View Full Version : Handguns vs Shotguns for HD.....

Dave McC
July 26, 2002, 06:39 AM
It's zero dark 30, and you wake with the feeling that something's terribly wrong. The sound of breaking glass downstairs is followed by the frantic barking of Chang, your attack Pekingese, and then a yelp.Then, the only sounds are heavy footsteps thumping up the steps and the blood rushing through your veins. As you reach for your HD weapon,you begin to pray you are making the right choices....

We've been taught by the gun media to believe that all confrontations at close range are best handled by a handgun or shotgun. Both can be good choices,or neither. Here's a few options, upsides and downsides.And, these are just opinions, I'm fresh out of Stone Tablets.

The simplest firearm for HD that has a reasonable level of effectiveness would be a DA revolver, in 38 Special or 357 Magnum, loaded with 38s. One merely picks it up, aims and pulls the trigger. It'll work well, cost but a few hundred, last longer than we will with a bit of cleaning and PM, and the ammo is not terribly expensive unless we get into designer rounds. They're also fun for non
shooters to start shooting with.

And the last time I looked at a database, the 125 gr 357 round was running near the top of the list for one shot stops.The old FBI 38 load ran better than 80%.38 target WCs out of snubbies run better than 60%.

IOW,the load will do the job if inserted properly.

Next up is the various semi autos, from little mouse guns to the Desert Eagle 50. These run to more money, have a more complicated MOA for the most part, cost more and require a bit more practice and training. Effectiveness can beat the 357, but it's a narrow margin.

All handguns are easy to store. Some are quite concealable, but we're talking HD here.

Next would be handgun calibered carbines. These are the Marlin Camp carbines, the various lever actions and stuff like Uzis. A bit more effective, and easier to hit with under short time frame crisis conditions.

And finally we get into shotguns, the most effective of the options. (Centerfire rifles are IMO, not good HD choices)

The last database info I had was shotgun effectiveness ran over 99% for one shot stops, regardless of gauge,choke or load. This means even the lowly 410 bore has as much muzzle moxie as a magnum handgun load and is often MUCH more. The 12 gauge shotgun usually regarded as the best choice for a "Serious" shotgun has TONS of energy to dump into a target, making rather large and messy holes in things.

During my time working in MD prisons, I saw many inmates with scars from being shot with handguns. In 20 years, I knew of two that had been shot with shotguns and survived. Neither could do much, one was wheelchair bound, the other slowly starving to death despite a 5K calorie diet. No intestines left...

OK, so when does a shotgun become a good choice for HD?

When it's used by a shotgunner. Someone who shoots regularly, for fun or just dedicated practice.Back when I instructed heavily, I noted that the only folks who did well with the 870 were those who LIKED shotguns and shot them often. These folks were hunters and target shooters, and some were absolutely deadly under stressful conditions.Absolutely means here that they could neutralize threat levels within 25 yards in less time than it takes to sneeze.

When is a shotgun a bad choice?

When it's needed by a non shotgunner.

Nobody besides me at Casa McC likes shotguns. Everyone can shoot handguns well enough,and there's several here kept ready. The HD 870 is my choice, but if I'm not around, the security aspect is handled by handguns and handgunners.Still,they would be better served if they shot even a 410 pump. More energy, larger diameter hole, and easier to hit with.

There's no easy answer to the quesiton about which is better. Like so much else in the real world, one gathers information, digests it, and makes the best choice they can for them.


SA Scott
July 26, 2002, 09:53 AM

On target as always. I have a shotgun (Benelli autoloader) and various handguns available. I've recently re-assessed my situation, and would reach for a handgun first, even though I know the shotgun is more capable. Reasons: speed of deployment, maneuverability, and range to target. My wife and I live in a small, cluttered one bedroom apartment. Once I perceive a threat, exit the bed, retrieve/ready the shotgun, an intruder can traverse the apartment twice. So a handgun is a more immediate response. I'm also more confident in retaining a handgun. Then, once I'm on my feet, maximum range is 15-20 feet, with thin interior walls adjoining neighbors' apartments on all sides. Within those confines, I'm in your handgunner category.

Given proper alert time, I'll grab the shotgun. I just know that guy Murphy isn't going to cut me any slack.

