To Rack or Not To Rack: The Perpetual Shotgun Question

police officer with shotgun

Whether in law enforcement or civilian hands, the shotgun sounds as intimidating as it looks. Photo: author

A discussion I’ve had with students and friends, almost as frequently as the “Which gun should I buy?” discussion, is in response to that age-old statement, “I have a shotgun for home defense. All I have to do is rack it and the bad guy will go away.”

I have heard this skewed logic many times and I must say that people who think the racking of a shotgun will unequivocally scare off a burglar, murderer or other home invader, these people are true believers! In their minds, this action is the perfect solution because it allows them an “out” from having to engage in a deadly force confrontation. And who would debate that if you’re not the person racking the shotgun, this is perhaps one of the scariest and most potentially deadly sounds in the world?

And far be it from me to say they’re wrong. When I was a reserve police officer in a small southern city a few years ago, my partner and I were called to investigate a warehouse where an alarm had been going off. I stepped in the open door of the warehouse and yelled out, “This is the police and we’re going to search the building, so come out now.” I followed up that statement with the rack of my trusty Mossberg 500. The sound it made echoed through the building with absolute authority! It made me feel great! And had there been a perpetrator in there, I’m sure he would have at least considered giving up his evil ways, possibly allowing me to simply handcuff him and take him to jail rather than face the muzzle of that 12-gauge shotgun and a load of 00 buckshot.

homeowner with shotgun

Homeowner ready to repel boarders. Photo: author

Home Defense

But when it comes to home defense, I believe that while the racking of a shotgun can be an assertive sound recognized by man and beast alike, it is also akin to yelling out, “Mr. Bad Guy, I am in here and I am armed. Please take your time, contemplate your actions, and if you still decide not to leave my home, you may now figure out how best to assault me!”

Crazy? Yes. Facetious? Yes. However, most people who consider a firearm for home defense would normally take many precautions. They have considered that they are the best and most effective means of defending themselves from a bad guy if that bad guy insists on doing them harm. These people are normally cautious and somewhat savvy about what it takes to defend their homes.

They lock their doors to give themselves a barrier against a determined bad guy. They install alarm systems and keep a cell phone handy to call 911 if something goes bump in the night. They install motion-activated lights or keep a porch light on to warn never-do-wells that they should choose an easier target.

And most people I know who are serious enough about home defense to keep a gun in their home would take added precautionary measures if their initial measures failed. If they heard someone breaking in, they would lock the bedroom door, pick up a phone and call 911, possibly also turning out the lights or the bedroom TV in order to ensure they were hidden. These actions are done for safety and, whether the defenders know it or not, they are also trying to maintain the tactical advantage.

calling 911

It’s important to get the police on their way immediately. Even a cell phone without service can call 911. Photo: author

Tactical Advantage

In a potential deadly force situation, one always wants to obtain, maintain or regain the tactical advantage. Why? Because the person with the tactical advantage will usually come out on top of the gunfight, knife fight, fistfight, or whatever the conflict is.

In a home-defense scenario, it behooves you to be quiet and not allow the bad guy to know exactly where in the house you’re located. It is distinctly to your advantage to know which floorboard on the stairwell creaks, which door squeaks, where mirrors are placed, and what corners you can, or cannot, see around. Why? Because with knowledge of your house in mind, you can hide, call 911, and if necessary engage the bad guy with force from a position of cover and concealment … and hopefully come out unscathed if a deadly force scenario ensues. But this is all contingent on maintaining the tactical advantage and staying in a position of advantage that best suits you.

If you decide to give up the tactical advantage, the risk must be weighed against the reward. Remember, while we are concerned about the potential harm to others from our actions (e.g., a bullet going astray and striking an innocent person), the bad guy has little concern for such things. If he did, he probably wouldn’t be breaking into your house! Therefore, if when defending your home, you decide to rack your shotgun and make a statement, who’s to say the bad guy won’t make a statement right back by shooting through the closed door, the wall, or the windows? Who’s to say the bad guy won’t start shooting indiscriminately in the hopes of striking you or your loved ones?

This consideration must be taken in context with your particular situation. For example, I live in the country and have a small household. If someone broke into my home and I were behind a locked door (concealment), with stout wooden furniture between myself and the doorway (cover), have my cell phone in hand (911), and know my loved ones are ensconced in a safe place, I may consider racking the shotgun and announcing loudly, “I have called the police. I have a gun. Go away!”

bullethole in wall

Bad guys don’t care about gun safety. They may simply shoot through a closed door or wall. Photo: author

That’s Why They’re Called Bad Guys

However, what guarantees do I have that the bad guy won’t walk into an adjoining room, or outside, and begin shooting through adjoining walls or windows, a situation for which I may not have been prepared when I sought cover? I have no guarantees, because there are no guarantees when it comes to dealing with the criminal element! I’d be hoping the bad guy isn’t smart enough to take advantage of this tactical faux pas on my part or that he’s fearful enough to high-tail it to the next county. I’d be hoping he doesn’t think my racking the shotgun means I’m fearful, emboldening him into further criminal action at my expense. I’d be hoping I could entreat logic into someone who is obviously being illogical. I’d be hoping his breaking into my home was a random event, that he wasn’t targeting me specifically and now may be more apt to continue his assault cautiously to ensure he gets what he came for. That’s a lot of hoping and very little in the way of guarantees.

Does that mean I should stay silent and shoot when the first opportunity presents itself? No! This is when I will hope the bad guy bypasses my locked bedroom door. I will hope he only takes what he needs to pawn for his next fix. I will hope the sound of police sirens in the distance causes him to run away. I will hope that everyone comes out of this alive. But I will ensure that I maintain the tactical advantage so that I, the good guy, the guy who is not breaking the law, and my loved ones stay safe and sound!

Consider this when you think about what you’ll do if the proverbial wolf comes to your door late one night. How will you deal with it? Will you rack your shotgun and hope? Do you have an alternate course of action if that doesn’t work? Are your family members in a safe place if the bad guy decides to shoot through the door(s) or go exploring other areas of your home?

