I have been to some bad places around the world and have seen bad things happen. When I lived on the Gulf Coast, I went through the aftermath of several major hurricanes. I now live in a rural area near a volcano and maintain a wide selection of weapons. When I hear a noise in the night, I grab the shotgun
Legal in 50 states and commonly praised by anti-gunners as a logical alternative to “assault rifles,” shotguns are among the most powerful weapons allowed by law. The only reason they are not regulated by the National Firearms Act is a special exemption in the law for sporting purposes.
One of the reasons shotgun seem mysterious is the arcane method used to describe their bore size, gauge. A shotgun’s gauge is determined by the number of lead balls of a given diameter required to make one pound of that size ball. Thus 12 balls of 12 gauge diameter are required to make one pound of such balls. The actual (nominal) bore diameter of the 12 gauge is .729 caliber or 18mm.
I have a long and deep love for the shotgun. I find that people who don’t love the shotgun fall into two basic categories: the ignorant and the unintelligent. If you are of average intelligence or above, please continue reading. Among the most misunderstood firearms while clearly among the most effective, the shotgun makes bad people stop doing bad things, immediately.
You know who else loves shotguns? Former Vice President Joe Biden has said, “I have two shotguns at home. No one is going to come and take my guns.” Biden also said “You don’t need an AR, you don’t need thirty rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun. If you want to protect yourself, get a double-barreled shotgun.”
Former Vice President Biden famously told his wife to fire a shotgun off the balcony to stop prowlers. I would give, almost, the same advice, “Jill, if there’s ever a man who is trying to enter our home to rape and kill you and the kids, just walk out on the balcony here…and fire two blasts into his chest. Then reload and call the neighbors for help.”
There is some common gun store wisdom that makes me cringe every time I hear it, “the sound of a shotgun racking is the most terrifying sound in the world.” I disagree; I think the scariest sound is the blast of 12 gauge buckshot followed by the wet meat slap of the pellets hitting flesh at close range. If a violent stranger is inside my house at 3 am with a weapon, I don’t want a shotgun in my hand with no round in the chamber waiting to frighten him when I load it.
Many shooters are frightened by shotgun recoil. Newton’s third law of motion is generally stated as: “To every action, there is always opposed an equal and opposite reaction.” Grandma Miller used to say, “You gotta bring some to get some.” Until directed energy weapons become more practical, if you want to influence a target at a distance, you have to accept recoil. Some people find shotgun recoil unbearable. Modern low recoil slug and buckshot rounds combined with proper shooting techniques provide a great balance of effective ballistics and manageable recoil for shooters of all sizes.
Writer Greg Ellifritz has collected data of effectiveness of various caliber weapons in shootings. (https://www.buckeyefirearms.org/alternate-look-handgun-stopping-power )
These are his conclusions about shotguns:
Shotgun (All, but 90% of results were 12 gauge)
Number of people shot – 146
Number of hits – 178
Percentage of hits that were fatal – 65%
Average number of rounds until incapacitation – 1.22
Percentage of people who were not incapacitated – 12%
One-shot-stop Percentage – 58%
Accuracy (head and torso hits) – 84%
Percentage actually incapacitated by one shot (torso or head hit) – 86%
There is mythology that you don’t need to aim a shotgun. The effect of a miss may be psychologically devastating, but the wound ballistics of a hit are much more predictable. Appropriate marksmanship must be applied, just as when shooting a handgun or rifle.
There are two types of practical shotguns. The classic pump action has a short barrel and a bead sight with a tube magazine under the barrel. A bead sight is best suited for close short duration situations delivering mass trauma with a single hit. It is powerful and very fast up close but struggles for accuracy past 30 yards. Equipped with modern ghost rings like XS Sights and shooting slugs, it becomes more precise and elegant weapon, effective out to 100 yards.
I like pump shotguns because they are simple, flexible and reliable. Compared to handguns and rifles, they hold relatively few rounds and are slow to reload once empty. My Remington 870 holds nine rounds. If the average number of rounds until incapacitation is 1.22, I get 7.3 incapacitated assailants before reloading. If there are more than 7.3 people I need to put down all at once, I will call friends with shotguns and/or transition to a handgun and move to a better neighborhood.
Semi-automatic shotguns are powered by the gas or recoil of fired shells producing reduced recoil. Semi-autos usually have rifle sights and are fed by tube or box magazines. Magazine capacity ranges from four rounds to as many as 10 with extended magazines. Tristar, Remington, Mossberg and Siaga make magazine fed shotguns with five and ten round capacities. They have all the same ballistic characteristics of the pump but shoot faster.
Shotgun ammunition comes in three basic forms:
Birdshot consists of small-diameter pellets, smaller than match heads, used for shooting sports as well as bird and small game hunting. At distance, it has low energy. At extreme close range, the shot remains in the shot cup and hits all at once. That is going to leave a mark, but it is not your best bet for home defense use.
Slugs are heavy, fat hunks of soft lead that have enormous stopping power. A typical 12 gauge slug is .73″ caliber/18 mm and weighs 438 grains – a 9mm bullet is .355″ and 115 grains. Slugs must be carefully aimed to be effective. When they hit, they are very effective.
Buckshot is what makes shotguns special. A typical 12 gauge OO (usually pronounced Double Ought) buckshot round has nine 30-caliber pellets and will keep a man-sized pattern out to 25 yards. The creation of multiple wound channels is devastating. Even birdshot hits like a slug at room distances. A 1-ounce slug will reach out accurately at 100 yards if you know what you are doing. Think about how far you can see from your yard. Science demands the insertion of a ballistic gelatin video here.
Not surprisingly, Buckshot was so named for killing deer. My favorite is the Remington Reduced Recoil 8-pellet. They eliminated one of the pellets and did some kind of voodoo which seemingly defies Newtonian Physics by maintaining good penetration and patterns while producing much less recoil.
A shotgun with an 18-inch Cylinder Bore or Improved Cylinder barrel will fire buckshot in a cone-shaped pattern which spreads from the barrel of the gun at a rate of about one inch for each yard traveled. Knowing your pattern and using loads with tight shot patterns keep all the rounds in the target and out of your neighbors and family.
Shotgun buckshot and slugs will go through eight or ten layers of sheetrock in walls, so you can’t just spray it around. Buckshot, if shot up in the air it will fall out of the sky in a few hundred yards, slugs go much farther.
History Break: The Imperial German Army in WW1 knew a few things about effective weapons. They had deployed flamethrowers, poison gas, machine guns, and high explosives. In 1918, the German’s ran into Americans carrying the Model 97 Trench Guns (a 12 gauge pump shotgun) shooting 00 buckshot. They filed a diplomatic complaint that the shotgun was cruel and illegal because the 1907 Hague Convention said: “it is especially forbidden to employ arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering”. When the Americans laughed at this, the German Army threatened to execute soldiers caught with shotguns. Challenge accepted! American General Pershing replied that Germans caught with flamethrowers or saw-bladed bayonets would be shot.
Shotguns are flexible, affordable and reliable. Ammunition is widely available in a dazzling array of capabilities. Shotguns are non-threatening politically with devastating terminal ballistics. In a situation where you need a gun for hunting large or small game and protecting your family, there is just nothing better than the trusty 18-millimeter shotgun.
What do our readers think? Is the shotgun the ultimate defensive weapon?
About the Author – Mark Miller is a former Customs Agent and a Green Beret who served in Afghanistan and a number of other live fire locations. A student of firearms and shooting, he is an FFL and an SOT. The guiding philosophy of his life is that terrain and situation dictate tactics and the enemy always gets a vote on any plan.