Best Weapon For Home Defense

Y’know, it’s a good thing I didn’t start this blog in order to make friends… as I’m sure this post won’t win me many.  But I gotta go with what I know.  Even if it’s controversial.  And this post just might be.

Note: in this article, it’s presumed that you have the legal right to defend your home with a firearm; if you live in a state or country that doesn’t provide that right, then obviously none of this can apply to you… check into whether your state provides you the Castle Doctrine or a Stand Your Ground law to find out what your legal options are.  The rest of this article presumes that the reader lives in a state where a person in their own home is entitled to defend themselves with deadly force through use of a firearm.

Okay, the topic at hand: home defense.  There’s an eternal battle that rages across gun stores, internet discussion forums, at shooting ranges, everywhere — what’s the BEST gun to have for home defense?

Answer’s obvious: a 12-gauge shotgun.  Duh.  Right?

Well, let’s think a little before we just accept the common wisdom… a 12-gauge is a profoundly powerful weapon.  It is a true fight-stopper.  People in handgun forums can argue endlessly about “stopping power”, but a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot is the ultimate in stopping power.  One blast from a 12-gauge is usually enough to stop any aggression by any particular individual.

But does that make it the BEST weapon for home defense?  There are so many variables that it’s hard to ever determine what’s “best” so let’s just start with this: who’s supposed to be firing that 12-gauge?  If you’re a 300-lb 6-foot ex-football player, then sure, a 12-gauge may be totally appropriate.  But what about for a petite 5-foot tall, 90-lb female?  Er… sorry, a 12-gauge would very likely not be the “best” weapon for her — she may get the first shot off, but may find it extremely difficult to get a second shot off, if one is necessary, and she may even have been knocked over by the recoil.  I’ve met plenty of women shooters who simply hate shotguns.  They’re big, they’re incredibly loud, and they just plain hurt to fire.  Even a “youth” model 20-gauge can be a significant handful.

Okay, If Not a 12-Gauge, Then an AR-15, Right?

It seems like there’s a huge surge in interest in using the AR-15 (or other small-caliber rifle) for home defense.  And I can well understand why — an AR-15 is much easier to handle, and definitely easier for even smaller people to get off follow-up shots, than a 12-gauge (or even 20-gauge) shotgun.  A 30-round magazine offers enough capacity to handle any conceivable threat.  A solid hit with an AR-15 (and the proper self-defense ammo) will stop an aggressor immediately.  Sure, it may overpenetrate more than the shotgun, but (as goes the argument) it’s easier to aim, so as long as you don’t miss, it’s — well, let’s borrow from Obi-Wan Kenobi — “it’s not as clumsy or random as a blaster, it’s a more elegant weapon, for a more civilized day.”

Those are the two primary candidates that I hear bandied about most frequently.  One side argues the superiority of the shotgun, the other argues that the AR15 is actually more practical.  But which side is actually right?

Neither — Of Course.

You didn’t expect me to actually declare one of the prevailing arguments the winner, did you? If so, you haven’t been reading the blog here very long…

Here’s the thing — both are superb weapons, and any properly-defended castle should probably have both.  But when determining what’s the “best” weapon, you have to first ask the question: what is the threat I’m going to face?  Only then can you answer what weapon will best meet and defeat that threat.

Today’s Threats

So what type of incidents are you likely to encounter, in today’s society?  Is it the gang of thugs rolling through a neighborhood trashing anyone and everything they encounter?  Not very likely in most neighborhoods (but if it’s likely where you live, then I have one and only one piece of advice for you: MOVE.  NOW.)

Is the threat you face a horde of pillagers (looters, which are a realistic interpretation of the “zombie apocalypse”)?  Again, not likely — that’s a TEOTWAWKI scenario, and if that happens, all bets are off (and you’d better have both the shotgun and the AR15 in that scenario anyway).  But is this a realistic threat assessment for everyday life?  Not likely.

So let’s talk about the threats that are most likely to affect people on a daily basis, in their home: burglars, and the home invasion.  These are real threats.  The FBI’s crime statistics say that over 13% of homes are burglarized each year(!)  85% of burglaries are through the front door, and 67% of all burglaries are forced entries.

In both cases (burglars and home invaders) someone enters your home with the intent to rob your home and/or harm you.  For purposes of clarity here, I’ll separate them out into two classes, “classic burglars” and home invaders, with the defining characteristic being whether they expect you to be home.

The traditional burglar, by and large, doesn’t want you to be home, and doesn’t want to be interrupted.  They prize stealth, they want to slip in quietly, grab your stuff, and get out undetected.  They may be deterred by burglar alarms, or by a barking dog.  If you are home when the burglar enters, all bets are off: the burglar may decide to avoid conflict and just flee, or they may escalate into a bigger threat — the burglar may physically assault you, they may become a rapist, a kidnapper, or even a murderer as the opportunities or threats present themselves.  But this may not necessarily be on the burglar’s initial agenda; they may just be attempting to score some loot by robbing a (presumably unoccupied) house.  Or they may be doing a quick grab of goods at night, when you’re supposed to be asleep and therefore not an interruption to them.

The home invasion is related, but it’s also a totally different beast — this is a violent criminal who doesn’t care whether you’re home or not.  If you are home, you can expect a violent assault from the home invader.  The home invader may be high on drugs, they may be drunk, they may be mentally unstable, they may primarily be interested in robbing, but they’re not concerned with the subtlety or quiet appearance and swift disappearance of the burglar; the home invader is going to kick in your door, storm in, subdue you in whatever violent manner he chooses (all in just the first few seconds), and then will go about whatever his hostile business is (which may include robbery, rape, kidnapping, murder, or whatever else his criminal mind decides to do.)  And the home invader doesn’t wait for or care about the cover of night — he will strike in broad daylight, or at night, or whenever he wants to.  There are simply NO rules for the home invader.

