Long Gun Work for Home Defense - ITS Tactical

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Long Gun Work for Home Defense

By George Matheis

If you look in any gun magazine, you’ll find a lot of pictures with people holding and shooting pistols, shotguns and rifles with two hands. Because they are stills, we obviously can’t see people moving.

For most people reading this, we can break our need for firearms down into two areas, home defense and the street. The focus of this article is going to be home defense and the need to move and operate from within using long guns, by “making them short.”


The trinity of defensive gun work is mindset – marksmanship – weapons handling. Working with weapons handling is too often pigeon holed into things like reloads and malfunction drills, yet how many reading this have ever had to do either of those skills in their house vs. moving around your house with a gun. The best way to practice weapons handling for defending your home is by practicing it with a clear/safe firearm in variable light conditions.

It only makes sense that much of the movement on the range involves pulling the trigger. This is just not the case in home defense when dealing with stairwells, corners and rooms. You need to be able to move with the gun, while keeping yourself in a position to put that first round on a threat in the area that you are covering with the muzzle. At the same time, you need to exploit cover and concealment. The cover is often hard to find in residential construction.

Couple this with navigation and feeling for light switches while opening/closing doors. This illustrates that you need to become comfortable working with a firearm in confined spaces. We’ll concentrate on the long gun, since by physical size it’s troublesome for people to deal with and not bang into stuff.

Making it Short

The first thing we do is “make the gun short.” This is accomplished by holding the pistol grip or “hand” portion of the stock and letting the butt of the stock run along the inside of your forearm.

This provides you with the ability to use default targeting on the threat area you are covering; by naturally indexing the weapon in that direction. After practicing it with both hands, you’ll quickly find that it’s comfortable and allows you to make the most of your concealment and navigate confined spaces.

One of the best benefits in “making the gun small” is going up and down steps. It allows you to brace yourself and control your ascent/decent without giving away a sound signature, which is the problem when using two hands and your back instead.

Next, we need to understand the reaction shot. The reaction shot is the first shot you fire in reaction to identifying a threat. The first shot is also the most important one; at these short distances in confined spaces, you won’t have any problem making it count with a one-handed shot. Your arm will acts as a shock absorber. After firing the first one handed shot, your location is obviously compromised and you need to get both hands on the gun and handle the job.

I typically use a Mossberg 590 with a side saddle and Surefire fore end. I chose to mention my setup for two reasons. The first is that it’s at the high end of what weight and length weapon you’ll most likely use. The second is that this is the shotgun I used both on patrol and for SWAT. Many SWAT entries were conducted in small hotel rooms and crack houses. This is where I became comfortable with working with the shotgun in confined spaces, especially clearing things like bathrooms and closets.

Learn to “make it small” first at home and then do some live fire on the range. My hope is that you find this useful in your home defense planning.

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  • Sheep.Dog

    Good points. Wouldn’t mind seeing an exspanded version of the article. I also highly agree with your weapons trinity. Far to much time is spent on paper targets and static drills.

  • Thanks for the post! I also would love to see more on this. Almost all of us are guilty of just heading to the range for an hour every now and then and squeezing rounds off at a paper target that just sits there.

    A shotgun is next on my list for home defense. Is there any specific load I should use for in the house? I’ve only shot trap a few times so my time with a shotgun is pretty limited.

  • Here is where I depart from the party line, well, one of the places. In 2000 I was involved in a fatal shooting. I put four rounds of OO buckshot into the guy. He also took several rounds of 9 MM an 40 S&W. Contrary to what is advertised he did not burst into flames, as advertised on the box. This is why I could kick a kitten when I hear people go on and on about calibers. That said, my choice for home defense is bird shot. Slugs can of course over penetrate. And buck shot did not serve me well.

    My logic with the bird shot is this, I am currently at FT Dix teaching, my wife and kids are home. My wife is little and is not a shotgun fan, but she has no problem shooting bird shot. Neither does either of my two oldest kids.

    At the base of MCS is Combative Anatomy, more or less the science of how to stop a human being immediately, not killing them eventually.