There’s a consequence for every action. Some may be good and others not. Your particular situation dictates what’s best for you and your loved ones. Think about your plan and think about the “what ifs.” Ensure you maintain the tactical advantage to win the fight!

Discussion
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93 Responses to “To Rack or Not To Rack: The Perpetual Shotgun Question”
  1. Thoricuncle

    If sound will effectively scare an intruder off, I’m going to keep a chainsaw in my bedroom.

    Reply
    • Aydene Militello

      LOL,,,just be sure the chain saw doesn’t leak oil on the carpet! Shotguns and rifle are great for a distance, but most issues regarding home, store, or office require clear thinking and quickly controlled actions. Set aside adrenaline rush, heart pounding, thoughts running through your brain. You know, like Matt Dillon on TV!

      Reply
  2. Greg L. Davis

    Great article. Longer than I expected, but very insightful. Standard! This is the second or third article I’ve ready by Watson and I learn something every time. Next?

    Reply
    • Mark

      Respectfully disagree, while most of what Watson stated is good advice, every situation is different. There are times I would and times I would not. When I am located in a unknown space the intruder only knows a general area of where the racking came from, that is a good thing. Along with that I can hopefully move to another space as well. You don’t rack it when he is outside your door, of course he may try to shoot you through the door! However when I am in a space unknown it is highly recommended. He said it himself as a Police Officer it works, but as a civilian is doesn’t??? Any intruder with any sense of survival will retreat. They want easy pickings not a deadly force confrontation.As a civilian without a Castle law in effect you should almost always give the intruder a chance to leave! 99% of the time he will. The other 1% is there to kill you no matter what you do. Do what you have to.

      Retired Deputy Sheriff/Firearms Instructor.

      Reply
      • TAC

        Mark,

        Thanks for your comments. I completely agree that every situation is different and you bring up a really good point that honestly I hadn’t considered – that of living in a non-Castle Law state. I admit I do write from the perspective of Texas Law because that’s where I live. If someone lives in a non-permissive/anti-gun state they may lean more towards a non-gun approach to avoid an anti-gun prosecutor.

        However, I still standby my statement that announcing or racking a shotgun does give up a certain level of tactical advantage. However, each situation is dependent and property isn’t worth killing someone over. But you never know if the bad guy is JUST there for the property!

        Thanks again,
        “TAC”

        Reply
      • Hansel Bumgarner

        Disagree. Never give away your position with unecesary noise, light or movement. Me: Retired Marine Officer, state certified firearms trainer.

        Reply
        • David

          Generally good advice, Hansel, but I wouldn’t call it universal. Read thru the comments posted below. Some folks rightfully point out that if a criminal breaks into your house at 3am and the lights are out, then either nobody is at home OR somebody is at home — and they’re in the bedroom. Chances would argue for the latter, wouldn’t they? In that case, tell me how I’ve lost what advantage I might hold by shouting out “I have called 911 and I am armed.” Now if you deem that acceptable, do you think it would be a plus or a minus to qualify that statement with “We have serious firepower, plenty of ammo, a safe room with steel lined walls capable of stopping a .50 cal., and an entryway to the safe room that is a kill zone!” I would appreciate your thoughts. A fellow Marine officer.

          Reply
      • Byron

        You bring up great points. However, you missed that, as a LEO, he had to announce himself anyway. By racking his shotgun, he had nothing to lose. His location was already given away and everyone assumes a cop is armed.

        Reply
  3. Dennis

    Virtually everyone recommends keeping the home shotgun cruiser/closet ready. Are you saying I should not work the action until needed, or attempt to do it surreptitiously? Not much of a fan of being gentle with a shotgun while my life is on the line. Being gentle can induce a number of malfunctions which are difficult to correct in the dark. On the other hand, playing TV hero and racking the shotgun means taking chance on a malfunction just as I need it. Also I prefer to warn. Having to explain an ambush in court is difficult.

    Reply
    • TAC

      Dennis,

      Sorry for the late reply. In answer to your question; “Are you saying I should not work the action until needed, or attempt to do it surreptitiously?” Not at all. I would normally keep a shotgun with a round in the chamber and the safety “On.” Thus eliminating the need to rack the shotgun.

      Many people think that they’ll pick up the shotgun and rack it and the bad guy will run away. Who says you’ll have time for that?

      I’m a believer in keeping my firearms in a “ready condition.” In lieu of “racking the shotgun” to scare an intruder, IF I feel it’s necessary to warn the bad guy, in the hopes he’ll run away, then I would issue a verbal warning that I have called 911 and I have a gun, GO AWAY.

      I’m with you, if something CAN go wrong, it WILL go wrong and I don’t want it to go wrong when I’m racking my shotgun!

      Thanks for the reply,
      “TAC”

      Reply
      • gunnut

        Woah! Now here’s a really late reply. To best of my knowledge and research, a shotgun is the #1 gun for an AD in so far as fall overs and drops. With the hands of stone, that is often the case with the sudden adrenaline rush, I don’t want to take the chance of a mishandle with one in the chamber. Just another thing to try to keep out of the back of your mind when trying to get to sleep.

        Reply
        • David

          I share your pre-rack mentality, TAC. If I decide, for whatever reasons, later on that it makes sense to rack, I’m not losing anything — I’ll still have exactly the same number of rounds available to me before I need to reload than I would have had if I hadn’t racked beforehand.

          Reply
        • David

          gunnut, do you have NO where or NO way in your home to store your shotgun SAFELY racked? I would be very surprised if you can answer that you don’t — unless you’ve got kids or something who are too young to be taught gun safety. I would welcome your thoughts on this because I honestly believe my racked shotgun is safe under the bed!!! Thanks.

          Reply
  4. Josh C

    There are many aspects of self defense that demand thought into what could be the outcome of specific actions. In other words, if I draw my pistol I might have to shoot it and I might not. I might be better off backing away than shooting. The bad guy might just decide this is not the day for him and go away.

