[Guest Post] Building a light, no-frills shotgun for basic home defense

[ This guest post was written by James. ]

I think every house should have a shotgun. But you don’t need a “shoulder thing that goes up”, a potentially expensive pistol grip stock, a shell carrier on the receiver or stock, and you probably shouldn’t even install a sling.

I find the most important quality in a home defense weapon to be the degree of handiness it possesses. Is it compact? It’s difficult to keep 28 inches of barrel from alerting someone that you’re about to round a corner, so a short weapon is a handy weapon. Is it lightweight? The heavier it is, the harder it will be to transition to the threat: a lightweight weapon is a handy weapon. Is it easy to use? Turning on optics, fussing with slings, breaking your firing hand grip to disengage safeties – these are excellent ways to waste time. Home invasions don’t happen when you’re prepared for them, so the easier it is to employ the weapon, the more likely you’ll be able to react to the threat.

I made the mistake of heavily accessorizing my first shotgun, a ridiculously “tacticool” FN TPS. As a home defense weapon, it’s pretty poor. As modified, it could be used effectively on some sort of fantasy battlefield. I’ve used it to make effective groups with rifled slugs at distances of up to 100 meters. But it’s heavy, has a sling that can get in the way, the optic needs to be turned on, and the ghost ring sight arrangement is slow which makes it bad for close range use, where speed can be much more important than the precision and accuracy that adjustable ghost rings offer.

What to look for

There are a number of simple pump-action guns available that are short, lightweight, easy on the wallet, and can be made into capable home defense weapons with a minimum of added parts. If you absolutely must have a pistol-grip stock, make sure the type of shotgun you want has a cross-bolt safety that can be reached by your firing hand without breaking your grip. Many shotguns have a tang safety, which is impossible to disengage quickly with a pistol grip stock installed. There’s nothing wrong with a tang safety, they were simply designed with traditional stocks in mind. You may wish to purchase a semi-auto shotgun, and there’s nothing wrong with that if your budget allows for it. You should do your homework on the shotgun first, and find out if it will be reliable with the types of loads you have in mind. If you don’t know what all that means, you might save your self some grief by settling for a pump-action.

The longest distance I can find inside my home is about ten meters, and buckshot out of an 18” barrel with a completely open choke is going to be effective at that range. As mentioned before, the shorter your weapon is, the more easily you’ll be able to employ it when you’re working indoors. While you can own shotguns with even shorter barrels, doing so will require you to jump through some legal hoops and may not be possible in every state.

For my particular shotgun build, I chose a 7.2 pound Benelli SuperNova Tactical in 12 gauge. The choice is largely arbitrary, if you already own a particular make and model of shotgun that isn’t suitable for home defense, it makes sense to acquire a similar model so that you can retain your muscle memory and have some parts commonality. Most 18” pump guns will weigh around seven pounds unloaded.

Picking iron sights

When looking at iron sight arrangements, remember that speed becomes more and more important the closer your proximity to the threat becomes. There are three general types of iron sight arrangements on shotguns. A bead is quickest and offers a good deal of peripheral vision. Open rifle sights can be quick if they’re simple enough. For example, I find the open rifle sights on Benelli’s to be very quick, like a good set of handgun sights. Remington’s open rifle sights aren’t as plain, however, which makes them more difficult for me to line up quickly. Ghost ring sights are great for precision at long range and are usually adjustable for windage and elevation, but it can be both difficult and slow to acquire a sight picture. Once you do acquire a sight picture with ghost rings, your peripheral vision will become limited.

Increasing shotshell capacity

Some shotguns, such as the aforementioned FN TPS, will be set up to hold the maximum amount of 2 ¾” shotshells from the factory. Generally, a shotgun with an 18-18.5” barrel will be able to hold seven 2 ¾” shells in the magazine tube provided the tube is roughly even with the barrel. That being said, most shotguns – my new SuperNova included – only hold 4 or 5 shells in the magazine tube as offered from the factory. This is usually an easy fix, and there are several manufacturers that produce magazine tube extensions that will allow you to increase the capacity of your shotgun. Beware of caveats with various makes and models. Some Remington 870’s, for example, have indentations inside the magazine tube that prevent the use of a magazine extension without modification.

