By Jeremy Harding

It’s dark. You hear a loud *thump* practically shake the whole house and forcibly rouse you from sleep. Your eyes snap open although your mind is still shrouded in a dreamy fog. You wait for several heartbeats thinking it was just your mind playing tricks on you; then you hear it again. This time the unmistakable *crack* of a door-jam splintering reaches your ears sending all manner of gut-wrenching possibilities rampaging through your sleep-addled mind. Near panic sets in as your motor control goes straight out the nearest window like a frightened bird. After what seems like hours, you disentangle yourself from your covers and desperately start fumbling for the nearest light switch. You hear heavy footfalls inside your home. What happens next?

As terrifying as it sounds, this scenario is much more common than any of us would like to admit and, depending on your preparation, can end several different ways. Enter the humble shotgun. Affectionately referred to as a scatter gun, pump gun, or boom stick, the shotgun is one of the best go-to weapons for situations like these because of three important factors. They’re simple to operate, reliable, and easy to hit a target at close range. All things that can give you that vital edge when fear has chased away conscious thought and manual dexterity. The following is a list of some of the best 12-gauge options on the market for protecting what matters most: family and home.

Mossberg 590A1

Kicking off this list is the tried and true 590A1. Used extensively by our US military, the 500 range of Mossbergs have earned distinction amongst their peers for being the only shotgun to pass the Milspec Assessment test. For consumers, that means that regardless of the situation or conditions, this pump-action will operate exactly how you expect. With a 20-inch, smooth-bore barrel riding an 8-round capacity tube, the 590 delivers on maneuverability in close quarters while ensuring you have plenty of chances to put pellets where you need them. An aluminum receiver that houses a 3-inch chamber keeps weight in the butter zone of about 7 pounds to help manage recoil. With a wide range of customizations to choose from, the rock-solid Mossberg 590A1’s price point starts at around $600.

Remington 870 Express Tactical

Function is the primary concern for anyone in the market for a shotgun. They don’t have to look the best, but they absolutely have to perform. The M4 begs the question: why not both? This semi-automatic with an 18.5-inch barrel definitely checks both boxes. A top rail carrying a ghost-ring sight, an oversized bolt handle, and a 3-inch chamber with 5-round capacity tube handles the function portion flawlessly. An FDE Cerakote finish and a rubber butt-pad with a comfortable pistol grip help to give this firearm its aesthetic appeal. Popular for its use in 3-gun competitions, the baseline M4 is equally at home shredding steel and paper as it is making overzealous “house remodelers” think twice. The Benelli is superior quality at a moment’s notice, which is what you pay for at a starting price of $1,800.

Benelli M4

Developed with the legendary Browning 1911 Pistol in mind, the 100-percent metal micro-pistol is an ultraprecise concealed-carry handgun. The single action .380 possesses a lot of power in its 5.5-inch long (including 2.7-inch barrel) and 3.9-inch tall, all-metal frame. With the patented SIGLite® Night Sights and a Nitron-coated slide to make it virtually immune to wear and tear, the P238 is a proper and loyal concealed carry pistol.

Hatsan Escort AimGuard

In contrast to the Benelli, we come to the AimGuard from Hatsan. No bells, no whistles, and no fancy extras to distract from what this weapon was designed to be: a clean, simple pump-gun. It’s got an 18.5-inch barrel in front of a 3-inch chamber so it’ll happily eat high brass or softer target loads without sacrificing mobility in tight spaces. A tube that can carry five rounds gives you a decent amount of shot to send flying while a single fiber optic front-sight gives you just enough reference to know where it’s all going. At 6.9 pounds, heavier loads and slugs might be a little unpleasant on the shoulder, but a synthetic stock with a rubber pad helps mitigate some of the kick. At its core, the AimGuard does exactly what it sets out to do by being a reliable shotgun while offering accessibility to just about any budget with a price tag of less than $200.

FN SLP

Competition gun by day, home defender by night. Just like what you’d expect from any good super hero, the SLP packs a lot of substance into relatively unassuming package. Checking under the hood reveals a 3-inch chamber feeding a chrome bore which is housed by an 18-inch barrel. The whole setup utilizes a semi-auto, active-valve, gas system to cycle the action. That might all sound like a bunch of malarkey, but what it translates into is exceptionally light recoil, relatively speaking, with the ability to feed a very large variety of different loads. Checkered panels on the grip and fore-end mean a better hold when operating in wet weather or with sweaty palms. A 6-shell capacity means you’ve got plenty of firepower if you need it, while an aluminum receiver brings the overall weight to a manageable 7.7 pounds. Your own personal shotgun-shaped super hero can be yours for a mere $1,350.

