Last summer, driving out to Salt Lake City, my wife and I spent a couple of days with friends who live on the front range of the Rockies in Colorado. It was a nice break to the driving, and a good time to just catch up with friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
Our friends live outside a small city, up in the foothills. As we sat on their deck the first evening, enjoying the sunset and chatting about this and that, they said that they wanted to get my help while we were there with something they had been thinking about.
“Sure,” I said. “What’s up?”
“We’d like your help in picking out a shotgun.”
This was a bit of a surprise, since my friends had never been interested in guns before. “What do you want it for?”
“Well, home defense. And there have been increasing problems with critters – mountain lions and coyotes, mostly – getting into people’s chickens, running off with pets. That sort of thing.”
I nodded, sipped my drink. “Ah. Got it. Sure, I’ll help. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.”
* * * * * * *
I looked around the kitchen. My friend handed me a cup of coffee. As I was adding cream and sugar, I spied a short broom in the corner. “Can I use that for a second?”
“Yeah, sure. What for?”
I picked it up. Yeah, it was about the right length. I handed it to her. “This: take it, hold it like a shotgun.”
She did as I asked. “Now, go back into your office.”
She didn’t even try. My friend is smart, and instantly got my point. “I can’t – the hallway’s too small. There’s no room.”
“And how would you open the door when you got there?”
She nodded. “But everyone says to get a shotgun.”
“How many of them have ever been in this house?”
“You want a pistol,” I said as I sipped my coffee, as she put the broom back in its corner. “It’s just a matter of getting the right kind. One that’ll take care of your critter problems, but still be good for home defense.”
* * * * * * *
In addition to a carry gun, I had brought along my .44 magnum Colt Anaconda on this trip. I like having something with more power available when driving through moose country – I’ve seen too many of them hit on the road. The Anaconda fit easily into a briefcase, so I wouldn’t be seen carrying a gun case in and out of the hotel. But all I had for it was heavy hunting loads, unsuitable for a bit of training. After breakfast, I popped into town and picked up some mild loads in .44 special.
That afternoon, the four of us went out back on their property, in a natural little nook in the hill that provided the perfect backstop to do a bit of shooting. I set up a couple of stout logs to use as a target. In very short order we got through the basics of safety training, then they tried my revolver. They were surprised at how mild the recoil actually was and how well they shot it with just a little training.
“It’s a big gun. 6 inch barrel, stoutly made. Plenty of mass to absorb the energy,” I said. “You want something like this. Something you can handle safely in the tight spaces like your short hallway—use one-handed if necessary.”
“Is it powerful enough?”
“Yup. Anything from a .357 magnum on up will be fine for what you need. Keep mild loads in it for home defense, more powerful rounds on hand if you ever have to deal with critters. But I’d say you want a 6″ barrel or longer – the longer the barrel, the more easy it is to be accurate with it. And you’ll need to practice with it.”
* * * * * * *
We went and did a lot of shopping over the next couple of days, discussing the pros and cons of the different pistols available, seeing what felt comfortable to them. Eventually my friends wound up with a Ruger Blackhawk in .44 mag with a 7.5″ barrel. But a .45 Colt, a .41 mag, or a .357 mag revolver all would have been perfectly suitable. I recommended a revolver because they’re simpler for “non-gunnies” to understand, use, and clean without getting things too messed up.
And yes, as so much common wisdom dictates, I still believe keeping a shotgun as your de facto home defense gun is actually pretty good advice. A shotgun is a heck of a home defense weapon. Very powerful, devastating at close ranges. Fairly easy to control (so long as you stay with a standard stock – pistol grip stocks can be a real bear to use). There’s a wide variety of ammunition available, all depending on your recoil sensitivity.
But you really have to think about your individual situation, because what is good general advice has to actually work in your home. Thinking things through in advance can save you time and money, and perhaps even your life.
(Photo courtesy of Compass Point)
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