By and large, these are the more likely threats that the average household may face one day.  Which weapon is most appropriate for meeting these threats? A shotgun or a rifle?

How about a pocket pistol?

WHAT?!?!? Am I insane? (perhaps, but that’s an unnecessary distraction from the topic at hand…)

Seriously, let’s think about this.  You’re relaxing on the couch, watching a football game, when the door gets kicked in and two guys come bursting in the door.  Their plan of attack is to look around for any threat and neutralize it (meaning, they’re immediately going to rush you and violently attack you).  Should you go for the shotgun you have stored in your back bedroom, locked away in a biometric safe?  Good luck with that, because these thugs will be on you in about two and a half seconds.  Maybe instead you should go for the AR-15 that you have in the garage, locked up in your big 55-gun rifle safe — how are you going to get to it?  “Excuse me, guys, can I just get past you, I need to go out in the garage…”  No, I don’t think that’s gonna work.

How about you reach in your pocket, pull out your pocket-nine or micro-380, and start firing as soon as they invade your house?  They didn’t see that coming, did they?  Bursting through a door and being met with six blasts of lead might very well discourage even the nastiest of home invaders.

Now, obviously a shotgun will deliver a vastly more incapacitating blow than a pocket .380 will, but — what’s the old adage, “the .380 that you’ve got with you beats the .45 locked in the safe every time”?

Okay, let’s talk about scenario 2 — you’re a mom home alone with your toddler.  A home invader kicks in the door and grabs your kid.  What are you going to do — are you going to run to the master bedroom closet to get your trusty 20-gauge? Of course not, you’re going to immediately start screaming and pleading for him to not hurt your baby.  He’s got you completely subdued, and can then set about doing whatever it was he planned on (or whatever new plan he improvises).  And there’s not a thing you can do to stop him — or is there?  What about when he looks away, you pull out your pocket 9mm and give him a magazine full of lead?  Didn’t see that one coming, did he?

Third scenario — someone rings the doorbell.  You don’t know who they are, but you decide to answer the door anyway.  Two big guys shove past you, and now they’re in your house.  You’re thrown to the ground, and — what’s next?  Whatever they want, that’s what.  And what can you do about it?  What if you have an AR15 right in the next room? Too bad, because you’ve got a 230-lb thug blocking the path to it.  However, a quick dip in the pocket, a double-tap of some pocket-9mm Federal HST’s, and all of a sudden the dynamics of the situation change — now you’ve only got one thug to worry about, and his hands are up in the air.  Now you’ve got time to call 911 and get the authorities there to deal with the second invader.

Is the threat you face one of a personal nature — a jealous ex, a bitter divorce, an alcoholic stalker?  I’d say for most people, we don’t have dangerous individuals in our life, but for those who do, this is a very real threat.  Which home weapon should you have to protect yourself in that scenario? Obviously, the answer is the same — the pistol you have on you beats the arsenal you have locked up in a safe somewhere where you can’t get to it.  If you have a person who may attack you, whose motivation is personal and who will not be scared off by a burglar alarm or a barking dog, then you need to be able to defend yourself whenever and wherever you are.

Wait — Isn’t This Crazy?

Isn’t carrying a pistol while you’re at home a little… paranoid?  Well, again, let’s think about it — why have a shotgun or rifle at home at all?  Is that paranoid?  Some may say yes, others may vigorously argue that notion, but let’s consider this simple fact: 100% of home invasions happen at home.  So why be defenseless when you’re at home?  If you can’t get to your weapon, you’re defenseless.

If you want to have the ability to protect yourself and your loved ones from a home invasion… if you’ve already made the decision to defend your home with force… if you’ve already come to the conclusion that the potential threat is real enough to need to take action to do something about it … then … isn’t it kind of crazy to NOT pocket-carry?

Back in the days when everyone lived on farms, when you could see a neighbor (or stranger) driving up to your house, then having Pa go and grab the shotgun made sense.  Today it’s not that way — today, your door could be kicked in and invaders in your house in literally seconds, and you have no time to prepare.  At all.

If you’re concerned about home defense in a world where the threat can be on you in literally seconds, then the answer is obvious: pocket-carry a 9mm (or, if you want an even smaller, lighter option, a pocket .380).  I would argue that you’d be much better prepared to meet any threat with the pistol you have on you, than you would be with the long gun you can’t get to.  Most of us don’t really want to wear a shoulder holster and a big double-stack full-size duty pistol when we’re relaxing at home, but I think all of us could find room for an LCP or TCP or DB9 in our pocket or tucked in a Remora in the waistband.  And maybe the pocket pistol will buy you the time you need to get to your fightstopper; maybe a quick couple of rounds to the doorway buys you the time to get to your master bedroom safe where you can unleash the mighty 12-gauge behemoth you keep there.

But if you don’t have the pocket pistol with you, then there are many potential scenarios where you will just plain lose.  The pocket pistol gives you a multitude of options and an immediate ability to act.  And for those reasons, I would make a case that a pocket pistol (or other easily-carried handgun) may be the “best” weapon to have for home defense.

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33 thoughts on “Best Weapon For Home Defense

  1. Mark

    Nicely stated. The LCP .380 may be a wee little guy, but it sure is easy to carry, even if you happen to be wearing pajamas or a robe.

