The Best Shotgun for Beginners (Home Defense or Otherwise) in 2017

LAST UPDATED: September 27th 2017
GUIDE: Chris Browning

If you’re interested in discovering how to keep your home safe or plan to start hunting, a well-maintained shotgun is the best tool for the job.

But, you’ve never handled a shotgun, so you might be wondering how to choose the best one for your situation. We’ll discuss shotguns in detail, providing you with information to help you decide what will work best for you.

Our pick for the best shotgun for beginners is the Mossberg 500 Tactical 8-Shot. It’s an all pump-action (we’ll talk more about the differences between semi-autos and pump-action shotguns later), which are easy for beginners to use.

The Tactical shotgun has a capacity of 8 rounds, excellent for home defense. They’re also designed with Mossberg’s traditional safety switch, giving you peace of mind even if you have a young family at home.


What to Consider When Buying a Shotgun

There are five main types of shotgun: single-shot, double-barrel, bolt action, pump action, and semi-automatic. They also come in a variety of gauges (think caliber for shotguns).

When purchasing a shotgun, you must consider the members of your family. Anyone in the household who is capable should be taught how to operate the shotgun you choose. You never know when someone might need to defend the home if you’re not there.

For home defense, you’ll want to have a simple, easy-to-use setup. You won’t need all the bells and whistles associated with hunting or competition shooting, unless you plan to hunt as well.

Your main concern should be will it provide an easy-to-use firearm that won’t let you down when you need it most.


Shotgun Types

As mentioned previously, there are five main types of shotguns on the market today. We’ll discuss these types in more detail, giving you the pros and cons of each as they relate to home defense.

Single-Shot

These are probably the cheapest shotguns available, but they have disadvantages in self-defense situations since they only hold one round. This means after each shot, you’ll have to open the breech, eject the shell, and reload. In a situation where seconds may mean the difference between life or death, it’s probably not a great option.

For hunting, they’re also not ideal. In the field, you may barely have time to get off a second shot, but certainly you won’t if you must load another shell manually.

Double-Barrel

This type of shotgun has, as its name implies, two barrels. These can be side-by-side or stacked one on top of the other. Since it only holds two shots before it’s necessary to reload, these are probably not ideal for home defense, either.

Another drawback to a double-barrel is they usually have a dual trigger, which means you could accidentally fire both shots at once in a panic situation.

Bolt Action

This type of shotgun was designed for use in states where laws only allow for hunting with a shotgun (as opposed to rifle). Many of them come with rifled barrels to increase accuracy over greater distances.

For hunting, these are fine, and might be what you’re looking for. But when it comes to home defense, the amount of time needed to actuate the bolt for each shot is too risky.

Pump Action

These are easy to use, simply by inserting shells into the magazine tube. Once it’s full, the shotgun only requires the user to rack a shell into the chamber before firing. After the first shot, the user must perform the racking movement again to eject the spent shell and load another into the chamber.

These are some of the most reliable shotguns out there because there’s no mechanical action to rely on, only man-power. This makes them an excellent choice for beginners.

On the other hand, follow-up shots can only be made as quickly as the user can rack the firearm, so if you’re new to shotguns, some practice with an empty shotgun will be helpful.

Pump action shotguns are great all-around firearms for both hunting and defense of the home.

Semi-Automatics

These are recently growing in popularity. The user must load the magazine, then pull and release the bolt to chamber the first shell.

After that, spent shells are automatically thrown out and a new shell moves into place. They’re still fairly simple for inexperienced users, but as with any new firearm, practice is still in order.

Follow-up shots with a semi-automatic can be made rapidly and without any thought on the part of the user. All that’s required is to aim at the target. But, semi-automatics, like all firearms, require regular cleaning, and they’re not as easy to clean as pump action shotguns.

The gun’s owner’s manual should have detailed instructions, but you can likely find YouTube tutorials as well which are usually fun and entertaining (some of my favs are nutnfancy, FPS Russia, and hickok45).


