Mission 01: Finding a $200 defense shotgun

winchester arms shotgun for 300

Buying a new shotgun from Winchester will cost you $300+ (Photo Credit: Winchester Arms)

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, involves the procurement of a budget home defense shotgun. You may select any shotgun that cost under $200. It must be tough, reliable and 12 or 20 gauge. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.

The voicemail did not self destruct, thankfully, as I am a budget conscious college student. I did, however, accept the mission laid out before me.

Nowadays, when discussing an appropriate home defense weapon, most people will bring up the AR15. While some of this is caused by talks of bans and people wishing to stick it to the Man, there are several good reasons why the AR is an excellent home defense choice.

Rifles are easier to aim and fire accurately than a pistol when under duress and the felt recoil from an AR is like a .22 Magnum. Several companies offer good choices in specialized hunting and self-defense ammo and some tests of said ammunition have shown that frangible rounds over-penetrate less than a 9mm. Even the standard 55 grain FMJ round tends to become unruly when it hits drywall and loses velocity quickly. The issue with using an AR15 for home defense is cost. A well made new-in-box AR15 will run around $1,000. If you wanted to go the used route it should still be a reputable brand, which can run upwards of $700.

A person on a budget should still be able to defend themselves and that is where the good ole shotgun comes into play.

Choosing a shotgun

Before the recent AR craze, the venerable scattergun was always seen as the home defense gun of choice. The pump-action 12 gauge is devastating in close combat and many people believed that just chambering a round would send the intruder running scared. However, a pump-action 12 gauge is slow to reload and modern day pellets do not spread as far as many believe they do. In other words, you still need to aim with a shotgun.

Still, lightly used shotguns are available from $100 on up. Old H&R and NEF single shots with ejectors and old side by side shotguns fill the cheapest tier.

Moving up, old hunting pump shotguns marked JC Higgins or Ted Williams, the store brands for Sears Department Stores built by Hi-Standard or Winchester, start around $150. The next tier consists of old Remington 870s or Mossberg 500s and if you’re lucky, some lightly used police trade-in Remingtons, Mossbergs or S&W Model 3000s, which should cost no more than $250 — just out of my price range.

I knew the cheapest shotguns, H&R and NEF, were reliable guns, but I didn’t like the fact that they were either single or double shot. Taking all possibilities into consideration, I decided more rounds would be necessary, just in case firing off two rounds did not deter multiple intruders.

Don’t get me wrong, with practice a person can use a single shot or double barrel shotgun quite effectively, but I would rather have a pump gun with five rounds.

In the used shotgun section of my local gun store, I glanced at various models, including a nasty looking 10 gauge single shot with a 18.5-inch barrel, poorly painted black and green camouflage and a large recoil pad; all for $139.

The guy behind the counter joked it could be used after boarding a ship to clear the decks or breach doors. Needless to say, I continued to peruse the shop. Until I realized I had an excellent candidate at home, a Winchester Model 12 that I picked up for $129 back in December; a not-so-perfect example of the “Perfect Repeater”.

The Winchester's barrel is too unwieldy for indoor use. (Photo by: F. Borek)

The Winchester’s stock barrel is too unwieldy for indoor use. (Photo by F. Borek)

When I first bought the shotgun I initially thought that it was nickel or chrome plated, but learned that the Model 12 was only produced factory blued; the blueing must have worn away from years of heavy use. The factory buttplate was gone, replaced by a red rubber recoil pad and very shallow pits were all over the receiver. Regardless of outward appearance, the internals work flawlessly, which is a testament to those who worked in the Winchester plant so many years ago. Also, the action is extremely smooth, much smoother than the Mossberg 590 that I owned. The only issue I could see with the Model 12 as a home defense weapon was the 30 inch barrel; corners would be cumbersome when moving about your house. Good thing a hacksaw costs $8.49.

Altering a shotgun

Yes I took a hacksaw to a 1927 made Winchester Model 12. Before any purist angrily e-mails my editor asking for my public execution, note that I paid $129 ($146.74 after taxes and transfers) for a shotgun that I thought was chrome plated. The gun is the very definition of a beater; I’m not destroying any sort of collector’s piece.

I also won’t claim that any old hunting shotgun in the corner of the store has the ability to transform into a good home defense gun, because there is a chance that it contains a damascus twist barrel —  unsuitable for modern ammunition — or it may be chambered for 2.5 inch shells, which are considered specialty items these days. You might be able to perform the same alterations to grandaddy’s old shotgun sitting in the attic, but if that gun holds some sentimental value, it’s best to leave it alone.