    In short, every situation is different. In most situations, I would imagine can be resolved with an announcement you are armed and that the Police are called. In other situations like the author speaks of, when a bad guy is determined to do harm and not after a quick fix, that could back you into a corner.

    Houses are not particularly bullet resistant. If I was to be in a war, I would not want my bunker to be constructed as we construct our houses. There is a reason why we don’t construct bunkers that way… they do not stop bullets!!

    So what it comes down to is that everyone has their own opinion about what tactic would work under what situation and under what environment. Some of these opinions make it into articles like this author and some make it into trainings. At any rate, what it comes down to is there is something to take out of everyone’s opinion or training. Even though you might disagree with their specific point, there is always some tidbit you can take away from it.

    Always be prepared for what might happen, practice for worst case scenarios, think through situations from start to finish. You’ll be better off for thinking about it ahead of time.

    Reply
      • David

        gunnut, I don’t disagree that safeties fail. But, on modern PROVEN weapons (i.e. not necessarily recent introductions), I would submit that the chances of that happening are VERY low. Moreover, if the safety fails, SO WHAT as long as I keep my finger off the trigger and don’t drop the weapon??? Am I missing something here???

        Reply
  5. Jaime Cancio

    The article – I appreciate his perspective; however that said, in the night and in the dark in my home without my knowledge or permission, making a sound, turning on a flashlight or laser sight, any movement in my home you will be immediately targeted with specific intent and training and I would not/will not hesitate to shoot. You would be in my home without my permission and I will do as I have trained. Warning shots are a false assumption to your safety as well; the training I received was specific to respond instantly to sound, in other words if you are the bad guy and you rack your shotgun I will fire immediately in your direction as you have just signal your intent to do harm. The one thing I will do and have done in the past when something triggered my response [years ago I had a invisible laser exterior and interior alarm system that told me instantly your location] ; I will ensure I know the location of every member of my family to ensure their safety. When your life is on the line there should be no reason not to respond; any other action is game playing with your life and the lives of your family. And if you make a mistake and are taken out or killed there will be no one to protect your family. That said, my children were trained in handling firearms. And this advice, if you have had to shoot or kill someone in your home; the very next day bring law suit against them to offset any law possible law suit coming your way from the bad guy or his surviving family. All to often the bad guy or his family sue their victims yet the victims never think to counter sue. And I have no bad feelings about suing the bad guys family – they all to often know what the boy friend or husband is up to and what he was doing. That makes them as much as part of the crimes against you as their career criminal. That said when the police arrive say nothing to them, make no comment other than you were defending your life and the lives of your family and demand legal representation from an attorney; the police are allowed a week’s time before they will make any comment and they will have their attorney’s speak for them; as law abiding citizens we should have the same rights. Well tuned practice is the key to survival; believe me I know all to well.

    Reply
    • John

      Jaime, your response is 110% the best. I fully believe in prepared and planned, silent and swift. I have one Bug Dog in the living room and two in the bedroom. Chambered 45 between the nightstand and the bed and the wife has her 9mm. 911 dialed by the wife laying low and me in a crouched but defensive position. Pray for the Beat and Prepare for the worst.

      Reply
    • TomC

      So you plan to shoot randomly around your home because you “trained” to fire off rounds without identifying the target!

      Reply
      • David

        TomC, I would do just that. No kids at home. Some friends have keys. BUT, all know that I am armed and all know that anyone who comes into my home unannounced at 2am is going to be shot on sight, UNLESS they announce loud and clear from the moment they enter just who they are. So yeah, I would fire at anything in my house because I cannot conceive that it wouldn’t be an enemy. If some poor idiot’s car broke down and he needs help, if he breaks into my home and persists on trying to enter my safe room despite any warnings I might give … !!!

        Reply
  6. Burnslm

    Hmmm! Consider this. You hear the bump in the night, arm yourself and hunker down, probably in your bed room (where, incidentally, you store all the good easily pawned stuff) making no noise that will give away your position. Eventually, the BG (most of whom are not known for their sterling intellect) is going to assume no one is home and head for all the good stuff.
    When do you announce yourself? If it’s me and the BG is coming through the door, I’m going to have to shoot first. If the guy has a weapon, I sure don’t want to give him a chance to use it.
    All things considered, in this scenario, I’m going to challenge the guy early on. I’m armed, I’ve called the police and I will shoot you if you don’t leave. After that, don’t make another sound and keep the idiot guessing. If he keeps coming and enters my bedroom anyway, oh well, it’s on him.

    Reply
  7. Bill

    I have personally used the method of racking a shotgun. I was 18 years old living with my parents. We had my oldest sister moved back home. I give up my room for her since we had only a three bedroom home and my youngest sister had her own room. I set up a bed in our laundry room and that’s where I slept. There was a glass jalousie door leading to our Florida carport along the concealed side of the house. I had a 12 gauge pump along side the bed where I kept it. One night shortly after my sister move back home I awoken to sound of the applique jalousie window being pried on. I quietly lean forward grabbed the two 00 bucks I kept on a shelf and grab the 12 gauge. I point the shotgun right a that sound of the glass jalousie door. which was about three feet to my left side. I decided at the point I wasn’t going to wait for whom ever to get through the door and I racked it. The noise coming from the door stopped. I’m convinced if I wasn’t in that room and armed God know what would have happen to my family. Retired Firefighter.

    Reply
  8. Darrell

    I agree with Dan on racking the shotgun to scare away an intruder. I believe the shotgun should be in the ready condition of a round in the chamber–if you need a gun, the best place for it is in your hand–if you need to use it, you don’t have enough ammo–and the next thought you will have is “I wish I had more guns”–

    Reply
  9. Ross

    Some of you would actually vocally challenge an intruder? In other words, you would willingly let the BG focus in on your voice and start shooting in that direction because he knows that he’s been detected and he’s not alone? God forbid, but if the BG breaks into my home, the first shots that are fired will be mine, and they will be the first sounds that the BG hears, because my shotgun (or pistol) will already have a round chambered before he gets there.

