By Bob Campbell,
The shotgun is a great home defense tool. The shotgun is aimed primarily by feel at close range and offers the highest hit probability of any firearm. The shotgun is far more powerful at close range than the handgun and even most rifles. The potential for stopping a dangerous threat with one shot is greater than with any other type of firearm.
But everyone isn’t interested in learning to use a pump action shotgun or a self-loading shotgun. There are good alternatives, and all do not kick as hard as the 12-gauge shotgun. The short barrel, double-barrel shotgun with hammers is often called the coach gun. This type of shotgun was used to guard stagecoaches.
Many years before the type was used in the Old West the coach gun was used to guard European coaches from dangerous highwaymen. Older flintlock types were called the blunderbuss and were most often single-shot types.
Today the double-barrel shotgun is a formidable choice capable of defending the home. The pump shotgun and the self-loader are more complex, more expensive, and more difficult to train with. There is nothing simpler than the hammer fired double-barrel shotgun save a single-shot shotgun. I have seen many double-barrel shotguns at ready in the home or on the farm, and they are capable in dispatching unwanted pests and varmints as well as stopping the attack of members of our protein-fed, ex-con criminal class.
A different variant, the double-barrel, striker-fired shotgun, was used by New York City cops until at least the 1970s. The double-barrel with two loads of buckshot was ideal for taking dangerous felons at gunpoint. With a powerful firearm and an instant second shot, coupled with excellent handling qualities, these shotguns filled a real need. A correspondent tells me of a Western police department that kept double-barrel shotguns in 20-gauge until at least the 1980s and also pump-action, 20-gauge shotguns. At close range, making felony arrests in tight quarters, I am certain these were formidable firearms. This gave me reason to look into the validity of a double barrel 20-gauge shotgun for personal defense.
For personal defense the double-barrel handles quickly and points well. It isn’t well suited for tactical use by special teams, but for home defense the double-barrel, particularly a short barrel coach gun, is ideal.
Everyone’s budget and circumstance do not allow purchasing an expensive defensive shotgun. The double-barrel is simple to use well. Simply break open the action and load the shells, then close the action. To fire, cock the hammers and pull the trigger. Each hammer is cocked individually. You may wish to cock them one at a time, or cock both in anticipation of firing.
The modern Century Arms double-barrel coach gun also features a handy tang-mounted safety. I like this safety for use once the hammers are cocked; it is a good feature when moving in the home. Real safety is between the ears and involves keeping the finger off of the trigger until you fire. I recommend cocking only one hammer at a time until you are very familiar with the shotgun.
The double-barrel shotgun offers a formidable deterrent. From the images of Old West guards riding shotgun on a stagecoach to the modern hammer-fired double, the double-barrel has an unmistakable image and the threat of a double charge of buckshot.
The modern hammer-fired double barrel has the advantage of simplicity. When fully loaded at the ready but the hammers down the shotgun has no compressed spring. No hammer spring or magazine spring is compressed and the piece will come up shooting every time. The double barrel is also easy to train with.
Another advantage is that with two loads you can stage the load. A lighter load first and then buckshot for problems inside the home. The load may be changed quickly if the problem is a dangerous person or an animal such as a rattlesnake just outside the door or a predator such as a coyote further away. For those in an urban setting the shotgun with proper loads makes for a good Brooklyn special. It is politically correct and legal where other types of long gun are not.
There is also the appeal of the shotgun as a low key defensive shotgun that doesn’t have much negative connation. The double-barrel is about as politically correct as a shotgun can be. We wish we did not have to consider this but sometimes we do. The double-barrel is also fun to shoot. It is practical as well. When all is said and done the double-barrel shotgun remains a formidable shotgun for personal defense and outdoors use and is far from behind the times. These simple, rugged and workmanlike shotguns are well suited to many traditional shotgun chores. These chores include serving as a go-anywhere do-anything all around tool for hunting, pest control and personal defense.
My personal Century Arms double barrel was ordered in 20-gauge. Available in both the hard hitting 12-gauge and the light kicking 20, I elected for the 20-gauge so that everyone in the home could use the shotgun well. The 12 hits hard and may be your choice. The 20-gauge kicks about half as much as the 12-gauge and carries about 55% of the payload. This is a neat little bead sighted shotgun that handles well.
The hammers are not difficult to cock and the triggers crisp enough. The hinged action was stiff at first but became easier to use with a couple of trips to the range. Overall length is 37 inches and the shotgun weighs about 7.5 pounds.
The double-barrel action is compact and allows for longer barrels while retaining a relatively short profile. The barrels are 20 inches long. The choke is open cylinder, well suited for home defense but not for hunting at anything past 20 yards with birdshot.
Most of the shells fired have been Winchester’s 7½ birdshot. This is a great training load. Recoil is light and the shotgun handles quickly and gets on target fast. While I use birdshot for training, birdshot is by no means useful for personal defense. At best it will penetrate only a few inches of gelatin and would probably be stopped by winter clothing.
On the other hand Winchester’s #3 buckshot load holds 20 buckshot pellets. This load consistently offers a minimum of 12 inches of penetration in my testing and should cancel Christmas for the bad guys at typical home defense engagement. With the open choke barrels of the Coach Gun 15 yards is the limit for retaining a good pattern for best effect which isn’t different from the average riot gun. This buckshot load offers modest recoil and delivers 30 pellets to the target. For home defense the Coach gun looks good. If you are looking for a reasonably priced shotgun with real wound potential but relatively light recoil, the Coach Gun in 20 gauge just may be the ticket.