Shotguns are somewhat unique in the gun world. On the one hand, a modern shotgun operates in basically the same way that other modern firearms operate, but on the other hand, the similarities end at the basics. The way they are designed, what they’re used for, the shells a shotgun uses, everything is different from other firearms and rifles.
When it comes to defense (whether self defense or home defense), the suitability of a shotgun depends a lot on how it’s designed and how well the shooter understands both shotguns in general and their particular shotgun. Whether you’re looking for something with a smooth action or really care about getting a wood stock, you’re in the right place to learn about some great options.
Favorite Shotguns for hunting often have design aspects that make them not as great for defending your home, but several of the ones we’ll talk about here are good shotguns for hunting.
Mossberg Maverick 88
Mossberg Maverick 88
Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series
Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series
What Makes The Best Shotguns For Home Defense
Shotguns are as ubiquitous as any other type of gun out there. You can use them for multiple types of hunting (though mostly fowl), as a duty firearm, or for defensive purposes. Since those are all so different, getting a shotgun for home defense means looking specifically for the features that are going to make the biggest difference.
I’m going to go over some aspects of a shotgun that can make it better or worse for home defense. If you’re new to this and aren’t sure on what things like “choke” are then feel free to scroll down and read the guide at the bottom first. I will explain all the basics down there.
Shells And Choke
I personally feel best about buckshot, specifically 00 buckshot, for a home defense shotgun. I’ve heard the occasional shooter recommend birdshot, but most people agree that birdshot lacks the penetrative power to be ideal in that situation. There are some interesting stories about birdshot being stopped by leather jackets or a single layer of sheetrock.
For me, that makes the contest between slugs and buck, but at that point it becomes a lot tougher. On the one hand, slugs are rated to penetrate further and therefore more likely to over-penetrate, but buckshot gives you a wider spread and multiple points of impact, which increase your chances of a stray projectile hitting something you don’t want to hit.
My honest assessment here is that truly, deeply, profoundly...neither is better or worse. That said, if some hunters out there want to convince me otherwise, I wish you good luck. Take your best shot (pun intended).
On choke - you can get fixed chokes or interchangeable chokes. My favorite ones are interchangeable since you can adapt to whatever type of shooting you’re doing, without paying the price for multiple guns.
Reliability & Action
It’s worth mentioning that in all my years of shooting I have only had one malfunction from a shotgun and it was a user error more than the gun itself. Shotguns are pretty dang reliable as a rule. That said, semi-auto shotguns are rising in popularity, and the jury is still out on a lot of the newer auto-loader shotguns and their reliability.
While I see a lot of value in having a semi-auto shotgun while as a duty gun for law enforcement or a truck gun, for home defense it’s unlikely that you will need to fire faster than single shots like a pump or lever action will allow you to do, and you may be making a tradeoff for that extra speed in the form of less reliability.
Price, Recoil, And More
Using a shotgun for home defense brings an important consideration with it: will you be the only one using it? The strong recoil of a 12 gauge shotgun can be too much for children below a certain age and the elderly. If you’re not the only person who will be using the shotgun, you may want to consider something with lighter recoil like a 20 gauge.
A soft shooting option can make a big difference for smaller people.
Price is also a concern when looking for the best shotgun. If you’re using the gun for more than just defense then it might make sense to drop a little bit more money on it, but if this really is a “just in case” firearm for you, then you may settle for a very basic, affordable shotgun and not worry too much about bells and whistles.
The length of the shotgun barrel can make a big difference here. A shorter barrel gives you better maneuverability in tight hallways as well as a wider spread, which increases the chances you’ll hit the bad guy. Semi-autos tend to be designed with home defense in mind, so their barrels are often shorter.
1. Mossberg Maverick 88
The Maverick 88 is one of those basic affordable options I just mentioned. It’s accurate, reliable, and durable. It’s a pump shotgun and it comes in either 12 gauge or 20 gauge. It comes with a fixed cylinder bore choke, which means no choke, and no choke can be inserted to adapt the gun for a different purpose. This makes it a poor choice for hunting, despite being reliable and light.