I chose a Nordic components magazine tube based on their positive reputation, lightweight aluminum construction, and modular design.

Nordic is possibly the most expensive manufacturer of this type of accessory, however, and you can get a quality part for less money. While you aren’t likely to need seven or eight rounds in a home defense encounter, it certainly can’t hurt, and the extension gives you space to mount what I consider to be the most important add-on to any true home defense weapon: a white light.

Integrating a white light

I consider a white light to be important simply because it is dark half of the time, and it’s dark more often than not when I’m home given that I work a day shift. If you’re reacting to a threat in your home, you’re better off employing a light on your weapon than trying to juggle a gun with one hand while you fiddle with the light switch on the wall. Modern defensive lights are extraordinarily bright, which will give you the advantage of being able to see the threat in detail while momentarily blinding it. If you find it critically important to identify the threat before engaging it as I do, a good white light will give you the upper-hand in a time-critical situation.

I chose to use Elzetta’s Complete Shotgun Illumination Kit, which includes their ZFL-M60 light with a flood lens, and their lightweight polymer ZSM light mount for shotguns.

If the ZFL-M60 isn’t in your budget, the ZSM mount can be had separately and will fit a number of different lights with the included adapters.

The important thing about the ZSM mount is that it positions the light far enough forward so that the barrel doesn’t create a significant shadow. I have mine mounted approximately 1.5 inches behind the barrel, which puts it well within reach of my support hand’s thumb, and just far forward enough to avoid an unwelcome shadow.

But what about a red dot sight?

You may have noticed the small optic mounted in the very first picture of this article. As something of an experiment, I’ve mounted a Burris SpeedBead (http://www.burrisoptics.com/speedbead.html) on my SuperNova, which is simply a Burris FastFire II reflex sight that comes with a special mount for your shotgun.

While I would normally be against the idea of mounting an electronic optic on a home defense weapon, this particular optic avoids many of the pitfalls of doing so. Many optics can add a significant amount of weight. Additionally, optics generally obscure the iron sight arrangement when mounted on shotguns, and most electronic optics need to be turned on before they’re really useful. The SpeedBead is marketed towards wing shooters, but I find it to be a fantastic optic for use on a home defense weapon. The mount is sandwiched between the receiver and stock, and this allows the tiny optic to be dropped down behind the receiver for absolute co-witness with the iron sight arrangement, be it bead, open rifle, or ghost ring. This means that you can use the iron sights by looking through the window of the SpeedBead, since the two different sight systems are on the same plane. Additionally, the FastFire II optic that is used in the SpeedBead product is so light that it can be mounted on a handgun slide, so you aren’t adding a significant amount of weight to your weapon.

The reason I’ve broken my general rule of keeping the shotgun handy (by adding an electronic optic with an on/off switch) is that I haven’t introduced the usual major disadvantage of doing so. If I’m unable to turn on the optic, I can still use the iron sights effectively. If I can find the time to turn on the optic, however, I’m able to keep both eyes open while maintaining an excellent sight picture, which is a huge advantage and provides additional situational awareness. Additionally, a glowing red dot can often be easier to pick up than iron sights in low light environments.

Conclusion

My Benelli SuperNova Tactical started life weighing 7.2 pounds, and I’ve added less than a pound of accessories and zero linear feet of picatinny rails to it all while satisfying my needs. I’ve tested the setup with a couple hundred rounds of target loads, as well as a few magnum rounds and even a couple 3.5” magnum slugs, which honestly generate too much muzzle energy to shoot repeatedly out of a 7.9 pound gun. They do make for an excellent test of the durability of the installed accessories, however. While I could have added a lot more to a shotgun like this, doing so would most likely detract from the base function of a weapon with a singular purpose: to be quickly at hand when something goes bump in the night.

