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.


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.

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4 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

  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.

    • 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:

  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”!


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