    There are three “systems” to consider. First is the Central Nervous System (comprised of the brain and spinal cord), second it the Structural System (comprised of the bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles), and lastly the Circulatory System (comprised of the heart, arteries, and veins).

    The suspect in my shooting eventually died, the COD was determined to be on pellet that perforated the descending aorta. What stopped the violent action was a pellet that blew the thumb off of his gun hand.

    That stopped the altercation like a light switch, I would say after that he took several minutes to die.

    Back to the house, there is a lot of bullshit and fairy dust about why people get shot in the hands. Some knuckle heads say it is because we focus on the weapon so we shoot it. That is bullshit. It is simply because we naturally shoot center mass and the weapon is between our muzzle and their chest. Even during cold weather people typically have their face/neck, and hands exposed.

    I have spent the last week teaching high threat driving, we had two groups. During the final exercise the instructors engage the students with paintball guns. We are supposed to shoot them in the waist and below. We all have to work extremely hard to do that, since we are all trained to shoot COM.

    Consider the effect of putting 1-3 rounds of bird shot COM into the face of an attacker, at the longest distance you could shoot in your house. Rounds to the hands because they either have a weapon that is up or come up chest level as a protective response. The hands and the face. Imagine a blast to the face.

    Their is a chance of this of course resulting in death, a great chance of stopping the aggression, and a great job of removing the hesitation to shoot for fear of killing the people in the next room or next door.

    I was working the perimeter one night as another team was serving a homicide warrant. When they made entry the suspect thought it was another criminal, rolled off the couch with shotgun in hand, and fired one round of slug. It hit the corner of the trailer, the thickest part, went all the way through and about two feet over my head.

    I am not trying to talk anyone into the bird shot load for HD. I am simply stating why I use it. Of course once again it the whole matter may be bullshit and fairy dust since even though people go on and on about their HD long gun, the majority will admit to grabbing a pistol last time something went bump in the night.

    I would be happy to write and expanded article. Just let me know what you would like to see covered, for that matter let me know what you would like to see from me in general.

    Don’t forget to visit both the ITS and MCS forums at EDCcentral.com.- George

    • Tom

      I worry about bird shot since I have seen reports of guys still walking around after getting hit. Not sure the assailant will stand still long enough to pump more than 1 shot into the face and I certainly don’t expect the Mrs. to be calm enough to be able to accurately pump more than 1 shot in the direction of someones brain housing group.
      Good article on penetration.

      I think we all have heard or even experienced events when the intended target continued to function after being shot. Typically people try to take cover after getting hit and something with the ability to penetrate drywall etc. may be needed. Additionally, defenders may wish to consider shooting lower as opposed to higher…a heavy hit to the area between the hips is lightly armored (no ribcage or other bone structures) contains soft, sensitive, blood intensive tissues/organs as well as major artery/nerve grouping. Yea its only a mobility kill, but it puts the target down to a ‘manageable level’ if follow on action is required.

      Recently the trend seems to be more than one home invader. I think this would be the area where an expanded article would be extremely useful.

    • Mac

      I am a retired Army combat officer. (I never got into a shotgun fight.) I have my home-defense shotgun loaded with 7.5 shot for the first round and no. 4 shot thereafter. As I think you said, the objective is to stop the fight and end the threat to oneself or family, not actually to kill.

  • This is exactly one of the reasons why I love the local match I try and go to every month. The only thing stressed more than shooting from on the move all the time is safety, safety and safety. It’s fun and the stages are different every time.

  • Virius

    Jack over at the Survival podcast did an awesome episode on just shotguns which I found very informative and I thought I knew a lot about shotguns. http://www.thesurvivalpodcast.com/all-about-shotguns

    Jack recommends Number 4 buck for home defense and his reasoning is sound, right now I have 00 and 000 buck in my shotgun but that is because I got it on sale and I still want to go out and get some No. 4 buck to see how that shoots through my Benelli.

