Larry Case: Another reason to like shotguns

Any shotgun that works in defense of a home and its residents could be considered a defensive shotgun, but there are specific characteristics one should look for in a weapon to be used in such a manner, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.
photo Spent shells are the sign of a shotgun owner who is working to be prepared to properly use his or her defensive shotgun should the need arise. Basic training and repeated trips to the firing range are as essential as picking the right weapon from the start, writes outdoors columnist and admitted shotgun enthusiast Larry Case.

The guy on the phone was sincere and maybe a little embarrassed.

He said he wanted to ask me a question about guns; I said, "OK, shoot." He gave me a polite laugh and said, "Larry, I know that you deal with guns a lot." I told him that was true - more than some, less than others - but also told him my standard line about not being an expert on anything.

I figured what was coming, but he proceeded to tell me he is often away from home because of work and wanted to buy a firearm for his wife for her protection. There are gun experts who would debate this question for days and need several volumes to answer. I like to keep things simple, so I told him, "Get her a shotgun."

With more and more of the citizenry wanting to defend themselves in their homes, firearms sales are up and there is lot of interest in what has become known as the defensive shotgun. Those of you who grew up with firearms know we have always had defensive shotguns. The old double-barrel or Model 12 that Dad or Granddad kept in the corner was used when some varmint got in the hen house or something went bump in the night.

If I am going to write about the topic, though, I thought I needed to keep up with what is going on out there. So I signed up to go back to Gunsite Academy to take their shotgun class. (This wasn't really a noble gesture, I would use any excuse to go back to Gunsite!)

I have written about Gunsite before in this column space. A firearms training academy near Paulden, Ariz., it is the creation of and part of the legacy left by the late Col. Jeff Cooper, who served with the Marines in World War II and Korea. He went on to create and teach revolutionary concepts of fighting with firearms that became known as the modern technique.

His teachings, especially with the handgun, have been the basis for training law enforcement and much of the military for the past 40 years. Cooper created the American Pistol Institute in 1976, and this became what is now known as Gunsite Academy, the oldest, most prestigious firearms training facility in the world.

Cooper was very partial to the Colt 1911 pistol and a short, handy, bolt-action rifle concept he called the Scout Rifle, but he was not blind to the merits of the shotgun as a defensive weapon.

So what is a defensive shotgun? Any shotgun can be a defensive shotgun if it's one you can protect home and hearth with if things go bad. What we're going to discuss is a shotgun configured to be used chiefly as a defensive weapon.

Here are the main points to consider for such a gun:

- A short barrel. No need to go "sawed off" below the legal barrel length of 18 inches, but a shorter barrel (as many tactical shotguns come with today) is much easier to control in the tight quarters you may encounter in a home defense situation.

- Extended magazine tube. More is always better when it comes to ammunition. You may not need a lot of extra ammo if you are called upon to defend yourself and your family, but then again you might. A "side-saddle" ammo carrier on the gun is very handy, too.

- High-visibility adjustable sights. For some short-range encounters, the plain bead on most shotguns will get you by. But remember - this is a fighting shotgun, and we may ask this weapon to do many things. I chose to put a red-dot optic, the Trijicon MRO, on the Mossberg Scorpion shotgun I took to Gunsite. The idea is to be on target really fast, and the Trijicon MRO worked great.

- A dedicated flashlight. If you can't see, you can't fight. You can make do with a good handheld flashlight, but a light mounted on the gun, either on the fore-end or on a side-mounted rail (as on my Mossberg) is best.

- A sling. A sling on a shotgun is the same as a holster for a pistol. If you need to stow or take your hands off the gun for some reason, you need to be able to take it up again quickly. The sling allows this.

Those are the basics. And whatever firearm you choose for self-defense - rifle, pistol or shotgun - you absolutely have to get some training with the weapon. Follow that with dedicated trips to the shooting range, fire the weapon repeatedly and become completely familiar with it.

So what did I tell my friend to get for his wife? My stock answer is a 20 gauge. Ladies (and a lot of men) do not want to endure excessive recoil, and if we are afraid of the gun, we may not pick it up.

If you're buying for someone else, spend some time at the gun store and let them pick out the type of shotgun they like. A youth model pump gun or a little 20 gauge double-barrel may be just the ticket.

Like I said, keep it simple.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va., has been a devoted outdoorsman all of his life and is a contributing columnist for The Times Free Press. You can write to him at