SA Scott

July 26, 2002, 12:30 PM
Agree with everything you say, but my "reach for" gun is a .45. Everythiing else, including the shotguns is in another room, in the safe. There is no place to put a shotgun near my bed, the closets are all across the room and not speedily accessible. This handgun is what I practice with and am most familiar with.

This is a compromise I have chosen to make.

Al Thompson
July 26, 2002, 12:47 PM
CWL - thought about under the bed? Or hanging the gun on the bed frame? (where your tastefull poncho liner bedspread will cover it) :D

July 26, 2002, 01:13 PM
Ha ha,

Naw, don't want guns visible or accessible when I'm not around.

I know that I can operate and do FTF/FTE clearance drills for my .45 in absolute dark, so feel comfortable enough about operation of .45 & white light while still groggy from sleep.

Not yet reached level of confidence with shotgun.

July 26, 2002, 03:50 PM
CWL: I don't like guns visible or accessible when I'm not around either. The solution is to simply make getting out your shotgun part of a routine--either when you get home from work or when you are getting ready for bed. I always have a pistol handy since I carry, but like Dave, I prefer having the shotgun handy for those bumps in the night. One big reason is the larger spread of shot. It's easy to miss a moving target with a pistol caliber. It's a little more likely you'll hit something with shot that is spreading--at least several inches at HD range. Also nice is the fact that chambering a round in a shotgun makes an even more distinctive sound than a pistol. The sound might be just enough to have the bumps in the night make a quick exit.

Dave McC
July 26, 2002, 04:33 PM
Great responses, folks! Let's keep it going....

Scott, Murphy works for the other guy. Again, you've evaluated YOUR situation and made a choice based on your needs,abilities and layout.It sounds good to me.

CWL, my carry gun is a 45 GM, but the family prefers the revolvers.I'd rather they had something they're more comfortable with. And, any intruder is likely to eat an approapriate number of 38+Ps.BTW,I don't reveal my personal security measures to much of anyone, but no weapon here is accessible from the bed. One has to get out of bed to reach same, tho not far. This townhouse has no spot more than 25 feet from a weapon, on any level. Most are quite inconspicious.

Guyon,while I stopped a prison escape by racking an 870,it's not something to depend on. While Intimidation factors are nice,performance does count. And, 99% of the B&E $%^&* will not face up to ANY gun,or even an aware resident. It's just business to them...

Wonderful Wife says she's not worried about anyone breaking in while I sleep, even the most desperate of felons will quail at the sound of my snoring(G).

July 26, 2002, 05:12 PM
When I was single, my house gun(s) were my Commander and my Stevens 620. The 620 was the first thing I grabbed when I heard something, but if I was going out of the bedroom, I took the pistol. The house was far too small with tight hallways, etc. to quickly being the shotgun to bear, even with the 18" barrel.

Now that I am married and have a 14 month old son, the shotgun is in the safe and the Commander is the sole house gun. We live in a tiny house built in 1938. Again, small rooms, small hallways, etc. In addition, during the day, I keep the Commander in a lock box to keep my son from prying. At night, it goes back to it's regular spot.

My wife does not like shotguns and does not like semi-autos. I am currently trying to find the time to get her out to find a nice revolver. She enjoys shooting .38's. A nice model 10 and some Federal Nyclad HP's should do fine.

I agree that the shotgun would provide the best chance to bring the issue to a close, but in my situation, I think it brings more logistical issues then it solves.


July 26, 2002, 06:24 PM
Hey y'all, I don't want to be a poster child for any pistol V. shotgun debate. I hate those. To each his own.

Every person is responsible for their choices, I have made mine.

It would be faster for me to get my pistol and barricade the bedroom, and still have access to my flashlight and cellphone. Groggily getting the shotgun out would use up critical time.

At the fighting distances indoors, a shotgun spread aint gonna matter, although I concede 1000% about the lethality of 12ga ammo. I just feel comfortable with .45ACP.

My past choice had been my Beretta 1200fp, but I have decided to lock it up. But if there ever was a disturbance like an earthquake, or riot, the long guns would come out.

Oh yeah, not oft mentioned, but I do know my neighbors by name, we keep an eye out for each other.

July 26, 2002, 06:38 PM
My HD plan prefers the shotgun for a variety of reasons. You do actually need more than just a gun. You need a plan!

