Optimizing the Defensive Shotgun
The shotgun is a formidable, relatively cheap, and extremely effective home defense firearm if set up properly and the end-user understands the platform’s positive and negative attributes. Shotguns are extremely common however not all shotguns are optimal for home defense. Any gun is better than no gun but there are a few recommended modifications that can make your shotgun truly home defense ready. A basic formula to consider when setting up a home defense shotgun is Sights, Lights, Stocks, and Sling plus a few highly effective accessories that when combined with the right ammunition create a devastating package.
Sights on the Shotgun
What is the context in which you will be using it? Will it be multi-purpose i.e. hunting and home protection? If so, then you may want to consider ghost ring sights or possibly a small red dot rail mounted optic. If it is going to be a dedicated home protection firearm then you can get away with a bead sight however we suggest something like the XS Big Dot Sight. As a home or property defense tool, what distances do you anticipate engaging an adversary at, three yards, five yards, or fifty?
Ghost ring sights or some type of rail-mounted optic provide optimal accuracy, especially at distance. But, take a moment and consider what the greatest distance inside your house is? Do you need one of these more advanced sighting options? Remember, one of the most attractive attributes of the shotgun is its affordability. Start adding certain sighting systems and optics and the price rapidly goes up. With that being said if it’s in your financial wheelhouse I’d recommend one of these options simply because 1) Better sights mean better sight management which should mean more accurate shot placement. 2) Red dot optics allow the end-user to keep both eyes open and on the target.
A Light on the Shotgun
As armed civilians it’s our obligation to properly identify any and all targets prior to utilizing lethal force. This makes some type of weapon-mounted light a very good idea or even essential. Many of the aftermarket “rail” systems that attach to the for-end or via barrel clamp have proven less than robust during training courses. That doesn’t mean they won’t work however I like something that is more dependable and robust. The shotgun is very violent so consider something more dedicated if budget allows such as a Dedicated For-end Light. They are expensive but worth the investment if you are going to run the gun a lot or depend upon it to protect you or your family.
Generally speaking most shotguns come from the factory with between a 13-14in length of pull. That is a measurement from the face of the trigger to the center of the buttstock. My Remington 870 arrived from the factory with a 13.5in LOP. The length of pull is important when setting up the defensive shotgun because the longer the stock the more tendency for the shooter to place the butt of the stock out further on the shoulder joint vs. placing the stock further inward against the pectoral muscle. The more body mass we can put behind the shotgun the greater our ability to mitigate felt recoil especially when combined with proper shooting methodologies. What I have consistently seen is that students in classes can get away with a longer stock for a few shots but as they fatigue and their body works to find the most comfortable and efficient shooting position to conserve energy they start to mount or place the stock farther out on the front deltoid muscle and shoulder joint. This causes discomfort and sometimes bruising over repeated or extended shooting evolutions. An excellent adjustable shotgun stock is the Magpul SGA Stock with its spacer system allowing the end-user length of pull adjustment. Another viable option is the Speedfeed Shorty Stock from Wilson Combat.
Slings on the Shotgun
This is really user preference. I do not advocate a sling for fighting but for administrative functions such as freeing up the hands in order to perform a task such as climbing or dragging an injured family member/partner out of danger or reloading a secondary firearm.
Generally speaking, slings are for 1) Safe carry of the firearm; around the range or in the woods, etc. 2) Prolonged readiness with the firearm; standing ready like guard post; picture hurricane Katrina and having to stand and protect property and 3) Provide the user an option to free up the hands; to perform a task or transition to a second firearm. Before thinking about retention, I will humbly submit that the sling does not retain the long-gun; it attaches the long gun to your body, you retain the long-gun. You can be knocked out by an aggressor in a struggle and then they will take the gun once you’re unconscious. The ability to fight outweighs the false sense of security provided by believing this piece of gear retains the gun. Learn to fight with and without the firearm and with and without the sling and this concept is better understood.
