Shotguns are a popular choice of firearm for home defense and for good reason. They deliver a powerful blow with a spread pattern that will stop a home invader in his tracks.
When it comes to home defense, however, not all shotguns are created equal. Specifically, you want a tactical shotgun.
So what exactly is a tactical shotgun and how is it different from a regular shotgun? In this guide, we’ll answer those questions, plus give you our recommendations for the top tactical shotguns for home defense.
Now let’s dive right in:
The Different Kinds Of Ammo
As we’ve already covered, most tactical shotguns shoot 12 gauge shells. However, there are three main categories beyond gauge that we need to talk about.
Birdshot cartridges are filled with lots of itty bitty pellets, also called shot, intended for (as you can probably guess from the name) hunting birds and other small game. Birdshot is also popular for clay pigeons.
The size of the pellets within the cartridge is described numerically. The lower the number, the bigger the pellets. In birdshot cartridges, most shot ranges in size from number 12 (.729 inches or 18.5 mm) to number 2 (.15 inches or 3.81 mm). Obviously, the bigger the pellets, the fewer shots will be able to fit in the cartridge.
Obviously, a home invader is much, much larger than a bird, clay pigeon, or varmint, so it’s probably not surprising that birdshot is not a great choice for self-defense.
Sure, getting hit with birdshot isn’t exactly a fun night out and your attacker will definitely want medical attention after, but it doesn’t have the deep penetration that you want from a defensive round. And the farther away you are, the worse penetration will be. That said, over-penetration, at least, is not much of a risk.
In addition, semi-auto shotguns can sometimes have problems cycling birdshot.
Buckshot cartridges are the more popular choice for self-defense.
Buckshot is filled with shot just like birdshot cartridges, but buckshot pellets are larger than birdshot. Most buckshot ranges in size from number 4 (.24 inches or 6.1 mm) to number 000 (
Bigger pellets than bird shot, sized from number 4 to 000 (.36 inches or 9.1 mm). 000 and 00 are the most common sizes.
Buckshot offers deeper penetration than birdshot, so it has greater stopping power. It’s effective at ranges up to 30 to 50 yards, depending on the size of the shot.
However, over-penetration is a greater risk with buckshot than birdshot.
Finally, slugs have a single, sold projectile inside the cartridge rather than a bunch of shot. The average slug weighs about an ounce.
Slugs have a longer effective range than birdshot or buckshot, up to 75-100 yards. However, over-penetration is a major concern and this level of power isn’t really necessary unless you’re getting robbed by a bear.
Slugs also don’t provide the spread that birdshot and buckshot do. While the effect of spread on the need for accuracy with a shotgun does tend to be overstated, spread is still somewhat helpful.
What Makes A Shotgun Tactical
So what makes a tactical shotgun different from other types of shotguns, such as hunting shotguns, in the first place?
Well, there are a few factors at play.
First, a tactical shotgun will have a shorter barrel than a hunting shotgun. Tactical shotguns tend to have barrels between 18 and 20 inches. They can be even shorter, but a barrel shorter than 18 inches makes the shotgun an NFA item, and thus requires you to jump through additional legal hoops before you can own it.
In contrast, a hunting shotgun will typically have a longer barrel for greater accuracy, closer to 26 inches. The shorter barrel on a tactical shotgun makes it more maneuverable.
Second, a tactical shotgun will generally have a pump or semi-automatic action. That’s because these types of actions are faster to operate than the alternatives, lever action or bolt action.
Semi-auto actions are the fastest, so that’s the more popular action for tactical shotguns. In addition, short stroke can be a risk with a pump action. Short stroke occurs when you don’t complete a full pull on a pump action gun so the action isn’t able to completely cycle, so you have to try again. Obviously, this really slows down your shots.
There are some models of tactical shotguns without stocks now, but I generally recommend skipping those. A stock will help you accurately aim under stress and manage the recoil from the shotgun. Tactical shotgun stocks are usually synthetic to help keep the gun lightweight and are usually dark with a matte finish to help blend into the dark.
Some tactical shotguns will also have a pistol grip attached to the stock. A pistol grip can be helpful, but generally isn’t essential. It’s mostly a matter of preference.
A tactical shotgun will fire either 12 or 20 gauge shells. 12 is by far more common, but 20 gauge isn’t as powerful, making it easier for smaller shooters to use.
As far as capacity goes, round capacity tends to be a weak point of shotguns compared to handguns and rifles. To help make up for that, tactical shotguns will often have a higher capacity than hunting shotguns do. A tactical shotgun should have a capacity of at least 4+1, but a capacity closer to 7+1 is preferable.
Finally, a tactical shotgun will typically have certain accessories that help it to be more effective for defensive purposes.
For one, tactical shotguns often have Picatinny rails for attaching improved sights and optics. If not, the receiver will generally be drilled and tapped so you can add a scope mount.
Tactical shotguns will also generally have sling swivels, though you’ll typically need to buy the sling itself separately. A sling allows you to free up your hands as necessary while still carrying your shotgun and makes it harder for an attacker to take your weapon from you.
