How To Use A Shotgun For Home-Defense

I discussed the influx of people coming to me seeking advice on firearms. My personal social media accounts have been
buzzing with questions from people left and right looking for answers. During a small dinner date with another
couple, we talked about what was going on in our lives, filling in the blanks, and
everyday social stuff. I try to stay
engaged with whoever I am within the flesh and steer away from phubbing (the
best I can). I did get one such message
that I availed myself to, just glancing to make sure it was nothing “important”
and snickered a little. My friend asked,
“What’s so funny?” and I explained that
I had just gotten a direct message from someone asking me if he could fire
slugs out of his particular shotgun. I
did quickly respond with an “I’ll get back to you about that later.”

The conversation at the dinner date then changed gears. We started talking about this question. I explained that while I needed to get more
information for the guy to answer his specific question, there was the other
pressing matter of context. I just
offhandedly remarked that I would not necessarily recommend using slugs in a
shotgun for home self-defense, which I assumed the direction of the query was
going. I spoke from a personal
perspective of finding a handgun to be most effective for home self-defense.

What is right for me may not be what is good for you…We need
to remember that.

My friend went on to say, “Well, ya, I would not say to use
slugs, but throw some buckshot in there; that’d be the best choice for home
self-defense…” He gestured to the top of
his stairs, “Look, if I were standing up there with a shotgun, I’d be at an
advantage, elevated, and really, you don’t even have to aim.”

I sighed.

The friend that was giving this “sage” advice, which we can
pick apart a little later, is a gun owner.
He owns a full-sized pistol and a semi-automatic shotgun designed for
clay shooting sports. He did go through
training with the Military Sealift Command many years ago on the M9 and M870 and
had an eight-hour introductory pistol class seven or so years before that date. To the best of my knowledge, the shotgun is
not outfitted for self-defense in his home but instead unloaded, cased, and
locked away. I believe the pistol is in
his large walk-in closet, about 12 feet from his bed, loaded, and in a quick
access lockbox.

Let’s complicate things.
He also has two toddler-aged sons.
Their rooms are down the hall from the master bedroom, with the master
bedroom being furthest from the stairs leading up to the second floor.

I feel that three things need to be discussed when discussing
shotguns used in the home for self-defense.

  • 1.Shotguns do need to be aimed at their intended
    target. Contrary to popular belief, you
    can’t just point a shotgun in a general direction and expect to hit what you
    want. Read up on this and what the spread
    is of different patterns of shotgun loads.
    I grabbed this number from another article (Buckshot
    Myth Busting: How Today’s 00 Buck Loads Fare Downrange
    ), saying that at 30
    feet, 00 buckshot will spread out up to 2 and ¼ inches. Thirty feet is a distance much further than
    most self-defense situations would call for in the home—the closer the target,
    the tighter the group. With a 1 inch
    spread at 12 feet, you need to be on target, AIM. Keep this in mind knowing that 1 degree of
    error at ten feet with a handgun will yield a hit 2.1” off-target.
  • 2.I would not recommend using slugs in any
    capacity in a home for self-defense.
    That is just me and my view. If
    slugs work for your situation, then go with what works for you. Something that must be considered is
    overpenetration. Slugs fit the bill of
    going through several walls before stopping.
    Buckshot can also fall subject to overpenetration. As a firearm user, you must know your
    ammunition capabilities and how that fits into your home self-defense
    plan. If you’re going to use a shotgun
    for self-defense in your home, figure out what type of loads will suit your
    needs and not pose a sizeable overpenetration threat. Remember those toddlers down the hall!
  • 3.Either party does not even mention this in this
    article, but I’m compelled to bring it up any time someone talks about the
    superiority of shotgun use for self-defense in the home. The
    sound of a pump-action shotgun is not an effective deterrent to any potential
    As much as the movies
    and TV want to make us believe that, it’s just not. What does or does not deter an aggressor is a
    complex subject that cannot only be summed up by “Well that there sound my
    shotgun makes will scare anyone off.” I
    generally categorize this statement as ignorant and compel anyone interested in
    looking for the truth behind that, dig into the statistics surrounding petty
    burglary verse violent home invasion.
    The person who intends to enter your home when they know you are there
    would, with all probability, not be scared off from this noise – if they even
    hear it. Never mind the mechanics behind
    getting the self-defense shotgun in the needed context. The only person I know that pulled a shotgun
    on someone in his home, the aggressor, was in his bedroom by the time he had
    the shotgun in his hands. It was not the sound of the shotgun action
    that stopped the aggressor…

I can point out plenty of things that I feel amount to
failure in plans in a home self-defense situation. Instead of pointing out what I don’t like,
I’m going to go over a few questions that I think are worthy of
consideration. This situation requires
thought, as in your home self-defense plan needs to be figured out in advance,
and you need to plan for as many possibilities as you can.

  • Where and how do you store your firearm? How long does it take for you to get to your gun
    and make it ready? If you spend most of
    your time in your living room but keep your home self-defense firearm in your
    bedroom closet, how “ready” are you to be able to get to it?
  • In a “middle of the night” scenario, what
    liabilities do you have? That is, do you
    have kids and other household members?
    Is everyone on the same page when it comes to a self-defense plan? How long will it take you to secure your
    whole family in one place and arm yourself?
    Can you drag two toddlers under your arms and your self-defense firearm
    to a safe location if you need to?
  • What other things do you have in your home
    self-defense plan? Do you have cameras
    or an alarm system? If you do, use them.
  • How much time do you think it takes someone
    intent on harming you or your family to get to you/them and inflict harm?

Whatever firearm you’ve decided to incorporate into your
plan, a critical thing that pops up is time.
Keeping your gun secured in a safe or lockbox is paramount. Everyone’s situation is different, and
knowing what works for you and is legal where you live is essential. Making sure you can get quick access is also crucial. My recommendation would be to keep any quick
access safes right next to your bedside for any potential night time visitors. I’d also recommend keeping a lockbox in
whatever living area you spend most of your time. But whatever you do decide,
make that decision based on actually thinking about the process.

Should you utilize a shotgun for your home self-defense plan
and it fits your needs, excellent. But
don’t force one into play because you think you don’t need to aim it or that
the sound of the action being cycled will scare someone away.

As for those slugs? I
did get back with the fellow that sent me a message wanting to know about
slugs. We looked into the specs on his
particular shotgun and consulted the manual.
Like far too many people today, he had gone out in a panic. He bought what
he could, along with a bulk pile of slugs, unfortunately for many, the
realization that the time to buy a firearm has come and came during
unprecedented times of frenzied panic buying.
He’s interested in getting some training and will make the best of what
he could get his hands on.

So what’s right for you?
Train and plan. That is the best
way to find out. Do your research and
know what the capabilities are of any tools you may want to implement. Do walkthroughs to see if your plan is
practical. Assume nothing and seek
statistic based facts. If you hit a
wall, consult a trainer that specializes in home self-defense, take a class or
have a consultation session, training and practice will pay you dividends.

Stay safe out there and think before you do!

John Petrolino is a US Merchant Marine Officer, writer,
author of “Decoding
Firearms: An Easy to Read Guide on General Gun Safety & Use”
certified instructor, NRA certified pistol, rifle, and shotgun instructor
living under and working to change New Jersey’s draconian and unconstitutional
gun laws. You can find him on the web at
on Twitter at @johnpetrolino,
and on Instagram @jpetrolinoiii