During March and April, more Americans bought firearms than at any time in recent history. The home defense shotgun was one of the top purchases along with handguns. The reality is that while many homeowners now have pump-action shotguns in their house, few of these folks have real training or experience using them.

Relying upon movies and television for our defensive shotgun knowledge is a recipe for failure. What we hope to do in the next several paragraphs is dispel the Hollywood mythology. We hope to replace it with some practical reality instead. Let’s get into it.

Also, congratulations on your first shotgun.

Home Defense Shotgun for Beginners

A Home Defense Shotgun is meant to be a Power Tool

A Home Defense Shotgun Should Have Versatility.

The versatility of the 12 gauge shotgun is one of the biggest selling points. That same fact is also one of the drawbacks for the new shotgun owner. There many different types and configurations of shotgun shells available for the 12 gauge. Because of that, an inexperienced person can easily become overwhelmed or confused. Let me help you navigate those muddy waters.

There are 3 basic types of ammunition for a shotgun; bird-shot, buckshot, and slugs (single projectile). However, all of the aforementioned are available in various configurations. Bird-shot and buckshot come in numerous sizes from the tiny #12 bird-shot all the way up the larger 00 and 000 buckshot. Slugs, a single projectile shotgun shell, come in different styles as well. A lead Foster-type slug is the most common, but there are sabot slugs for rifled barrels and polymer-tipped, conical slugs that look like rifle bullets.

We have not even touched on the “buck and ball” combo loads or all of the unusual specialty ammunition that is available. All of this can add up to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding for the new shotgun defensive shotgun owner.

If you’re still having doubts, just go with your favorite 00 buckshot. Let me explain.


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The Home Defense Shotgun and a Tactical Baseline.

In order to minimize the confusion and deal with the Hollywood mythology, let’s establish a tactical baseline. There is one group of people who have been successfully employing shotguns against bad men for over one hundred years; American law enforcement. Police officers have been using pump-action shotguns to stop bad men at gunfight distances for decades. Their primary choice for ammunition is the 00 buckshot shell.

For home defense, we recommend that you choose an 00 buckshot shell from one of several manufacturers. Remington, Federal, and Winchester all produce a reduced or “managed” recoil 00 buck load for defensive use.

After you have a greater amount of experience and confidence with a shotgun you might want to experiment with all of the other types of shot-shells. For now let’s keep it simple. For self-defense with a shotgun, buy 00 buckshot. You can’t go wrong here.

Home Defense Shotgun Loads

00 Buckshot is the Baseline for Self-Defense

Practice and Training.

Practice and training is the time that you want to use the less expensive bird-shot loads. The lighter recoiling trap and skeet ammunition costs a fraction of the price of 00 buckshot, translating to more shooting time for the dollar. Which means you obtain a higher level of proficiency as a shooter, for a lower cost.

Yes, you should absolutely shoot 00 buck defensive ammunition through your home defense shotgun. You need to understand what it will feel like and be sure that the ammo you are using will cycle in your gun properly. That being said, mastering the pump-action shotgun requires dedication and practice. I want you to obtain that skill for the least amount of money possible.

Cardboard and paper targets are of little use to the shooter when practicing with a shotgun and bird-shot. After only a few rounds, the cardboard and paper will be chewed up and destroyed. The best solution is to find one or two steel targets from a reputable manufacturer. Using a quality AR500 steel target, you can fire tens of thousands of rounds of bird-shot before it will need to be replaced. This translates to more time training, and less time replacing targets.

Trust me on this one. Your training time is limited. Maximize it!

00 Buckshot at 7 Yards

Standard 00 Buckshot and Federal Tactical Buckshot from 7 yards

You CAN Miss with a Shotgun

Contrary to what television and movies have portrayed, or what you might have overheard in a gun shop, you can miss with a shotgun. If you are a new defensive shotgun owner, I would highly recommend that you take some cardboard (a large pizza box will work) to the range. Staple or secure the cardboard and pace off a practical distance. If you are using a shotgun for home defense, your target will likely be inside of seven yards.

For a reference point, walk five full paces away from your cardboard target. Now, take your time and fire a round of your chosen 00 buckshot load into the center of the target. Measure the spread of the buckshot pattern. I would be surprised if the pattern was over five inches across.

This cardboard shot pattern test should immediately put to rest the myth that A.) you cannot miss with a shotgun and B.) the idea that a shotgun shell will “fill the air” with BB’s. It is simply untrue that you can just “point” in the general direction of the target and expect to vaporize the bad man with buckshot. That’s not how reality works.

A Home Defense Shotgun is a Power Tool.

Some people operate under the misconception that because the shotgun is a ‘long gun’ that it is somehow a distance tool. I have heard people say that they would not need a shotgun around their house because all the shots they take would be at relatively close distances.

When it comes to home defense, the shotgun is a power tool, not a distance tool. The shotgun produces greater power, and lethality, than any handgun ever could. If a ferocious wild animal; bear, wolf, mountain lion, was breaking into your house to eat you, would you rather have a pistol or a shotgun to stop it? The same logic applies to stopping one or more dangerous bad men from entering your home and harming your family.

The goal of defending your life against any predator, whether two or four legged, is to stop it as fast as humanly, possible. That is where the home defense shotgun shines. Using a load of 00 buckshot, a defensive shotgun is a superb fight stopping tool. In the hands of a trained and competent person it is a game changer. Our hope for you is that you will become one of those competent and well-trained people.

You’re a beginner once, but you’re a student for life.


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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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