Is the pump gun still relevant in today’s home-defense toolbox? As an unabashed lover of both flavors of scattergun, my answer might be a little surprising. I think that most people should use something else. To be used effectively, the shotgun must be mastered. It’s not a sloppy tool that merely needs to be pointed in the general direction of the bad guy, nor is it a magical talisman that will send a bad guy running at the very sound of its action being cycled (in the case of a pump action). It has prohibitive recoil, it is slow to reload, its distance is limited and it’s heavy.

While all these things are true, I still love it. You know why? Because at typical home-defense distances, there is nothing that hits like a load of 12-gauge buckshot. One press and the target gets nine to 12 projectiles at once. That’s stopping power.

Most people won’t put in the work to master the shotgun, and for them, this isn’t the right tool. You’ll be much better off with a pistol or carbine. For those of you who want to run the tube, read and heed.


The first thing you need to do is figure out if you want to run a pump or a semiautomatic. Yes, a semiauto is faster. That said, there are few people who can run either style fast enough to take full advantage of the semiauto’s speed advantage. To test this hypothesis, I recently put myself one-on-one against another shooter for some drills, including multiple target drills. I was armed with my Mossberg 590 A1, and he was armed with a Benelli M4. We are both proficient shotgunners and, as I suspected, time differences were negligible. I won a few, he won a few, and we were really close every single time. While a great shooter with light loads can take advantage of the speed difference, I don’t think that it makes a significant difference in home-defense scenarios. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re willing to put in the work, then nothing says “let’s party” like a 12-gauge semiauto. Just be realistic and understand the limitations.

Reloading during a home-defense scenario rarely happens. In fact, it happens so infrequently that it is statistically insignificant. Most defensive uses of the shotgun — or any gun — result in fewer than five rounds fired. Of course there are outliers, and while reloading practice is a necessary skill “just in case,” the fact that a weapon for home defense takes longer to reload than others isn’t necessarily a reason to discount it. Home defense is a different mission than military and law enforcement (LE) use, so training with your home-defense firearm should reflect that. Target identification, coming up on target, getting a shot off quickly and controlling recoil should be emphasized. Some of the running and gunning and multiple threat engagement stuff that gets trained by military/LE shooters can be minimized.


Something that doesn’t get discussed enough is properly fitting the shotgun to the shooter. A poorly fit stock will force the shooter’s head into an awkward position, beating up the shooter’s face, and inducing fatigue and inconsistencies. I love the Magpul stock and run them exclusively on my pump guns because they are adjustable for nearly every normal-size human being. They also put the shooter in a biomechanically superior shooting position compared to standard stocks. A good rule of thumb for adjusting a stock is to grasp the stock by the wrist, right where you’d hold it to shoot it, and hold it up with your primary arm bent at 90 degrees. If the stock is too long, it will touch your bicep. If it’s close but doesn’t touch, it’s in the sweet spot. If you’re running body armor, make sure that it’s a couple of inches off the bicep. This is just a rough fitting, but in most instances, it will get you where you need to be.

Unless your shotgun is a National Firearms Act (NFA)-regulated shorty, such as a breacher, avoid pistol-grip shotguns. Pistol grips are great for carrying but not so great for shooting. They focus recoil into your hand rather than your shoulder, and it’s often difficult to get a good cheekweld. I generally don’t use competition as a comparison for tactical matters, but if you look at the top 3-Gun shooters, you won’t see many pistol grip shotguns. That’s because they shoot a lot, and they know what works.

Whether you choose a semiauto or a pump, there are a couple of things necessary for a home-defense shotgun:


The first thing you need is a good white light. The light should match the mission, and if your mission is home defense, that light needs to have more than 200 lumens and the reflector needs to throw a wide corona with lots of spill. The hot spot and the throw are of secondary concern since your engagement distances will be well under 25 yards unless you’re living really well. In fact, if you get an unobstructed shot longer than 25 yards inside your house, I want to come hang out with you because you’re doing something right! While pistol lights, such as the SureFire X300, aren’t optimized for carbines and rifles, they work well on shotguns because the pistol and the shotgun tend to engage within the same distances. Another option for pump guns is the dedicated forend light. I’ve migrated away and come back to this more times than I care to count. I’ll invariably get frustrated with the weight and bulk of the forend light and go to an X300 only to come back because of the ease of use of the forend. It’s a balancing act; think about your most likely uses and then equip properly.


The next addition to your shotgun should be a high-quality sling. Think of the sling as a holster in the event that you need to use both hands to evacuate family members or render aid. You don’t want to put down the shotgun, and the sling allows you to maintain control of it. I have always used Vickers Tactical slings from Blue Force Gear, but there are plenty of high-quality tactical two-point slings out there, including offerings from Viking Tactics and Magpul. Because of the weight of a shotgun, a padded version can help with comfort.


No discussion of the shotgun is complete without a discussion about appropriate shotgun loads for home defense. Bird shot is not appropriate. Just stop with this damn nonsense. The projectiles lack the mass to penetrate to vital organs on human-size targets. That’s not opinion, it’s science. I have seen at least a dozen cases of birdshot failing to stop a determined person; it’s for the birds — literally. If you have birdshot loaded in your home-defense gun, go take it out right now and load some damn buckshot in there. The most proven fight stopping loads are 00, in either nine- or 12-pellet payloads. The nine-pellet offering from Federal Tactical is the gold standard, and their Flight Control shot cup is the best in the business. Double-aught won’t penetrate walls any farther than 9mm, so the penetration excuse is silly. At typical home-defense distances, the Federal load is typically about the size of a man’s fist. It is devastating at these distances. I’ve been playing with the 1 buck 15-pellet load, and it looks promising, but I want to see some more recorded street shootings before I recommend it without reservation.

The shotgun is not the answer for everyone. It requires time and dedication to training to be truly proficient. Yet there is no other firearm available to the average homeowner that can do as much damage in as little time as the 12-gauge shotgun. Know your mission, know your limitations, and make the decision that’s right for you and your family.