5 Best Shotguns for Self-Defense


Over the decades, Gun Tests Magazine has reviewed dozens of self-defense shotguns chambered in 12 gauge, 20 gauge, or other bores. Some have been configured with extended magazines and some with standard capacities, but all have been capable of stopping an assault on your home or person with plenty of power. Our experienced testers believe you’ll find just the right choice for your specific job from the list of pump-action and semi-auto shotguns below.

As always, Gun Tests Magazine is supported by reader subscriptions only, so you can depend on these recommendations being free of monetization considerations on our posts or videos or social media traffic, and we don’t accept display or other advertising in the magazine. The sole basis for these recommendations is how the shotguns worked during our testing with various shooters and various ammunition. If you’re in the market for a good defensive scattergun, here’s how we’d spend our money:

5. IAC Imports Hawk Model 982 Defense 12 Gauge, $233. October 2016. 

The Hawk 982 is among the least-expensive 12-gauge pumps we have ever tested. The Hawk never malfunctioned, never short cycled, and gave good results. The pattern with buckshot was slightly tighter than the other shotguns. It handled quickly, and the recoil pad design was praised by all raters. The Ghost Ring sights are ideal for personal defense. The rear sight may be removed if you wish to mount a red-dot sight. The Hawk is a Best Buy.

IAC Imports Hawk Model 982 Defense 12 Gauge

4. Winchester 1200 Speed Pump 12 Gauge, $225. October 2020. Grade A.

The Winchester 1200 Defender was found on the used rack at a gun shop. The shotgun was practically spotless despite its age of about 43 years. This shotgun is out of production, but it is far from rare. To confirm availability, we searched Gunbroker.com and other sites recently and found 11 for sale within a few minutes. The Winchester 1200, the original Defender, is a formidable shotgun and the smoothest action tested. We found the Winchester 1200 to be nice handling. The ease of loading, firing, and operating the pump were rated high. After testing the Winchester 1200, many of the raters felt they had paid too much for their own more-modern shotgun. If you are happy with a bead-sighted shotgun and do not need greater slug accuracy than that exhibited by the Winchester, this is a great buy. 

Winchester 1200 Speed Pump 12 Gauge

3. Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S Max 12 Gauge, $420. March 2021.

The Black Aces S Max is a traditional shotgun with a nice look. It looks like a shortened sporting gun, which it basically is. The short barrel and front-post sight make for rapid handling. With the birdshead grip fitted, the shotgun handles better than we would have thought. It is possibly the best-handling shotgun of this type we have picked up. If you do not have the need to mount a red dot or aperture sights, the Black Aces S Max is a fine choice.

Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S Max 12 Gauge

2. Beretta Model 1301 Tactical No. J131T18 12 Gauge, $1075. May 2016

This is a very light and quick semiautomatic whose stand-out features include the oversized charging handle, a large textured bolt release, and an oversized reversible safety button. We were pleased with both the aesthetics and functionality of these features, along with the deep checkering on both the forearm and stock that earned the Beretta plus marks for easy and secure use. In speed drills, the Beretta outshined the other two test shotguns by a narrow margin. During the five-shot drill, the first shot was fired at 0.45 second, followed by a shot at 0.71, 0.96, 1.20 seconds, and 1.45 seconds. Shots were alternately fired at two separate targets about 2 feet apart in a very effective manner.

Beretta Model 1301 Tactical No. J131T18 12 Gauge

1. Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical 85152 12 Gauge, $1189. May 2023. 

The 940 is soft recoiling and easy to operate due to the oversized controls and beveled loading port. It had a great trigger pull. A Mossberg costing more than a thousand dollars seems contradictory because Mossberg is known for producing affordable shotguns, yet we like the 940, and in our opinion, it would make a good home-defense gun. If money is no object, it’s Our Pick.

Mossberg 940 Pro Tactical 85152 12 Gauge

Honorable Mentions

SDS Imports Radikal Sax2 713135218799 12 Ga, $519. May 2023. Grade A-.

Benelli M4 H20 Tactical 11794 12 Gauge, $2000. February 2021. Grade A.

Remington 870 Express Tactical 81200 12 Gauge, $442. February 2015. Grade A.

Tristar Tec-12 25120 Pump/Auto 12 Gauge, $689. December 2016. Grade A.

EAA Akkar Churchill 612 111375 12 Gauge, $320. May 2022. Grade A. .

Toros Copolla T4 12 Gauge, $895. March 2021. Grade A. 

Mossberg 590 50674 12 Gauge, $568. October 2022. Grade A-.

Remington V3 TAC-13 83392 12 Gauge, $1170. November 2022. Grade A.

Remington 870 12 Gauge, $275. October 2020. Grade A. 

Mossberg Retrograde Persuader 50429 12 Ga., $384. September 2019. Grade A. 

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Model 50657 20 Gauge, $455. March 2019. Grade A. 

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Model 50649 .410 Bore, $455. March 2019. Grade A. 

Mossberg 590 Shockwave 50659 12 Gauge, $455. October 2017. Grade A.

Note: All prices reflect actual retail purchase prices at the time of testing. Prices will likely have changed. Older models may still be available as NIB products or as used guns. 

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