[ About the Author: James has been serving in the Army Reserve as a mechanic for the past six years. At his unit, he has taught marksmanship as well as team-level urban warfare tactics. James spends most of his time at his civilian job repairing laser printers so he can afford to buy more guns and argue about them with people on AR15.com all day. ]



This article was written by a Guest Author. The views contained in this article reflect that of the author and not necessarily that of The Firearm Blog or TFBTV.


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  • Graham

    Good article, I have an original Nova that I want to configure almost exactly like this. Still looking for the light I want.

  • fw226

    I’m actually quicker with ghost rings than I am a ramped bead sight. Personal preference, I imagine. My front sight is tritium, which is nice, but irrelevant when I click the attached light on (which effectively backlights the sights). I like the article! Definitely good advice.

  • chris

    very cool post. you should look into getting a backup as a way to keep it handy throughout the night. i got sick of keeping mine in the closet or the corner (no kids in house).

    http://www.the-backup.com/

  • JT

    Is there a price tag for all this? (complete with shipping and handling?)

    I still can’t see how someone can beat a Mossberg model 500 persuader with a Tasco RedDot and a clamp-on LED light. Won’t do as much as a gun with specialized choke tubes and a longer magazine, but it’s still a very capable gun.

    Still, a very interesting build. I might be tempted to do it myself.

  • James

    As far as lights go, I really can’t speak highly enough of the Elzetta. The shotgun kit comes with an LED module that has a flood lens, which makes it excellent indoors compared to most LED tactical lights. Check out some of the posts on vuurwapenblog.com, Andrew has already covered it in depth.

    Regarding sights, it’s definitely true that you can get quick with ghost rings. Having shot at clays with many different sight arrangements, however, I still wouldn’t recommend them for indoor work. Shooting at fast-moving targets like clays will make it plain which sight arrangements are optimal. The extra precision you get from them won’t be noticeable at indoor distances unless your house is enormous. That being said, ghost rings have a place on combat-oriented shotguns – look at what the Marines use, or what gets used in three-gun. But those guys work outside. If Benelli made a tactical version of the SuperNova with a plain bead up front, I’d have sprung for that.

  • farmboy7.62

    Thats a beautiful shotgun! Great article…very informative.

  • MrSatyre

    Thanks for a great article. I’m considering my first home defense shotgun (to complement the various handguns and ammo hidden away in every room in the house), and found this very useful.

  • That’s a great-looking Shotgun.

  • M.G. Halvorsen

    I am just an old country boy who, unfortunately, has witnessed the invasion of Methamphetamine into what was once a nice, working-class, racially diverse small town in Northern California. I, too, think that the Benelli is a sweet shotgun. Unfortuntely, in the current state of affairs, it’s out of the price range of most folks around here, which is why I’d go with a Mossberg 500-series or, as I have for many years, an old double-barrel that set me back about $200 when I bought it new 30 years ago. loaded up with #4 birdshot will stop anybody at close range (5-10 yards…close-in work), but will not go through too many walls and wound or kill my next-door neighbors. It is also intimidating as all get-out…most people will give up the fight at the sight of those two barrels, And, I’m sure, most people would rather testify against the scurvy SOB in court; than try to justify their actions to the DA, hoping to avoid a Voluntary Manslaughter charge. Just sayin’…

  • James

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    JT, I got an excellent deal on the Benelli slightly used. So good that I couldn’t not buy it 🙂 You can find them used in the $375-$400 range, and new for around $450-$475. The add-on parts cost more than the shotgun itself, but you could save money by going with a cheaper extension and skipping the red dot sight. Choate and Scattergun Technologies parkerized extensions are an excellent choice. They’re made of steel, and therefore slightly heavier. The Nordic extension is so light it wouldn’t even make a very good paperweight. Stay away from anything with a “TacStar” or “ProMag” branding and you’ll probably be okay.