    Reply
    • David

      I can’t argue that, Ross. But, tell me what’s wrong with this … you have a steel lined (multiple steel plates affixed to wall/floor studs) safe room whose only entry is, essentially, a kill zone that is covered by multiple defenders. What harm is there telling the intruder that you’ve dialed 911, there is only ONE way out of your neighborhood (unless they enjoy long swims) and unless they leave immediately, chances are that the cops will block them in with little hope of escape. Moreover, you are heavily armed with sufficient ammo for a LONG firefight. To my thinking, the only real drawback to that is that they leave and torch the place. But, that will take a little time and they have precious little to escape before the cops arrive. Moreover, I have an escape ladder — although it has its risks (i.e. getting shot in the back as I descend). Still, overall, am I better off keeping my mouth shut or announcing my presence IN THIS PARTICULAR SCENARIO?

      Reply
  10. red84cj7

    Couple thoughts…..first, you carry your semi automatic handgun with a round chambered, so why not your shotgun? Second, please don’t train for “what ifs”. Train for “when thens”, meaning if you think “if” something happens then you’re allowing yourself to think that it might not and you’re not truly prepared. However, if you train for “when then”, then you will be ready when it does happen. “When” this happens, “then” I will do this.

    Reply
  11. John Albitus

    Once worked for a large building cleaning company, hired a lot of ex cons. some work program. Working in a large mall one night a security guard was responding to a alarm at a store at one end of the mall, our group of cleaner, all ex-cons were clean in the middle of the mall as the security who had not enter the section we were working but was very close, racked a shotgun, around a corner of hall we were in. Each and every one of the worker did not see the security guard yet but heard the racking of the shotgun, responded from ducking behind cleaning machine’s, moving behind large potted plants on the mall floor or just ducking where they were standing. It may not denture a person breaking in to your home but, it might make them think which way they are going.

    Reply
  12. Mike C

    You never give you location away! Racking you shot gun is a joke! it will only get you hurt. In fact, by the time you rack, it my be to late. Have it racked and ready to go! Other wise it is useless.

    Reply
  13. Gary

    Racking is just like a warning shot, which should never be done unless you intend to fire immediately!

    Reply
  14. Eltic

    I would never surrender the tactical advantage by announcing my capability, intention, and location.

    Let that POS step carefully not knowing what may happen. I’m not Quick Draw McGraw and I will cede no advantage to someone who has invaded my home. True to laws of physics he will see the blinding flash and have crossed into hell without ever hearing anything.

    Barring a no option defensive shooting, there is nothing I own worth taking anyone’s life over property. Putting my family at risk is an entirely different ROE.

    As the author states, if you and everyone is hunkered down in. Locked room with cover, chances are the perp does not want to die or go down for multiple homicide…. Life without parole.

    Don’t rush to failure. Tactical patience and easily understood and practiced battle drills give you the best chance of surviving both the attack and the legal assault to follow as you can rightfully assert that the accused not only invaded your house but actively sought out your family for death or harm to get what he wanted.

    Keep stacking the deck in your favor with the knowledge you’re prepared for the worst but given the perp a clear means of exit.

    Reply
    • David

      Even if you are as quiet as a church mouse, Eltic, in any confrontation, the POS could get lucky. Wouldn’t it be better to ward off a confrontation? If the POS has a pretty certain idea of where you lay hidden, and if the POS is intent on mayhem, do you have a better chance of frightening him off if you state that you’ve called 911 and he is in a neighborhood with only ONE exit and you are in a secured safe space with good firepower and lots of ammo OR confronting him in a firefight — where his lucky shot might kill you? I’m thinking that if I can avoid a fight, that’s my best chance of survival. I have no desire to kill the POS. Let him take my TV. I’ll buy another. Ditto for anything else I own. EXCEPT my life or that of my loved ones. Where, sir, under my scenario do my best chances lie — and WHY?

      Reply
  15. Chris

    Hadn’t thought about them shooting randomly through the walls. I have several of your DVDs from the NRA and learn something every time. (By the way, I lived in Winchester, VA for 12 years before moving to FL). Thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  16. Brad

    Great article.

    Keeping one in the chamber gives you more options and options may save your life. If your pump has one in the chamber and you decide that racking the gun is somehow in your best interest, you can still rack it. On the other hand if it appears that racking the gun will result in your immediate death, you have the option to shoot without first racking. You also have the advantage of one additional shot without loading in another shell.

    Reply
  17. Heywood_Jablome

    You’re an idiot. Hiding in your room pegs you down to a known area and puts you immediately on the defensive. Any intruder into your home needs to be met with decisive aggression, on the offensive, end the conflict in seconds, not give him minutes or hours to poke around your house deciding whether or not you and your family get to live or die.

    Reply
    • TomC

      That has to take the prize as the single most ignorant piece of tactical advice ever posted on line (and considering the overall low quality of Internet tactical advice, that is amazing).

      Reply
  18. Ben

    Someone told me once that you don’t want the criminal to hear the shotgun rack for two reason. 1st- They might think that you were not ready and an easy target, 2nd- they might think your not serious and an easy target.

    Reply
  19. David

    Love these guys that live in the suburbs and have no idea what they are talking about. I grew up in a neighborhood in South Los Angeles that you would never dare to enter. Didn’t need a gun and never had a problem. Still don’t have a gun in my house and my wife is a twice decorated Marine Corps expert with a side arm and a rifle who could probably shoot the goose bumps off your scared little ass. You should hang with my cat!

