Ready for a Riot or Home Defense – The Combat Shotgun

Bob Campbell and Riot Shotgun

Odds are, you’ll never be in a riot or have the need to try and break one up. However, the apply named riot shotgun, also called a combat shotgun, is arguably the best all-around personal defense firearm in the world. With its shorter, 18-inch barrel and high capacity magazine, knock-down power, and intimidation factor, the riot gun offers the edge in close-quarters personal defense that cannot be overstated.

Door Breaching Shotgun

The door-breaching Remington 1100 is a real problem solver!

The riot gun is compact enough for any foreseeable need. The 18-inch barrel shotgun handles quickly and swings from one target to the other rapidly in trained hands. The open cylinder choke gives us a wide pattern compared to a sporting shotgun.

The pattern is sufficient for typical shotgun chores at ranges of 5 to 20 yards. The short barrel makes handling inside the home easier than managing a full-length shotgun, easier to keep at ready in a vehicle, and easily and securely mounted inside a police cruiser. You may even mount the shotgun at home and ready in the new Hornady wall safe configuration—a great product at a fair price.

Riot Gun Bead Sight

A simple bead front sight offers a good aiming point for fast shooting.

The typical bead sighted, short barrel shotgun is a 12 gauge. Extended magazines that increase the riot gun capacity from five to eight shells are popular. That is a lot of firepower and a sufficient reserve for any foreseeable emergency. The modern riot gun is as likely to have a synthetic stock as the traditional wood stock set. The wood set, however, is the traditional riot gun set up and remains the most popular.

00 Buck

The efficiency of the riot gun for short-range anti-personnel work relies on the effectiveness of 00 buckshot. Eight or nine double aught pellets are a terrible harrow at close range. Buckshot is effective to about 20 yards, with 15 yards the ideal range. Buckshot can be dangerous far past this range. When you address the combat load, it is good to remember that the effect of a large number of shot, striking the adversary instantly, is what makes the shotgun effective.

Military testing has proven, the shotgun has a higher hit probability than any other shoulder-fired weapon including fully automatic military assault rifles—versus civilian AR-15 rifles that are actually sporting guns. The Winchester PDX uses a payload of both buckshot and a slug. These loads are no doubt effective and offer a good option for the person using a shotgun for personal defense that wishes to hedge his bets. When the shotgun is considered an all around, go anywhere, do anything firearm for personal defense, the true riot gun with an 18-inch barrel and bead front sight is simple to use and easily taught.

Some riot guns have modern features. These may include a heat shield on the barrel and rifle sights or Ghost Ring sights. These sights are more efficient with slug loads. Slugs are effective, well past the normal effective range of buckshot. I tested several buckshot loads in the riot gun, ranging from standard 2 ¾ buckshot to 3-inch Magnum to the reduced recoil personal defense loads.


After 20 yards, it is best to transition to slug loads to get a good hit that anchors the threat. With slugs, even a bead sighted riot gun will hit a man-sized target at 50 yards. An authority on personal defense tells me that his research indicates that buckshot hits on humans do not add they sum, that three hits feel like five to the nervous system. He feels that three hits are needed with 00 buckshot, per his personal experience and research, to provide an effective wound and cessation of hostilities. A modern load, such as the Federal Personal Defense buckshot load, produces a cohesive pattern with good performance.

Gelatin block with defensive buckshot

This is a gelatin block shot with Federal Personal Defense buckshot.

The Modern Riot Gun

Riot shotguns have roles in modern times not envisioned by their original inventors. Shotguns are also a great device for launching special munitions. I had a good friend that worked security and police at airports, and the threat of birds causing aircraft to crash is real. These men and women are holders of special permits that allow them to kill migratory birds if needed even out of season and in numbers due to the possibility of death or severe damage caused by these birds.

Shotgun-launched bird bombs are highly effective for frightening birds, but that fright provides only temporary relief. Bird dispersal teams are involved in immediate protection. They have shotguns and frightening devices including distress calls and even pyrotechnic devices.

Less than lethal devices, fired from the shotgun, have seen much use in civil defense and police work. The bean bag or flexible baton is one such device. Tear gas and ferett projectiles are others. Rubber buckshot and tear gas rounds are used in police and military shotguns. The bean bag is a bag filled with dense lead that is used to knock a person off of their feet. Those engaged in psychotic behavior or threatening suicide have been knocked off their feet with this type of projectile. When peace officers address a threat from a dangerous individual—and suicidal individuals are just a turn from homicidal—the officer usually has a backup officer armed with buckshot in case the non-lethal loads do not take effect.

Another very interesting use for the tactical shotgun is as a door-breaching device. This use is an important tactical role that is used often by both the military and police. As many of you know, the old TV myth of a cop using his .38 to shoot a door lock open is just that, a myth. A .38 would not penetrate most door locks, and if it did, you would never get the door lock open.


The door-breaching shotgun is used to shatter hinges and take the door down in a quick manner. The shotguns used in this role are typically very short barrel shotguns with a standoff device on the muzzle. This device adds to safety when firing the door breaching round into the latch. The actual charge then knocks the latch off of the door. The charge is designed to expend all of its force on the door and not pose a threat to anyone on the other side of the door.

Hornady Wall-mount Gun Safe

Hornady’s high tech wall mount is a great option for the home.


When all of the roles the tactical shotgun may be called upon to fill are studied, it is obvious the old-style riot gun comes up short. Sure the riot gun is useful, but the tactical shotgun must have good sights to efficiently launch its projectiles. The combat shotgun must have the capacity to launch slugs accurately well past effective riot gun range. The good old riot gun is still useful, and it’s all the shotgun most of us need. However, the modern tactical shotgun is a more capable firearm.

What role does your shotgun fill? Which model do you prefer, and what’s your preferred shotshell for home defense? Share your answers in the comment section.

Defender Outdoors Shield

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice, and is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills, and others. He is a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications also. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.