In Dave's scenario of breaking glass at 3:00am, I'm taking a defensive position, calling the police and waiting. If the BG only wants to steal stuff, my friendly insurance agent can deal with the aftermath. If they are out in the yard I hope they steal my tractor. I could use a new one.

Living in the country where police response times are long, I consider my position like the early American settlers. When there's trouble, hold out until the cavalry arrives. The landline telephone is programmed with the emergency numbers backed up by a fully charged similarly programmed cell phone.

Given the layout of our home and my planned response any gun will do the job including my 32" over/under trap gun. I sometimes think we spend too much time debating the merits of the type, brand and model of gun and not enough time considering our strategy. Having a gun does make you armed but it doesn't necessarily make you ready. Having a plan does.


July 27, 2002, 03:34 AM
Only The Wife 'n I at home (besides the dog/s & we have some flexibility here) , 1st choice is some Fed Premium 3" #4 buck (41 pellets - nearest neighbor's 75 yards+ away) - & nothing points naturally like a long-gun all-told - YMMV.

Back-up is a handgun, but nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven .... ;) ("nuke 'em from orbit, just to be sure," no? ;) )

July 27, 2002, 05:05 AM
I live in a small 3bdr house, where my guns are readily accessable to me or my wife. I thought about it and to me, any gun is better than no gun as long as it is reliable. But for me, the choice would definately be my 12 guage pump with the G19 as a back up. I love my glock, but I am willing to bet that nothing scares the bejesus out of somebody like a 12 guage pump racking a shell (maybe I won't have to shoot). After they hear that, they will probably take off running out the door. And if they don't and head back to the bedroom where I am...they will be wishing they did run away.

Don't get me wrong. I would call the police first and only use the guns if I felt that my life was threatened.;) But who knows how long it would take for the police to get here, and given that my house is fairly small...once they start down the hallway towards my room or my 2yr old son's room....they are fair game because now it is self defense.

July 27, 2002, 07:06 AM
ok so far not bad! let me ad my .02 i feel the carbine rifle is a good choice for home defense gun as well as the shotgun! in most cases i have a pre ban colt lightweight 16" in my room! loaded with hornady tap ammo! becaus i have tested it on walls in houses and under the advisment of several great teachers including jeff chudwin! first off high capacity! a redi mag with 2 30 rnd mags! multi home invaders? very real in some areas, easy to use! light recoil most woman can learn better on an ar than a 12 gauge or 20 gauge! easy to use one handed to gather the kids up for the safe room! or to hold and talk on the phone same time! while in route to safe room! yes i know some will say muzzle flash! never see it! noise auditory excluson very real i also have a set of pro ears on my night stand! weapon mounted light surefire 500a very bright and intimidating! faster back up shots! less wall penetration with the right ammo! AND OH STOPPING POWER!! now remember the old saying you need the infantry(mobile=handgun) to get to the artillery(stationary=longun)=safe room! so the handgun is very much a real weapon as well! in the home defense battery! in 93 i was involced in a incident were i i was forced to fire a 12 gauge in the home! never heard the shot go off! never remembered racking in the next round! and the gun was a ported 870! noisey on the range never heard it in the home! but look into the ar or mini14 they are a handy weapon for the house! i have test data to prove the round test as well

Dave McC
July 27, 2002, 07:21 AM
Lots of good input here, let's roll on some....

If you didn't know, one of the leading authorities of personal defense with handguns is the great Col Jeff Cooper. His house weaponry includes at least one shotgun....

How about this?

Take a Winchester 94 rifle chambered for 44 Magnum. Take another, that new 94 in 410, the one nobody seems to know what it's for. In trained hands,would one be more effective for strictly HD than the other? And if so, which one?....

July 27, 2002, 06:29 PM
I had this same discussion with a friend yesterday.

He's having some concerns about needing a weapon around the house. I won't go into details but he's really concerned about an intruder.

I told him the following:

Go down to Walmart and Get yourself a shotgun. Why? Its inexpensive compared to a most handguns, its cheap to practice with, compared to handguns, it can be stored 'empty' ie: nothing in the chamber and the springs relaxed. There is a small child in the house and the need to use BOTH hands to operate the thing (I think) is a GOOD thing. I also advised him to keep it locked up when he wasn't around and to keep his BIG DOGS (he has a rottwieler and some kind of pitbull mix) well-fed and happy. I also advised him that, unike handgun rounds, birdshot is seriously lethal at short range (say 20 feet) but won't likely penetrate through multiple walls etc.