    Also, you might be able to save money by buying a cheaper light. Streamlight makes perfectly serviceable lights about the same size as the pictured Elzetta – that will fit the Elzetta mount (available separately) – that can be had for around $50. See here: http://www.brownells.com/.aspx/pid=40222/Product/POLYTAC_LED_HANDHELD_LIGHT

    CDNN currently has Remington 870 Police models with a factory 7 round tube, bead sight, and speed feed stock for around $370+shipping. That’s a pretty good deal. I wouldn’t hesitate to buy one of those either, as all Remington Police models are parkerized. Regular 870 Express shotguns aren’t, they have a finish that Remington calls “matte blue” and it isn’t very resistant to rust. I had an 870 Express that I got rid of solely because it was the only gun that I had that would rust just from being touched… I hate seeing rust on any of my firearms.

  • JT

    Ok. Thanks. As you may have guessed, I already have a Mossberg 500 with the parts I specified, but it’s not a dedicated home defense gun per se. It’s limited to the original magazine capacity for use with a 28″ accuchoke barrel or an 18.5 inch “riot” barrel.

    I know it’s an aside, but it would be interesting for someone to do an outdoor test at different distances with an 18″ rifled slug barrel shooting #4 buckshot in 2 3/4 and 3 inch. My guess is that it would behave like an SBS at HD distances of 7-10 yards and still be able to place accurate shots with slugs. But, with no tests to back it up it’s kind of just speculation for now (one guy tested it on Youtube, but it was a 20+ inch barrel and he shot at greater distances than 10 yards).

    Much appreciation for the writeup though

  • fw226

    Yeah. Don’t go for the 870 express unless you really love cleaning the whole thing every time it hits 10% humidity.

  • Dan

    @fw226

    I own a 870, not the maritime version, and live in a very humid area. i fired around 500 rounds and just got around cleaning it. its a very reliable gun and does not need much maintenance. just get good lube for it, youll be fine.

  • subase

    If your gonna buy a shotgun for home defense, a semi-auto is a must. Under terrifying high stress situations, people do mess up pumping the shotgun after each shot, and just as importantly a pump shotgun needs two hands to operate, a no go when less than a second separates you from hand to hand combat with a baddie.

  • Komrad

    I’m all for quality weapons, but honestly, what does the Benelli do that an 870 or a 500 or hell a Norico clone of either doesn’t except cost more? I gues it does shoot 3.5″ magnum shells, but nobody uses anything except 2.75″ or 3″ for HD anyway. Same deal with super expensive extension; no real value added for the extra cost.
    A mossy500/590 or a remmy 870 would both be much better choices for most people who don’t like to play mall ninja with overpriced accessories and just want a reliable shotgun for home defense.

  • Andrew (European Correspondent)

    Komrad, the Benelli Nova Tactical can often be found for less than $300 USD; the 3 1/2″ version for not much more. As the author noted, the choice is arbitrary and many of the items discussed apply just as well to an 870 as they do to a Benelli.

    The Benelli does offer features that entry-level Mossbergs and Remingtons do not; for example, chrome-lined barrels. Not necessary for you? Fine, but it’s good to have the option if you want/need it. I think it would be pretty boring if all we had were cheap $200 shotguns, and it would suck from a consumer standpoint.

    While I don’t have a red dot on my shotgun (a $200 M500), I’m not opposed to the idea, and would hardly call the addition of a flashlight and a red dot to a home defense weapon “mall ninja”. I would consider not having a flashlight on such a weapon to be negligent. We don’t want to be like this guy, do we?

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-5378626-504083.html

    As for an extension, having more ammo is never a bad thing, and if you buy a foreign-made shotgun, it’s limited to 5 rounds by law; I’m just happy that American companies have stepped up to provide 922(r) compliant parts for foreign shotguns.