  • Will Comptis

    I’m lucky – got local IDPA matches for pistol skills and the South Florida Defensive Carbine Club matches for rifle skills. I will never go to a static range again, unless I’m zeroing my carbine. Search for similar clubs/matches in your area. Once you experience a match where you’re drawing from the holster, moving, shooting from cover, doing tactical and emergency reloads YOU won’t go back to a static range again either.

    • Sounds like we need a ITS meet at the CFDCC! I’ve been meaning to get out there but haven’t made the trip yet.

  • Dave

    I’d love to see pictures of this “Making it Short”.

    Is your thinking on ammo that the benefit of light recoil outweighs penetration? That big shallow wounding is likely to end the threat, even if it doesn’t kill the person doing the threatening?

    What are your thoughts on reduced recoil loads and shot size?

  • Ed Pickering

    Nice George! I like the out of the box thinking and having some options. Personally I’m big on mixing my loads 00, slug,00…..
    Look forward to seeing some of your other write ups. Be well

  • Kevin

    Just a few thoughts here.

    In regards to the bird shot…. there are other and perhaps better options in my humble opinion. Perhaps Aguilla shorty 12GA rounds would be suitable, in OO low brass, which would both boost the capacity and reduce the recoil of the weapon. Or BB as opposed to bird shot maybe? On that note, it seems like this is all splitting hairs though.

    A shot down a long hallway, with bird shot, could a Big Bang with little to no damage. Sometimes that is all that it takes, other times not. OO failed you in real time, so bird shot in the home makes little sense to me beyond the families ability to handle bird shot. Perhaps I would even go the route of custom loads. I am not trying to prompt you to further justify this. Just thinking out loud here.

    All I can say is that my wife is not going to wield my 12 GA against an intruder plain and simple. But say she were to take a liking to a .410 pump. In that case I would just as soon buy a weapon better suited for her to wield than to have her make due with a gun that is on the heavy end of what she can reasonably fight effectively with.

    Again, just thinking out loud.

    All the best George!

    • Tom

      Hey Kevin..might consider a 20ga for the Mrs. in semiauto cylinder bore. Manageable recoil, decent ballistics, and can get different buck loads for it. If she is tiny like my gal consider a youth model.

  • The reason is I want anyone in my house to grab the shotgun and be able to use it effectively, without fear of over penetration. And yes, I believe with getting hit with say 144 – 422 little pellets to the face/neck, and hands and room distance will stop the violence. I am not trying to convince, only explain my choice. IMHO, a house gun means everyone in the house that can shoot can use it.- George

  • Wheelhouse

    Interesting write-up. It’s good to get diff. perspectives on weapon handling/manipulations like this. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    On a similar topic, I read an article in the current issue of Combat Tactics that I found to be very interesting. Written by Matt Graham, it’s called Short-Sticking the Shotgun. While this deals w/ two-handed manipulation, the technique is specifically for EQC stuff w/ the shotgun. (Basically riding the stock sideways up on the shoulder and taking advantage of the “push-pull” or Tim Kuca method.) This may not be new for someone w/ your background, but this kind of info. along w/ yours makes me want to spend more time w/ my 870!

  • desertrat

    George, I’ll be moving to an area where I’ll have to ‘time out’ to get my pistol permit, so my 590 will become the primary ‘things going bump in the night’ arm. To make things a bit more interesting, I’m in a manual wheelchair to get around. How about an article for the newly, and even long time disabled and the use of long arms for home/self defense?


  • Jason


    If by definition a house gun is a gun that “everyone in the house that can shoot can use it.” Than IMHO perhaps it would be better for the man of the house to take up a more light weight shotgun, as a house gun, as opposed to having his wife and kids hefting around a Mossberg 590 (with side saddle and fore end (added weight)).

  • craig94

    I would most likely use my Sig Sauer m400 in a home defense situatuion. I’m just not a big fan of shotguns for home defense. Mainly because ours are all loaded out for turkey hunting so full chokes and long barrels. But If I was to use a shotgun, I’d probably get the shorter barrel for my Moss 535 and that’d probably be pretty good with 00 in a 3 1/2 shell.

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