The misconceptions surrounding the defensive shotgun could easily fertilize California’s Imperial Valley for months, if not years. Such statements as "Use a shotgun you can’t miss" or "My 12 gauge will cover that wall" are plain BS. The stuff Hollywood puts out is even more misleading. For the record, you can easily miss with a shotgun, and the pattern covers only very small walls at short yardage. Cinematic scatterguns may lift grown men completely off their feet or stop large cars in their tracks, but real ones don’t do anything of the kind. Nevertheless, the shotgun remains an excellent choice of armament for use in home, camp or ranch defense just about anywhere concealment is not an issue.
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Shotguns have a long history in combat roles. They have proven effectiveness in that they launch multiple projectiles. When the sportsman swings his long-barreled Browning Auto-5 at the leader in a wedge of high-flying Canadas, he is using the multiple-projectile concept to increase the probability of a hit. But when he triggers the same firearm at an armed intruder in his home, he is trying for terminal effectiveness a centered hit on the intruder where all of the pellets strike vital areas.
The point is simple proper selection of a fighting shotgun and effective ammunition, combined with training, give the defensive shooter one of the most devastating firearms possible. In this article we’ll spend a little time on ammo but mostly look into choosing an appropriate shotgun for home defense.
Gauges, Pellets, Chokes
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How about some yardsticks for choosing a gauge? I believe there is at least some use for anything from a 10 gauge to a 20 gauge. That means 10, 12, 16 and 20 gauge, all of which have some form of buckshot load available. The best choice, by a wide margin, is the 12, which has dozens of different buckshot choices. The 10 gauge is usually large, heavy and inclined to recoil so hard as to be intimidating. Going down the scale, 16s and 20s are OK, but gun and ammunition choices are limited. That leaves the 12, where, again, the ammo choice is very wide.
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Also, for about the last 10 years, the American ammunition industry has responded to a law enforcement request for shotgun loads with less recoil. At the same time, it has made most of these 12-gauge loads in such a way that they also shoot much tighter patterns.
Let’s consider pellet size. Regular shot runs from No. 12 all the way up to 000 buckshot. The odds-on favorite for combat (read anti-personnel) use is 00 buck. Double-ought pellets are approximately .33 caliber and weigh around 52 to 54 grains apiece. You can get as many as 12 of them in a 2 3/4-inch "short magnum" shell, but standard and low-recoil loads use either eight or nine pellets. This is probably the best all-around choice. However, there is a low-recoil load from Federal that uses eight 000 pellets that I feel is the best possible compromise. But to be frank, this is an area where there’s a lot of leeway. At "inside the house" ranges, 10 to 12 yards is a long shot, and shot size isn’t critical. Even No. 8 birdshot will pattern into a six- to eight-inch circle at these distances. And it’ll do plenty of damage, too.
May 7, 2010