Gauge (Caliber)

The Mossberg 500 series offers .410, 20-gauge, and 12-gauge options.

We wouldn’t recommend a .410 gauge for home defense, but both the 12- and 20-gauge shotguns are a viable option. A 20-gauge shotgun will have less recoil (kick) than a 12-gauge, which might be a good choice for those who are smaller in body type.

Shells are also available in shot or slug. Shotshells have numerous small pellets contained within the shell. When shot at over 25 yards, they will start to spread out in a circle, creating a wider path.

For home defense, shotshells are ideal, as slugs would easily punch through walls and keep going. Slugs are used for large game like deer and elk.

For a more in depth guide to bullet calibers, check out our shotgun ammo guide.


Features and Benefits

Depending on the model of Mossberg 500 you choose, you’ll get a variety of features. There are models available for a range of hunting, sporting, and competition uses, but we’ll concentrate on those that are more ideal for self-defense in the home.

Pump Action

All Mossberg 500 shotguns are operated by pump action. For beginners, this is probably ideal, because you’ve probably seen a pump action shotgun in movies and television shows. With practice, you can quickly develop muscle memory (think habit) so you can operate the firearm without hesitation.

Safety

Every 500 series shotgun has a top-mounted safety switch. You can clearly see a red dot on the safety when the firearm is ready to fire.

If you store it with the safety on whether loaded or with an empty chamber (recommended), all it takes is a flip of your thumb to switch the safety off. If you have children in your home, it’s a good idea to store your shotgun with an empty chamber and the safety on.

Barrel Length

The Mossberg 500 is available in a range of barrel lengths. For a beginner, especially if you’re not a big person, a shorter barrel might be ideal.

When firing a shotgun, one hand will rest under the barrel to support its weight. Consider this when determining what size barrel you purchase.

The Security model offers the shortest barrel at 18.5 inches. The others range between 20- and 28-inches. The Tactical model has a barrel length of 20 inches

Capacity

All Mossberg 500 models offer at least 6-round capacities (necessary for hunting regulations), but for more rounds, you can check out other Mossbergs, like the 590.

The Tactical models offer 8 rounds, which is what you want if you need a shotgun for home defense. More shots equals more opportunity to stop a threat.

Price

Mossbergs are among the most affordable shotguns on the market. Several models are listed at less than $500 on Cabella’s website, and you can often find sales at gun shows or stores.

They’re extremely common, so you can even find them used at pawn shops or online.

Warranty

Mossberg offers a 10-year limited warranty to the original owner, guaranteeing their firearms are free of defect in material or manufacture.

Full warranty information is available in the Service Instructions in the owner’s manual. If you lose your owner’s manual, you can request one from Mossberg.

Models

There are over 50 models of the Mossberg 500 to choose from. They vary from use to barrel length.

For home security for the beginner, we recommend either the Security with its 18.5-inch barrel or the Hunting All Purpose Field. If you are also considering getting into hunting small game such as waterfowl or turkey, there are options for that, too.


Alternatives to the Mossberg 500 Tactical

If you’re looking for something more, here are a few options you might consider.

Mossberg 590

The Mossberg 590 (except model 7-Shot) offers a 9-round capacity in a 12-gauge. They’re higher priced than the 500 series.

Remington 870 Express

It’s available in both 12- and 20-gauge with barrel lengths of 26- or 28-inches. But, it only has a 4-round capacity, so consider this if you’re purchasing for home defense.


Our Final Thoughts

For the beginner looking for a shotgun, we recommend getting the Mossberg 500 Tactical 8-Shot.

The Tactical model would be ideal for home defense, but also works well in hunting situations. It comes in 12-gauge with a 20-inch barrel and an 8-round capacity. It’s a pump action shotgun which makes it easy for a beginner to operate and keep clean.

Mossberg offers a 10-year warranty on their shotguns, and they are reasonably inexpensive. They also come with a standard safety switch.

The Mossberg 500 Tactical will give you reliability and ease of use, and will always be ready when you need it.

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