Budget Minded Shotguns for Home Defense

Editor’s Note: We’ve begun a series here on GunsAmerica that’s designed to highlight some of the least expensive options available for home defense. There’s a reason for this; many people who want to exercise their Second Amendment rights are often met with advice about exactly which gun they should buy, and why. Yet that advice doesn’t always take into account the fiscal realities of those living on a tight budget. So where can they turn? Right here.

We’re going to light up the options and talk about the guns that don’t always make it into the list of guns we feature in the GunsAmerica Digest. We know full well this series isn’t going to appeal to everyone. It isn’t suggested reading for those of you who are already experts. That said, we always value constructive criticism in the comments section below. Help us help others by telling us what works for you, and why–and how much it costs. We all have to start somewhere, and GunsAmerica is a fantastic place to start.

If you’re looking for more in depth information on the less expensive guns on the market, check out the coverage we’re doing of Cheap Guns. These are full reviews, and get into much more detail.

Cheap Guns: 1911 Edition Metro Arms Commander

Cheap Guns: Hi-Point 45ACP Tactical Carbine – 4595TS Review

Cheap Guns: The Cobra CA380 Semi-Auto $199?

Don't let the engraved birds fool you--some of the best bargains on shotguns are those meant for sporting purposes. Yet they will work for home defense.

Don’t let the engraved birds fool you–some of the best bargains on shotguns are those meant for sporting purposes. Yet they will work for home defense.

Cheap Shotguns for Home Defense

The word shotgun covers a lot of ground. You can pay six-figures for an engraved Italian masterpiece, or you can buy an old single shot break action in decent working order for less than the cost of a date night (with dinner and a movie). And there are shotguns at every price-point in between.

While there’s nothing wrong with a solid single shot, they are slow to load. And they only hold one shot. Why this is less-than-optimal should be obvious. Automatic shotguns are also popular, though the automatic action on some guns can be finicky. Lower priced autos, especially. And the last thing you want in a defense situation is a failure to cycle a round.

That’s why so many people love the pump shotguns. These are the best of both worlds. You get the reliability of an old break action, but more than one shot before you have to reload. Some hold up to 8 shells. While the action may not cycle as quickly as an automatic, they are fast enough, and make a very menacing sound when racked.

But let’s step back…

Why a shotgun? These answers vary, but there are some expected answers. Shotguns shoot a variety of ammunition. The three main types are slugs, buckshot (bigger balls, but not as big as slugs), and birdshot (lots of small balls). All three are lethal. Birdshot and buckshot spread out a bit when they exit the barrel, but you do still have to aim at your intended target.

winchester sxp

The SXP is a basic shotgun, but a good example of a pattern that works.

Then there’s the menacing look of a shotgun. They’re lethal. Everyone knows this, and the guns have an ability to be quite persuasive. The look and sound of a pump shotgun is hardly ambiguous. But they are large, most of them (bullpup shotguns being the notable exception–more on that later). And larger guns require more room to move, something most don’t consider before buying a gun they intend to use in the tight confines of their home.

That last part is important. Shotguns are often the gun of choice of people who are worried about over-penetration. Shoot a rifle inside a house and the bullet will likely puncture walls. Sometimes several walls. While slugs and buckshot may punch walls, they won’t travel as far as high-powered rifle or pistol rounds. Birdshot is less likely to make it through stud walls. It still can, but it will loose speed and pose less of a risk. Know your round. Test penetration on dummy walls at the range.

And while we’re on that topic, practice everything. Make the gun safe and practice moving about in your house. In the dark. How hard is it to use a shotgun where you might have to use it? Practice and training will make it much easier.

12 gauge Shotguns

The go-to shotgun round for police, military, hunters, competitors… the 12 gauge. This is a hard hitting round that comes in endless varieties. All of them kick, so keep that in mind if you are slight. There’s no point in buying a gun you can’t use effectively.

The gauge refers to the weight, in pounds, of the maximum sized sphere (cannon ball) which would fit in the barrel. So 12 lead balls, of the max diameter which fits in the barrel, would equal 1 pound if you were to weigh them. If we thought about caliber, as in rifles, the caliber would be equivalent to .73 caliber. That’s a lot of knockdown power and decisive fight stopping energy. While not sending people flying through the air as in Hollywood flics, a Hornady STS 12 gauge, 300 grain, rifled slug traveling at a muzzle velocity of 2000 fps deposits 2664 foot pounds of energy into the target, more than 1 ton!

There are countless listings for less than $3000 on GunsAmerica. Make sure you frequently check out the web listings yourself as they change daily. Save money, and then save your family; what a bargain.