The sling attaches the gun to the body. If working in a team or partner environment with multiple assaulters/team members then that may help retain the long gun momentarily until a team member can help. But for those of us who work solo or do not have the luxury of help or back up a sling greatly inhibits the ability to move and fight in close quarters like a house hallway or room. Is a sling needed to shoot effectively at those distances if we are solely speaking about personal protection in the home? As my friend Chad Lyman, veteran LEO, MMA Trainer, and BJJ Black Belt like to say: “I am my own backup”. It is highly unlikely I will ever have backup outside of another family member within my home. As a citizen I do not have the luxury of “back up”, it’s just me.
Finally, slings are context-driven. Is this shotgun for home defense or simply for hunting or shooting in the local trap league? Are you a civilian, law enforcement officer, or military serviceman? Each job/mission profile can affect your choice of the sling. For example, if you are law enforcement and this is a cruiser gun then a single point you can easily loop over your head and go is nice, likewise for a home defense firearm. If you are military and standing post for a prolonged period of time or patrolling then a two-point that facilitates walking and traveling or a three-point which facilitates comfortable stationary readiness is recommended. A simple yet dependable two-point such as the excellent VTAC sling from Viking Tactics serves multiple purposes or a single point sling such as the Wilderness Single Point Sling will often do the job for those of us concerned with protecting the home.
Additional Shotgun Accessories
Ammunition management is king with the shotgun so an onboard ammo supply is very nice to have, especially if this is a “grab and go” gun IF you can handle the extra weight. There are good 1-2 round magazine tube extensions available or a Receiver Mount Side Saddle is an excellent add-on to the home defense shotgun allowing anywhere from 4-6 additional rounds to be carried without the need of a pouch or bag. Some of the newer competition models are Velcro hook and loop panels with elastic straps allowing the user to simply rip the empty or expended panel off the side of the receiver and replace it with a fully loaded panel.
The Wilson Combat or Vang Comp Systems jumbo safeties provide a larger and more tactile surface area to contact when disengaging the safety, especially when under duress.
A Hi-Visibility Follower provides you with readily available visual and tactile confirmation of the status of your shotgun. Most standard factory followers are flat just like the base of a shotgun shell. If it is dark and visibility is limited you won’t see any bright colors and it will feel smooth to the touch. So, a follower with a nipple such as this one can differentiate a shell from an empty magazine tube.
Ammunition selection for personal defense could entail another whole article. For the purposes of this article, my recommendation is 00Buckshot, #4Buckshot, or #1Buckshot for home defense. Which one you choose depends on several factors to include: where you live; do you live in an apartment in a city? Who do you live with; do you have young children or frequent house guests? How your home is set up; where are your children’s bedrooms in relation to your own? Federals’ “Flight Control” line of buckshot has consistently outperformed other brands in classes for several years providing excellent patterning out to 30+ yards depending upon the shotgun, how it is set up and the abilities of the end-user. Recently I had the opportunity to shoot some #1Buck Flight Control from Federal. #1Buck is the smallest diameter shot that consistently penetrates the required 12″ inches for effective man-stopping results; composed of 15, 0.28 diameter pellets it is less likely to over-penetrate than 00Buckshot. Another option I recently had a chance to observe was the Hornady Critical Defense 00Buckshot which also performed quite well at distance.
Keeping the shotgun fed with ammunition and the manipulations to do so are the most difficult shotgun skills, so get good at them. Practice live fire at the range as often as you can. Also, consider practicing at home with some dummy training rounds. BEWARE: Make sure you have visually and physically verified the gun is safe and clear and that NO LIVE AMMUNITION IS IN THE SAME ROOM AS THE FIREARM that you will be practicing with. Shotguns are versatile, affordable, powerful, relatively simple to learn yet difficult to master firearm. A home defense situation will be stressful enough so stack the deck in your favor by taking control of mindset, getting training, and optimizing gear. Optimize your defensive shotgun to best help you when you may need it most.