Shotgun vs. Rifle: What’s Better for Home Defense?

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PDN Executive Director Rob Pincus answers a question he’s asked a lot. Shotgun vs. rifle: what’s better for home defense? He has a definite preference and explains his reasoning. Then on site at the Bristlecone Shooting, Training and Retail Center in Denver, Colorado, Rob gives a live-fire demonstration with both weapons.

Semi-Auto Rifle

His personal preference is for a medium-caliber semi-automatic rifle. He likes the AR-15 platform and has used it for a long time. He has done a lot of rifle training and practice with it. He chooses the semi-automatic rifle for its precision, controllability, magazine capacity, ergonomics, and recoil management. He finds a semi-auto rifle much more controllable than a 12-gauge shotgun.

Shotgun

But in the shotgun vs. rifle debate, a 12-gauge shotgun can certainly do a lot of physiological damage to a home invader and cause the desired stop. Be sure to use the right kind of ammunition, such as the Winchester Defender Slug and Buckshot load. Some slugs are designed for self defense and there’s also buckshot that is specifically made to keep a tight pattern, for personal defense and armed professional applications.

One of the greatest advantages of the shotgun is variety of ammo choices. One of the biggest limitations of the shotgun is capacity. Though high-capacity shotguns exist, in the context of home defense, where you want a relatively small, light and maneuverable firearm that you can reload quickly and efficiently, Rob does not find the shotgun to be as easy to use as a semi-auto rifle. If you choose a shotgun, get some shotgun training to prepare yourself for a home-defense incident.

Shotgun vs. Rifle Live-Fire Demonstration

Rob then fires a round from each weapon. The buckshot fired by the 12-gauge shotgun looks much more impressive than the single round fired by the rifle, yet Rob still prefers the rifle for its additional round capacity, ability to place those rounds precisely, and ease of reloading.

Discussion
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11 Responses to “Shotgun vs. Rifle: What’s Better for Home Defense?”
  1. Brent

    And how far will a semi auto go before it stops after hitting a soft target? Next room? If you actually need to switch mags the you really got a serious problem. 20g pump shotgun with buckshot seems a lot safer and easier for the non professional to operate in an “in your boxers, half asleep family throughout the house” situation

    Reply
  2. John

    I would appreciate Rob’s thoughts on over penetration in a typical suburban environment: wood frame houses with brick veneer, as little as 40 feet apart with sheet rock interior walls . I currently have a 12 ga loaded with #4 buck. Reports seem to indicate little possibility of over penetration.

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hi John. If you are worried about over penetration to outside the home it’s most likely a non-issue. Now, between interior walls that don’t have any insulation it could be an issue depending on different factors (distance, etc.). The only way to be sure is setup a test or configure furniture (such as a bookshelf) to act as backstops if the need ever arises. Here’s another PDN video covering Home Defense Weapons and Backstops: https://www.personaldefensenetwork.com/video/home-defense-weapons-and-safe-backups-005366/

      Reply
  3. 33Charlemagne

    I appreciate that Rob has framed his answer in terms of his preference and explained his reasoning rather than treating that preference as something that came down from Mount Sinai on a tablet of stone (as all too many do). I have both AKs and tactical shotguns. I think a lot would come down to circumstances, some of which you would not know in advance.The biggest tactical advantage of the shotgun is the greater likelihood of a one-shot hit and a one-shot stop. Major practical advantages of shotguns is that decent pump shot guns can be had for substantially less money even when there are a glut of ARs on the market like there are today. In addition they have not been banned anywhere in the US so far. I suspect however that the reason Joe Biden spoke of using a double barreled shotgun was that pump shotguns would have been next on their list if they had succeeded in banning “assault weapons”!

    Reply
  4. Patrick

    One round of buckshot delivers multiple projectiles. There is no contest, in my opinion, between a shotgun and a .223 caliber weapon. The shotgun is clearly the deadlier weapon. Most people are shooting FMJ .223 also with little or no expansion compared to lead BBs in the shotgun shell. Also, look at the area covered by the shotgun blast. I don’t know what Rob was smoking that day.

    Reply
  5. Neil

    Excellent comparison. Another consideration to make the rifle the better choice is the ability to penetrate body armor, something that bad guys may have on. Personally I use a Keltec PLR16 .223 with a suppressor. Nice and short for clearing a room, plus the tac-light and laser make seeing an intruder easy. Also eliminates the need for the Peltors and would allow me to hear footsteps or conversation.
    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  6. Eldred

    What’s a good home defense .223 round? I assume there’s a bunch of hollow point/frangible ammo – what do people suggest?

    Reply
    • Customer Service

      Hello Eldred,

      Here are three options that are fairly easy to find in no particular order, Winchester PDX1 Defender, Federal LE Tactical, Speer Gold Dot Soft Point. The other major manufacturers have viable options as well and if considering them look for specific use self-defense ammo that uses hollow/soft point projectiles. The FMJ and penetrator type rounds are for training and not as well suited for home/personal defense.

      Thanks,

      Deryck
      Personal Defense Network Video Membership

      Reply
  7. Terry

    As many have said, you spent a lot of time talking about different shotgun loads, but then you completely ignored ammo choice in the AR.

    There is a reason FBI developed soft point loads for their use, not the commonly available FMJ type loads. It would be good if you reminded people of those choices, as they have the option, while the military (as a whole) is limited to just the FMJ, which has shown to be a good wounding cartridge, but not necessarily a good 1 (or 2) shot stopper without that very precise shot placement.

    Reply
  8. scott haakon

    I am much more for a PDW like a P9. It is small short and much less likely to be taken away. It has a much greater ammo capacity and the small bullet doe not over penetrate.
    Who is using comes into play. Not every member of a family can use a 12 ga safely or effectively it has a hard recoil. The AR-15 and P9 do not. With about 80% of the population in an urban living situation of the with the other dwelling sharing the same wall over penetration is a problem. A legal “hunting shotgun” is way too long for small spaces. Many have only 3 shots(hunting laws).
    While I am sure many readers do practice. I would guess most of the population does not. If a shot gun is unloaded and must be loaded under stress there is no guarantee that whomever is defending will grab the correct shells.

    Reply
  9. C William Ferris

    We all have opinions, don’t we? I live in a semi-rural environment on 8 acres with lots of space between houses. I Alison have more than one firearm with 9mm and .45 with up to 20 rounds. The big bump in the night leads me to a Benelli pump loaded with 8 rounds with a 6 round saddle, then 911. It is only my wife and I and I have no intent to clear the house. I have a position where I see both internal and external doors and anyone thru either gets the buck shot. Sheriff will know I am armed and where I am.

    Reply

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