By Jeff Johnston, Shooting Illustrated
If you have a serviceable pump-action or semi-automatic shotgun that you’re willing to cannibalize for a budget home-defense shotgun build, then obviously that’s the cheapest route. Remington 870s and Mossberg 500s are best for three reasons: First, they’re wonderfully reliable shotguns. Second, they are cheap in price, but not in construction. And third, there are copious aftermarket add-ons readily available.
If you’re willing to turn your 870 Express duck gun with a 28-inch barrel into a home-defense dynamo, it’ll need a shorter barrel so you can fight with it without it getting knocked out of your hands by every ceiling fan in the house. Sure, you can legally shorten the barrel (provided it stays longer than 18 inches), but there are advantages to simply buying a new barrel, because after you cut it and file the burrs, you’ll have to solder the rib back in place, and even then it will likely look unpleasant. Then you’ll need to buy a brass bead and install it, which will require labor, skill and tools. But the biggest plus of an aftermarket barrel is that you can always reuse the original barrel if you wish. Midway USA offers an 18-inch 870 barrel with a brass bead for $139. Mossberg 500 barrels are $99. It’s the way to go.
If you don’t have a decent shotgun action to spare, worry not. A new, synthetic-stocked, six-plus-one round Remington 870 Tactical with an 18.5-inch barrel costs $319 from Academy. At this time, my budget shotgun of choice is Mossberg’s 12-gauge 500 Persuader for $371 at Cheaper than Dirt. With a 20-inch barrel, the extended magazine holds eight rounds total. With either of these guns, you won’t need some of the aftermarket items we discussed. So, if you intend to buy a new gun, it’s cheaper to go with these tactical versions rather to buy a hunting gun and converting it. Frankly, I’d be just fine with either of these shotguns as-is, but then I wouldn’t have much to write about, would I?
Finally, you can buy a used shotgun. Make sure it’s in tip-top shape, as this is the gun you could bet your life on. You’ll probably spend around $225, and it likely won’t be with the 18.5-inch barrel, but you never know what your local pawn shop might turn up.
If you are converting a hunting gun into your go-to home-defense shotgun, you’ll need a three-round magazine extension tube for around $50. Make sure it includes a sling swivel.
I like traditional stocks, rather than pistol grips, so I won’t have to add anything there, but you might feel differently. If so, Magpul’s SGA stock is terrific for $99. (FYI: there is nothing wrong with wooden stocks, unless your bedroom happens to be in a Panama jungle during the rainy season, so don’t rule out a bargain-priced shotgun just because it wears walnut.)
While the tritium Big Dot shotgun bead from XS is an excellent upgrade in the sight department, it costs $71. But, a dab of Cool Glow nail polish, which will glow in the dark, is available from any big-box retailer, costs about $2 and will do fine. Even without charging under a light, it’s easier to see than a brass bead when it’s “Silence of the Lambs”-type dark in your basement.
After actually having to grab my home-defense shotgun and clear my house recently, I now feel like the sling is worth the risk of it getting hung up on things. A shotgun is big and heavy, and even dialing a number on a cell phone, while also holding onto something, is near-impossible while clutching the shotgun with the other hand. So, I like a sling so I can quickly put the gun on my shoulder and move with it or use my hands for other tasks if I must. A simple nylon sling from Uncle Mike’s will cost you about $22 if you don’t have one already.
Unless you’re an octopus, you’ll need a flashlight on your shotty if you desire to shoot it and see your target simultaneously. While SureFire’s DFS Series integral fore-end shotgun flashlight is the Cadillac, it costs $399. If you can afford it, go for it, but I’m becoming cheap in my old age, and a flashlight that costs more than my shotgun seems silly. So I recommend something like the TufForce 1-inch tube ring rail mount that allows you to attach many types of flashlights to the side or underside of your shotgun’s barrel or mag tube. It’s $16 from Amazon. Then you’ll need a flashlight with a pressure switch, because you’ll need to be able to work the light while death-gripping the shotgun’s fore-end. I’ve seen weapon-mounted lights as cheap as $19 at Amazon, but a flashlight is very important, so I’m not getting too parsimonious here. Streamlight’s ProTac 1 is $109 from Cabela’s.
Finally, I like extra ammo on my shotgun so I don’t have to fumble for it when danger comes knocking. And while I’ve tried hook-and-loop tabs that stick on the side of my shotgun via adhesive, they eventually fall off. So, either go with a proven, plastic sidesaddle like that from TacStar for $31 at Midway USA, or try a cheaper one like the Aim Sports at Cheaper Than Dirt for $10.
While some people prefer more junk on their shotguns than I do, including pistol grips, oversize bolt handles, red-dot optics or ghost-ring sights, I don’t believe these things are necessary in your home. The total price of my ultimate budget home-defense shotgun ranges from $329 to $536 depending on what route you go on the gun itself. Any way you look at it, it’s a lot of home-defense firepower for the money. Place it in your bedroom where you can get to it swiftly and then rest easy knowing your family—and your bank account—is sitting pretty.