How To Use A Shotgun For Home-Defense

Previously 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 with, in 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 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 another 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, yeah, I wouldn’t 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 aggressors. 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 at 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 for 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 nighttime 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 thinking about the process.

You should 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 investigated the specs on his 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 had 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 can 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.

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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” and USCCA 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