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Why A Shotgun Is Best for Home Defense (And All Sorts Of Other Things)

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Chances are, you’ve got that one buddy who thinks the AR-15 is the be-all, end-all weapon for everything.

“It’s so accurate, I’d just shoot it [a charging brown bear] in the head,” they claim, despite the 5.56 NATO cartridge not being permitted for deer hunting in a number of states due to its lack of killing energy.

Then there are the handgun gurus who have spent lifetimes shooting paper and steel, but who tend to forget about a little something called “terminal ballistics” that has everything to do with how something behaves after it has been hit by a bullet. Fact is, most (large) living creatures don’t dramatically fall over dead after they’ve been hit with a bullet from a 9 mm handgun as they do in the movies. Mind you, I’m not suggesting shotguns aren’t overly dramatized in movies, too—they certainly are—but there’s a reason why shotguns are so feared on the streets, in homes and on battlefields all over the world.

Here are my arguments for why a shotgun is the top gun for home defense: 

You can hit moving objects consistently with a shotgun.
I’ll bet any pistol or rifle champion in the world right now that my 14-year-old nephew can beat them in a round of skeet—if my nephew uses his shotgun and the champion uses their rifle or pistol of choice. But, this statement isn’t profound; it’s obvious. What is not so obvious is this: I’ll extend the bet to the “rabbit” target on a sporting-clays course. The rabbit isn’t flying; it’s “running” across the ground. My point is, shotguns are superior for any moving target, whether that target wears orange paint, feathers, fur or sneakers and a ski mask. Keep in mind, in real life most targets aren’t stationary like those found on a square range; they’re moving like hell.

A shotgun’s close-range terminal energy is devastating.
Academically, one can calculate that a 12-gauge shooting a nine-pellet, 00 buckshot load produces a muzzle energy of around 1,650 ft.-lbs. (Hunting loads with 12 and 15 pellets are significantly more powerful.) Compare this to a 5.56 NATO at 1,250 ft.-lbs., a 9 mm at 350 ft.-lbs., a .45 ACP at 350 ft.-lbs. or a 12-gauge, 1-ounce slug at 2,500 ft.-lbs.

Still, I’ve heard internet aces say stuff like: “Numbers on a calculator don’t mean anything in the real world.” Don’t believe that nonsense. More energy translates to more penetration, more hydrostatic shock to the central-nervous system and more devastation to vital tissue. This means faster incapacitation, and while I haven’t personally witnessed the following comparison on humans, I have taken scores of 150-pound wild hogs with shotguns, rifles and pistols. With pistol rounds, more often than not multiple shots are needed, even when the initial shot impacts center mass as intended. But, with rifles of .243-caliber and larger, as well as 12- and 20-gauge buckshot and slugs, it’s a different story. Any shot to the vitals with these guns (inside of 35 yards with buckshot), spells quick demise for the hog. At these distances (and certainly shorter distances such as those found inside a home), I expect similar results.

For longer ranges, slugs are an option.
Certainly, shotguns can’t hold a candle to a rifle in the long-range department, but they can bridge the gap between the close-range effectiveness of a pistol and the long-range effectiveness of a rifle. With sabot slugs and a scope, 150-yard accuracy is possible. This type of range lends the shotgun on-demand versatility that pistols don’t have. The shotgun is far more versatile for home defense than a handgun or rifle. Quite simply, there are far more options available for the 12-gauge shotgun than for any other firearm. Steel shot, varying sizes of buckshot, slugs, less-lethal rounds and other types of projectiles are available. The shotgun can perform the widest variety of tasks one can ask of a firearm by a mile.


Certainly, using a shotgun for home defense has its downsides, too: Its recoil is significant, most are slow to reload and they are neither lightweight nor easily concealed. Still, if I had to pick one gun for home defense, hunting, survival and sport, I’m going with a 12-gauge shotgun. In trained hands, you’re unlikely to miss close-range targets and whatever is hit with is unlikely to hit back. Of course, I am Shooting Illustrated’s Shotgun Editor, so you knew I wouldn’t choose a trendy AR or tricked-out pistol. But, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Article by JEFF JOHNSTON

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