  • I have a very similar setup on my Benelli Supernova… But with a few tweaks.

    I have the same Nordic mag extension (it is the +2 option by the way, something readers might like to know for ordering purposes).

    I also have the same ElZetta complete shotgun illumination kit, but I added the ElZetta tactical sling loop on the opposite side of the flashlight. I did this because it wasn’t heavy or expensive to add, and in the future I’d like the option to add and remove a sling easily for shooting trips in the desert. (I’ll leave the sling off when the gun is at home, as I don’t want an intruder to have a chance to grab at it). As another commenter stated, the reason I ponied up the big bucks for the ElZetta is the flood lens…. If I ever have to use the gun in a home defense situation, the added light spread will be well worth the extra money spent.

    I chose NOT to opt for a red dot sight, as I don’t want one more thing to power on in the clutch. I understand the author’s logic in lining up the SpeedBead with the iron sights so that the red dot isn’t a must, makes sense, but that doesn’t work for me as I am a fan of ghost ring sights, which would interrupt the red dot’s function if I tried to use both. I chose to upgrade to the Meprolight ghost ring sights for the glow-in-the-dark factor. For me, the ghost ring sights feel plenty quick, and I love the added accuracy they provide when I’m shooting the gun outside, but to each his own.

    I also have added a Mesa Tactical SureShell 6 round carrier to the gun. The carrier also incorporates a Picatinny rail that I don’t use, but it does not interfere with my sight picture, so no big deal. Ideally you wouldn’t ever have to reload a shotty in a home defense situation, but it can’t hurt to have a few extra rounds handy. As my Pops always told me, “with most things in life, having too much is better than not enough”. Having the extra rounds immediately accessible is nice when I’m shooting in the desert or at a range, and I like to load it with a mixture of shot and hollow point slugs. You’ll notice the Mesa Tactical carrier comes in 4, 6, and 8 round configurations. This was a tough decision for me….. I was ordering online and didn’t get a chance to test any of them in person. I knew I didn’t want the 4, so it came down to 6 VS. 8. Initially I was inclined to go big and get the 8, but I’m glad I chose to hold my shotgun and simultaneously look at the pics before ordering….. What I realized is that in the natural position I like to hold the forend (pump) of the gun, the 8 shell carrier MIGHT bump into my left hand/wrist during pump operation. That risk made the 8 shell carrier a complete no-go for me, as I don’t want to alter the natural positions of my hands in any way on my SuperNova… Especially if I’m ever in a it’s-me-or-him situation with an intruder.

    Anyhow, props to the author for a well-written and useful piece. I hope that my added thoughts prove to be informative for someone else in the same way the original piece was for me. I’ll be reviewing this gun further on my website http://www.FordRaptorForum.com

    Cheers.

  • Just realized I wrote “….on my Benelli SuperNova” in the first sentence.
    For clarification, i own a Benelli Supernova Tactical, same gun pictured above, not the long SuperNova (non-tactical).

    Also thought it might help someone if I added a link to the Mesa Tactical shell carrier/picatinny that I added….

    http://www.tacticalshotgunner.com/mesa-shot-and-rail-for-benelli-super-nova-p-204.html

    • JamesF

      Bojangles, first of all – thanks for the kinds words.

      I don’t think you can go wrong with any type of iron sight arrangement. If you’re looking at the sights, they can matter but in a stressful situation, common wisdom is that you will ignore the sights entirely. I’ve never had the opportunity to try this theory out on myself and hopefully never will, but it’s something to keep in mind. So can you use ghost rings effectively at indoor distances? Yes, the same way that you can use a shotgun with no sights at all effectively at indoor distances. Shooting center of mass on a torso sized target inside of ten yards isn’t something that requires sights. So why worry about sights at all? Well, I do like to pretend that I can train myself for a stressful situation at the range by trying to replicate situations that might happen. Where does this get me if I think that I’ll ignore the sights under stress? Nowhere, but on the off chance that I am able to pick up the sights, any training I’ve ingrained in myself can only come in handy. As to what type of sights you have, I can only imagine that under stress, the simpler they are to use, the more likely that you’ll use them. Since the precision of ghost rings and fine rifle sights isn’t useful indoors, I would go for the plain bead if it is available. (I don’t include the open rifle sights on Benelli shotguns in this category – they’re more like handgun sights in that they are large and have a wide notch in the rear.)

