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A single or double barrel sticking out of a window through the shutters. Off comes the sinister cocking sound announcing that the gun is now loaded and ready to fire. This is how most people envisage a survival shotgun. It’s a sight and sound that everybody is familiar with unless they live under a rock. If not in person, you must have heard it on television.

So what (if anything) is so special about survival shotguns? How are they different from handguns or rifles? What about their health, and what do they eat? This article will list out all things you need to know before you start shopping for a shotgun.

Do I Need a Survival Shotgun at All?

Even though I love shotguns, I won’t go so far as to say that you should get one too.

As is always the case with firearms, whether you need one or not will depend on its purpose, your circumstances, and frankly – your personal preferences.

Let me just lay out some pros and cons of having a shotgun. And why it’s better or worse than a handgun or a rifle.

First off, they are significantly cheaper than handguns or rifles. You’ll also appreciate the fact that they aren’t very finicky with ammo. (Also, unlike most handguns.) As for the impact, they are incomparably more powerful than handguns. Even though they are typically considered short-range firearms, they will still perform at mid to long range (50+ yards), where your average pistol is absolutely worthless. That is, of course, if you choose the right caliber (in shotgunners’ lingo, it’s called gauge). With all that, they are lighter than rifles.

And did I even mention the fact that shotgun owning and carrying is more liberal in all of the States than, say, a handgun?

But nothing is perfect, and neither is a shotgun. This robust long arm is too bulky and will impede your maneuvering around small and tight places. You’re also gonna need to get used to a lot of kicking due to recoil. Another con is that you need both arms to operate it. And even their firepower isn’t always an asset. Especially when you consider that shotguns have pretty low magazine capacity.

So, a survival shotgun is a good firearm for home defense. But in outside conditions, it would be more of a hindrance, unless you plan on using it for hunting. So, if you’re picking between it and a handgun, I suggest you pick both!

survival shotgun for home defense

Types of Home Defense Shotgun

With guns, there are always umpteen sorts and types, families, species and subspecies. For the sake of clarity, I will only highlight the most common types. That is, the ones that you’re likely to encounter when you walk into your sporting goods store.

Break-Action Shotgun

How do you load and reload a break-action shotgun? Just break it open!

That’s exactly what it looks like, and you’ve probably seen it a thousand times in ol’ Western movies and TV shows.

As sexy as the breaking sound is, this type of shotgun actually isn’t sexy at all. A break-action shotgun can only take one round per barrel. And it can have two barrels at the most, which means two rounds max. Then, you have to pause, break it open, dump the empty shell, and insert another.

All of this means that a break-action won’t be your best friend for home defense. It will do well enough for hunting though. But you don’t want to have to splurge on two shotguns. So, let’s proceed with the next type… 

Pump-Action (A.K.A. Slide-Action) Shotgun

No hassle when you need to reload this one. Just slide the pump back and forth to chamber a new round, and that’s it. This is probably the most common type of survival shotgun – in fact, it has already become part of the modern American folklore.

More importantly, it’s probably going to be every prepper’s first choice when it comes to defending the property. Pump-action shotguns have been used in law enforcement for decades, and for more than one reason. They are very easy to use and extremely dependable. The technology is so simple that nothing can ever go wrong if you use your gun correctly.

That, however, doesn’t mean that you don’t need any practice with your pump-action shotgun. On the contrary – you will need a lot of range time to make that pumping a routine operation. If you don’t pump it all the way, your shotgun will not get its morsel of food, and won’t fire when you need it to. 

Semi-Automatic Shotgun

This is the most elegant solution. Which, of course, goes hand in hand with the price. With semi-automatic shotguns, all you need to do is load up the mag with ammo. As soon as you fire a shot, the mechanism discards the used shell and chambers another in its place. Hence the “automatic” part. You can fire multiple shots successively, without stopping to manually load the gun every single time.

As convenient as that may sound, there’s a significant shortcoming to this type of survival shotgun. It’s not nearly as reliable as a pump-action shotgun, due to relatively frequent jamming issues.

So, the smartest choice for home defense is your good ol’ pump-action shotgun.

What About Ammo?

There are three basic types of shotgun ammo. And we’re not talking about gauge, which is like I said, the official term for shotgun caliber. The type here designates the purpose, and each comes with its own gauges.

  • Birdshot. Its name pretty much says it all – this is the smallest type of shotgun ammo, and it’s used for hunting birds, but also rabbits. A birdshot is actually a shotshell or a cartridge containing small pellets that disperse when a round is fired. Since birdshot pellets are tiny, they will be accurate for up to 50 yards.
  • Buckshot. You guessed it – the pellet size here is a bit bigger, which is why buckshots are used for hunting mid-size game such as deer. Naturally, they allow for smaller range than birdshots – up to 35 yards.
  • Slug. No pellets here – a slug is a single, relatively large bullet nesting in a shell. There is no shot pattern like with the above types, but the impact is still very powerful – and super destructive. Slugs will do a great job in longer ranges (up to 75 yards), with some types performing even better. All of that means that you can use slugs for big game hunting.

best shotgun for home defense

Which Survival Shotgun Works Best for Home Defense?

So, which ammo should you stockpile for home defense if you decide to get a survival shotgun? Many shooters will dismiss birdshots straight away due to their low destructive power. In their view, buckshots are better performers. No doubt about that when you see what they can do to a wall!

However, I tend to disagree on this. Since potential home-defense situations would typically require short range, a birdshot will do a job just good enough to hurt or deter the attacker. If you’re aiming to kill, it’ll do that too.

But what it won’t do is destroy a piece of your property because it went right through the target and hit your vehicle, for example. Some people like power, but I prefer wisdom and economy.

However, that doesn’t mean you should only stock up on birdshots as a prepper or survivalist. When left to your own devices, you will need to hunt your dinner. And you’ll need lots of buckshots and slugs if you don’t want to eat chicken for the rest of your life.

Final Word

Now that you know what type of survival shotgun to choose (pump-action) and what kind of ammo to feed it, it’s time for the final piece of advice.

Many people imagine that a shotgun needs little to no practice at all. If you ever hear somebody saying that, you should know that they’ve probably never fired a single round from a shotgun.

Just like any other gun, shotguns need a lot of field practice. Birdshots and buckshots are pellets spreading into a pattern, but this pattern is limited in diameter. If it weren’t, the pellets wouldn’t have been able to hurt a fly.

You will need lots of practice shooting targets to study the patterns, but also with clay pigeons to hone your aiming skills. Just like any other weapon, your shotgun requires skill, but also composure if you want it to work when push comes to shove. And composure comes with experience.