    Reply
    • artsbrew

      ok, SO I HAVE LIVED IN A BAD PLACE FOR 40 YEARS, I GREW UP IN A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD. there has been 2 dead people on my street while i have lived here. one was killed on the street and another was dropped off here by the guy across the street. he was in a bike gang. in fact, just before i went out for the evening he asked me to help him lift his bike out of the pickup truck. the body must have been under the blue tarp in the front of the bed. he said he had bike problems but when i help them lift it out, it looked like it was dismantled to me. i have been threatened by over a 1/2 dozen different people on the street with death. the last one is a big coke dealer.

      you to me sound like you are anti gun, which is all right, but why are you here even reading what people have to say. i guess you do not have enough to do with you time. perhaps you wife works and takes care of you. why would you want to cause problems? i am sure you could find better things to do with your time.

      so the people here are good boy scouts, you know be prepared, right?? no one here cares that you are afraid of guns. your wife certainly is not. if what you say is true she has guns. so, you are having your wife protect you and that is all right with us. in fact we are happy you are being protected. you see most of us have to protect our selves and our loved ones. chances are even in a bad neighborhood none of us will ever need to do it. we are just preparing for the possibility that it could happen.

      now if you want you can send your wife over and i would be more then willing to hang with her and talk guns, but i do not think i would want you with us. besides it would just piss you off since you are obviously anti gun. every day we are getting more women involved with guns and that is a good thing. it puts them on an equal footing with bigger stronger men. i hope none of us ever has to protect ourselves with a gun and i hope you will never be killed by a bad guy because of your anti gun stand.

      Reply
  20. Terry

    A few years ago my wife and I were relaxing in our home. We were laying in the master bedroom when some guys started messing with our bedroom window. I rolled over, grabbed our 870 and racked it. I heard one guy tell the other, that’s the sound of a shotgun. They departed as quickly as they could run. I did not warn them as I will not do that. Tactical advantage comes from many places. Knowing I’m well armed and ready, having good cover or concealment. Every situation needs a thoughtful and accurate response as you may not get a second chance. It’s very important to mentally go through what if scenario’s. Stay vigilant and prepared, practice with your self defense tools. Hope you never have to use them, but; always be prepared to!

    Reply
    • james alexander

      The Chainsaw sound was the dumbest comment I have ever seen!
      Being a retired police Sergeant and USMC Master sergeant racking a SHOTGUN is a very good sound, AND A GREAT IDEA. It does not gives away your position, unless you have moved out of your bedroom. The bad guy knows where you sleep!
      But I have a much better idea, I have a 45 long colt SMITH with six “410” shotgun 000 buck rounds in it. plus I carry a Machete on a belt for close in work.
      Trying to give a long statement to bad guys is a bad idea.
      “POLICE ARE COMING, I HAVE A GUN, GET OUT NOW!” much better.
      Plus you shoot center mast and make sure your target is a bad guy. Make sure there is not more than one bad guy, they run in packs of two or more. So do not give up you position of cover until the police arrive. Also remember that COVER may stop rounds but concealment does not stop anything.
      The most importance thing to think about is “Can I pull the trigger and kill someone.” If you can not do that, then get a big dog or put a baseball bat next to your bed.
      The days of not locking doors are gone forever, to bad! Be safe and always be on guard!

      Reply
    • paul

      I have dummy cameras wired and motion lights at every corner and entrance. I have NRA and Brinks Home Security stickers at each entrance as well. I bought an 870 and a S&W 38 +P for home defense because I still feared multiple drug crazed assailants breaking in at once perhaps at different location around the house. I have read all of the many conflicting comments and am still unsure as to the proper plan for my families’ defense. I do know I want to avoid the “Bad Ass” kill em all and let God sort em out mentality. I can see I have a lot of study and thoughts left.

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      • David

        That’s a good start, Paul, but do you carry 16/7? I carry every place I go, including home, while awake — as do many MANY others. When I sleep, I have my umm … arsenal … within easy reach. There are a great many other things you can do to protect your family, but I would submit that this is a good first step. Good luck!

        Reply
      • Dave

        Paul, yes, we all have a lot of studying and training to do, never-ending. You at least acknowledge the right to self-defense, since you are armed. The vast majority of us, including instructors, have never needed to use our advice and training; so it is mostly speculation and second and third-hand learning, not experience-based learning, such as the opinion on racking or keeping the shotgun loaded, what firearm/round is best for self-defense, etc.

        If the time ever comes, you must already have the resolve to hurt or possibly kill to protect your family/yourself, without hesitation. That does not mean not giving a warning when possible/necessary, but using appropriate force when and as needed. Also know that you might get hurt or killed in the process and be willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

        We are all here for similar reasons, to be as prepared for the worst as we can be. If the worst comes, we all hope that our knowledge, skills and training (both mentality and physically), gains us the ability to be successful in our defense. The criminal always gets to chose the how, when and where. Not being an unwitting and willing victim is the first step in our goal of successful defense.

        Reply
    • DON

      I AM NOT A HIGHLY TRAINED PROFESSIONAL BY ANY MEANS! I PRAY THAT DAY NEVER COMES THAT I HAVE TO FACE OFF WITH AN INTRUDER. I HAVE CAMERA`S, LIGHTS,AND SIGNAGE STATING THAT FACT THAT I AM WATCHING YOU ALL AROUND MY HOME. I BELIEVE IF THAT PERSON DECIDES TO COME IN MY DOOR/WINDOW UNINVITED! THAT`S HIS DECISION! MY DECISION WY AUTOMATICALLY BE TO DEFEND AT ANY COST!! THEIR DECISION TO ENTER WOULD MEAN DEATH TO THEM IN ANY AND ALL WAY`S POSSIBLE!! I HAVE ABSOLUTELY HAVE NO OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT IT!! MY FAMILY COMES FIRST! I`LL DEAL WITH THE LAW LATER. YES TO MOST OF YOU THIS SOUNDS STUPID AND UNPROFESSIONAL BUT THAT WILL BE MY CHOICE. I HAVE SECURED WEAPONS IN EVERY ROOM, AND BY EVERY DOORWAY. ALL I CAN SAY IS PLEASE DON`T MAKE THAT DECISION, KNOCK AND TALK FIRST…..I DO NOT HAVE A WHOLE LOT, BUT I WILL DO BELIEVE I WILL DO MY BEST TO KEEP EVERY SINGLE THING I HAVE NO MATTER FOR YOUR COST! LIFE IS NOTHING BUT DECISIONS. I HAVE BEAT CANCER SO FAR! I HAVE BEAT WHAT I THINK TO BE BG`S. ONE TIME AT LEAST, POSSIBLY TWICE. SO FAR LIFE IS GOOD, I PRAY THAT IT STAYS THAT WAY!!! IN OUR LILL PART OF THE WORLD WE/MY WIFE AND I ALONG WITH FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS TRY TO KEEP OUR EYE`S OPEN AT ALL TIMES, WATCH EACH OTHER,KNOW EACH OTHER`S HABIT`S AND NEEDS. I HOPE TO SURVIVE ANOTHER DAY. SMILE BE HAPPY!! “o} ALWAY`S KEEP AN EYE OPEN…..