      Ignoring the sights under stress is a nice segway into a point that I forgot to address in the article – proper shotgun fit. It’s not just for clay shooters; a home-defense shotgun that points naturally can only benefit you. Think about it: if you’re ignoring the sights under stress, but the shotgun fits you perfectly, you’re going to be able to make better hits before you become aware of the sights. This is especially important with shotguns that have bead sights, since your eye is the rear sight. Benelli’s usually point very naturally for me “out of the box.” The SuperNova has a removable stock and can be set up to cast one way or the other for either left or right-handed users I purchased my SuperNova used and it was actually set up lefty! This is something you should check for.

      Remingtons also tend to point very naturally for me. One shotgun brand that I’ve found doesn’t point well at all is Stoeger – no matter which one I pick up, I have to fiddle with it to get good sight alignment. The stocks on those guns just seem completely wrong and awkward for me – but they might fit you great!

      One of the best ways to find what fits best “out of the box” is to just visit a gun shop with a good selection of different brands. Start with the shotgun at low ready, look at your target, and then shoulder the shotgun while keeping your eyes on the target. Take note of where the sight alignment ends up being. If the shotgun is naturally pointing up, down, left or right of the target, it needs some adjustment to fit you. Shotguns with detachable stocks (that is to say, not a regular Benelli Nova) should be able to accept shims that can alter the cast and drop of the stock.

      You can, of course, train yourself to align the sights properly on a shotgun that doesn’t naturally point for you. But what’s the best thing to have under stress, a shotgun that points naturally or some training (which you may or may not employ) that’s got you automatically holding the gun awkwardly to pick up a proper sight picture? And how is that awkward hold going to translate to other shotguns? Not well.

      All this aside, I think the most important thing to have on any home defense weapon – be it a rifle, shotgun, pistol or crossbow with exploding darts – is a powerful white light. A light that simultaneously blinds your attacker and gives you an opportunity to identify them and determine whether they’re armed is probably one of the biggest advantages you can give yourself. I know not everyone will share this view, but I would much rather hold someone at gunpoint and wait for the police to arrive than shoot first and ask questions later.

      Since you mentioned the side-saddle, if you don’t have any training on how to reload from a side saddle, I would recommend picking up a copy of Magpul’s “Art of the Dynamic Shotgun.” I don’t think any video can be a substitute for one-on-one training, but I was able to apply a few of the reloading techniques they demonstrated first with dry fire practice (and snap caps!) and then later at the range. It’s not all that hard to do effectively once you get the mechanics figured out, and like most things it’s down to repetition.

  • Ben

    You can leave the Burris optic turned on, with the supplied cover on it, and (claims Burris) it will run for 5 years in “sleep mode.” That would mean that all you have to do in an emergency is pull the cover off. If you don’t have time enough for that, then the threat is probably standing within point shooting range and I doubt you’d be using your sights anyway.

    I imagine a truly dark closet would have the same effect, although it would leave sleep mode every time you opened the door.

    Personally I would not turn the unit off except perhaps to change the battery. Little bitty cheap switches have a tendency to wear out, so the less you use them the better. If the unit will run for 5 years in standby there is no good reason to use the on/off switch to save power. A battery that old should be replaced whether it has juice left or not.

  • James Sovereign Freedman

    Not to dig up an ancient thread but adding an extension tube to this out of the box makes your gun illegal according to 922r. Just a heads up.