This old 870 will likely last forever with proper care.

This old 870 will likely last forever with proper care.


For $200 you can get a used Remington 870. The item description says this one belonged to a police department. As such, it will show signs of wear, but will–more than likely–run like a top. The 870 is the #1 option for this class of guns.

If you want a more versatile gun, sporting options allow you to hunt and defend.

If you want a more versatile gun, sporting options allow you to hunt and defend.


If you’d rather go with a Mossberg, there are a number of options there, too. The 500 line of pump guns are notorious work-horses. And Mossberg imports Maverick guns that will get the job done, too. Some of the listings you will see for these less-expensive guns can leave you wanting a bit more information. Be patient with the sellers. Their margins on this end of the price spectrum are thin. If they don’t provide enough info, ask a question. The description on this one is really minimal (Nice clean hunting gun.)but I bet the gun would work well, regardless.

Don’t overlook other options, though. Search TriStar, and Ithaca, and Stevens, and Winchester…. This is a broad class of guns. Many of them are purpose built for home defense (shorter barrels, longer magazine tubes, no sight ribs…), but even the sporting models will work–and you can often swap out a long barrel for a short barrel for a minimal expense.

20 Gauge Shotguns

20 Gauge follows the naming convention meaning 20 lead spheres. Uber-macho internet commandos scoff at the idea of using anything less than 12 gauge for home invasion defense. However, 20 gauge shotguns are a bit easier to safely and effectively manipulate for many people of smaller stature, including some women and children, all of whom may, one unlucky night, be called upon to defend the hearth. In fact, a 20 gauge shotgun can propel a standard Federal Power Shok 2-3/4″ hollow point (HP) rifled slug weighing ¾ oz at a muzzle velocity at 1600 fps. This slug then strikes the target and dumps 1865 foot pounds of muzzle energy.


“New In Box Manufacturer: Savage Arms|Stevens Model #: 320 Security Pump Shotgun Type: Shotgun: Pump Action Finish: Matte Black Stock: Black Synthetic with Vertical Pistol Grip Sights: Bead Safety: Manual Barrel Length: 18.5″ Overall Length: 39″ Weight: 6.85 lbs Caliber: 20 Gauge Capacity: 5+1 Action: Pump Action Chokes: Cylinder Receiver: Matte Black Chamber: 3” Features: Rotary Bolt Design, Dual Slide Bars, Side Ejection . Credit card accepted though online check out. We only ship to an FFL. Shipping is $20.00 for priority mail, insurance extra. “
This Stevens is ideal for home defense, and a good deal, too.

This Stevens is ideal for home defense, and a good deal, too.

It is hard to go wrong with either a 12 or 20 gauge pump action shotgun, Make sure everyone in your household knows how to operate it, and can use it while under duress. A side saddle ammunition holder is a great idea for keeping a handful of extra hands within reach. I’d also consider a sling and a weapon light. Remember, you want to identify and then mitigate any serious threat within your home.

Talk to your family about cover, concealment, penetration of walls… and elimination of the threat. I recommend sending every responsible household member to an Appleseed shoot (www.appleseedinfo.org) for basic marksmanship training, and then on to Survival & Tactical Systems, Gunsite, the Smith & Wesson Academy or the Sig Sauer Academy for additional armed self-defense and safety training.

About the Author: D.S. Standard is a poly-lingual international adventurer, a certified 1 Mile Marksman, and an accomplished martial artist, who has mastered snow-blowing, powering his home with a generator and surviving our rollercoaster economy. He and his family hail from New Hampshire, where they try to live up to the State’s “Live Free or Die” credo and they hope that you will experience Liberty, rather than safety, in your lifetime.

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Greg Adkins February 23, 2017, 3:09 pm

    I’m on a budget,so(and I’m not really intrested in a military cartridge semi rifle)is a Maverick 88,12 gauge,and a Springfield XD subcompact in 9 mm.$200+450=$650,before taxes/background check.I believe around$750.00,out the door.That’s(and will be my arsenal.)

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  • James June 28, 2015, 8:37 am

    I have a 12g shot gun that has 3 barrels, bird, slug, cyl. So depends on what my need is.
    I have a 410 with a scope and Cyl bore barrel it puts five slugs in a coffee cup circle at 50 yards, I call it my hand gun on roids!
    Say what you want but getting shot with a 410 leaves one just as dead as the 12, 20, or 28 ga shooting slugs or buck shot at 40 feet!!