      Reply
      • David

        Don, I had a friend like you in that he had a concealed gun in EVERY room of his house — including bathrooms. On top of that, he had 5 large gun safes filled with weapons of every sort along with enough ammo to start — AND finish — WWIII. But, there was one other ingredient I didn’t notice you mentioning that he had — a pistol on his person AT ALL TIMES!!! The other weapons, concealed around the home, were for his wife AND for the purpose of fighting his way to a long gun. His wife, by the way, was an expert shot. I wouldn’t want to go up against her!!!

        Reply
  21. JAKE

    I would quietly cock my shotgun so as not give away my position and pray for a window of opportunity.

    Reply
  22. Jeff Vannatta

    Not all intruders are smart if they were they would not be breaking into your home. You must always assume they mean you harm and be fully prepared to deal with that situation. The tactical advantage is a must. Another must is learn to shoot well and keep it that way and be prepared the world is changing in a negative way and we as honest hard working people need to be prepared to protect are family, homes and property

    Reply
    • David

      Jeff, I would NEVER argue that tac ad isn’t critical. But consider … a POS breaks into your home at 2am. Lights are out. Maybe nobody is at home? Likely they are, but maybe not! You (the POS) start looking around. Let’s say that from the house design it is obvious that the master bedroom is upstairs, so if anybody is at home, they likely there (God help me, the POS, if the homeowner has fallen asleep in the living room — and is armed). I start to clear the house by going upstairs. Ok, now what’s the homeowner’s best option at this point? A firefight which he/she might lose if the perp gets off a lucky shot or by announcing him/her self and telling the perp that they’ve called 911 and they’re armed and ready to rock ‘n’ roll??? I’d honestly like to hear your thoughts on this.

      Reply
  23. john rucker

    there are 2 additional issues with “racking to scare off” an intruder.(1) if he is armed and fires at the sound of the rack, WHAT is he going to HIT? ( your head/face/chest) and (2)realize that you will be nervous.your heart pounding, adrenaline flowing…..and you’ve just put a live round in the chamber.Is your safety on or off? Have you just set yourself up for an AD or worse….having to explain to a JURY why you shot an unarmed 15 year old with a load of buckshot/slug when he was 30 feet away?

    Reply
    • David

      John, I have Castle Doctrine in my state, so my chances of having to worry about shooting a 15 year old from 30 feet away and explaining that to a jury are minimal — although not non-existent. Yet, you ask the question “if he is armed and fires at the sound of the rack, what is he going to hit”? If I were to answer “steel plate and several of them”, what would your response be? The same? Or, different? That’s a real question — not a hypothetical.

      Reply
  24. Daniel W Carney

    Many years ago I was out to sea on a Navy ship. In the middle.of the night someone was trying to come in the bedroom window. My lab was in the bedroom looseing his mind under the window. The perp kept coming so my wife got out my shotgun and loaded it. Rack-rack and everything at the window got real quiet. Apparently he was ready to deal with an angry dog but not a shotgun. Only thing she did wrong is not calling 911. Luckily we didn’t have any more problems for the few months we lived there.

    Reply
    • David

      You are a very, very lucky man, Daniel. I pray you and your wife have rethought that strategy many times over!

      Reply
  25. Arthur L. Brown Sr.

    I only “Half rack” as my magazine is full with a round in the lower part of the chamber to be charged at the throwing the fore arm forward to complete the closing of the action. I will announce that they are to stop and get down, UNLESS I see a motion that indicates immediate shooting must take place.

    Reply
    • David

      Heh, isn’t that sorta like being kinda pregnant, Arthur? If you were fully racked, wouldn’t you have one more round available to you before you had to reload?

      Reply
  26. Ronald Hodak

    I would not “rack’ my shotgun. silence is golden they say. Family safe in safe room, what ever is the hardest top get to and wait for him and give myself the tacticak advantage. I have no kids at home, just me and my wife and she would be trained on her own gun. My shot gun would be loaded and racked with the safety on. If I do need to use it, one little flick on the safety and I’m ready to rock and roll. need

    Reply
    • David

      Interesting. We differ on one minor point, Ronald. I prefer safety OFF and my trigger finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard. Which is the better doctrine overall??? And why???

      Reply
  27. drawandfire

    If I had my shotgun in my bedroom for home defense, I would never rack the slide at a suspected break-in as that would be unloading a round from the gun because I would never have that gun sitting there empty. I want it ready to use, I’ll rack the slide to load another round.

    Reply
  28. Mark Kahley

    Good reasoning. Next question: What is the best size shotgun shot to use in a home defense situation? 00 has better takedown power but is it more likely to penetrate walls than lighter weight shot? Is there a good compromise?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Mark,

      The 00 is generally the preferred size or something similar in that larger shot size. Another option is picking a round that is specifically designed for home defense such as the Winchester Defender line of shotgun shells with the segmented slugs and segmented slug/shot combo shells.

      Thanks,
      Deryck PDN Video Membership

      Reply
  29. BillyBob Texas

    I’m with Joe Biden. Step outside onto your balcony with your double-barreled….- fire off both barrels to scare the guys off……
    HAHAHAHAHA…and he wants to be our next Prez…..dumba$$…..