  2. rw walden

    aaahhhh. very interesting.

    perhaps the intrusion scenarios lack one element that argues for all three solutions. the door-burst introduction to an intruder may catch you awake and upright, but the shotgun in the bedroom is wonderful for those sleeping hours. and a serious handgun or two in the bedroom will be valuable. when awakened, there is abut zero distance between the victim and the long gun, and no need to use a handgun to fight your way to more serious response.

    my circle of acquaintances does not include true “gun guys”, so we look at how do we get out of a really bad situation alive when guns are necessary. we seem to agree that one gun is needed for every floor of the home, preferably one gun per room (you really cannot carry a firearm 24/7, because of things like baths, showers and bathroom breaks). we concluded that the best place to respond to a sleep hour break-in is to remain bunkered-up in a bedroom; make the bad guys enter the fire zone through a single opening (while calling 911). never attempt to “clear the building”. we also establish that no one walks around during an emergency, and have code words to ensure everyone is safe after a confrontation.

    btw, the entire family is getting used to the idea of wearing a pocket pistol any time we are at home and carrying is practical. we have mostly reached the place where crawling into bed with the shootin’ iron strapped on is no longer a rarity (just bloody uncomfortable).


    1. Shooting The Bull Post author

      No doubt a long gun would be vastly more effective than a handgun, and there are scenarios where each and every type of weapon would be more suitable than some other type.

      The central question I was posing is — what is the most important? If you could only have one, what should it be? And in my mind, it seems like the pocket pistol is the one that’s least talked about, but perhaps the most useful of all, because it would always be on you.

      You know, back in the old days, people used to live on a 20-acre spread, and they’d hear or see visitors approaching long before they got there. There was plenty of time for Ma to say “Pa, go get the shotgun.” And in those days, there was no reason to have anything less than a 12-gauge on hand. But today, that’s simply not the situation for most urban dwellers, and today it seems like the immediacy of the potential attack calls for an equally-immediate ability to respond.

      As for having several pistols/rifles around the house — for some households, that may work fine, and I can definitely see the logic in it. But for households with small kids, or limited funds, that may not be a practical approach. If you have guns on each floor, and in each room, do you buy a separate safe for each? You may be talking about buying five or ten guns and safes… that starts to add up. And if that’s the approach one wants to take, that’s fine for them, sure, I’m not going to argue. But in exploring the question, my conclusion was — one pocket pistol on you gives you protection and safety no matter where you are in the house, at minimal cost and minimal hassle and minimal risk to underage family members. I would still agree that a long gun on each floor would be the ideal — especially in a case of a nighttime break-in, where you may be upstairs and have time to get to it before the intruders make their way upstairs.

      To me, having a pocket pistol on is not “paranoid”, it’s really no different than a cat having claws or a dog having teeth. The cat always, always has its claws with it, and it doesn’t use them unless necessary, but they’re always there. The dog doesn’t go around biting anyone (or, well, a good dog wouldn’t). But if the dog HAS to bite someone, it can. So it is with the pocket pistol. It’s just there. Invisible, ignored, a non-event… until it’s necessary. If you ever have to use it, you’d be really sorry if it wasn’t there!

      1. Frank LaBroad IV

        I agree for the most part, I would say to buy a full size duty weapon such as a glock 17 or a beretta m9 or the world famous 1911, and wear it on your hip as an article of clothing. pocket pistols are outstanding choices for when one must leave the house and concealment is a primary concern, but when I’m relaxing in my own home I see no reason to not wear a full size handgun openly, and in the scenarios you suggest I would trade firepower for concealment all day long. at night the gun comes out of its holster, a weaponlight is attatched, and it goes on the nightstand next to the cellphone. also the shotgun/rifle is within arms reach. if I was married I’d keep the shotgun/rifle on my side while my wife would be in charge of calling 911 and holding her pistol on the door. I’m not disagreeing with your points sir just giving you my own perspective.

  3. rw walden

    aggree wholeheartedly (should that be hyphenated?).

    lacking 24/7 carry (awake and sleeping…momma can get cranky when the sig attacks the rib cage), just noting that a number 2 best option should be more like option 1A.

    personally, full-time carry is problematic and we are establishing where in the house we can stash a weapon that we can reach in less than 15 seconds if surprised and not carrying (outdoors is not being overlooked).

    people ask “how many guns do you need?” i answer, “enough to cover everything i can think of, and one more as a spare”. safe guns are much better than guns in safes.

    best to you for 2014.

  4. rw walden

    we have no children at home and none that visit (long story).

    but for those situations where children are present, guns pose challenges. while there are numerous small safes on the market, opening is just one more delay (btw, older people lose definition of their fingerprints, and remembering a three finger combo under pressure is tough). one safe i am looking to buy in mulitples is the mantle piece with gun slot in the back. either looks like books, or clock or something else. placed high enough and not fiddled with while young ‘uns are around, the facades may offer a practical option for child proteciton.

    carrying/owning is not something to take lightly. we constantly challenge ourselves about our choices, safety, and aftermath. hoping everyone else is doing the same.

    (btw, as a child, grew-up around parents and grand parents who had ww2 bring backs stashed in the house, and we kids did not know it until adult hood. guns were stored where we did not expect and did not have real interest in searching)


    1. Shooting The Bull Post author

      I saw that mantelpiece shelf at the NRA show last year. First thought was — that’s genius. Second thought was — it costs HOW MUCH? :) It was an expensive little piece, but for the right customer it’d absolutely be worth it, and the ideas behind it and the craftsmanship and the effectiveness of it all seemed like they’d just be perfect…

  5. Tj

    I absolutely agree and personally I have never thought home carry was being “paranoid”. I’ve got anti-kick plates ( ) on all my exterior doors too, only about 80 bucks a piece, so not a lot of money for the extra peace of mind IMO.

  6. GunFun ZS

    I agree with the majority of the article.