    • MJ July 5, 2016, 2:28 pm

      a 410 leaves one just as dead as the 12, 20, or 28 ga shooting slugs or buck shot at 40 feet, join me in alaska and finally over to northtn canada!
      You can scea, like a 2 yr old when the beats come calling, last one I Shot was with a :Lefty gunman and anothers misses things like farm barnes, live cattle and so on! Thats the real part that sucks it all to me, family has tons of private propertey but difficult to get to
      You guys coolein out gooid?
      Later \”YeOleSoul of crystals!!!!
      Have fun, wheereve you arer wherever your going amd ne sire everyone hears you, loudly and clearly
      Enjoy whats lefr of your vaction!!Happy Humting,MJ aka Cretemonster

  • OFBG June 26, 2015, 3:59 pm

    I had to shake my head sadly at your first explanation of “gauge.” If “The gauge refers to the weight, in pounds, of the maximum sized sphere (cannon ball) which would fit in the barrel,” a 12-gauge ball would actually be a 0.08-gauge. You redeemed yourself by saying “So 12 lead balls, of the max diameter which fits in the barrel, would equal 1 pound if you were to weigh them,” even if that was a bit contorted.
    On the other hand, you could have been less clear, as in this definition form Wikipedia: “Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the firearm, and is expressed as the multiplicative inverse of the sphere’s weight as a fraction of a pound (e.g., a 1⁄12th pound ball fits a 12-gauge bore). Thus there are twelve 12-gauge balls per pound.” Multiplicative inverse? Give me a break!
    Next time, try this: “A shotgun’s gauge is defined by the number of round lead balls of the gun’s bore diameter it would take to make a pound.” Or this: “The gauge, or internal diameter of a barrel corresponds to the number of roundballs of the same diameter that can be made from a pound of lead.”

    • Dan April 7, 2016, 12:37 am

      While maybe a little more wordy than necessary, I understood perfectly what was being said without prior knowledge of the subject. Let’s maybe take a step back and realize that people process information differently and filter/distribute information based on their personalities and upbringing. What he said was correct, just not the “right” way? The only thing you should be shaking your head at is your apparent lack of restraint and high level of self-importance.

      • Kenny Smith September 2, 2017, 3:05 pm

        Well said Dan. I felt the same way . I understood it just fine too. What I don’t understand is why so many people feel the need to bash on others for a not so great reason !

  • Jeremy in Texas June 23, 2015, 4:13 pm

    Good subject. I always recommend folks to look out for older Winchester 1300, Mossberg 500/590 and Remington 870s. While some of the others mentioned are fine firearms the big 3 will have the most aftermarket support out there. Sadly Winchester 1300s have not been made for some time now but plenty of them were during its production run. Deals are out there. I recently scored a 1300 defender model for less than 200 dollars that sat under a guys bed for over 10 years as a just in case gun. It was still in such newish condition I felt guilty finally breaking it in lol when I got ahold of it. Its now one of my g2g guns for those 2am unexpected encounters. The Mossberg and Remington options have a ton of aftermarket support and your best bet for a workhorse multi role firearm for not much money. Agreed nothing says get out of my house and be somewhere else better than the racking of a pump action shotgun action. YMMV.

  • Dennis June 23, 2015, 11:42 am

    I have an old 410 clip slid action 3plus1 I inherited from my dad. I have .410 3\” 11/16 oz. shot 6 shot. I think that should stop someone within 25-30\’ shouldn\’t it plus my wife can use it?

  • Kevin June 23, 2015, 10:01 am

    Law enforcement has told us for years that the best home defense weapon of choice is a shotgun. The shotgun is a dependable, get the job done tool. If I could only have one gun, it would be a shotgun, as it is a versatile hunting gun plus good for defending home and loved ones. Stay in the ten ring and keep your powder dry .

  • Steve June 23, 2015, 12:30 am

    Please stop perpetuating the idea that shotgun rounds are less over penetrating than rifle rounds. A shotgun slug or 00 buck is far more penetrating than a regular 55 grain bullet from an AR-15. So unless you’re using surplus black tip 30-06 in your M1, a shotgun round will go through more walls than an AR round which typically tumbles on impact (as designed). And while bird shot may not be overly penetrative, it is also not lethal enough to use for home defense- if it cant go through 6 inches of drywall, how is it supposed to go through 12 inches of bad guy?

    • Bill October 30, 2016, 3:18 am

      An AR-15 round will go thru a 3/8″ steel plate at 100 yards. No common slug or buck shot will compare. Not sure why you are trying to compare something that you have obviously not experienced or tested. You definitely have gotten your facts wrong.

      • Greg Adkins, February 23, 2017, 3:49 pm

        I believe you’re missing the point Bill,it’s about HOME DEFENSE,I can’t speak about your situation,but my defense perimeter is not 100 yards.Maximum 25 ft. I agree a shotgun/handgun is my choice but we are talking again home defense.

