The Best Shotguns For Home Defense: Keep Your Family Safe

The shotgun is a brutally powerful weapon. With a proper load of buckshot, it’s capable of delivering up to 2800 foot-pounds of kinetic energy and delivers a payload of lead to a threat. When it comes to one-shot stops the 12 gauge shotgun is king. These weapons are outstanding for home defense due to their brutal power and multiple projectiles per trigger pull design. 

In a purely home defense situation the shotgun is perfect. Its close-range firepower translates well inside the home, and in the dark, it’s an easy and accurate weapon to use. 

A home defense shotgun is a simple weapon and they tend to be extremely common. They are also affordable, and in most states with extreme gun restrictions, a shotgun is still legal in an unneutered configuration. 

Shotguns are a very versatile weapon and the same gun you use for home defense can be used for hunting, or even sporting clays in some configurations.

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Mossberg Maverick 88


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What Makes A Good Home Defense Shotgun

With so many different types of shotguns out there it’s important we talk about what makes a good home defense shotgun. Typically, what you want is a shotgun that is either a pump-action or semi-automatic. Preferably the weapon will hold at least 4 rounds, but more can be better. 

Modern tactical shotguns will usually hold around 7 rounds. The gun should be short and maneuverable. By law, in the United States, a shotgun’s barrel must be at least 18 inches. 18 to 20 inches will keep the weapon short and lightweight. You’ll also want some form of sight, be it a simple bead or a fancy ghost ring set-up. 

Beyond those requirements, everything else is extra. Running a weapon light is highly desirable, and a red dot optic is another common upgrade. However, a shotgun can remain simple, but still, be extremely potent.

Best Pump Actions

Pump-action shotguns are manually operated weapons that require the user to manually pump the gun to extract, eject, cock, and load a round into the chamber. These are the most common type of shotgun in the United States and are also some of the most reliable. Their simple nature makes them affordable as well. 

1. Mossberg 500/590 Series

Mossberg 500 best shotgun

Mossberg has long been known as the preeminent pump-action shotgun manufacturer. The 500 series is their flagship shotgun. The 500 series is used for a variety of tasks that covers everything from home defense to hunting. The 590 series is their military model with a thick-walled barrel and a tubular magazine that is easy to add extensions too.  

Different 590 models may also incorporate a metal trigger group, a bayonet lug, pistol grip, and collapsible stock. The 500 series is more affordable and lighter weight, and the massive aftermarket allows shooters to customize their weapon extensively. 

The 500 series uses an ambidextrous tang mounted safety that is well placed and easy to activate. The gun’s skeletal shell lifter also makes it easier to clear malfunctions than most shotguns. The Mossberg 590A1 is the only shotgun that has passed the U.S. Army’s Mil-Spec 3443E test, which involves 3,000 rounds of full-powered 12 gauge ammo. 

Also, this is a gun that is very easy to repair and most repairs can be done at home. However, it’s a tough gun and likely won’t need any. The Mossberg 500 series also comes in 20 gauge and 410 for smaller shooters.

2. Remington 870 Tactical 

Remington 870 best shotgun

There are numerous Remington 870 models that could be used in the Tactical Home Defense Role. This includes the actual 870 Tactical Model, as well as numerous 18.5-inch express models. Remington is also very well known for their shotguns and the 870 has served police and military forces throughout the United States. 

The Remington 870 features a rugged and durable steel receiver, a tight and smooth action as well. The Remington 870 series comes in tons of different configurations, including Hardwood, Police, Tactical, Marine models and many more. Due to the gun’s popularity, there is an extensive aftermarket for allows for an amazing degree of customization. 

The 870 series is also produced in smaller calibers like 20 gauge and 410. There are 20 gauge models designed for home defense roles with shorter barrels but there doesn’t appear to be similar 410 models currently being produced. 

The Remington 870 models have long been proven to be reliable, easy handling weapons that are well suited for home defense and tactical use. With over 10 million produced it’s safe to assume the gun works.

3. Benelli Nova 

Benelli Nova best shotgun

Benelli is mostly known for their semi-auto shotguns, but the Nova is their pump-action shotgun. This 12 gauge shotgun comes in numerous configurations, but the tactical model is what we are looking for. This model comes outfitted with either open rifle sights or ghost ring sights, as well as an 18.5-inch barrel. 

The Nova sports a pump design that’s pushed to the rear of the action, making it easier to reach for smaller shooters. Additionally, the gun is equipped with a unique push-button shell stop that allows you to eject the round in the chamber without ejecting rounds from the magazine. This allows for quick and easy transitions to different types of ammo. 

The pump action is remarkably smooth and makes running the gun quickly possible. The Benelli Nova is insanely reliable and rugged in design. The gun is made to last and as a tactical shotgun, it delivers as promised. It doesn’t offer the same aftermarket as the Remington or Mossberg, but its popularity is growing. 

The Nova is also more a hair more expensive than domestic models, but in many ways, it is the Cadillac of pump-action shotguns.

Best Semi-Autos

Semi-auto shotguns are shotguns that extract, eject, cock, and load the next round automatically. They fire one round per pull of the trigger. Reliable semi-autos are more costly than pump actions and are also less common. However, they are softer recoiling and allow you to engage with follow up rounds much quicker. 

1. Benelli M4 Tactical

Benelli m4 tactical best shotgun

The Benelli M4 currently serves as the military’s only semi-auto shotgun and is known as the M1014. The M4 is a gas-operated shotgun that uses Benelli’s patented ARGO system. ARGO stands for auto regulating the gas-operated system. The benefits of this system are its simplicity and rugged design. This allows it to run hot, cold, and dirty. 

The Benelli M4 is a rugged design and military testing showed it can function for 25,000 rounds without parts replacement. The American model will come with only a 5 round tube due to import restrictions but can be swapped for an 8 round tube as long as 922R compliance is met. The M4 Tactical comes with Ghost rings sights, as well as a rail for optic’s use. 

The gun soaks up recoil due to its semi-automatic action making it much more comfortable to shoot than a pump action. The gun is remarkably reliable and will eat up all standard powered ammo. The gun’s semi-auto action makes it possible to handle the weapon with one arm, as well as quickly engage a single target or multiple targets with multiple rounds. 

The M4 is a proven weapon and one to watch if you want the very best in combat shotguns. 

2. Beretta 1301 

Beretta 1301 best shotgun

The strength of a shotgun is its brutal power and its speed on target. A heavy gun is hardly a fast gun, and the 1301’s strength is how crazy lightweight it is. The Beretta 1301 weighs a mere 6.4 pounds. Better yet the gun is capable of sending lead downrange extremely fast. It’s one of the fastest cycling shotguns out there. 

Even though it’s lightweight, recoil isn’t a major issue. The gun’s semi-auto action absorbs lots of recoil and allows you to stay on target with ease. The 1301 has an 18.5-inch barrel and is extremely short and easy to maneuver. It comes with a short optic’s rail that is well suited for a small and compact red dot sight

The BLINK gas system is popular in numerous beretta shotguns and it’s an ultra-reliable design for the combat shotgun. This gas system allows a skilled shooter to drop 4 rounds in under a second. The 1301 is an awesome overall design and does what a shotgun should do, gets rounds on target quickly and accurately. 

The Beretta 1301 is limited when it comes to accessorizing, but it’s growing in popularity and a small and dedicated aftermarket is popping up.

A Hybrid Option 

What about a shotgun that can swap between both semi-auto and pump action? This design is rare, so I’m featuring the only one still in production. 

1.Benelli M3

Benelli m3 best shotgun

The Benelli M3 is one of the very few shotguns that utilize both a pump and a semi-automatic option. With the twist of a ring, the Benelli M3 can be swapped from semi-auto to pump action. While other guns have done the same, notably the SPAS 12, the M3 has been more successful

The M3’s hybrid design allows a shotgun shooter to run any load they choose. They can use full-powered loads in a semi-automatic action to get tons of lead on target with reduced recoil, or swap to pump action to run less-lethal loads or low recoil loads. The design allows the gun to eat anything. 

As a Benelli you know it’s a premium shotgun. The semi-auto action is Benelli’s famed inertia recoil system. This is a reliable system that Benelli has used in most of their semi-auto shotguns. The Benelli M3 was never as popular as the M2 or M4 variants but is a unique and interesting weapon. 

If you want a shotgun you can shoot anything through the M3 will get the job done.

For Smaller Shooters

A big drawback to shotguns is the high recoil. Most semi-auto guns are excellent at reducing recoil, but even then some are still too much. They can be too heavy, too long, and unwieldy. For those shooters, I tracked down a lightweight, low recoiling shotgun that anyone can handle. 