It’s not common to see modern shotguns without interchangeable chokes, and it’s one of the reasons this is such an affordable option. Despite the low price, you get a solid shotgun that will be able to handle everything from birdshot to slugs with no problem. It has great ammo capacity, being able to hold 7+1.
It has a full-length synthetic stock, and it honestly could be the best shotgun for you.
Mossberg Maverick 88
The price of Mossberg Maverick 88 varies, so check the latest price at
2. Benelli M4
The Benelli is on the complete other end of the spectrum from the Maverick 88. The Benelli may be a heckuva lot more expensive, but it’s also just a better shotgun. In fact, I would consider it one of the best shotguns on this list. It comes with a Modified choke that you can insert if desired, has a picatinny rail on the top and comes with a front and rear sight from the factory.
The Benelli also comes with a pistol grip and a synthetic stock that is incredibly tough and durable. The M4 is also not a pump action; it's a semi-auto shotgun, with a proprietary Auto-Regulating Gas-Operated system so that it can handle the wide variety of loads that could all be put through the gun without any adjustments.
The magazine tube only holds 5 rounds, so you can only hold 6 rounds total at one time, but that’s fairly standard for a shotgun. The M4 is designed to be a duty gun for law enforcement, defense shotgun, or even for carrying for protection in bear country. It can be adapted for hunting or for a stationary target, and won’t get scratched up if you drop it.
The safety button is conveniently located on the receiver and shouldn’t be hit by accident while you carry it.
The price of Benelli M4 varies, so check the latest price at
3. Remington 870
It’s hard for me to think of a more iconic shotgun; the Remington 870 was the first shotgun I ever shot, and guns that were bought new 30 and 40 years ago are still running great. It may be the best pump shotgun, complete with an affordable price. All the 870s I can find have the wood stock and a polymer pump handle painted to look like wood.
The 870 has an incredibly smooth action which gives you great consistency between shots. When you’re defending your home, you want your firearm to operate as predictably as possible, and the Remington certainly fits that description. If you’re looking for shotguns for hunting in addition to defense, this can be a great option.
Unlike some of the other shotguns we’re recommending, the 870 has a 25-inch barrel and only a 4+1 ammo capacity. If you get the 12-gauge version, it comes with a modified choke and weighs just about 7.5 pounds. The choke is interchangeable, but it’s a rifled choke, which is important to know if you’re targeting slugs.
The price of Remington 870 varies, so check the latest price at
4. Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
The big difference with the Beretta Silver Pigeon is that it’s an over-under shotgun, which means that it has double barrels, one on top of the other. This has a few implications specifically for home defense, so let’s go over those.
First, the Beretta gives you the ability to fire off two shots in a row without relying on the gun cycles of a semi-auto. This is an advantage over pump and lever shotguns. However, there is no magazine or tube on the Beretta anywhere, so you load the cartridges directly into the chambers and have to eject and reload after every two shots.
For me personally, the Silver Pigeon might make more sense as a home defense shotgun if it was significantly cheaper. It’s right up there in price with the Benelli M4 but there are a lot of sacrifices you make for it. For example, as of the writing of this article it’s not available in 12 gauge.
It can be great to double as a pest control or small game firearm if you’re looking to kill two birds with one stone.
Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon
The price of Beretta 686 Silver Pigeon varies, so check the latest price at
5. Weatherby SA-08
The SA-08 is like a Benelli M4 but with a barrel that’s 10 inches longer, one less capacity (4+1), and it’s much more affordable. That said, you won’t have the same speed of movement and maneuverability as you would with a shorter one. The Weatherby uses a dual regulating inline valve system, so it’s gas operated but should be able to handle both 2 3/4 and 3” shells just fine.
Where the Benelli is really only designed to excel at defensive or combat situations, the SA-08 is designed to perform adequately in defensive situations but also perform well in other common shotgun applications like trap shooting sporting clays, for waterfowl hunters or other types of hunting, etc. Being not as light, it should have softer recoil for younger and elderly shooters.
