Can You Use a Field Shotgun for Home Defense?

The short answer is "yes," with a "but." The long answer is below!

posted on February 28, 2024

The shotgun is an outstanding tool to protect yourself and your family. There’s lots of information out there about fancy tactical shotguns and their use, including specialized training and accessories. It can be a bit intimidating, but the truth is that even a simple, no-frills shotgun will help you protect your home with straightforward efficiency. Here’s how to make the shotgun you already have the cornerstone of your home-defense plan.

Is tactical practical?

The average gun buyer owns at least one shotgun. The trend of late has been moving toward owning a self-defense shotgun, dedicated for that purpose alone. Buying a tactical shotgun for home defense is definitely a reasonable idea, but you don’t necessarily need to buy one in order to defend your home.

Before you go out and buy a tactical shotgun, ask yourself how familiar you are with tactical shotguns. Some pistol-grip or bullpup designs can be awkward to use without specialized training if you are used to a standard field gun. (Interested in getting training? Click here to find an NRA course at your skill level near you!)

The point is, there isn’t necessarily any need to disregard the shotgun you already have instead. Why? Because a standard field gun is practical for a wide variety of applications. What is so important about that shotgun having other uses? Plenty! A gun with other uses makes it much easier for you to practice, and stay familiar with the gun’s operation in low-stress situations like a round of sporting clays.

You see, training classes are wonderful and we’ll always recommend them, but…that skill is perishable. Most shooters benefit from practice on a regular basis, and you’re just more likely to practice with a standard shotgun than a tactical one. Purpose-built tactical shotguns really aren’t ideal for fun activities like clay target games such as skeet and trap.

A standard field gun is generally affordable and bare of frills. The main argument against using a field gun for home defense is barrel length. Yes, a standard barrel is a bit long to maneuver through the house, but if you are familiar with the gun, and familiar with manipulating it within the confines of your home, that extra 6-8 inches beyond a tactical barrel length can definitely be overcome.

Choke tube

When using a standard field gun, the appropriate choke is something to consider. The appropriate choke equips your shotgun to shoot the ammunition you want to use, and to cause the shot cloud to expand at a specific rate. A standard 12 or 20 gauge field gun is threaded to receive choke tubes; changing the choke tube is an easy fix. Simply unscrew the one you want to replace and screw in the replacement. If you install an improved cylinder choke tube, you can shoot shot or slugs, making your gun more versatile. Other schools of thought dictate that you should only use the cylinder bore—meaning no choke at all. 

One thing to keep in mind is that if you choose an extended tube—and there are reasons to do that, as illustrated above—you’ll be adding to the overall length of the barrel. Since you’re starting with a field gun, which traditionally has a much longer barrel than a dedicated tactical shotgun, that’s something to watch.

Another factor is that the larger the choke extension, the more weight it adds. It’s not much, but something to think about in terms of taking your field gun hunting or clays shooting.

In my opinion, the pros tend to outweigh the cons, as extended chokes are commonly used in competition and hunting. Beneficial from a ballistics standpoint, an extended (longer) choke may improve patterns, but at the average distance of a home defense instance, patterns will be sufficient with flush mount choke tubes. If you have a standard length barrel of 26 or 28 inches on your shotgun, an extended tube can add up to 2 inches to the length. I use extended tubes on my 26-inch barrel, because I prefer the extended tubes for the main purposes of the gun, clay pigeon shooting and hunting.

With an improved cylinder choke in place, you have a lot of choice for ammo. Birdshot, small pellets that make for very dense patterns at close range, are not as likely to travel through walls and keep going as a handgun bullet. There’s buckshot, which offers nine large pellets for more knockdown power at medium range—tantamount to firing nine small caliber pistol bullets from a single shell. There’s also slugs, the ultimate firepower from your shotgun. A switch of choke tubes may be all you need to prepare your shotgun for home defense needs, should any arise.

Keep it simple

Owning a shotgun is a good thing when it comes to home defense. In a crisis you need a gun that fits, one that you are familiar with so it is easy to operate. Practice with it, learn how to use it so that loading, handling and shooting the shotgun becomes pure muscle memory. An effective gun does not have to have a pistol grip or collapsible stock. You do not have to have a light attached, an extended mag tube, or a receiver-mounted shell holder to defend your home.

If you have an older gun with a fixed choke, such as a modified or full choke, use shells loaded with birdshot or buckshot; slugs are not recommended in these tighter chokes. An assortment of shells gives the option of combining ammunition, alternating shells in the magazine, a method practiced by some military and law enforcement personnel. For example, load a round or two of buckshot and then follow it with slugs. You may prefer to start with birdshot and follow it with buckshot.

Regular practice with your shotgun goes a long way toward preparing for home dense. Do whatever it takes to get the experience—shoot clay pigeons or paper targets. Range time is something you cannot substitute with accessories. You should not need more than a standard shotgun to defend your home. Retired FBI agent Candice DeLong said it best: “If you want to make a statement, do it with a shotgun.”



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