    Plainly the gun on you is always better than the gun that isn’t. However, when you have time to choose a gun, i.e. you hear noise in your detached garage late at night, or someone is pounding on your door, it obviously makes sense to grab something more capable. Ditto if you are a woman who knows she is being actively stalked, etc. Therefore, have a subcompact on you, and also something better close to hand. (Set aside the issues related to arming up and “looking for trouble” from a legal standpoint.) I could write a summary of the points I agree with, but that would be needless, since I only have one quibble with 3 sub parts. of one issue.

    I think you commit an error at one point very similar to the unreasonable complaints against the judge that you dispel so well. You dismiss 12 gauge for recoil, excessive spread and over-penetration. All of these are indeed faults of the 12 Ga . — Well, Not Quite. They are if you follow the knee jerk conventional wisdom and put in 9 pellet OOB at ~1325 FPS. But we’ve all known for decades that better is available on all of these fronts. Recoil is a problem? Carry a reduced payload at a velocity appropriate for pellet diameter. You can have payloads equal to emptying a .380 with very moderate recoil. Excessive pattern risking collateral damage? Again, very easily solved with a choke and/or a different wad design. (Never mind how many people run shells with no shotcup at all…) Convention says cylinder bore is best. Is it? I say no. Optimum with a particular wad and payload is optimum. Test pattern and choose the choke that gives you a tight pattern. It’s pretty simple. Over penetration? Nope Standard 1325 FPS velocity #1 and #4 buck are right in the sweet spot. They also offer far more even patterns than the 9pellet OOB “groupthink load”, with about 21 more potentially incapacitating wound tracks in the case of #4 Buck.

    Aside —
    Common Argument: “But the FBI D/Qed #4Buck, because a few pellets underpenetrated….”
    Response: Arbitrarily so, especially when you consider that the shots that had 1-3 pellets falling short still had more pellets in the “butter zone” than the next best thing, 16 pellet #1 Buck. The 1-3 pellets that fell short of 12″ only just fell short, and still do significant damage. That’s a bit of a silly exclusion, but they set their arbitrary D/Q criteria before considering this issue. If you choose to select the loading with THE MOST wound tracks in the butter zone rather than the load with ALL the wound tracks in the butter zone, #4 is the clear winner. But if you want to get the blinders off, you can change this variable too. Shotgun shells are nothing but versatile. Why restrain ourselves to the standard loadings if they fall just short. Let’s tweak the load a little: A standard load of #4 Buck is 27 pellets at 1325 FPS from an 18″ barrel. That’s aprox 594 grains of lead at 1325 FPS, and you can work out the free recoil. If 1-3 of the 27 pellets stopping around 11” is a deal-breaker for you, why not increase the velocity slightly. Say to 1400 FPS- that should put all the pellets well inside 12″.

    Next Objection!- That will make even more recoil!

    Response: Who says you have to have a 594 grain payload? That’s arbitrary too. We can easily reduce the load to 20 or 21 pellets (Hornady #4 B is 22 grains each, most other brands are slightly undersized and come to 21 grains.) This would still be substantially more potential incapacitating wound tracks, but could be comparable in recoil to a light trap load.

    The complaint used to be that all commercial .410 offerings were under-powered. Now that people asked for something non-standard, there are plenty of excellent pistol centered .410 loads. Currently the objection by informed people is that most defensive shotgun loads are over-powered. The solution is to demand an optimized load- again, this will probably start as a custom hand-load until the big names copy it.

    Of commercial offerings, Federal presently has a slightly reduced velocity #1 Buck load in the flite control wad. This offers near ideal ballistics out of cylinder bore or improved, but only 16 pellets vs. 22. It is objectively superior to the groupthink load and available for sale.

    Your thoughts?

    1. Shooting The Bull Post author

      Hi GunFun ZS,

      You do raise excellent topics. I am absolutely in agreement that if you have time to prepare for an engagement (such as the noise in the garage, etc) then you should reach for the long gun, every time. Pistols are a very poor substitute for a long weapon! I would never recommend trusting a pistol for defense over a long weapon. My question was on the practicality and applicability of relying solely on a long weapon, given the changing nature of today’s threats.

      The gist of the article could maybe be summed up like this: once upon a time, you used a shotgun to defend the homestead. If you heard a car approaching up the road to your 40-acre spread, well, you had plenty of time for Pa to go get the shotgun. But today the threat homeowners face is much more likely to be a home invasion, which can happen in an instant with zero warning. I still think a well-thought-out home defense plan would involve having appropriate long guns, ideally both the AR15 and the shotgun. But if we examine what is LIKELY to happen, the most likely scenario most homeowners would ever face would be the sudden home invasion, and for that scenario I think the pocket pistol you have on you would prove more valuable than the long gun you can’t get to…

      Regarding 12-gauge, you are right in that I should have gone into the notion of reduced-recoil rounds, especially since full-power 00 buckshot rounds are overkill anyway; in my testing they penetrate to over 25″ IIRC. A reduced recoil round could address both problems.

      I very much like the Federal #1 buck load, it seems to be ideally loaded for self defense anti-personnel use with minimal risk of overpenetration. If someone’s going to be using a 12-gauge in the home, that’s what I would recommend.

      I haven’t tested the #4 buck from Federal, but running the weight and speed and diameter through the Schwartz QAS formula shows that each pellet should penetrate about 14″. Given that in my buckshot tests you always have some that go deeper and some that go shallower, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that some of the pellets would have fallen short of 12″ and therefore may have been DQ’d by the FBI, but for personal defense purposes that seems acceptable given that the average would be a bit over 14″, and some would be quite a bit deeper. And, since you’re looking at a load that has 34 pellets in it, and each is about the diameter of a .22LR, getting hit with 34 .22LR’s seems like a pretty effective stopping round. Two more appealing aspects of the Federal load are that you have more pellets available than the standard load (34 vs. 27) and they’re traveling at a rate that will likely prove to be subsonic (1100 fps vs. the standard load’s 1325 fps). That might save your eardrums some, as it MAY prove to be quieter since it could potentially avoid the sonic crack of the faster standard load.