The Weatherby comes with three choke tubes and is also compatible with Remington choke tubes if preferred.
The price of Weatherby SA-08 varies, so check the latest price at
6. Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series
Stoeger flies under the radar in a lot of these types of reviews and articles, and honestly it’s a shame. The M3000 is a phenomenal shotgun; it’s an auto-loader and you can get it in different lengths and configurations based on your needs. The Freedom Series is designed specifically for defense with an 18.5” barrel length and a 5 round capacity.
Stoeger’s claim to fame though, is their Inertia Driven® operating system. It does not use gas to cycle the action, which keeps the shotgun cleaner and, along with the rotating bolt, makes the gun more reliable as a whole. The Freedom Series does come with a fixed cylinder choke, so it’s really not a swiss-army-knife type of shotgun. It does one thing and does it well.
If you’re really interested in the Benelli M4 but can’t justify the cost, the M3000 is a good alternative.
Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series
The price of Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series varies, so check the latest price at
7. Mossberg 590 (500 Series)
The Mossberg 590 is just dang cool. You’ve got your standard model with a 6+1 capacity with a 20-inch barrel (or thereabouts). All the models are pump action, and they’re designed for different defensive (or offensive) capabilities. You can get it with a pistol grip or without, depending on your preferences.
The Mariner version is designed to be around water and high humidity, the Shockwave is short-barreled with a Raptor Bird’s head style grip, and the Chainsaw Handle gives you an easy way to direct the gun and pump the action while shooting from the hip.
Some of the models may not be legal for civilian purchase depending on where you live, but even if you stick with the standard model, if you favor pump actions then this is a great option. Mossberg has the name and reputation that you can rely on if you don’t have enough personal experience with shotguns to decide between brands.
The price of Mossberg 590 varies, so check the latest price at
There are a lot of misconceptions about chokes on shotguns. There are a couple of not-exactly-true things that get shouted from the rooftops, while a few really important things don’t get discussed much at all.
What Is Choke?
Choke on a shotgun is an insert you put into the end that causes the mass of projectiles to constrict a small amount before exiting, which makes them fly in a tighter pattern and have a longer effective range. There are about ten different “standard” chokes, each with their own name, that go from about .005” inch constriction to .045”.
If you don’t have any choke, that is called Cylinder choke, or Cylinder bore. Modified is middle of the road, and Full is what most people consider the max, although you can get Extra Full and Turkey which are even more constricted.
Slugs And Choke
The biggest misconception I hear pushed is that not only can you not use slugs with a full choke, you will actually blow something up if you try. For the most part, you can shoot a slug safely through any standard choke on a shotgun. That said, the accuracy of a slug will almost always be better on a cylinder or improved cylinder choke.
Choke And Rifling
On the other hand, something that I wish was better publicized was this: something needs to be rifled; either the slug or the choke, but not both. If you have a smooth bore, then you need to buy rifled slugs. If you have a rifled bore or choke, then you need to buy slugs that aren’t rifled. Bullet trajectories can go a bit haywire if you shoot smooth-on-smooth or rifled-on-rifled.
Steel, Lead, And Choke
A way you can damage your choke is by constricting too tightly while using non-lead projectiles. Steel doesn’t compress nearly as easily as lead shot does, so if you are wanting a really tight constriction, you need to pay special attention to what the projectiles you’ll be using are made out of.
It is my understanding that this won’t result in something literally blowing up, but it can dent, warp, or bend in an irreparable way. Remember, gauge does not measure the projectiles; gauge measures the shells.
How To Destroy Your Choke
The best way to destroy your choke is to not mount it to the correct tightness. If you don’t tighten it down enough, a shot from higher gauge shells can break it into pieces.
Pros and Cons Of Different Actions
Lever actions are mostly a thing of the past, so we won’t be talking about them much, but here is some info on all the action types you’ll see at the price points.
Pump Action Shotguns
Most people understand the basic idea behind a pump: each time you want to shoot, you pump back and forward and there you go. When you slide the pump backwards, you operate two mechanisms; you eject the spent shell (if there is one), and you push the next shell into position (if there is one) in front of the firing pin.