So looks like we are going to the range soon with his new Mossberg and my 870 for some trap shooting.

July 28, 2002, 12:36 AM
Dave - yer preachin to the choir.

Things that go bump in the night - I never hear them - you could drive a train through my house and I will not wake up.

There is a .45 on the night stand, a Vang, AK & AR "around" as well.

Good luck all.

July 28, 2002, 07:24 AM
My bedroom gun is a Glock 30 with laser sights. I would prefer a Shotgun but mine are locked in the safe for security. Too difficult to secure a SG and make it readily accessible

My G30 resides in it's own safe, I will not leave a firearm unsecured even when I am at home. I can open the safe very quickly.

Besides if someone breaks in they will make enough noise to wake me up and my bedroom is at the end of a long hall. It will take them a long time to get to me and allow me to prepare. They can take whatever they want, all my valuables are locked up.

I rely on motion sensors and remotely operated lights and other devices. Last thing I want to do is have to shoot some dirtbag. The local DA would love to make his career out of prosecuting a "Vigilante". I plan to give the intruder plenty of options before I waste him.

The pulsating red "Lasermax" sight is as much a psychological deterrent as racking a Pump. If you don't believe me have someone point one (gun empty of course!) in your eyes in low light.

I practice walking around in my home in complete darkness. I know the territory better than anyone. If someone shuts of my elecricity I will have the advantage. I can tell where someone is in my home by the sound of the creaks in the floor. I know my fields of fire.

All that stuff they taught me at Ft Benning betwen pushups sank in:D

July 28, 2002, 07:28 AM


(German for Over and Under post :D)

Dave McC
July 28, 2002, 07:47 AM
Has anyone besides me noted that most of the posters have been thinking this out and have formulated plans?

Hardware is sometimes less crucial than the software, evaluating the situation and making preparations based on needs, resources and abilities. A trained, cool hand is effective regardless of weapon.

"The only weapon is the Human brain. All else are just accessories". John Steinbeck....

I prefer a shotgun because it's effective beyond the standard, I'm effective beyond moderately with it, and long use has made using an 870 as basic as breathing. That's the way it should be for anyone, with their weapon of choice.


July 28, 2002, 08:08 AM
Just like anything else. Have a plan if the smoke detector goes off, if the CO detector goes off, if the house starts to shake:D

July 28, 2002, 08:08 PM
I practice walking around in my home in complete darkness. I know the territory better than anyone. If someone shuts of my elecricity I will have the advantage. I can tell where someone is in my home by the sound of the creaks in the floor. I know my fields of fire.

K80 - I strongly encourage you to find a place that has a shoot house and do some low light / no light training. The sad fact of the matter is - THEY HAVE THE ADVANTAGE IN YOUR HOUSE.

July 28, 2002, 09:15 PM
In hardware consideration, the SG is an excellent weapon for home defense. Devastating power, without a doubt.

That being said, I tend look at the whole package. In this case, training and experience are the drivers. I have >10x the amount of training, competition, range time, shots fired... with one handgun than all my SG dealings combined. I am more comfortable and confident in MY abilities with the HG that's been in my hand for 11 years. So for me, my well stacked 9 is the goto tool.

Now when LA was burning a few years ago or on ocassion when the universe has given some warning before heading south, a shoulder fired firearm was loaded up (after the HG was ready).

Gary H
July 28, 2002, 10:05 PM
Dave Mc.. Good starter topic..

We keep two guns on stands. They hide away in the morning. My wife keeps an S&W M66 (38 +P) with four speedloaders and I have my P7M10 and a couple of extra magazines. Our tricked out 870 is kept hidden in the bedroom, high and out of the way. Everything goes in our large safe if we fail to shoot at least once per month.

Previously, I kept an AR-15 carbon clone as my bedroom heat, but decided that should it be used, I would be demonized in court. I personally feel that such a weapon with red-dot sights, short barrel, tac-light and light bullets provide a great H.D. option that might not over-penetrate the walls. Mine is in the safe.

Other house guns for the rest of the house are in the planning stage. I believe that they will all be revolvers. We want guns that both of us can shoot. We will probably install in the wall gun-safes.

