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6 Worst Shotgun Tactics You Should Avoid

Let's do some myth busting and look at six pieces of advice that you should just avoid when it comes to shotguns.

What’s consistently one of the highest-selling types of firearms on the market?

Tactical shotguns, believe it or not.

5.11 Tactical AMP Plate Carrier shotgun loadout
Now that’s what we call tactical.

Semi-auto handguns are typically the most popular, but shotguns trade the second place spot with semi-auto rifles repeatedly.

Even my local gun store remarked that online sales for shotguns eclipsed AR sales significantly.

I’m a self-professed shotgun nerd, but still, shotguns freakin’ rule.

Mossberg Retro Shotguns ads
I love shotguns!

These guns offer you massive amounts of power per trigger pull.

High-quality shotguns from name brands like Mossberg are often quite affordable and are often legal in states with strict gun control.

Plus, look at a Benelli M4 and tell me you don’t love it.


Benelli M4 1

Sadly, I see a lot of bad myths, poor advice, and terrible tactics in the shotgun realm.

So today, I’m debunking the worst shotgun tactics and explaining why they should be disregarded so you can stay on the path of light.

Kermit Dark Side
No, don’t. Don’t go to the shotgun dark side.

6 Worst Shotgun Tactics

1. Pumping It Will Make the Bad Guy Run Away

The noise of a pump-action functioning delivers a degree of audible satisfaction I can’t quite explain.

It’s universally cool and intimidating.

Addams Family Shotgun
Iconic, am I right?

Heroes and bad guys use the noise of a shotgun to punctuate threats and look good doing it on screen.

In short, everyone knows that noise.

But that iconic sound has become its own myth. You know the one…that the noise of a pump-action shotgun will send bad guys running.

Shotgun Tactics Pump Action
You can just hear it through the picture.

Sure, it might do that. Or it might give away your position.

Think about that armed bad guy hopped up on adrenaline, and Lord knows what else. They hear that noise and know it’s a shotgun. So now they’re in fight or flight.

You’re hoping they choose flight, but they might choose to fight.

They have a rough idea of where you are and let’s say they point their weapon in that direction and unload as they escape.

Streamlight TL-Racker in action!
Might you be giving away your position?

Or what if they don’t hear that noise, and you’re relying on that to scare them off? Well, your plan has already gone to Hell.

For me, the only time someone is going to hear me pump a shotgun is when I’m lining up my second shot.

A modern shotgun is a safe gun, meaning you can leave a round in the chamber.

Why prepare with an empty chamber? Are you putting an extra step into your home defense plan and giving yourself one less round in the gun?

If you’re still not convinced, then get a Mossberg 500 or 590 series.

These military-approved shotguns are drop safe since they’re also used for the military.

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Prices accurate at time of writing

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2. Dutch Loading

Dutch Loading is the practice of loading alternate rounds into the tube of a shotgun.

I see these pop up on shotgun forums all the time, and, frankly, it’s not a good idea.

People who Dutch Load often will load one to two rounds of birdshot, then two rounds of buckshot, and finish with a slug.

Shotgun Tactics Loads

That’s just silly for 99% of shotgun uses.

In a firefight, you just need consistent performance.

Introducing wildly different loads into one firearm gives you varying recoil impulses and inconsistent ballistic performance.

Mossberg Retro Shotguns smoky
Gotta think about that recoil.

Not to mention, it introduces a lot of complications into an already crazy, adrenaline-fueled event.

An important to understand about shotguns and their loads is patterning. Knowing how your gun patterns allows for maximum accountability and safety inside your home when engaged with home invaders.

Patterning FliteControl at 15 yards
Patterning FliteControl at 15 yards

In general, just use one consistent ammo type.

Birdshot is largely useless for home defense. Slugs work, but do you think your threat will suddenly gain 25-yards by the time you get to your last round?

Keep it simple, and keep it consistent.

Popular 12ga Shotgun Ammo
Keep it consistent, friends.

3. Non-Lethal Ammo

To springboard off of Dutch Loading, let’s talk non-lethal shotgun ammo.