Best Tactical Shotgun As A Home Defense Weapon
1. Remington 870 Express Tactical
Our first recommendation is the Remington 870 Express Tactical.
This pump-action shotgun has an XS Ghost Ring rear sight and XS front blade sight. The sights can be adjusted for windage and elevation. However, it also has an XS Ghost Ring sight rail, so you can add your preferred sights or optical system instead. In addition, the receiver is drilled and tapped so that you can add scope mounts.
The 18.5-inch barrel is nice and short for maneuverability. The stock and tactical-style forend are matte black synthetic. Each has sling swivel studs so you can add the sling you prefer. The receiver has a matte blued finish.
The Remington 870 Express Tactical is chambered for 2 ¾-inch or 3-inch 12 gauge rounds. It has a 6+1 capacity with the 2 shot magazine extension.
It has a 14-inch length of pull and is 38.5 inches in overall length. It weighs 7.5 pounds, which puts it on the heavier end of the guns we’ve recommended here, but is still quite lightweight.
2. Mossberg 590A1
According to Mossberg, the 590A1 is the only shotgun that has passed the U.S. Army’s Mil-Spec 344E test, which is an intense durability test. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Mossberg 590A1 is used by military and law enforcement around the world. The overall design is similar to the standard (and incredibly popular) Mossberg 500, but has a few differences.
This pump action tactical shotgun has a 20-inch heavy walled barrel with a parkerized finish. It has a hefty 8+1 round capacity with a 3-inch chamber.
The synthetic stock has storage for an additional 4 shells. The M-Lok forend makes it easy to attach a tactical light while sling swivels make it easy to attach the sling of your choice. The Mossberg 590A1 comes with XS Ghost ring sights.
The shotgun is chambered for 12 gauge.
It’s 41 inches long overall with a 13.87-inch length of pull. It weighs 7 pounds.
3. Benelli M4
Our next recommendation is the Benelli M4. This particular shotgun is battle-proven, used by the U.S. Armed Services under the designation M1014.
This semi-auto, 12-gauge shotgun has a black synthetic stock with a pistol grip to help you keep your aim more steady and accurate.
The 18.5-inch barrel has a phosphate finish. The black anodized receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope mount, but a Picatinny rail is also included for adding other optics and accessories. Alternatively, you can use the included Ghost Ring rear sight and fixed blade front sight.
It has a 5+1 capacity, which is on the low end, and weights 7.8 pounds, which is heavier than we’d like. However, the overall quality of this shotgun is still stellar.
4. Kel-Tec KSG
The Kel-Tec KSG is an innovative little shotgun that stands out from the crowd.
And we do mean little: the KSG is just 26.1 inches long overall. However, the 18.5-inch barrel ensures that it’s still legal in all 50 US states.
And no, it doesn’t achieve this by eliminating the stock. It has both a stock and pistol grip to help you aim steady. The grip and stock assembly can be disassembled by removing two pins, though, which can then be stored in the grip so you don’t lose them. The rubber butt plate helps the stock fit comfortably against your shoulder.
It’s not just the length that makes the KSG stand out though.
It has a unique design with two integral tube magazines which you can switch between manually. This allows the Kel-Tec KSG to have a massive 6+6+1 (or 7+7+1, depending on shell length) capacity, so you shouldn’t have to worry about running out of ammo.
Furthermore, this pump action shotgun has a picatinny-style rail along the top and bottom of the barrel for optics, lights, lasers, and more. It also has sling loops built-in, plus a sling is included.
5. Mossberg Maverick 88 Security
Last up is the Mossberg Maverick 88 Security.
This is another pump-action 12-gauge, but what really helps the Maverick 88 Security stand out is that it weighs just 6.5 pounds, so it’s incredibly lightweight. It has a 7+1 capacity with a 3-inch chamber.
The barrel is on the longer end for a tactical shotgun, but 20-inches is still plenty short enough to be maneuverable.
And Maverick 88 barrels are actually interchangeable with Mossberg 500 barrels of the same capacity and gauge, so there are tons of aftermarket options if you want to switch the barrel out. You could even use the Maverick 88 Security for both hunting and security with a simple barrel switch, making it a very versatile option.
Unlike the other shotguns we’ve talked about, this one has a bead sight, but you can add optic mounts to the receiver.
It has a moderate 14.5-inch length of pull and an overall length of 41 inches. The barrel has a blued finish while the stock is black synthetic. It also has a cross-bolt safety.
Read Also: Best Shotgun Scope Reviews
While every single tactical shotgun that we’ve included on this list is an excellent option for home defense, we’ve tried to assemble a diverse selection. Each has its own little quirks and its own particular set of features, so there should be a tactical shotgun on this list for everyone.
In addition, most of these shotguns are also available in other models with slight variations, such as different sight systems, with or without a pistol grip, different barrel lengths, and more.
So, if there’s a shotgun on this list that’s caught your eye but it isn’t quite what you want, it’s worth looking at the other models of the gun to see if there’s one that checks all of your boxes.
So which tactical shotgun are you getting to defend your home?
Dakota Potts is a gunsmith, armorer and gun rights advocates. He enjoys learning about firearm history and technology. He has his own website at pottsprecision.com