Where Do I Start?

Do You Need A Shotgun for Home Defense?

Let’s start with the shotgun. The shotgun has always been a favorite gun for home defense. A shotgun shoots multiple pellets from casings (shells) at a very high velocity. These pellets have excellent stopping power as they “spray” from the barrel, making it easier to hit your attacker.

shotgun for home defense

The shotgun is best when those in your home can take refuge and defend themselves within a single point. The multiple pellets that make the shot shell so effective are equally dangerous to innocents if they miss the intruder. A shotgun has a very powerful recoil that can be difficult to handle and recover from to shoot a second round. Another challenge for many women will be its weight. Shotguns are larger, heavier guns. If you must hold a home intruder at gun point with the shotgun for more than 10 or 15 minutes, its weight will become tiresome. So your size, strength and tolerance for recoil are very significant things to consider. Trips to a shooting range and practice are necessary and will make you more comfortable and confident with these large firearms.

If you buy a firearm that you cannot handle, you will not enjoy shooting it. If you don’t enjoy shooting it, you won’t practice with it. If you don’t practice with it, you will not be in a very good position when you need to use that firearm to protect your family’s life. Read my review of the Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun



The term “gauge” describes the bore diameter. Keep in mind that larger the number, the smaller the bore (the inside diameter of the barrel). The term “gauge” was originally defined by the number of solid balls that are the same diameter as the inside of the barrel that could be made from a pound of lead. Thus, the 10-gauge shotgun is larger than the 12-gauge, which is larger than the 20-gauge. While there are many different gauges of shotguns available, the most recommended shotguns for home defense are 12 gauge and 20 gauge models.

Which Gauge is best for a woman’s home defense shotgun?

I will start by saying that generally  the 20 gauge is a better choice for a woman for home defense. A 20 gauge will be easier to handle, have less recoil and more than adequately provide stopping power. But… I will finish by saying that many woman can both handle and prefer the added power of a 12 gauge. Your physical size and your ability and/or sensitivity to recoil will be determining factors.

Shotgun Actions

There are two types of shotguns actions, they each describe how they cycle rounds.

  • Slide Action shotguns – Also known as “pump action” shotguns, these will require you to have to slide the action located under the barrel backwards and shotgunforwards to load each shell. They are low-maintenance and can deadly fast in experienced hands. They can also hold as many shells as the magazine under the gun’s barrel can hold, so you can shoot multiple shots in fairly rapid succession. This does however require practice.
  • Semi-automatic shotguns – A semi automatic action uses the force generated by the last shot to automatically eject the empty shell case and chamber the next round after each shot. With every trigger pull, the shotgun fires another loaded shot. Semi-automatics have less recoil which makes them appealing to many women. As with many semi-automatic firearms, there can be an issue with ammunition sensitivity. Because rounds are chambered “automatically” after firing the first shot, the gun assumes that the incoming round or shell will be seated correctly. However, if there are any ammunition imperfections, the round could potentially not chamber properly, resulting in a jam. The quality of the ammunition you use is a key factor in preventing these issues. Practice with multiple brands will also help you to figure out – which shells your gun “prefers.”

Which is better for a woman to use for home defense?

I would suggest a gas-operated semi-automatic 20-gauge for most women. The gas-operated semi-automatic is much softer kicking than any other shotgun type firing the same shell. The 20 gauge is readily available in an 18″ length as well and in junior sizes which fit a woman’s size better. The semi-automatic shotgun can shoot multiple shots quickly and without any manual action. The cost is more expensive than a pump action though. As it is a more complex machine it requires proper cleaning and care.

The advantages of manual operation is the lower cost and the ability to handle a variety of different kinds of ammunition. A number of semi-automatic shotguns will not cycle low-powered bird shot, a common and inexpensive choice of ammunition for training. Pump shotguns do not need to harness the gases when the shell is fired to operate the gun. It can fire a greater variety of ammunition and operates when dirty or un-lubricated, because all the work is done manually. On the down side, the pump-action shotgun will have more felt recoil than a semi-automatic shotgun of the same gauge. One must also manually “pump” for each shot when using a pump action shotgun.


Size matters in two important aspects: length of barrel and length of pull.