Armed with a hacksaw, tons of elbow grease and a dash of creativity, I knew I could McGyver this reliable beater into a home defense weapon. Now, if someone was doing this project with even a modicum of professionalism, they would lock the shotgun down in a padded vice. Unfortunately, I did not have a padded vice lying around and $44.77(my remaining balance) would not pay for one. Therefore, I took some vice grips and used it to clamp the shotgun to a stone wall. After measuring and marking out the barrel to 20 inches, I went to town with the hacksaw.

Keep in mind the legal minimum length for shotgun barrels is 18 inches with an overall length of 26 inches. If you want to go as short as you can, err on the side of caution and take a note from companies: cut the barrel to 18.5 or 18.75 inches to allow for some wiggle room.

With the barrel down to 20 inches, I now had a Model 12 that resembled a riot gun, rather than a duck hunter. Despite the fact that it is not the straightest of cuts and would make a gunsmith cringe, I was satisfied with the result. Of course, after I cut the barrel I realized that a mitre box would have given me a straighter cut. I’ll remember that for next time, should I ever decide to make my own coach gun.

That's more like it, handy and powerful. (Photo by: F. Borek)

That’s more like it, handy and powerful. (Photo by F. Borek)

I sanded down the new cut with fine grit sandpaper. Then added an elastic shell carrier to the buttstock for an extra five rounds, in addition to the five plus one

that the gun itself can carry. Granted, the elastic shell carrier is unwieldy when reloading, but practice can fix that. It’s also comforting to know that there are five extra shells ready to go if the first six don’t do the trick. There are also kits to outfit the Model 12 with sling swivels, but I decided against one. I didn’t see the point in attaching a sling that might catch on objects inside my house.

If you do not feel like taking a hacksaw to your shotgun or are fortunate enough to find one in a local gun shop, thoroughly inspect your budget blaster as soon as you get home; your life may depend on it. Take it apart and look for anything out of the ordinary and make sure to tighten any loose screws. Then meticulously clean and oil the gun, you have no idea how the previous owner cared for it. Once you are satisfied, promptly take the gun to the range and fire off some shells to make sure the gun does not fall apart in your hands.


Now that the rifle is taken care of, there is the issue of ammunition. There are a staggering numbers of choices and recommendations concerning defense ammunition. Most people will recommend 00 buckshot, standard for both police and military. Some will suggest slugs, to assure you put down an intruder in one shot. There are also some people who recommend steel turkey or high velocity bird shot. Then there are the Do-it-yourselfers who use homemade rock salt shells as a type of less-lethal shell. Some companies also market rubber buckshot and bean bag shells to civilians.

To keep things simple, I’m going with the tried and tested double ought buckshot. The load chosen: run-of-the-mill Remington Express Load, throwing nine .33 caliber pellets at 1,235 feet-per-second, per shell.

Before you load up on buckshot, believing it’ll over-penetrate less, remember that almost everything will over-penetrate on a run of the mill house; even birdshot, at close ranges, has the potential to over-penetrate.

Using your home defense shotgun

Modern buckshot loads produce tighter patterns than what you might think, thanks to modern technology. In other words, take the time to aim your weapon. In my case, the front bead is gone since the barrel was cut. You can still aim down the center of the barrel to where the front bead would be and there are aftermarket fiber-optic sights available if you feel the need for a front sight.

Also, make sure you go to the range and practice with the shotgun and acclimate yourself to the recoil. One person might say a gun kicks like .22 LR, but another person may say it kicks like a mule. Another aspect you can check on the range is shotgun patterns, if you cut the barrel, like I did, the spread pattern might be different than you remember.

In addition, practice reloading. Then practice reloading under stress, loading a pump-action shotgun is not the most natural or quickest action to accomplish. You can use dummy rounds to accomplish this, if you wish to practice at home.

Mission accomplished

Here is the $200 budget breakdown of what I purchased to create my defense shotgun:

  • Winchester Model 12: $146.74 after taxes and transfers
  • Hacksaw: $8.50 after taxes
  • Two boxes of Remington Express 00 Buckshot: $10.56 after taxes
  • Elastic shell carrier: $9.00 after taxes
  • Total Amount Spent: $174.80
  • Cash Leftover: $25.20

For a budget home defense weapon, an old hunting pump shotgun can admirably fill the role. A cut down pump shotgun might not be the best choice, but if you’re on a tight budget, it works. After all, touching off one shell of buckshot is like firing off nine rounds of .380 all at once. Also, the perception of a looming barrel and frightening sound of a pump shotgun cycling might force an intruder into surrendering or rethink his life choices up to that moment. However, some will argue that racking the action of a pump shotgun is an ill-advised move, as it will give away your position. To each their own I say.

Your final choices in home defense are yours alone, but if circumstances find you with a tight budget, give those dusty old shotguns in the corner of the gun store a look. You might be surprised with how much gun you can get for the dollar.

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