When you bring the pump forward, the shell you just pushed into position is pulled up and into the chamber ready to be fired. Pumps are incredibly simple on a mechanical level and therefore have very few malfunctions that aren’t user-related. The simplicity and reliability of shotguns is one of the reasons why they’re still so popular.
These are similar in principle to a bolt action, so if you understand how that works then you basically understand how a pump works.
Over-Unders and Side-By-Sides
These have moved more into the world of collectibles and specialty in recent decades. These are both forms of double barrel shotguns, and the difference is just whether the two barrels sit next to each other sideways or one on top of the other. They operate essentially the same way regardless of where the barrels are positioned.
There’s a hinge near the trigger assembly that will allow the gun to fold open enough for you to insert a shell directly into each chamber by hand. You then close the gun back up and you’re ready to go. Pulling the trigger will always fire out of one barrel before the other.
These have largely been outmoded by modern designs, but there are still some niche places where these can be useful. They allow you to shoot two rounds in a row as if the rifle were semi-auto, and you can have a different choke on each barrel to control what you’re using.
There’s also the possibility of putting a slug in one side and buckshot in the other. In the event of a home invasion, you can shoot the slug first to avoid the risk of the shot spreading wide and causing damage to your home or family, then have the buckshot as a last hail-mary just in case.
Options like the Browning Superposed or the Browning Citori fit into this category.
The Semi-Automatic Shotgun
I’ve been spoiled by the semi-automatics in my life. I know that they are more prone to feeding issues and reliability issues than the other options but I’ve always found it more enjoyable to shoot a semi-auto, and I’ve had so few issues with them that I would not hesitate to trust one in a life or death situation.
Semi-auto shotguns are either a gas system or inertia operated. In other words, the action uses either the release of gases from the gun powder to eject the spent casing and reload the next shell, or it uses the recoil to do it.
Other Aspects To Consider
Price tag is an obvious one, but you should also think about other things about the shooting experience. Felt recoil is a big one; just because you’re looking at all 12 gauges doesn’t mean the felt recoil will be the same between them. It’s good to read up on specific models on how they handle recoil reduction and what other shooters think of how it shoots.
Another aspect is trigger pull, which applies to just about every firearm, whether it’s a rifle, shotgun, or handgun. A good shotgun trigger will be heavy enough that you won’t pull it before you’re ready but light enough that it doesn’t cause you to shift your grip when you squeeze it.
There’s also the length of pull, which many shotguns seem to have issues with. If the length of pull is too much, then it can force your hand to shift its grip to complete the pull. Be careful of finding an option designed for hunting and adapting it for defense.
The needs of hunters are different than those of a homeowner; your target is different, weather condition is certainly different, how far you do (or don’t) need to carry not only the gun itself but also the shells, how far each of the loads shoots, what gauge you may want, and even what the stock and receiver are made out of.
You can choose either a polymer or wood stock. For most shooters, this is purely a matter of preference, especially if you hunt. Other things from the gauge of the ammo to the action matter a lot more.
Final Thoughts On The Best Shotguns
There’s a solid argument for shotguns as a home defense firearm. They’re simple to operate, they rarely malfunction, and they can cause devastating damage to a home invader. They are also relatively light weight (believe it or not), are good to hunt with in some cases, and have a variety of loads in each gauge that you can ai at your target with.
Home defense would rarely require more than 5-6 rounds in a single event, and having a shot spread of a few inches means even if your heart pounding takes away some of your accuracy, as long as you’re pointing at center mass you’re pretty much good to go, and shotguns are a lot more conducive to a “point-and-shoot” philosophy than something like an AR-15.
All of the guns we’re recommending are all-around good options with reasonable muzzle rise, usable sight picture, and room for extra ammo. No two shotguns are the same, so if you want to hit a sporting clay you may want something different than for hunting. 12 gauge shells may not be as important as lightning fast reloads and an accurate load.