  • The length of the shotgun barrel typically ranges from 18″ to 28″. A long shotgun barrel, is difficult to maneuver around corners and through a house. The 18″ barrel is the best option.
  • Length of pull refers to the distance from the gun butt to the trigger. If the size of the shotgun is wrong, you are going to be less accurate and it will be more difficult for you to work the controls on the gun. While aftermarket (add on) stocks allow for an adjustable length of pull, a great option for women is to purchase a youth-sized shotgun. These shotguns have a shorter stock and typically are less expensive.

As a general rule, when the butt of the shotgun is held in the elbow crook of your bent arm, the first joint crease on your index finger should fully contact the trigger. The 20-gauge youth shotguns fit this dimension perfectly for many women and should be seriously considered when buying a home-defense shotgun.

If a youth model is too short, you can add a recoil pad which not only dampens the felt recoil enormously, but also adds length to the stock.


Choke is the degree of constriction built into the muzzle-end of the barrel. It’s a way of controlling the size of the pattern or spray at a given range. The tighter the choke the tighter the pellets are squeezed together so the pattern holds tighter over a longer distance. Conversely, the less restriction you have in the shotgun choke the more loosely the pellets are held together and the faster the pattern opens up.

Shotgun Ammunition

(visit the Ammunition Demystifier for more in depth information)

To quickly stop an attacker, the pellets must penetrate his body deeply enough to cause internal damage and stop him immediately.

Shotgun pellets are classified into three general categories:

  1. Birdshot, of which individual pellets are typically less than .20 caliber in diameter. Not recommended for a defensive round but excellent and less expensive for practice.



  1. Buckshot, which varies in diameter from .24 caliber to .36 caliber is the recommended round for home defense.


  1. Slug, which is an individual cylindrical projectile is designed to be discharged from a shotgun. As a single projectile, slugs must be carefully aimed to be effective.


The recommended shot for home defense is generally buckshot. When choosing ammunition, keep in mind that the larger the buckshot, the greater the stopping power. But keep in mind that this means the greater the chances of over-penetration and injury to innocents in other rooms or buildings. If you’re in a densely populated home or neighborhood, you can minimize the risk of over-penetration by using small game loads of #6 birdshot or smaller. However, this sacrifices a great deal of effectiveness. Versatility in available loadings is a great strength of shotguns, but you must choose your loads carefully for your environment. The largest shot size commercially available is #2 buck.

Final Thoughts on Shotguns

For home defense, a shotgun is superior to a handgun in terms of stopping a violent intruder as quickly as possible. A reliable, well-made, pump-action shotgun can usually be purchased for less than the cost of a handgun of comparable quality. Also, inexpensive birdshot ammunition, typically used for training applications, is about three-fourths the cost, round for round, of comparable handgun ammunition.

If you’re considering a shotgun for home defense or already have one, we strongly suggest you attend a “defensive shotgun” training course from a reputable shooting school. It’s one thing to be armed with a well-equipped, high-tech shotgun and premium personal defense ammunition. However, if you’re not comfortable or skilled shotgun shooter, you’re the weakest link in your home defense weapon system.

Skill with the shotgun, like any other defensive firearm, requires competent instruction and dedicated practice. When these skills are mastered, it becomes a powerful and effective weapon and a wonderfully fun sporting activity.

More Reading

Continue on to read about handguns that are great for home defense!

or link back to Let’s Learn About Guns to learn more about different types of guns for self defense.

Related Posts

4 thoughts on “Do You Need A Shotgun for Home Defense?

  1. Laura says:

    At shorter distances of about 8-17ft which is better, a 20g, 18″ barrel shotgun or a handgun (9mm)?

    1. Carrie Lightfoot says:

      Hi Laura,
      With shooting, there is a pretty big difference between 8 and 17 feet and how well a person handles an accurate shot at either one of these distances. Overall it is “easier” to hit your target with a shotgun using ammunition that has a spray, especially at closer distances. With a handgun, you do not have the “spray” to fall back on so your shot needs to be more accurate. I hope this helps!

      Here is a good article describing the different shotgun ammunition types Shot Gun Ammunition

  2. I’m looking for a nice lightweight shotgun for a woman who has never shot one before.

  3. Tristan Stewart says:

    There have been some criminals breaking into homes around my area lately and I am worried about my daughters at home. I don’t want anything to happen to them so I think that getting something that improves our home’s security is a good idea. I’ll be sure to get those buckshot rounds that work well for self-defense and find a nice shotgun to buy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *