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Shotgun Tall Tales You Should Ignore



Picture It: Sicily, 1922. Whoops, wrong channel.

Picture It: Your Bedroom, 2 a.m.

You awaken from a deep sleep to interlopers that have broken into your castle. You jump up in your tighty-whities, grab your trusty 12 gauge, and go off into the darkness to investigate. As you go down the long dark corridor of your hallway, you spy the shadowy figures loading up all your collectible Hummel figurines. No sir, not tonight! You take your pump shotgun and loudly SHUCK-CHUCK a round into the chamber. The Dreaded Sound sends the intruders into a Three Stooges frenzy, tripping over each other to get out of your home. As the police show up 30 minutes later, your tale of bravery has the officers patting you on the back and promising to buy you a beer.

And now back to reality…

Can this scenario happen? Sure it could—it’s a big old world and there are 8 billion people in it, so there are lots of improbable things that happen—but most likely NOT! In this scenario the homeowner is dealing with the disorientation from being awoken, the adrenaline rush of fight-or-flight, darkness, and last (but most importantly) a lack of training.

Since Mr. Homeowner never practices movement with his weapon of choice, he forgets he’s using a 28-inch-barreled duck gun and bangs it into every wall and door frame as he tries to clear the house. Finally, after spotting the shadowy figures, he racks the slide of his gun and makes The Dreaded Sound. In doing so, of course, he has jettisoned one of his three rounds, and let the bad guys know exactly where he was.

Shotguns aren’t shortcuts.

Shotguns are great tools for sport hunting, competing, and yes, self-defense—but it takes work and commitment to use them effectively, especially under stress. Furthermore, there are many myths about shotguns that are so common that even some “gun guys” believe them.

Stopping Power vs. Your Drywall

The stopping power of a good shotgun loaded with some #00 buckshot is legendary. A center-of-mass hit with just about any gauge shotgun will stop just about any human attacker. That said, if this is your home-defense gun, you need to worry about a phenomenon called “overpenetration.” (Get your mind out of the gutter and off that black-leather couch! We’re talking safety here!)

A lot of people think that buckshot and birdshot won’t go through interior walls. Simply speaking, that isn’t true. Most interior walls are largely drywall with maybe some insulation, and even smallish BB projectiles can go through them depending on a number of factors. Birdshot is less likely to do it than buckshot, and using rounds specifically designed for home defense (and thus with less powder behind the projectile) will also help. That said, knowing your target and what lies beyond it is still extremely important—and you should think of your interior walls as visual barriers, not physical ones.

Yes, You CAN Miss.

One of the great things about shotguns are that the shot spreads as it travels, but it leads people to think that “you can’t miss.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In general projectile spread of the shot is about 1 inch for every yard (3ft) traveled. So yes, you get spread, but in the 12-ft.-long bedroom, that’s only a 4-inch spread. That’s plenty of room to miss, especially under stress. You will need to aim.

The Dreaded Sound!

My favorite Fudd tall tale is that simply racking a shotgun’s action will make the bad guys find religion. Tactically speaking you just gave your position up allowing you to be ambushed. Also, as with any self defense firearm, if you do not have a round in the chamber, it is beyond useless. Shotguns can be relatively slow to reload, and if you’re using your waterfowling gun, you may only have a three-round capacity.

Make Your Shottie a Hottie.

No matter what shotgun I own, one of the first modifications I like to do is add an oversized safety. Most factory safeties are small and hard to manipulate. Having an oversized button or latch can give you a tactile feel of its position—is it on safe, or fire? Anything to make the shotgun easier to use is a bonus in my book.

After that, if this gun is just for self defense, you need to add a mounted flashlight. One of the basic rules of firearms safety is to know your target and what is beyond it. Shooting at shadowy figures is so not cool you can’t even see cool from where it is with FLIR vision and a 10X scope.

My next important upgrade is with the sights and aiming. Red dots are all the rage and eliminate some of the aiming problems shooters with aging eyes have. If you don’t want to worry about batteries, at least think about night sights, or fiber optics to go along with the flashlight.

Shotguns in late have come down so far in price that brand new pumps can be had for under 150.00 especially during sales. But don’t think that you should be stuck with just a pump. Don’t buy the pump just for the sound. Shotguns that are semi-auto guns also make sounds, and might be a better option if you want less recoil. Yes AR-15s are tacticool, but maybe it’s time you dust off the shotty and take it for a ride.

—James the “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself



  1. DIYinSTL

    May 22, 2023 at 12:58 pm

    Of course the problem with a weapon mounted light is the probability of pointing a loaded weapon at something or someone you do NOT want to destroy. Kudos for suggesting semi-autos though. Just watch someone learning to shoot a pump on a skeet field. When doubles are called for (two clay targets at once) the second shell rarely gets chambered smoothly or in time. If you use a pump for home defense then you need to practice loading that second cartridge under stressful conditions. Practice until it is second nature.

  2. Larry Schillinger

    May 22, 2023 at 1:24 pm

    Here is my problem with a shotgun. As a dealer, I find many times people looking for a shotgun for defense have no experience with shooting one and may never even shoot it if they purchase one. If the ever have to shoot the shotgun, with the recoil and the loud noise, there is a good possibility they could drop it, and as you have already pointed out, there is a good possibility they missed their target.
    That is why I recommend they use an AR15, chambered in a 300 BO with heavy loads, no real recoil and noise is much less and besides many more rounds. I prefer Hornady 190+ grain bullets with flex tips. Yes, there can be over penetration, but when the chips are down, can one worry about that possibility?

    • Tim-

      May 22, 2023 at 2:36 pm

      You’re a dealer and you saying not to worry about over penetration? I hope you don’t have kids or a spouse in the room behind that wall where the thief or assailant is. You might just kill the most important thing to you.

  3. Dave Bonis

    May 22, 2023 at 3:02 pm

    Each situation is different,as are all opinons after the fact, on what to do and how to react.
    What does work the best regardless of weapon is what you are COMPLETELY familiar with. This means you have actually put fifty or so rounds through it in each of the preceding 6 months! Your opinions, tactics, and thought process will adjust or mature if you will, as your familiarity increases. Do you want your tombstone inscription to read, “the guy said it will work?”
    Shotguns and rifles are decidedly more unwieldy inclose quarters, making a pistol a better choice than a shotgun (in my personal opinion) however in situation with multiple perps, a long gun may be better suited, but using what you have regardless, requires familiarity to even get a shot off in a very high adrenaline situation. So, very good that you’re becoming armed! Now, become proficient!

  4. Marcus Aurelius Tarkus

    May 23, 2023 at 1:07 am

    The shotgun racking sound as a “fear factor” is–and always has been–urban legend. I regret to say that it was first thus proposed to me by an experienced LAPD detective and close friend. Full context: that was @40 years ago. “Common” wisdom and perspectives change.

    Giving up your position is the main concern. That also goes to lights. Best strategy: retreat with your family to as secure a position as you have planned…and wait. No life is worth risking for the flat screen walking out the front door. Every life is worth protecting from the best cover available.

  5. Gene

    May 23, 2023 at 1:39 am

    IMO,as a long time IDPA shooter,going over “what if” scenarios is good for preparing your mind for such situations and deciding on how you lean towards the best reactions to those situations.

    While anything is possible,the empirical data says that you won’t be home if you ever DID got burglarized. as burglars don’t commonly go into an occupied house. IN fact, the data says that if you DO get burglarized,the burglar knows you and has been in your house and has seen or knows you have something of value,that they they know when you’re home or not and how to get in and out and where the stuff is.

    Also,most of us have dogs and they are great alarms,and that is yet another fantasy- having the biggest baddest attack dogs, that will scare and tear up any burglars that try to get in. Listen,I have a Chihuahua that can hear and barks at someone walking down the sidewalk outside,and he’s inside,and the sidewalk is 50 yards from the house. I have a sign outside that says, “Forget the dog, beware of owner”. So,believe me,NO one is getting close to the house,any time. BTW,I have 3 chihuahuas, a wolf and a Siberian Husky.

    Now,AFA a home invasion,THAT is a TOTALLY different dynamic. A home invasion is an act of revenge or retaliation or punishment. But STILL,they know the victims and know they have something that they want and they intend to bust in and hurt them and their family. To take what they have and then take their lives. 99% of the time, it’s gang related and/or about money and drugs. They have been in the house and have a solid plan, of shock and awe and will definitely go in strong and outnumber and overwhelm the victim. If they have dogs,they will poison them or shoot them.
    SO,unless you’re a drug dealer,we really don’t need to worry about a home invasion, where we need to confront and shoot it out with anyone. We have a MUCh better chance of a mass shooter in some public place,or road rage.


  6. Zermoid

    May 23, 2023 at 12:10 pm

    When I lived in a trailer park I made myself some “wax slugs” for my shotgun. My version was #7.5 or #8 bird shot mixed with melted wax and then scooped into the shotcup, covered with a overshot card and roll crimped shut. Wax held it together as a slug but going thru plywood and sheet metal walls should break it up into less lethal bird shot that hopefully would not go thru my neighbors trailer walls.

  7. Duane Spickler

    June 5, 2023 at 10:48 am

    Oversized safety, night sights etc are fine but you mention the long barrel of a duck gun and two round magazine then no mention of a “fix”. Obviously a dedicated home defense shot Lt gun with 18” barrel and 7 or 8 round magazine is a better choice, but a shorter extra barrel and removing the plug is a huge step to make the shotgun you already have much more useful and effective.

    I would never choose dove/quail loads #7 1/2 or 8 shot for defense. #4 or #2 is much better but I would still choose 00 Buck to the smaller but very effective #4 Buck.

    I would never count on the sound of racking a round to work but I have personally seen it work.

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