Brad said, there is an occasional flyer and sometimes the wad goes thataway...Probably won't risk it for a hostage rescue head shot for a loved one; penalty is too high for me. My preference for home defense is an 18" cylinder bore 870 Remington, loaded with 00Buck, and a couple Brenneke Short Magnum slugs in the side saddle for a slug exchange if necessary and time allows... But in a hostage situation with a family member, a transition to handgun is usually and more likely a better move IMHO... I practice hostage rescue shots and headshots regularly, and am confident in my ability to make one in low light with 12 ga 00Buck or a slug, but am most comfortable with my XD .45 and a Harries carried flashlight...

David wrote:
June 16, 2011

I always suggested my customers use a target load or a standard game load. The effectivness at the ranges of a home defense confrontation are the same as buck or slugs, but the inevitable explanations as to what you did or why are much easier with "non-man killer" type loads

Brad wrote:
June 16, 2011

A shotgun in a hostage situation? Based on my experience, that's a HORRIFIC idea! I've trained MANY times ALMOST EXACTLY as the author suggests, and in each session there are occasional 'flyers' (shot/pellets that go significantly outside the normal pattern for the tested distance). The difference in my training from the author's suggestion is that I shoot MANY rounds at each distance to evaluate the effective pattern ...and to determine any flyers. I only use premium quality factory ammo in these testing scenarios. I am a strong proponent of the shotgun as the primary home self-defense gun (backed up by a pistol in a holster on a belt). In the author's scenario of a bad guy holding a loved one as a human shield, I would switch to my pistol with which I also train at the distances in the article.

Dayne wrote:
June 16, 2011

I still prefer my trusted Winchester model 1200. Wide open 18 1/4" barrel. I don't even need to aim. Just point in general direction and pull the trigger. As far as the bad guy grabbing a loved one for cover. Good luck. All are very well trained. Will take less than a sec for them to be on the floor and out of the way.

Gordon wrote:
June 16, 2011

I have a Mossberg 500, alternating slug and double-ought buck. Not much need to worry about pattern with the slug.

CDNlifeNRA wrote:
June 16, 2011

Unfortunately, my brothers in the USA are currently deprived from acquiring Neostead NS2000 shotguns (one of the few freedoms Canadians enjoy over our southern neighbours) that have two separate, selectable magazine tubes, and therefore the capability to load one with slugs and the other with shotshells... Of course, in the heat of the moment I might be inclined to break plane and shoot the assailant's extended weapon-arm if the round in my chamber was #5 or so (and my child was too terrified to assist in improving the target's exposure to fire).

DICK wrote:
June 16, 2011


D.E. Du Bose wrote:
June 16, 2011

I use a Mossberg .410 pump with double "O" for home defense. It is big enough for me and small enough for my wife. My instruction to my wife is, to shoot until you hear a click, then reload.

D. Peavy wrote:
June 16, 2011

when are you going to give an evaluation of different types of defensive loads, giving the pros and cons of each choice? i personally would like to see the limitations and the effectiveness of birdshot.

Anthony wrote:
June 16, 2011

Mossberg 590 Special Purpose, Hornady OO Buck/TAP FPD No children in the household; wife knows to roll off the bed onto floor and lay flat and still.

Jim Macklin wrote:
June 16, 2011

"You rush toward the room and are confronted with a bad guy using your daughter as a human shield. The bad guy starts to point his gun at you. What are you going to do? " As part of training the household, your children and spouse need to know to fall down and get out of the way. At 5 yards a bird or buckshot load will cover 5-6 inches and you need to know where that spread will impact. A slug has no spread for one shot, but the penalty for hitting a hostage is a lot more than 5 points. If the bad guy is pointing his gun or knife toward you, it is not at the hostage's throat, so they can go limp and fall to the floor. The bad guy will be exposed and a head shot will end the threat.

Mike wrote:
June 13, 2011

I prefer a Pump, 18 inch, full choke with the new home defense load that has a slug and six buckshot pellets with it. And practice putting it on target first. Remember the wad itself can do tremendous damage.

Slayer wrote:
June 13, 2011

That's why I prefer my Remington Model 11. Full choke, semi auto, and rather accurate.