    Reply
    • David

      No, no, no, BillyBob! You need to fire off AT LEAST 100 rounds and you should fire them directly at your neighbor’s homes. In the event you don’t kill them, they’ll call the cops for you and (depending on where you live) the cops will show up to draw the chalk lines around your corpse anywhere from 5 min to an hour later!!! Get is right for heaven’s sake, son!!!!! ;~)

      Reply
  30. Zundfolge

    I imagine there’s a lot of folk that think the sound of a pump action shotgun will frighten the bad guys away that get a rude as hell awakening when it only results in incoming fire in their direction. I’ll take the extra round in the gun plus the element of surprise instead of running that risk. Better the first sound an intruder hears is the detonation of the primer.

    Reply
  31. Capn Jack

    If some one breaks into my house in the middle of the night, they are not there to borrow a cup of sugar and will be dealt with accordingly.

    Reply
  32. Albert

    Many aspects I hadn’t considered. Thank you. I will immediately restructure my defensive plan.

    Reply
  33. David Starkey

    My sister and I are both retired Army EOD Technicians and were discussing this general subject. Our agreement was the Army taught us to shoot till the threat is neutralized (ie not moving at all with the exception of the impact of rounds) and that we would rather tell our story about the dead body than have some idiot saying they were just passing out peace phamphets.

    Reply
  34. James

    Years ago my father with his health failing, wrote to me asking me to get my mother something for protection since he knows I go to the gun shows here in Virginia. I bought a Mossberg 500, the dealer told me all you need to hear is the racking of the gun. So I bought it knowing my mother she wouldn’t use it. So I visited my parents in Maryland and gave my mother her early mother’s day gift. She came down the stairs and racked the gun and you could hear it through out the house and that was enough. Now since my father has passed away and my mother moved back to Norfolk and has her own place, I have the shotgun for my home.

    Reply
    • David

      Well, I trust you’ve learned your lesson, James. Some folks just plain should not have a firearm in their possession. They’re the sheep, as Dave Grossman describes them, and need our protection.

      Reply
  35. Mike

    Common wisdom is to get yourself and your loved ones secured in a room with a single entrance, get behind as much cover as possible, and call 911. The badguy(s) probably know where you are already, so if you call out, “get out of my house, the police are on the way!” then rack the slide of the shotgun for emphasis, there is no down side. If they are so stupid as to present themselves in that doorway to be shot, its on them, but having provided a warning won’t hurt when you’re testifying in court. All this is being recorded on the 911 call and is evidence. The chances are that the bad guys will realize they’re on the clock, so they’ll want to grab whatever they can, and quickly get out. Of course if you have to leave the safe room in order to get to another family member, you would not want to attract attention to your movements; your actions are always determined by your immediate circumstances.

    Reply
    • David

      I can buy most of what you say, Mike. But, I’d add (at least) one thing. If you’re going to rack your shotgun, make sure you’ve got a round in your other hand that you can immediately insert into the tube. I think I’d rather enter a gunfight with a full load than a partial load! Wouldn’t you?

      Reply
  36. Jason

    Great article. This mirrors my thoughts on this subject. Thank you for sharing this article. If someone is bold enough to penetrate your home, you cannot take the chance that they mean you & your family no harm. The risk is too high to ignore your intuition. When someone breaks into your home quick, decisive, violent action is my answer. The locked door isn’t there for my protection, it’s there for yours.

    Reply
    • David

      Nice words, Jason, but I’m an old man and I’m sorry but I see them as just that. You sound like a young feller to me. Yes, this was a GREAT article — for reasons you (and many others) may not fully understand. But beyond that, there are some really, really good comments to the article. I suggest you study them. Your response is a good first thought — but it doesn’t go far enough. I’m speaking from, call it, experience. Best of luck, young feller me lad!!! ;~)

      Reply
  37. Nancy

    All my weapons have rounds in the chambers, so I have no need to rack my shotgun. My bedroom has an exterior type (key required) lock and all my guns, most of my ammo, and my phone are in that room. If an intruder enters that room, I have the advantage.

    Reply
  38. Paul Glasbrenner

    Very eye opening.. Front sight press.
    Tap- Tap-Tap.. Frangable bullets keep your neighbors safe.. Identify Targets execute extreme prejudice.. Castle Doctrine.. I do not have to retreat. Nor shall I.. I keep good Level 4 armor at hand. I drill in my home. Kevlar Helmet.. Lazer on Pistols.. More than one. Thank You for the thoughtful article.. I would always have one. In chamber as I live alone.. Never give up an advantage.. To You Sirs.. Paul Glasbrenner

    Reply
    • David

      Paul, I don’t understand? Are you saying you load frangible? There have been countless articles on the subject, and of them, I’ve only seen a very few that support the notion. But hey, go for it if you feel you’ve thought things out thoroughly!

      Reply
  39. Ryan

    This pretty much sums up everything I learned when I recently took my concealed carry class. Another good lesson is to have a plan in place for home invasion scenarios, just as you do/should for a fire escape plan. Practice them and make sure everyone knows their place.

    Reply
  40. TomC

    Buried beneath all the why you should and why you shouldn’t fluff, the article omits one simple fact: Unless you store your shotgun with a round chambered, your choices are to either rack the shotgun or face the bad guy with an unloaded gun.

    So the real question is NOT “to rack or not to rack” but whether it is reasonable to store your home defense shotgun with a round chambered.

    As for the trivial issue of what effect the sound might have on one or more bad guys – the ONLY valid answer is There Is No Way To Even Guess.

    That having been said, I would point out that in most houses the sound would not give away your position with any accuracy or precision. At most, it tells the bad guy(s) that there is probably someone armed somewhere in some general direction — how much information that reveals depends on many factors, including your floor plan and whether or not the bad guy is familiar with the layout of your home.

    The sound of racking a shotgun seems uniquely obvious to most gun people but actually the sound is not really that recognizable to the average person – especially not when muffled by a hallway or two and at least one closed door. Do you really think the average modern urban person can tell the difference between the sound of racking a shotgun, a pistol, or a Browning machine gun? It’s a metallic sound that most would associate with a weapon, so maybe it doesn’t matter which weapon the bad guy thinks you have. Even today, burglaries are a lot more common than home invasions, and most burglars have no desire to confront anyone. So letting the bad guys realize that there is someone inside who is probably armed seems unlikely to invite the bad guy to start randomly shooting through walls.