      In short (do I ever write anything “in short”? Sigh.) I think you’re on exactly the right track; 00 buckshot is of course the standard and it is a well-proven manstopper, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily is the BEST choice for home defense. It will unquestionably work, and that’s got a lot going for it, but there’s some very solid science supporting the idea of a #1 buck load, and in theory the Federal #4 buck load sounds like it’d be an excellent choice too. Now, that said, I still despise the Federal #4 buck load from a Judge or Governor, because the rifled barrel spins the shot so much that it ruins its effectiveness, and I still highly recommend 000 or .40-cal buck in those pistols.

      1. GunFun ZS

        Thanks for the response. Thank you also for taking the time to read it.

        You don’t need to persuade me that we want to have a weapon on our person. I admit I do not carry all the time. I have the oversized gun which stays home too often. I plan to remedy this with a TCP 738 and later a compact 9, such as an M&P 9 C or a Beretta PX4 Storm Compact 9.

        One distinction I would suggest is that we don’t need a 34 pellet #4 Buck load for defensive purposed. That is a real shoulder buster and is overkill. Worse though, the revovery would be slow. I was suggesting a 20-22 pellet load (~1 – 1 1/8 oz ), which would still be a lot of pellets, but would have dramatically less recoil. My general reasoning is as follows. (With reguard to choosing #4Buck vs. #1 buck ) #1 buck has about the perfect penetration in standard 1325 FPS 12 or 16 pellet 2.75″ offerings. That’s a lot more pellets than the standard OOB load, but the patterns are still rather ragged. 9 pellet OOB tends to make crescent shaped patterns with large gaps in 12 ga. #1 Buck patterns more evenly, but still leaves room for improvement. #4 Buck makes very even patterns in any load I have tried, from commercial to home made. It’s penetration is adequate, but is not as good as #1. So a slight increase in velocity would be an improvement. However, the standard #4Buck 2.75″ load already has a little more recoil than a standardd OOB load. We really want instant recovery for a follow up shot. (Not because one shot isn’t likely to be a threat stopper, but more because of the reality that the first shot might not be well placed or there might be more than one assailant.) In order to improve the controllability, you would to reduce the pellet count from the standard 27 pellet 1325 FPS 2.75″ load. Reducing the pellet count has been done in OOB and #1B, but this leaves an inadequate number of pellets for patterning reasons. I think this has created a bit of a blind spot. The thinking tends to be ” you need to have at least an ounce and an eighth of shot to have enough pellets” That’s an assumption I want to challenge.

        Well, I haven’t ever seen a commercial offering of #4 Buck with less than 1.35 Oz. 21 pellets nestle nicely in most wads in 4 rings of five with a pellet in the middle of one of the layers.. 21 pellets weighs 1.056 Oz. At velocity increased to 1400 (a 75 FPS gain) you would have a powerful deeper penetrating load with a very dense patern, and still have recoil in a range that some people use for trap shooting. (Compare to high velocity 1 oz trap loads)

        Recap of advantages vs larger pellet size: More than double the number of pellets, Optimum penetration ~12-16″ with the mode at 13″, and very fast recovery.

        I’ve been making this load for the last year or so, and playing with different components, and I haven’t found one that patterns badly yet. Using standard wads made for birdshot keeps the patterns tighter than I find with larger shot sizes in loads that only use a gas seal or fiber wad, including buffered. Using this load through a full choke spreads at a rate very similar to Remington OO buck loads, so in practical terms, it has a comparable useful range to OOB. I’ve found that all the pellets stay in a man size target to ranges that would greatly exceed most of the conceivable ranges for a suburban defensive scenario. Admittedly, larger pellets retain energy better at the end of this usable range. However, that isn’t an advantage if most of the pellets are missing the target, which they generally are.

        I’d be happy to do the same with #1 Buck, preserving the 1325 FPS velocity, which we already know offers PERFECT penetration. Unfortunately the recoil factor limits the pellet counts. The bigger the pellet size the less flexible it is about stack patterns. #1 stacks in layers of 3 with a little slop if you have a shotcup. The next layer pins them in location and keeps them from rattling. Practically, that means pellet counts in the useful range are going to be 9, 12, or 15. You can nest an extra pellet on the center of top layer to get 10, 13, and 16. For this reason, a very popular choice is 12 pellets (~1 1/8 oz) @ 1325 FPS. This is still a snappy recoiling round, equal to a standard full power OOB 2.75″ load. A 9 pellet #1 Buck load is ~.84 Oz and would have recoil comparable to a standard trap load. However, like the popular 9 pellet OOB load, it would have poor pattern density. Frankly, a 12 pellet load is not much better. We want a high probablility of at least 3 pellets penetrating a vital organ. From the patterning I’ve done#1 Buck will give us 2-3 such hits at around 80 feet from a 12 pellet load. My experiments show the #4 buck loads as described above will put easily over 10 hits at the same range.

        1. Shooting The Bull Post author

          Ah — I didn’t know you were talking about your own loads. I thought we were discussing theoreticals. Yeah, if you can make a reduced-recoil load that’ll penetrate 14″ and still have 21 pellets, how would that possibly be a bad thing? Sounds pretty effective.

          Given that context, what do you think of the Federal 20-gauge 4 buck load? It’s 20 pellets of #4 buck, loaded to 1100 fps. If it all stays on target, it sounds like it should deliver about 14″ of penetration and be a milder recoil load than most.

          (and I keep bringing up Federal not for any reason other than that they have a very convenient, very detailed online catalog so it’s easy to look up their stuff; Remington makes it a lot harder, etc.)

