Twenty years of warfare filled with Navy Seals, helicopters and M4’s covered with “stuff” makes the shotgun look pretty pedestrian as a problem-solving tool. There are plenty of sound arguments as to why in any given situation there might be a better tool for the job. However, the shotgun is still a valid choice for interpersonal relationship management and in certain situations, is the right tool for the job. All tactical gear of any sort entails some kind of trade off- you have to decide what you’re willing to give up to get what you want and reason that it makes sense for what you’re trying to achieve. I’ve studied the social shotgun under Louis Awerbuck, Rob Haught and others- I know the tool very well, what it is and is not.

The shotgun is quite simply a man killer. Loaded with proper ammo and used within it’s effective range the shotgun kills very efficiently. There is no other shoulder fired weapon- other than something like a Barrett .50 that kills faster than a load of 00 buck at 7-15 yards. The simultaneous patterned arrival of 8 or 9 .33 caliber slugs provides a tremendous shock to the body and central nervous system. If you follow John Correia over at Active Self Protection you’re probably familiar with his “fudge I’ve been shot” reaction explanation, the shotgun has that effect on folks. Nobody gets solidly hit with a load of 00 and simply shrugs it off. If the goal is to end a close-range gunfight quickly, the shotgun will make that happen. Every long gun has the advantage of better ergonomics over the handgun. Better sights, better control of the weapon, greater power- all contribute to the greater lethality of the long gun in general. We carry handguns because they are convenient and currently more socially acceptable than long guns, but when it’s time to defend hearth and home, the long gun is always the preferred choice.

The shotgun is one of the most inexpensive self-defense tools a person can buy. A good quality- good enough to bet your life on, pump action shotgun can be had used from a pawn shop or gunshow for $150-200- even today- or, likely, free for the asking from Great Uncle Petes’ closet.  The preferred Remington 870 or Mossberg 590 will certainly cost you more, but the Mossberg 500- especially in “store brand” trim- think Western Auto, JC Higgins, can often be had, somewhat abused, very cheaply. While the 870 and 590 are much preferred for many reasons, there are many, many high-quality American made pump action shotguns that will fill the bill- American GI’s carried Winchester 97’s and 12’s, Remington model 10’s and later Ithaca M37’s along with several Stevens offerings into harms way in every conflict from WWI through Vietnam. The Rhodesians took Browning Auto 5’s to the Bush War—and a beat up Remington Model 11, the A5’s American cousin, is a slow seller in most gun shops and on dealers tables….The largest army in world history- a century plus of American duck and bunny hunters, have made sure that the shotgun is nearly as ubiquitous as the toaster.

This long-term popularity ensures that during various panics or emergencies, shotgun ammo is almost always one of the last common rounds to stay on the shelf. Long after the 9mm, 5.56 and .22 ammo is gone its usually possible to find some form of shotgun ammo. Now, buck and slugs will usually go fairly quickly but there is almost always some kind of shotgun ammo around- there are ways to make most of it, even cheap #8 birdshot quite lethal but they are beyond this article. Apart from the new ammo market, every serious or even casual bird hunter or trap shooter has at least a few boxes of ammo around- second hand shotgun ammo is a common item at garage sales, flea markets, pawn shops and gun shows.  As an example, the Winchester Ranger Mark 5 ammo on the tailgate of that pickup in the opening photo, was purchased at a pawn shop for $2, it was likely 50 years old or more- note the blue, “all new plastic” label on the boxes upper right corner- every round fired without issue.

This ubiquity is also an advantage of course in finding a good defensive shotgun at reasonable cost but it also has a subtle and not always appreciated value in terms of appearance. While they are fading, an entire generation of American service men and police knew the AK47 as “the bad guy gun”. Simply put, if they rolled up on a shooting scene with no more information than what the shooters were armed with- the guy with the AK was “probably the problem”. By extension, following several highly publicized mass shootings, for some time now, any box fed semi-automatic rifle has been seen in the same light. By contrast the shotgun has been a staple of American law enforcement armament since the days of Dodge City. Most rational people don’t immediately think old Uncle Petes’ bunny shooter is an “evil killing machine”. Even Joe Biden and Barrack Obama know that you can’t demonize a tool that many Americans have fond memories of from the field and generations of TV westerns and police dramas…It is rare that the shotgun is banned in even the most hoplophobic American jurisdictions.