I’ve seen people talk about loading the first shot with less-lethal ammunition or Dutch loading with less-lethal loads for home defense.

Non-Lethal Shotgun Rounds
Less Lethal Shotgun Rounds

I get the idea behind it.

We can all agree, no one here wants to kill another person. So, if an effective means to stop a threat existed with a non-lethal option, we’d all choose it (myself included).

Fry vs. Batons
A less lethal alternative?

However, no such thing exists for shotguns – at least when talking about non-lethal, that is.

Non-lethal and less-lethal are two entirely different things.

Mace, electric weapons, and the like are considered non-lethal.

Sabre 3-in-1 and Inert Training Spray
Sabre 3-in-1, on the left, is non-lethal.

And, as I said, non-lethal shotgun ammo doesn’t exist. Even a blank shotgun round can kill at point-blank range.

On the other hand, less-lethal constitutes things like rubber buckshot, bean bags, and rubber slugs.

Less-lethal just means they are less likely to kill someone when used correctly.

Shotgun Tactics Rubber Loads
Rubber loads

When I took the USMC’s less-lethal course, we were taught specific ways to use less-lethal ammunition. But those methods rely on shooting the threat below the waist, targeting the legs and thighs specifically.

This is not easy. And the only reason we utilized these tactics in the Marines was because of the other guys equipped with M4s loaded with 5.56 that covered us if less-lethal failed.

If you aim for center mass with a less-lethal load, you can very easily kill a person.

Vital Anatomy Center Mass Target
We aim center of mass in defensive scenarios.

Using a shotgun, you need to be prepared to utilize lethal force. But, if you don’t feel comfortable using a lethal weapon, no judgments here.

If that’s the case, look for another non-lethal alternative. In fact, we have a whole article dedicated to the best non-lethal products.

Not ready for a shotgun? There are other options on the table for self defense.

4. Buckshot Spread: 1-inch at 1-Yard?

There used to be a “rule of thumb” regarding the spread of buckshot pellets from a shotgun.

People used to say buckshot spreads 1-inch for every yard you are away from the target.

That might’ve been true way back when, but it’s not so true anymore.

Winchester 12ga 00 Buckshot
Winchester 12-gauge 00 Buckshot

It doesn’t take into account modern ammunition outfitted with modern wads and buffering additives — not to mention chokes, back boring, and other firearms upgrades you can make.

Patterns vary so much between different guns with different ammo types, so there’s no such thing as the rule of thumb.

Patterning FliteControl at 15 yards
Patterning FliteControl at 15-yards

Shoot a load of FliteControl at 10-yards and shoot a load of Olin buckshot. Then look at the difference.

The Rule of Thumb is that there is no rule of thumb when it comes to shotgun ammo patterns.

5. Birdshot For Home Defense

This one will generate some comments…

Anytime I talk about birdshot for home defense, I get lots of angry comments asking me if I’d stand in front of it.

12ga Birdshot, Opened
12-gauge birdshot

To those commenters, I wouldn’t stand in front of a BB gun; but that still doesn’t make it a good option for home defense.

There are situations in which birdshot can be an effective defensive load. Those situations are being stuck in an Alfred Hitchcock film.

Birds Hitchcock
This is a perfect place to use birdshot.

Other than that, birdshot is not a good defensive round against two-legged vermin.

They certainly work well for pests, venomous snakes, and the like, but for people, stick to buckshot.

I know, I know…the argument often comes down to the overpenetration of buckshot loads. These can go through walls, and that’s a fair critique.

EOTech EXPS 3 .410 Birdshot Damage
We like to use birdshot to destroy optics around these parts.

However, learning shot angles, using high-quality ammunition, and training hard helps rectify this, though.

Birdshot presents very poor penetration and only works in very specific situations as a lethal load.

A very heavy waterfowl load does give you a little different performance, but at that point, the recoil is akin to a buckshot load anyway.

.410 Birdshot and Self Defense Rounds
.410 Birdshot and Self Defense Rounds

Why choose a load that purposefully puts you at a disadvantage?

Lots of Liveleak videos show dudes getting hit with birdshot just to keep on keeping on.