          1. GunFun ZS

            I wanted to buy it after working out the optimums from the FBI studies, and other similar data sources. I could not find any thing for sale that was even close. So that motivated me to make it. I then learned how to reload and found I could shoot the load that should exist for about a third the cost of the load that is most popular.

            My broader point is that the good Judge oriented loads started as theoreticals, and a few handloaders developed them just to prove it could be done. Later a couple boutique ammo manufacturers made pretty much all the types of loads you reviewed. Those were available for purchase for probably a couple of years before companies like Federal or Winchester started making them and put the little guys out of the market. Many people are uncomfortable with the notion of using a handload for self defense, yet will use unoptimized manufactured ammo. Others are afraid that handloads will be unreliable, or will cause some kind of liability if used defensively. Those are whole other discussions, but they udnerscore the need to question what manufacturers are selling and create demand for what they should be selling.

            So if we start asking for theoreticaly optimized loads that a handloader can make and test, maybe that can become the next standard that dullards reflexively insist is the “only sane choice.”

            I don’t have a 20 Ga, or gell to test it, but the load you describe doesn’t have enough velocity to make that size of pellet penetrate. I would expect the bulk of the pellets to end up in the 9-10″ range at 1100 FPS, but I don’t have a data source on hand to back up that assertion. Just an estimate. The popular size for 20 Ga is #3 Buck because they fit nicely into the 20 GA wad. Based on the trend from the next larger and next smaller pellets from a 12 gauge, I would expect #3 Buck to stop in the “butter zone” somewhere between 1250 FPS and 1300 FPS. The recoil will be dependent on how many pellets.

            More on recoil vs load components:
            There are many very complex recoil calculators online.

            I find that this is more useful in the context of shotguns:

            I am sure you know enough to understand the technical deficiencies of the dram equivalence system. (If not, you can easily find plenty of articles ranting about how it should be abandoned)

            However, I find it to be very useful for two purposes.
            1) Comparing different combinations of payload and velocity for perceived recoil. i.e. a Load which works out to 3 dram will kick exactly like another load that work out to 3 dram even if the first is the standard bulk pack trap load , 3 Dr Eq (1 1/8 oz @ 1200 FPS), and the second is 2 oz of shot at 950 FPS. You will note that in most buckshot sizes the standard load offerings for 12 Ga fall between 3 1/2 Dr Eq and 3 3/4 Dr Eq.
            2) Comparing the overall energy of a shell. I’m not talking about foot pounds at the muzzle, that is a very simple mathmatical calculation. I am talking about another purpose. Specifically, how much energy does the shell impart to the action of the gun for cycling a semi auto shotgun? Autoloading shotguns are a tricky engineering feat compared to simple automatic rifles. They have to reliably cycle cartridges of a huge variety of shapes, weights recoil and pressure. This requires much more complex design than a rifle or pistol which will only have to manage a comparatively small range of pressures, etc. Therefore, anyone who uses a semi automatic shotgun needs to know if a shell has enough “power” to cycle his action, but not so much as to beat his gun up. Every gun has it’s own window of function. I am a big fan of the Saiga 12, and a few other modern designs. These typically can be tuned to run ammo as weak as 3 Dr Eq. or maybe 2 3/4 Dr Eq. without compromising capability with maximum magnum loads. The practical meaning is that an owner must only figure out the baseline for his gun, and memorize the lowest velocity which will cycle it at a given payload and can easily buy ammo without ever having a cycling problem. It’s also a good way of establishing benchmarks to troubleshoot a problematic gun. (if your S12 won’t cycle federal value pack 3 dr eq, I know something is wrong with it, and can systematically diagnose the problem)

            So the way to evaluate a 20 ga load would be to figure out what velocity a particular pellet size and hardness needs to penetrate to the desired depth. Then decide how much recoil you are willing to live with. Look it up on a 20 GA dr EQ chart and that will give you the weight of payload within that recoil. divide that by the wieght of individual pellets and start looking for commercial loads with that pellet size and number in the proper velocity range. If no one sells it, build it yourself!

            #3 Buck should be a very good performer, considering that it is sized between #4 buck and #1 Buck. Alternatively, a larger pellet moving slower will give you the right penetration, or smaller pellets moving faster. Large pellets have a better ballistic coefficient so they have better velocity retention over distance, but practical range will be limited by the decreased number of pellets for a given weight. Too big and you don’t have enough pellets to be reasonably certain of a hit, or very many wound channels, too small and you have too little range and not enough mass to ensure penetration at any practical velocity. (i.e. birdshot) #1 – O buck (“Single ought”) seems to be the sweet spot for defensive purposes. Dangerous game will require larger projectiles to get enough penetration.

            I am not saying there is one magic best size, I am saying that there is a range of sizes that balances out the considerations of pellet count, recoil and penetration. A gain in one of these factors will cost you in the other two. So optimum is somewhat subjective, but we can quantify things like how many pellets will hit an area corresponding to the A zone on an IPSC target with enough penetration to reach fitals, and find a load that fits within your tolerance for recoil and speed. This then should be evaluated for the danger of stray pellets and penetration for walls, etc.

            I think I have come to a good balance that almost anyone can shoot better than the accepted industry standards and also outperforms on the above two criteria. Like your .380 tests, I am not factoring in LE type considerations such as car doors. (#1 Buck seems to be the minimum that will perform well against car doors- but the only test protocols I have seen were only using the common commercial velocities.)

  7. rw walden

    hi guys,

    regarding home defense shotguns, what generally is the spread pattern at house internal distances? if i am bunkered in the bedroom with the door 20 feet away (or less) which guage/load is going to spread effectively at that distance? the longest “shot” possible inside my dwelling s 30ft. would that allow for effective pattern and penetration (the idea of a shotgun firing at a target 80 feet away – mentioned above -seemed a bit unusual for inside the home). serious question here; trying to decide between a 18″ barrel coach gun, or a 20ga skeet gun.