    The author does correctly advise staying put behind a locked door, in what is essentially an Ensconced Defender strategy, rather than the unfortunately more common strategy of going to try to find the bad guy (which is almost always a bad move!)

    Reply
    • David

      Well reasoned reply, TomC, but let me ask you this. You maintain that in most houses, the sound of racking a shotgun (or any other weapon) would not give away your position with any accuracy or precision. Have you verified that in your own home by, say, racking your shotgun in your bedroom while your wife was in the foyer and didn’t know where you were? If the answer is “yes”, then go for it. If the answer is “no”, though, what are you waiting for? That said, I kinda have the feeling that you’re one of the folks who believe that the racking should take place long before the perp enters your home. So, in your case, it obviously doesn’t much matter! ;~)

      Reply
    • David

      Well reasoned reply, TomC, but let me ask you this. You maintain that in most houses, the sound of racking a shotgun (or any other weapon) would not give away your position with any accuracy or precision. Have you verified that in your own home by, say, racking your shotgun in your bedroom while your wife was in the foyer and didn’t know where you were? If the answer is “yes”, then go for it. If the answer is “no”, though, what are you waiting for? That said, I kinda have the feeling that you’re one of the folks who believe that the racking should take place long before the perp enters your home. So, in your case, it obviously doesn’t much matter! ;~)

      Reply
  41. Jeff

    Disclaimer: I do not generally use a shotgun in my home defense model. Criminals are very logical, They weigh risk versus reward. It comes down to who is breaking in and why. If they are there specifically to murder me… which is very unlikely. Then they will have done their homework. They know me and they already know that I have the means to defend myself, they would already hear the alarm system going off. They would know I have two large dogs, that will or already have barked at any noise in the house. Its a lot easier to just set my house on fire and shoot me when I try to escape. On the other hand some teenager who is breaking into houses to steal jewelry, electronics, cash, and guns, who does’nt know me, or my dogs, and broke in on a day where I forgot to turn on my alarm system. The guy who is hoping that no one is home or that no one will wake up , because he really doesnt want a fight. Which is WAAYYY more likely, is going to hear the international translator say “GET OUT” and leave most post haste. How determined is the average burglar to escalate the situation? Generally, not very determined. A home invasion when they know you are home, and have targeted your house specifically to rape the women and hold them hostage while they make you go to the bank and empty the account. A lot less likely but still racking a round may or may not deter them. If they hear it and stop to regroup before coming up the stairs, or down the hallway to the bedroom area, then you have bought yourself time to fortify your position and for the cops to show up. Saying that someone would be willing to shoot through the adjoining wall and then saying you would hope they would simply bypass the locked door to the master bedroom, is hypocritical.

    Reply
    • David

      Well reasoned reply, TomC, but let me ask you this. You maintain that in most houses, the sound of racking a shotgun (or any other weapon) would not give away your position with any accuracy or precision. Have you verified that in your own home by, say, racking your shotgun in your bedroom while your wife was in the foyer and didn’t know where you were? If the answer is “yes”, then go for it. If the answer is “no”, though, what are you waiting for? That said, I kinda have the feeling that you’re one of the folks who believe that the racking should take place long before the perp enters your home. So, in your case, it obviously doesn’t much matter! ;~)

      Folks, excuse me but I’m not a regular here. I (think I) replied to TomC and am now trying to reply to Jeff — but in the reply box it is showing my TomC comment??? As the youngsters say … WTF??? Anyhow, Jeff, you claim that criminals are very logical. That runs contrary to my own general observations (i.e. some are, but the vast majority aren’t). What evidence do you have for this observation???

      Reply
    • David

      Jeff, your thinking is in many ways very close to my own — if they’ve come to kill me, why not just burn me out and wait for me to run out of the house!?! Assuming, of course, that I live TO run out of the house! If they’re logical, that’s a good likelihood.

      Reply
  42. Rich

    Great article, I don’t use a shotgun for home defense, I keep a glock 23 with a combo laser sight & high intensity light, my plan would be for the intruder to come to me instead of me trying to find him, hopefully if this should ever happen I would stick to my plan. Also have home alarm system when it goe’s off creates a high pitched sound.

    Reply
  43. Glenn Weckel

    Great article…just one thought. Bad guy come into your house in the middle of the night. 99% chance you are in your BEDROOM…he already knows where you are. What he doesn’t know is IF you are ARMED or not. Knowing that you are armed means someone is not leaving this house alive! Does he want to risk dying. Not being a law enforcement officer, I am not going to “clear” my house, I will call 911 and take up a defensive position, armed, and my Mossberg 590 with tactical light is my weapon of choice. Not a lot of intrusions occur in daylight hours when they know you are home.

    Reply
  44. David

    Really well thought out article, Daniel! You have explored quite a few avenues and at least one side street off each. Moreover, as I’m sure you hoped, you stimulated your readers to explore other avenues and side streets. Possibilities. I found the below comments quite thought provoking! I watch very, very little TV. My wife and I are readers — books, internet, you name it. We’ve come across many authors in our years on this planet — novices, journeymen, and the occasional master. I don’t know what you’ve written before this (and I will do some searching) but I would have to describe this as a … master work! My congratulations!!!

    Reply
  45. Mark Levigne

    Great advice. The gist that I took away from my Ohio CCW course years ago was; avoid firing your weapon if at all possible. Avoid the unlawful entry of your home if at all possible. Don’t go to/be at a place where your last resort is to draw your weapon. Avoid, avoid, avoid. Great article, thanks.

    Reply
  46. Nick

    One should always seek to identify the target first. This procedure is how extended family members die.

    Reply
  47. Bruce Montis

    If you keep your shotgun with no shell in chamber then slowly and as quietly as possible chamber round to be ready. If round already in chamber don’t rack it as you loose one round that you might need and you would give your location away.

    Reply