None of which is to say that the shotgun has to be used as a lethal weapon. Unlike many other defensive weapons a person might choose, the shotgun has a long history of being used as a Less Lethal force applicator. Long before the Taser there was rubber buckshot or very fine birdshot and of course the Bean Bag load. Rubber slugs and buckshot can be purchased by mere “civilians” like any other ammunition and Walmart still has #8 bird shot on the shelf. (DO NOT LOAD BIRDSHOT AS A MANSTOPPING LOAD. Please, just don’t do it!) Review this article by fellow AP contributor Don Shift—- for specifics. Unlike many less lethal weapons, the shotgun is a repeater and offers fair stand off distance.  I’ve been tased and I’ve been shot with rubber buckshot. I’ll take the taser again if given the choice.

At the 15-25 yard range the buckshot loaded shotgun offers another advantage-   a swarm of lead down range. Now, it is absolute idiocy, and I cringe every time I hear it, to say that “all you have to do is point it and everything in the room is dead meat”. Although- even this myth has some value. The Knucklehead on the other end of your muzzle may actually believe it enough to decide he has other places to be when the gaping maw of the gauge presents itself. The shotgun has to be aimed, and with certain loads and barrel combinations- aimed quite carefully- in order to make hits. It’s entirely possible to miss a man at room distance with a shotgun. The lesson here is to shoot your gun with the ammo you intend to use for self-defense at various distances, on paper, to learn it’s patterning. The user who understands how his gun and load patterns at various distances can engage moving targets with a higher degree of success than the average pistol or carbine shooter within the guns effective range due to the spread of the pattern. For this reason, the shotgun truly comes into it’s own in low light, moderate distance engagements.

Setting up the shotgun for social use is fairly straightforward. The gun needs a sight system to steer by- the simple bead, the rifle sight, the ghost ring or Red Dot all work. The gun needs a sling- every long gun used for social purposes does. After that we get into “nice to haves”. These include a way to carry ammo on the gun for reloads- along with that a magazine extension can add a few rounds. A barrel in the 18-20” range is preferred, a duck gun can do good work but the shorter guns are simply handier. A well-fitting stock- most are far too long for the average shooter, is almost a necessity. A light rounds out this rather short list of wants and needs.

The disadvantages of the shotgun are well known and often discussed- Recoil. Lack of capacity. Limited range and precision. Each of these issues can be mitigated in varying degrees if the user will educate themselves, choose modifications, ammunition and accessories well, and put in time with the weapon. The simplest way to mitigate the shotguns’ fabled recoil is to learn the Sym Tac Push-Pull system of recoil management. Rob Haught developed the technique and taught it for years at the FBI Academy and elsewhere-highly recommended. Once you have a good understanding of the system it is a simple thing to shoot a couple of cases of birdshot over a weekend and go to work on Monday without a limp and bruised shoulder or arm. There are of course “gear choices” that can help tame the shotguns recoil as well though I prefer techniques that can be applied regardless of equipment. Reduced recoil ammunition is readily available and one of the most serious issues with recoil management- buttstocks that are too long, is easy enough to fix by replacement or modification. Capacity is relative- how many rounds do you realistically expect to fire out of a long gun in the average civilian defensive encounter? If those rounds are very likely to kill or completely incapacitate with a single hit, how many do you need? The shotgun, with practice in loading and ammunition carried on the gun, can keep up a very high volume of fire. Lastly, we come back to trade offs, the shotgun is simply not a rifle. It certainly can be lethal past 25 yards and even fairly precise out to 100 with slugs but it will never be an AR15 or similar and that’s all there is to it.

The shotgun as a defensive weapon is nowhere as prevalent as here in America, it has given and will continue to give a unique and capable defensive option to Free Americans.