    1. GunFun ZS

      for unchoked OOB, the rule of thumb is that the spread will be 1″ per yard past muzzle. So at 30′ your back against the wall, you have 9 yards left (assuming a 3′ long gun). Therefore a standard cylinder bore gun will have 9″ of spread for those 8 or 9 pellets. Generally speaking, the smaller the pellet, the faster the spread, but #1 Buck (12 or 16 pellets) is going to be pretty close. I’d say 9-10″ #4 might be 10-11″ (27 pellets) Another general trend is that the smaller the pellets, the more even your pattern will be.

      However, different design in shotcup, or a choke will change this. I use birdshot wads with #4 Buck and would expect about a 6″ pattern at that distance. FliteControl wads might be more like 2″, but don’t hold me to that. With a full choke, and my wad, I would have around 4″ pattern of 22 pellets. and certainly any stray pellets not in the dense area of my pattern would fit inside the area covered by a saucer. This is good, because i don’t want any pellets to go off of my attacker. If the whole pattern is almost anywhere on the torso, it will be obliterating at least one vital structure. If it is near center, there are very good odds that several pellets will have struck the spine.

      1. rw walden

        thank you.

        seems a coach gun would be just about right for in-home (and a skeet gun does present mobility problems). saw a 3-barrel coach online. thinking if i can’t solve the problem with 3 blasts i am in the proverbial cement canoe.


  8. GunFun ZS

    Why limit yourself to 2 or 3 shots when for the same money in the same size of package you could have 6 or 7? Don’t needlessly give yourself the “Biden handicap.”

    1. rw walden

      the coach gun at hand is shorter than any other (non-pistol) shotgun legal in my state.

      joe biden? Joe biden? is he some sort of national name gun expert?


      1. Shooting The Bull Post author

        Biden famously told someone that to defend themselves, they should forget getting an AR-15 and instead get a double-barreled shotgun. He further then said that’s what he advised his wife — if there’s ever any trouble, go out on the back porch and fire two blasts up into the air. Thus, of course, leaving you completely unarmed… so, yes, Joe Biden is now sometimes known as double-barrel Joe.

        1. rw walden

          aahhh, that joe biden.

          would not think of shooting into the air; pellets will come down somewhere and there will be all sorts of paperwork.

          all seriousness aside, my house is one without children or others to worry over. thinking a short shotgun, hunkered inside a bedroom or other one-entry/exit room, waiting for the cops would mean forcing BG to come thru without knowing exactly where i am. three blasts should manage that situation while i pull the pistols from the drawers and under the bed, and backof the nightstand. but a shortie shot gun with full shoulder stock and 5-7rds would be nicer.


  9. GunFun ZS

    Biden’s advice would also probably constitute assault and reckless discharge of a firearm.

    I wouldn’t suggest using a coach gun for HD, since there are similar sized guns for the same of less moneyy which offer many more shots and less complex operation. While break action seems simple they give you the chance to drop your shells during loading, the chance to forget an auto setting feild safety, the chance to forget to cock the hammer(s). A simple pump or Semi will do the job better. I suggest the latter. For example a Stoeger semi auto will be around $450 and have 7 shots with only -3 pieces which may require human interaction (once the gun is loade). Trigger, safety, (bolt handle.) It is recoil operated and probably more reliable than a pump. (I count the fallible human arm as part of the mechanism of a pump gun, and it does create a lot of failures. A spring never gets nervous.)

  10. Eric

    All very interesting comments and information. Another factor to consider is the sound of a pump action shotgun being “racked”. It may seem insignificant but to an intruder I think it can cause some concern.

    1. GunFun ZS

      That’s an old theory.

      My thoughts on it are as follows.
      1: chambering a round is the most common point of failure on any repeading firearm. Your gun should be loaded before trouble, not during it. Especially if that process tends to bobble if your stroke is uneven and the gun is not level. Ever mis stroke a pump gun? So what makes you think you won’t under stress?
      2: Every gun makes a scary gun like noise. There is nothing special about a shotgun, or even a pump gun. Informal polls I’ve conducted with people who said the pump noise thing were like this: They say it’s the scarriest most recognisiable noise. So I rack the carrier on my AK shotgun, and they say “HMM that’s just as scary.”
      3: Self defense has a few elements of stopping the threat. One is voluntary cessation, motivated by fear (dissuasion). So that’s where the presentation of the gun/ noises come in. Dandy if it works.
      The next level is involuntary, when persuasion won’t work or there is no time to persuade. An unloaded gun to make noise goes against this. You are essentially willing to bet that a guy who may be as close as two steps to you that isn’t dissuaded by the sight of the gun and whatever you are yelling, will be dissuaded by the sight and sound of you working the action. You are also betting that you can work the action without numbing, aim and fire in the space of one or two steps. IMO this is a poor bet.

      How about instead you yell, and shine the laser or spotlite on your loaded gun centermass. There are actual FBI statistics that demonstrate the laser results in more de-escalations.
      A threat with present ability > a threat with ability in a second or two.
      A green dot on someone’s chest is a very tangible way to communicate the threat and the present ability without having to do any weapon manipulation.