Winchester SXP Extreme Defender

Are you the type that likes to hang all manner of cappuccino-making, shark-launching, laser-assisted rocket pods on your firearms? Then the Extreme Defender is just what you’ve been looking for in a combat shotgun. With a top rail, and one on either side at the end of the 5-capacity mag tube, the possibilities for accessorizing are near limitless. This inertia-assisted pump-action showcases an 18-inch barrel capped by a breacher choke, and it’s attached to an aluminum receiver that houses a 3-inch, chrome-lined chamber. Occupying the top rail is a ghost-ring sight over a molded pistol grip and an adjustable synthetic stock. At 7.5 pounds, it’s no feather weight; but, it serves as a good starting point before the extras start piling on. This tough-as-nails blank canvas starts at a respectable $550 MSRP, which leaves plenty of extra green for making it the most “functional” boom stick it can be.

Remington Versa Max Tactical

The one thing that has always set pump-action shotguns apart from other firearms is their reliability. Barring user error in the form of short shucking, it is extremely rare to witness a decent pump-gun malfunction regardless of what’s being fed through it. That bomb-proof dependability in a semi-automatic application is what Remington achieved with the Versa Max Tactical. The 22-inch barrel makes this weapon slightly less suited to cramped maneuvering, but it makes up for its bulkier profile with an auto-loading action that makes a boom for every click, no matter what. A top rail rides on the aluminum receiver while its 3-inch chamber is fed by an 8-shell capacity tube. Attachment points on the front for a flashlight help ensure you don’t accidentally turn the cat into modern art thinking it was an intruder, and a fiber-optic front sight coupled with a mid-bead helps you stay on target. Oversized controls keep the Versa Max feeling quick and agile while it’s 8-pound weight cuts down on recoil. At $1,050, it’s hard to ask for much more in a defensive shotgun.

Kel-Tec KSG

What could be better than a pump gun with an 18.5-inch barrel fed by a 3-inch chamber? How about 2? Unfortunately, unless you’re some kind of body builder with an iron grip, you probably wouldn’t be able to effectively employ both at the same time. That’s why Kel-Tec put them together to form the double-barreled design of the KSG. An upper rail allows for sight customization while a lower rail on the hand guard encourages the use of accessories like a vertical fore-grip (highly recommended). A magazine selector switch behind the grip lets the user switch between the KSG’s 6-capacity tubes, which gives it an overall shell count of 12. Although the blocky profile may seem somewhat unwieldy, the compact bull-pup design and 7-pound empty weight make it exceptionally fast and easy to operate. This double-the-fun firearm from Kel-Tec comes with an MSRP of about $900.

FosTech Origin 12

Because of the extreme pressures needed to propel extra-large payloads downrange, it can be difficult to find a semi-automatic shotgun that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The 930 SPX seeks to fill that niche with exceptional style. Just like most of the weapons on this list, it sports an 18.5-inch barrel for tight maneuvering in small spaces with a 3-inch chamber to carry heavier loads, and an empty weight right around 7.75 pounds. A 7-shell magazine tube, synthetic stock, ghost-ring sight, and top rail for mounting accessories are all part of what you’d expect from a good tactical shotgun. However, what sets the SPX apart is the sub-$1k price tag of $730, which allows it to punch well above its weight and stay competitive with other more expensive auto-loaders.

Winchester SXP Extreme Defender

Rounding out our list is a ground-breaking weapon that successfully mates the form and function of an AK with the firepower of a 12-gauge. Although it lacks the pants filling *shuck, shuck* sound of a pump-action being wracked, the look of the business end of an Origin 12 will most certainly work as a substitute. Despite being the only scatter gun on our list to house a 2.75-inch chamber, the Origin’s got it where it counts in spades. It sports a full-length rail system up top, as well as rails along both sides of the hand guard. The straight-in, straight-out, flared magwell, makes reloading extremely easy while ambidextrous controls and an 18.5-inch, fluted barrel makes handling a dream. A magazine capacity ranging from 5- to 30-round drums means you’ll be able to handle just about anything that comes knocking. The truly defining feature of the FosTech is its modular front-end design. In order to consistently feed different rounds in variable length barrels, the entire front assembly, including barrel and adjustable gas system, is able to be swapped. Altogether the Origin comes to market with an MSRP of $2,600 and is worth every penny.

No one likes to think about the worst-case scenario. Your home is your castle and unfortunately there may come a time that you need to forcibly defend it. Shotguns may be somewhat intimidating because of their notorious kick, and devastating payloads, but they are by far the most effective means of protecting what matters to you with minimal margin for error. Just like any other tool, investing the time and money into purchasing one that’s a good fit, and practicing regularly, will make an incalculable difference if you ever need to use it in a real-world situation. Just like the old saying goes, “it’s better to have one and not need it, than need it and not have one.”