Setting Up a Competent Tactical Shotgun

Whether it’s your first choice or not, having a tactical shotgun for home defense just makes sense, even if just as a secondary option. The Shotgun is at once both mythical in its abilities and unduly derided as a tactical tool. While not without it’s weaknesses the Shotgun is a strong tool in the prepper’s toolbox. The shotgun’s capability to fire various shell types makes it a versatile weapon. Buckshot offers excellent combat effective wounding characteristics while compensating for minor aim error. Slugs offer lethal power with precision delivery. Shotguns can also deliver specialty ammunition like breaching rounds, flares, incendiary buckshot or even less lethals, like beanbags.

When selecting a Shotgun one could easily select one costing as much as $2,000.00, however a competent combat setup can be had for $300 or less. In the modern firearm community accessories abound and some are useful others might be more trouble than they are worth. Here are some must have features as well as some do’s and dont’s when setting up a prepping tactical shotgun.

Must Haves:

A barrel length less than 20″. While a 28″ 12 gauge bird gun certainly can be lethal to humans, it is certainly far from ideal. A 20″ gun can still be deployed with effectiveness indoors, and 18″ guns do even better from a maneuvering standpoint. Guns with with barrels over this length present unacceptable maneuverability issues when navigating corners or doorways. Added length also present’s an hazard for weapon retention issues.

Sights. Occasionally a shotgun will turn up with a cut down bird barrel ending just past 18″. The gun is still legal but it does not have a sight. A bead sight is the absolute minimum for the combat shotgun.


Pick a 12 gauge. 12 gauge is by far the most versatile shotgun caliber. Selecting a 12 gauge with a 2 3/4″-3″ chamber will give the user the most effective rounds with a good selection of tactical rounds ranging from low recoil to 3″ magnum slugs/buckshot. 20 gauge can be used if needed but it will always be second choice to 12 gauge.

Select a shotgun with a cylinder or improved cylinder bore. These choke profiles are the most appropriate for tactical and home defense shotgun loads.

Select Ghost Ring or Rifle Sights. These sights allow the shotgun to be aimed like a rifle. It makes for more accurate fire and precise slug use. We also recommend considering a red dot sight. A red dot sight is a simple yet basic and generally inexpensive optic that helps with faster target acquisition and focus.

Consider extending the factory magazine if the capacity is 4+1 or less.

Install a shell carrier. Ammunition capacity and storage is the biggest weakness for the shotgun system. Extra on gun ammo is an important feature. For more information on shell carriers see our review on the TacStar SideSaddle.

Install a tac light. Target identification is important in critical situations. On-board lights are a major plus.

Try a short length of pull stock. A shorter length of pull increases maneuverability and allows the shooter to more easily use a tactical shooting stance with hips and shoulders facing the target.

Most modification can be made with simple hand tools. Always follow the manufacturers instructions and recommendations.

Shotgun Ammunition

Select appropriate ammunition. perhaps the biggest strength of the shotgun is it’s ability to fire different types of ammunition.  Like the blunderbuss of old, the combat shotgun is capable of throwing many types of loads.  Buckshot has numerous options from 9 and 12 pellet ’00’ loads for short range, to tight pattering enhanced wad loads for longer range engagements. Low recoil buck is also common as well as ‘mini’ buckshot loads which often combine low recoil with increased magazine capacity.  Slugs also come in various styles and capabilities. The wide variety of cartridge options makes selecting optimal loads for your needs extremely doable.

Favorite Shotgun Accessories


Don’t count on the sound of charging the shotgun to scare the bad guy away. I’ve heard this one more times than I can remember. Firearms can be an excellent tool to intimidate wrong doers into stopping their bag acts, but there is no guarantee that intimidation alone will work. Train hard, you can miss with a shotgun, and yes shotgun blasts to non vital areas of an attacker are much less likely to stop a violent attack.

Don’t extend the magazine beyond the muzzle. Certainly your 20″ 870 may have a magazine that protrudes beyond the muzzle by 1/4″, beyond this the magazine that extends beyond the muzzle is a race gun feature that begins to degrade the performance of the weapon in an enclosed space.

Don’t select birdshot loads for personal protection. Without fail when this topic is brought up, someone will accurately point out that many people have died from birdshot injuries. Birdshot is designed to take the same size game that you’d take with a .22 long rifle. Would you intentionally select a .22 for tactical or home defense duty? Remember that any shotgun load that will reliably stop a determined attacker will also penetrate multiple interior walls. Rule #4 know your target your backstop and beyond. Hard training is the best way to insure your skills are up to the task of protecting yourself and your family.

The Best Home-Defense Shotgun

The best home defense shotgun is one that you actually have and feel confident in actually using. Don’t let the fact that it’s hard to find the perfect tactical shotgun in the store deter you. Many gun-stores stock police or home-defense shotguns. We recommend the pump action Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 in 12 gauge. They are easy to modify. There are a large number of accessories that are made for both brands. They both function reliably and are relatively simple to use. There are also other very reliable brands to choose from.

So if you feel the need, get a shotgun. If you’re even slightly mechanically inclined you can install a magazine tube extension fairly easily. You can also easily add a shell holder or change the stock for one that is more comfortable.

Better to have something like this and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

As always, Live Ready!

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Dave is a seasoned law enforcement officer with years of sworn experience. Dave is also a competitive shooter, firearms instructor, enthusiast and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner. Dave has been actively cultivating personal preparedness since the early 2000's.

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