  11. Nathan

    It’s odd that after a year and a half, I feel compelled to respond to this article with a personal anecdote. I know it’s a six month old thread, but I know others will find this article like I did. I didn’t even come here for this article, but it really hit home. I wholeheartedly agree with Shooting The Bull’s conclusion. My uncle: a Marine, LEO instructor, and 34-year law enforcement veteran, was murdered along with his girlfriend at her home in October 2012 by her jealous ex-husband. My uncle served many roles: patrol, detective, SWAT officer, bailiff, undercover drug enforcement. He was never unprepared, until that night. As a child, I remember visiting him during his undercover days as he explained why a loaded gun was present in EVERY room of the house. In every drawer, cabinet and mantle, there was a gun, and each was oriented perfectly for a right-handed person to grab and present to the likely choke-point of each room. He knew that if his cover was blown, or if any of the dealers he busted came knocking, he’d only have seconds to respond. He carried CCW before there was CCW: if people only knew what that silly leather fanny pack concealed. But I digress.

    (All of this information is publicly available in the BCI reports, so no OPSEC issues here.) The night he and his girlfriend were murdered, the ex-husband snuck into her house via a real estate agent key; the rental house was up for sale. He jumped them in the bedroom, and beat the snot out of my uncle. Then the drunk left the house to get his handgun from his truck. My uncle was still conscious enough to know he needed medical help fast (as heard on the 911 recording). During this time, my uncle yelled for his girlfriend to retrieve a .38 revolver that she kept in the closet, but it was unloaded. He was too injured and disfigured to manipulate the cylinder to load rounds and bring it to the fight. The murderer returned and shot my uncle repeatedly, and executed him at close range. Thank God for that. After a drawn out dispute, he also shot and killed his ex-wife, and then shot himself once law enforcement arrived on scene. Thankfully, he died at the hospital soon thereafter.

    I wasn’t there, but I believe my uncle would be alive today if he had immediate access to either his carry piece, his service pistol, or her revolver. The assault just happened too fast, and from a guy 15 years his junior. My uncle was in his mid-fifties, and he wasn’t in prime shape, but he was a Marine and LEO. He was better trained to defend himself than I. He didn’t have quick access to any weapon, and paid with his life.

    I know this was yet another crime of passion, but just imagine if it were a home invasion, or a burglary gone wrong. I used to be one of those with the arsenal locked behind the safe doors. I used to have rifles hidden on the shelf in the closet. Now I carry everywhere, and with as much gun as possible. I don’t want to freak out the public, so I don’t open carry, even though I live in the top 10 gun friendly states in the nation (per Guns and Ammo). It’s not explicitly disallowed, so I carry at work. I carry at home. I carry everywhere in between. If your state allows you to exercise your God-given right to defend your life, I encourage you to do so. I’d also encourage you to move if they don’t. You never think it can happen to you or your family, but I was wrong. I hope this story and these events may convince you to defend your family more effectively. It certainly made me change my plan.

    Thank you for your article, Shooting the Bull. And thank you for your .380 and 9mm Ammo Quest evals. I eagerly await the results of each. Keep up the good work, because you are literally saving lives with this information.

  12. Pingback: A Point for Pocket Pistols

  13. bountybuddy

    I agree with everything you have said. The only thing I would add is that it takes a lot of practice to shoot a hand gun fairly well, so people should put some serious time in at the range practicing until they become efficient shooting their hand gun. I bought a Daisy 747 single shot match air pistol. The main reason I bought it was to practice shooting a hand gun without spending a lot of money on ammo.. It is great fun shooting. Put safety on, one pump, load and shoot. I wish I would have bought it 50 years ago.

    1. GunFun ZS

      I know exactly what you mean. A few years back I worked in a city in which I could not find any place to do practical shooting within my budget. On a whim, I bought a $23 electric airsoft clone of my pistol. – Certainly wallmart quality. But the ergonomics were right and it was reasonably accurate up to 9 yards or so. maybe 1″ groups. I played with getting sight picture and trigger control for a few months using that to shoot at a target over the TV for a few months. Maybe 15 minutes at a time after work.

      My shooting got dramatically better over that time, with both hands (& either), while walking in any direction…. It is not a substitute for range time, but it is a great supplement. I now have a better propane powered airsoft clone of my pistol, and use it to practice all the same stuff at a few targets in the yard, and the classifier drills for IDPA. Trigger time is trigger time.

  14. Stefan

    Why should be there the one best weapon for home defense?
    – We are all different
    – We have different living situations
    – We have different housing situations and of course
    – we have different threads

    A handguns job is to keep you alive while you are getting your real gun. If you don’t carry your long gun at home, which might be a flat downtown or a range at the country side, a set of a carried handgun and at least one safely stored longgun is a good idea. If you live in a big flat or house to store a longgun at more than just one place, could be a good idea. The guns of your choise should be the guns, you are family with. Tactical coolness doesn’t count, hits do. If you carry service guns, if you are a target shooter or hunter, your defense guns should be the guns of your job or hobby or at least as close to these guns as possible. If your longgun is too long to get around the corners in your house or flat, get a shorter version of it! If your target handgun is to bulky for carring, get a smaller model of it and a good holster!
    You will be responsible for every single projectile you will fire. How much can you control every projectile? What about penetration of walls and range? Using a shotgun, the less projectile you get in a round the more penetration and range you get. You will have too make your choise. Using a carbine many type of walls will stop the fast, small bullets of a .223 Rem. but not the slower, bigger ones of a 9 mm Luger. BTW, don’t forget your electronic ear protection at least when you are going to use your longgun indoor.

    If you are not family with any gun yet, bull-pup-longguns are great, if you need it short, but if the capacity of you magazins are legally resticted, try the conventional designs, too. If your carry gun is too bulky, you won’t carry it soon. If it’s too small, you won’t hit or even wore hit yourself and stop training soon. A good holster makes a big difference. A bigger and more powerfull round is allways better, if you hit. If you don’t hit, it’s worthless. Get the most powerfull caliber you can handle with multiple hits on reasonable distances and you can pay for reasonable training. You will have to find it out all by yourself. We are all different – big, small, young, old, right- and lefthander, rich or poor.


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