July 28, 2002, 10:31 PM
OK, so what does everybody have as their "Potty" gun:D

July 29, 2002, 01:34 AM
i have a sp-101 357 with a mounted holsteron the hidden side of the vanitey next to tp roll! ask me about my shower gun! zip locked s&w 9mm wheel gun loaded with +p+ bple fderal load hangs from the towel bar in the shower!:D really!

Gary H
July 29, 2002, 01:59 AM

Just use what God gave me;)

Will Batayte
July 29, 2002, 02:33 AM
My girlfriend gets to use the 12 gauge if the intruder gets past me, my .357, and my two pit bulls.:eek: Can you say wrong house?

Dave McC
July 29, 2002, 04:36 AM
I just read over the thread and was struck by a thought(only minor injuries,luckily)....

Note what's NOT listed or only mentioned in passing...

No major caliber revolvers.And, no handgun calibers smaller than 9mm/38 Special.

No AKs, not many ARs, no M-14s, no centerfire rifles period.

No 22s.

No Class III, AOW etc.

No PG only shotguns.

No handgun caliber carbines.


August 6, 2002, 11:16 AM
even the lowly 410 bore has as much muzzle moxie as a magnum handgun load and is often MUCH more.

It's funny how lots of folks think of the little 'ol .410 as rating somewhere around a .22 in the context of HD weapons. Comparing it to the allmighty .357 revolver does kind of put things in perpective. I'd also bet that it's a lot easier to control for those who are smaller and/or recoil sensitive.

Dave McC
August 6, 2002, 04:51 PM
Yup. The 410, DMK, is ballistically superior to most handgun rounds at inside ranges. Once the pattern opens, things change....

August 6, 2002, 05:12 PM
Oh! at dark-thirty & the dog's a-barkin' big-time ... anything you have will The Best.

All told, I'd suggest an 870 pump/extended with #4 buck - tending towards slugs. Your after critter'd be anything 9mm+ with lots of stuff in the mags - just to be sure.

george miller
August 6, 2002, 09:18 PM
imagine hearing a "chick..chonk" echoing in the darkness in a strange house.racking the slide will bring a sense of urgency and send most would be small timers scurrying out the way they came in.add a very bright light on front to spot"blind" the invader in the face if you catch them frozen,they cant see to try running back and the light blinds them from everything else. and they know a shotgun will ventilate their head or body well enough that they wont get back up. if not remove their facial features completly.in a house where the ranges vary fro maybe 10-20 feet,hallways and stairs,the 18"barreled 870 will do the job.one can mount a shotgun on the opposite side of their headboard,its not visable yet accessable.in the daytime,id prefer a 45 auto.

August 9, 2002, 09:11 PM
In my youth I did a lot of shotgun shooting. Even then I did more pistol and rifle. Mostly pistol now, yet going to work with the shotguns for a while. Mostly thinking local 3-gun.

That is a short background on me and to answer the question, pistol if I am surprsed (that is what is always within reach. If I am wakened from pounding, loud voices etc I will secure a pistol and then grab a shotgun or AR depending on the room I am in and call the police. If the house is entered I have an alarm and a dog (nosie maker) no need to call.

Nice thing is one of my nieghbors is a LEO family and a couple houses down is policeman and many nieghbors are military or prior military (mostly combat arms)

House is two story and the kids and dog are usally upstairs while the wife and I are down. Nice place but short narrow halls. Long gun would be a handicap if I "had" to go through the house.

HD pistols are both revos and semi-autos. HD SG is a Benneli Nova SP. My load choice is 3 71/2 (should read 3 x 2 3/4 7 1/2)(chamber empty) with a 4 shot sidesaddle with 2 OOObuck and 2 slugs.


David Wile
August 13, 2002, 09:49 PM
Hey folks,

As for me, I'll first rely on the 20 inch cylinder bore Mossy with eight rounds of 12 Ga. No. 1 buck. Oh yeah, no one will hear me rack a round into the chamber - it will already be there. I also keep nearby a 100 round ammo box that has a box of slugs, two boxes of No. 1 buck, and a box of No. 4 shot. I often use this shotgun to shoot claybirds for fun. I'm comfortable with it.

Best wishes,
Dave Wile