  • K Edwards June 22, 2015, 6:05 pm

    Also look at the Rock Island Armory M-5 12 ga. . It sells for $250 and works smoothly. It is a copy of an old High Standard pump shotgun. Holds one more shell in the magazine than a Remington 870 and comes with a Speed Feed stock. At that price, a real bargain for the money…

  • Dallas June 22, 2015, 3:48 pm

    Thanks for the article DS. So often the lesser priced firearms are left out and only the high end, engraved, high polish, etc. whose cost is way out of line are reviewed. It is my opinion that a well used pump shotgun is much easier to stroke the next round in than that fancy stiff new one that will be great in another 3000 rounds. Familiarity with the firearm beats a lot of other perks like pistol grip, ribbed barrel, black color, etc.. Felt kick is another long time debate – take the exact same make and model shotgun with similar weight in a 12 and 20 gauge. The felt recoil will be very similar; however, take two 12 gauge shotguns and get one that fits you well verse a poorly fitted one, straighter comb verses properly rounded drop and one will feel like you been kicked by a mule and the other you will look at it swearing it is a 28 gauge or 410. So go to a place and test fire different shapes and brands to find the one that has the least felt recoil for you, even better for your spouse. One more comment 410 verses 28, 20 or 12. In some ways is similar to talking of 380, 9mm, 38 Spec, 40S&W, 45ACP, etc. The firearm’s operation by skilled, capable, accurate user will make more impact on the situation than the caliber and the gauge. Even a well placed 22LR is better than nothing. A 500 Mag revolver loaded to the max will not do you any good if you cannot effectively and accurately fire it, of course it could break ear drums, your wrist and create a speedy trip to the emergency room for both of you while his buddy ransacks your home. A 410 is better in the hands of a confident shooter than a 12 gauge in the hands of someone who can’t find the safety or pump a round into the chamber and when and if they do, close their eyes and shoots into the upstairs bedroom floor fearing recoil/kick. Once a month take you home defense shotgun to the range and shoot a round or two of skeet and take the spouse along, ten to one if it’s the first time at skeet for both of you, bet she will out shoot you! Also watch how each month you will break more clays, practice makes your better!

  • Rick June 22, 2015, 10:15 am

    Thoughts on .410?
    Wife is small and can’t handle 12 or 20g.

    • Damon June 22, 2015, 1:41 pm

      Look for a 28 gauge. My dad gave me one when I was 9 years old. A Remington 1100 with a beautiful tiger maple stock. Neatly fills the gap between a .410 and a 20 gauge. The only thing I own in .410 is a Taurus Judge, and it’s a last-ditch kind of weapon.

    • Al June 26, 2015, 4:58 pm

      Try a recoil absorbing stock like the ‘CopStock’ – It’s composed of two wedges with a spring; and an up and backward folding wire stock with a polymer pistol grip: It tames the recoil of a 12ga. enough that you can fire slugs with one hand. But a .410 Mossberg 500 pump with a pistol grip, loaded with .00 or .000 buck will still perforate a surplus military ammo can clean though at 7 yards without the blast and recoil of a 12 or 20ga. (It will still be pretty loud though – get ear plugs for indoor use).
      For a petite woman, the .410 pump with a pistol grip and forearm pistol grip is very maneuverable and easy to handle. With Winchester PDX1 2 1/2″ shells you get three 45cal. discs and 1/4 oz of birdshot.

  • alycle June 22, 2015, 9:54 am

    I have both a ‘newish’ Mossberg 500,12 ga. & a 1967 Ithaca 37, 20ga. The Mossberg is a GREAT shot gun…but it is heavy & has a ‘kick’ to it…….I prefermy older Ithaca 37 20 ga, way more!…it is a ‘Featherweight’ feels GREAT in hand & is very accurate! The gun is VERY well made & the action is smooth…plus there is way less ‘kick’. Thus it pumps faster & keeps on target…..

    • Dennis A. Muirhead June 26, 2015, 6:08 pm

      Also the Ithaca ejects out the bottom and can be pumped with either hand :-).

  • Ed Pilkington June 22, 2015, 9:05 am

    You missed the wonderful Remington 870 copy, the H&R Pardner…under 200 bucks and rock solid trutworthy.

    • Pro2Aguy June 23, 2015, 11:15 am

      Yup–it\’s a \”Chicom\” copy but arguably better made…It\’s a freaking tank!

  • John June 22, 2015, 7:02 am

    I think you meant under $300, not $3000…also, don’t discount a 410 pump!

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