Leave it to the birds. Literally.

Lead Free Ammo Birds
Bye, bye birdies.

6. Exotic Ammo Offers Zero Advantages

Dragon’s breath, buck and ball, rock salt, flechette, bolo loads, Rhodesian jungle loads, and all those other goofy exotic shotgun rounds are fascinating and kinda show how unique shotguns are in terms of load versatility.

Dragon's Breath Shotgun Rounds
Dragon’s Breath

Yes, they are cool and fun but not efficient for self-defense. The same goes for those neat little short mini loads.

None offer significant advantages over high-quality buckshot, like, say, Federal Flite Control.

Federal Flitecontrol & Hornady Black Ammo
Federal Flitecontrol & Hornady Black Ammo

They don’t pattern consistently, rarely penetrate deeply, and some have issues in semi-auto shotguns. Short shells have issues in most guns.

It’s fun ammunition but has no place in a defensive shotgun.

Drop it, forget about it, and save that money for a good high-quality buckshot.

Size comparison of a 3", 2 3/4" and mini shotgun shell
Size comparison of a 3″, 2 3/4″ and mini shotgun shell

It will feed a smoother pattern consistently and give you the performance you need in a life or death situation. Trust me.


Shotguns seem to receive a good portion of inaccurate, weird, and just plain bad advice.

So, anytime you hear something that sounds funky, do a Google search, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo it, whatever you do, make sure to fact-check.

Shotgun Tactics Pump and Ammo

Remember, the beauty of shotguns is their simplicity. You don’t need anything crazy to be successful with a tactical shotgun.

All you need is a good gun and buckshot load, a light, maybe a sling, and possibly an optic. Then pattern your gun, get some training, learn how to run it, and run it well.

Have you heard any shotgun myths lately? Share them in the comments below. If you’re in the market for a new shotgun, check out our list of the Best Home Defense Shotguns or get the jump on the Best Upgrades & Ammo for Home Defense Shotguns.

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18 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    John R Pierson

    Well thought out article. That said, you make some assertions that I either disagree with or would prefer some elaboration. First, the preference for the Mossberg A1 due to the position of the safety. Here some elaboration, in my opinion is needed. The tang safety makes an after market pistol grip unusable in a defensive situation. A trigger guard mount is the best option when using a pistol grip.
    The next assertion I would challenge is that keeping the shotgun tube loaded except for the chamber is a bad idea. Whether or not the racking noise is a deterrent, the need for safety is the priority. It takes little time to rack a round into the chamber. if the noise deters, fine. But the inherent danger of a shell in the chamber is the priority concern. The shotgun round is unforgiving in all situations.
    The last assertion I would flesh out is about "dutch loading", a term I am unfamiliar with. When teaching I called it a stagger load and never used birdshot. Bringing birdshot into the discussion after discussing its non-applicability at length was, in my opinion, a weak attempt at giving your argument validity. It was already established that buck and slug were the only defensive rounds to consider. I found that 2 rounds of buck followed by a slug was useful in an expanding defensive scenario where some distance or accuracy was needed, ie. a hostage situation. If the slug is not needed, it is of no consequence to simply eject it and move on. Granted a shotgun in a hostage situation is not the best of choices. But, one dances with the person they brought to the dance.
    Something to note, all of the above situations applies to or is possible with a pump shotgun. This is where I agree with you on the viability of pump over gas semi auto.

    June 5, 2022 10:43 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Excellent article, Travis. Lot's of good info. I've got a Winchester 1200 Home Defender that I bought some 40 odd years ago. I have turned it into a tactical weapon reading articles on Pew Pew. My question is: I am hearing disabled (mostly from weapons training in the military). I wear hearing aids during the day but take them out at night. My wife is more likely to hear the bump in the night than me. But I've always wondered if I was investigating the bump, should I take the time to wear hearing protection? But then I wouldn't hear anything! Or take a chance and go nekkid. But, I'm pretty sure firing even one round of a 12 ga would ruin what little hearing that I've got left. What do most people do in a situation like this?