1. Mossberg SA-20 

The Mossberg SA-20 is a superb shotgun for a smaller shooter. Not only is this a 20 Gauge shotgun, but it’s also a semi-automatic shotgun designed for home defense. This combination makes it easily one of the easiest handling guns out there. 

The gun has hardly any recoil and is a lightweight 5.75 pounds. It sports a 20-inch barrel and is outfitted with a Ghost Ring rear sight, a high viz front sight, and an optic’s rail. It’s perfect for indoor use and is maneuverable in close quarters as a shotgun should be. 

The SA-20 also sports a forward rail for attaching a light or laser too. The gun comes with a tactical style pistol grip and stock combo and all black furniture. Its overall length is only 39 inches and it’s quite comfortable. As a bonus, it comes sling ready. 

The biggest downside is the fact the gun only holds 4+1 rounds. However, it’s an affordable 20 gauge option that’s also reliable and easy to handle for shooters of all sizes.

Value Choices 

We all can’t afford a Benelli M4 for home defense, and that’s understandable. Mossberg makes two excellent value brand shotguns I’d give a hardy recommendation to. 

1. Mossberg Maverick 88 

Mossberg Maverick 88 best shotgun

The Mossberg Maverick 88 has a lot in common with the Mossberg 500 and is more or less the budget variant. The Maverick comes in several different models, and this includes a Security model with a 7 round tube that is perfect for home defense. You cannot extend the Maverick 88’s capacity, but the 7 round models are competitive with most defensive shotguns. 

The Maverick 88 lacks the Mossberg tang safety and uses a push-button design. Most furniture is compatible with Mossberg 500 shotguns, and this allows you to easily swap parts out. The Maverick 88 shotguns are routinely found for around 200 bucks or slightly higher depending on furniture. 

The Maverick 88 design is solid and simple and for home defense shotguns that’s all you need. These are lightweight shotguns and available in 12 and 20 gauge only. The Maverick models cannot interchange trigger systems with the Mossberg 500 and are not drilled and tapped for an optic’s rail. They are also only available in a blued finish. 

They are very basic in design but are effective and easy handling shotguns when money’s tight. 

2. Stevens 320 Tactical 

Stevens 320 shotgun

The Steven 320 Tactical is likely one of the most affordable shotguns on the market for home defense. You can typically find them for well below 200 dollars. The Stevens 320 Tactical is designed with a combination pistol grip and stock that makes balancing and pointing the weapon easy. 

The gun does keep things simple with a pump-action, a bead style front sight, and a 5 round tube. This keeps things lightweight and easy moving. The pump itself is long and easy to reach regardless of how long your arms are. This is great for shooters with shorter arms or shoulder issues. 

The 18.5-inch barrel is as short as I comfortably get with these guns and ensures there is plenty of maneuverability. Additionally, the gun is set up for a sling out of the box. For a budget based shotgun it does boast dual slide bars, which ensures clean and reliable operation. At this price, the Stevens 320 is hard to beat. There isn’t much of an aftermarket for these guns, but if you need a shotgun and are tight on money it’s a reliable choice. 

3. Mossberg 930 Tactical

Mossberg 930 shotgun

Another Mossberg on the list, but it is one of the more affordable Semi-auto shotguns. There are lots of different 930 models, and the 930 Tactical is the most bare-bones, but also the cheapest. For under 400 bucks you can have a very capable semi-auto shotgun. 

I can attest the 930 models are reliable. I own the 930 SPX model, a slightly more expensive variant with fancier sights. However, the operating systems are identical. This gun sports a solitary bead sight contains 8 rounds total and is available for around 400 bucks. 

The receiver comes drilled and tapped if you want to toss a red dot on. The gun is stout and robust. It’s a reliable gas-operated gun that will spit lead downrange very quickly. It’s easy to handle and is made by Mossberg. That means you’ll have a reliable and capable weapon at a great price overall.

Parting Shots

On a per shot basis, the shotgun delivers more lead per trigger pull than any other weapon. The shotgun is a simple weapon that rules in close quarters. Like all weapons, the weapon is only one part of the system. You’ll also need to train, make the right ammo selection, and as always have a plan when trouble comes knocking.


Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd BN 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and works as a firearms writer.

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