    July 20, 2021 5:49 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Electric earmuffs. I rock some top-dollar 3M ones, but solid choices can be had for about $50-60

      February 15, 2022 5:55 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Great article enjoy this website for all the content, humor, and reviews. I would add that in addition to concerns with load selection many people don’t even consider how the wad and shot buffer have also the potential to cause grave harm and property damage. The wad and shot buffer exit at the same velocity as the load selected but lack the mass to travel in a controlled manner as the lead or other metal that make up the load. The person selecting a shotgun for home defense is responsible for EVERY thing exits the barrel when the trigger is pulled.

    June 27, 2021 5:08 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    John Long

    While number 1 makes sense theoretically, I don't know that the excuse of giving away your position is valid if you're wandering around with a flashlight attached to your shotgun...

    June 26, 2021 9:36 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Travis L Pike

      You can turn the light off.....

      June 27, 2021 10:22 am
      • Commenter Avatar
        Mike C

        But you don't need to because for all the other guy knows, the flashlight is in your hand. #1 isn't so much about knowing where you are, but about knowing where your are with a shotgun.

        December 23, 2021 3:08 pm
        • Commenter Avatar
          John R Pierson

          The light should stay on to keep your vision consistent and flash your opponents vision. Turning the light on and off only distorts your vision and gives a better indication of your position. If you have to take time to turn your light on to guarantee the shot you have put yourself at a disadvantage.

          June 5, 2022 10:47 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Frank Groth

    One note... the Mossberg guns, and in particular the 590 series, may be mil-spec but that does not equate to drop safe. The safety when engaged only blocks the trigger, it does not block the firing pin. While it's a remote chance that one could discharge tipping over in a closet inadvertently, it's still a chance and the gun's design does not prevent it.

    June 26, 2021 4:30 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Travis L Pike

      That's interesting. My understanding of the Armys 3443G test that the 590A1 passed required it to be dropped at every angle and not fire and the Mossbergs spring retained firing pin would require an extreme amount of force to be moved forward on a drop.

      June 26, 2021 12:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jimmy Garland

    The bottom line is if deadly force is justified, then using something that is not lethal such as birdshot or rock salt in a firearm to only inflict injury may add to your civil liability, that you were not really in fear for your life and were not actually justified in shooting the person. With that said, it's your life and assets that are on the line if you choose wrong, you're the one who will have to justify your actions!!!

    June 24, 2021 2:53 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    What frustrates me about the gun community is that nobody seems to discuss self defense in an apartment. Yes, shooting birdshot is suboptimal even in the best of circumstances, but I've yet to see someone offer a genuinely good option for indoor shooting where overpenetration is a serious issue. Some .223 loads are good at stopping in drywall, but shooting .223 indoors without ear penetration (which you might not be able to reach in an emergency) is a mistake.

    June 24, 2021 8:49 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Travis L Pike

      The best solution for that situation is not to miss. So train lots.

      June 24, 2021 10:13 am
      • Commenter Avatar

        I get what you're trying to say, but no amount of training will ever completely prevent accidental discharges or make you 100% accurate in a crisis. On top of that, some people can't afford to train extensively or have very little access to ranges.

        June 24, 2021 12:11 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I Dutch load with a Dragons breath as the first shot. Set em on fire so you can see em for the second shot.

    June 24, 2021 6:41 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Sawyer Fude

    I know a marine that was in many combat tours and worked as a search and rescue marine and he said that he alternately loaded "dutch loaded" shells every time he jumped out of an airplane if he was using a shotgun at the time.

    June 23, 2021 9:23 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Travis L Pike

      Your friend sounds like hes telling tall tales. There is no Search and Rescue MOS for Marine. Closest would be the Firefighter Marines and they aren't jumping out of planes with shotguns.

      Shotguns are very rarely issued to Marines and in my infantry company I was one of 6 total who had a Shotgun card.

      If someone jumps put of a plane they are likely taking a rifle because its a more versatile weapon.

      June 24, 2021 4:19 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joe John

    Tactics - I'm not sure it means what you think it means.

    June 23, 2021 3:18 pm
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