The roots of the home defense shotgun.
We start our discussion of Home Defense Shotguns under $300 with a little background. The modern “Tactical” shotgun can trace its roots back more than a century. John Moses Browning’s pump action shotgun design wasn’t the first pump-action shotgun, but as with many of the designs that sprung from the genius firearm designer’s mind, it laid the foundation for the modern products, like the home defense shotgun, to follow.
The Model 1897 Winchester based on Browning’s design saw action in the Philippines in 1898 and again in Mexico during the Pancho Villa Expedition and soon proved its worth as a devastating close in weapon. The Model 1897 “Trench Grade” emerged during World War I and featured a 20” barrel for maneuverability, a perforated heat shield over the barrel and a bayonet lug to put a “point” on it.
The “M97” was capable of being slam fired, that is with no trigger disconnect, cycling the action with the trigger depressed would fire the weapon allowing an intense rate of fire.
Winchester built on the foundations of the 1897 with the Winchester Model 12. The Model 12 was produced for over fifty years and saw military use in World War I, World War II, Korea and into the Vietnam War.
The 20”, “Riot Gun” and WWII Trench Gun configurations bear a striking resemblance to the modern Defensive Shotguns featured in this review. Featuring an open cylinder bore choke allowing quick spread of its shot and a short 18 ½ to 20” barrel they are optimal for close quarters handling and firepower. An extended magazine can increase the shotgun’s capacity.
Modern versions of the pump action “tactical” shotgun are ubiquitous in military and law enforcement organizations. Proven and torture tested over a century of use, they offer the private individual with a solid choice for a defensive weapon. However, many individuals do not have the budget of a military or police force (OK, almost nobody does!). If you do maybe The Benelli M4 is more what you’re looking for. But there are quality descendants of these venerable weapons available for beer budgets too. So that brings us to our review of Five Home Defense Shotguns Under $300!
1. Stoeger P3000 Tactical
As with most of the selections in this list, the Stoeger P3000 is available in different configurations – as shown in the 18.5” barrel with the traditional stock and grip or with a pistol style grip. For some inexplicable aesthetic reason, I prefer a traditional grip in a home defense shotgun. I can’t imagine an AR pattern rifle without a pistol grip but shotguns… Like I said, I can’t explain it. But get whatever fits your style. Like all of our under $300 choices, the Stoeger comes with a synthetic stock and this one is only in black. You get a blade style front sight vs. the basic brass bead and a cross bolt safety. Although Stoeger is a wholly owned subsidiary of legendary Benelli (who is in turn owned by Beretta) this particular model is manufactured in Turkey. Turkish enterprises are turning out some exceptional firearms currently and this is no exception.
You don’t get a lot of frills at this price point but what you do get is a reliable, solid defensive shotgun that most anyone can afford. The action will definitely benefit from a break in period, tolerances in this price range are good, but maybe not great. That said, it will work right out of the box and just keep on working.
Barrel Length: 18 1/2
|Sights: front Blade|
Choke: Cylinder Fixed
Length of Pull: 14 1/8
Weigh 6.4 lbs.
2. Savage Arms Stevens 320 Security
The Stevens model 320 has gotten a face lift in 2019 with a more ergonomic “Magpul-esque” stock design and updated fore-end. The Savage Stevens 320 Security model is available in four variations: With and without a pistol grip and with either a front bead sight or a set of ghost ring sights. If you’re not familiar with “Ghost rings” they essentially consist of a ring aperture rear sight that “rings” the view of the front sight. The front sight will be some variation of a dot or blade. It is a very quick sight picture to acquire and works well with a tactical/defensive shotgun.
Though the Stevens 320 is made in China, the fit and finish, at least externally, are as good as anything in this class. You may see some tool marks internally but this is a firearm for a fight, not a beauty pageant. The trigger is average, breaking around 6 ½ pounds.
The Stevens 320 uses a four lug rotary bolt and locks up smooth and tight. It is a dual action bar design and the fore-end has a nice recess that gives your fingers a solid gripping surface. The shotgun weighs in at a modest 6.7 pounds and with the integrated solid rubber buttpad most will find the recoil manageable.
[My two cents about recoil on this class of firearms… It’s a 12 gauge – it’s going to kick some. OK, more than some. Home defense shotguns pack a wallop! In a pump action shotgun once the shell is fed and locked in place you’ve essentially got a steel tube with a big shell in it, there’s nothing fancy going on. Recoil is somewhat subjective but aside from modest variations in the mass of the gun, how and where it sets up against your shoulder and the density of the recoil pad – there’s not a lot of mystery here. In a semi-auto there can be a lot going on affecting the physics of the thing but pump shotguns, well… BANG. That’s what you get. Good technique can help. If recoil is still an issue a Limbsaver may be the answer. ]
Barrel Length: 18 1/2
Choke: Cylinder Fixed
Length of Pull: 13.8″
Weigh 6.7 lbs.
3. Maverick 88 Security Field Combo
I chose the Maverick 88 field Combo for this list not just because you get a solid home defense shotgun with an 18 ½” barrel for a great price – You also get a 28” field barrel for a stupidly low price! The Maverick 88 is a lower cost “clone” of the legendary Mossberg 500 shotguns. It manages that lower cost by having its parts largely manufactured in Mexico then assembled in Mossberg’s Eagle Pass, Texas factory. Now back to that great price… A Mossberg 28” vent rib barrel by itself will run close to $200. As the street price of this combo is only a bit over $200, think of it as buying an extra barrel and getting a whole shotgun for free!
Although the 88 is patterned after the Mossberg 500, there are some differences. First the 88 features a cost saving cross bolt safety vs. the tang safety you will find on the Mossberg. It works fine and is similar to the other shotguns in this class. Although many parts will interchange between the models the trigger groups are not compatible. The Maverick 88 receiver is not drilled and tapped for a scope mount (I do not see any downside here for a home defense shotgun). The 88’s forend is “permanently” attached to the action bars so it cannot be swapped out with Model 500 options there and it comes with a one year warranty vs. ten years for Mossberg.
As with the other home defense shotguns featured here you can add options like a pistol grip. Mossberg also offers a factory model with an ATI Shotforce folding stock and pistol grip.
Here’s one cool thing the Maverick 88 also shares with the Mossberg 500 – Drop in a sub $20 OPSol adapter and your shotgun can now reliably cycle and shoot 1.75” Mini Shells! Less recoil – more capacity! Check out the AMMDOG review of both the adapter and the 1.75″ Mini Shells.
Barrel Length: 18 1/2, 28
|Sights: Front Bead|
Choke: Cylinder Modified Tube
Length: 39.5″, 47.75″
Length of Pull: 14 1/2
Weigh 6 1/4, 7 lbs.
4. H&R Pardner Pump Protector
The original H&R company dates back to 1871, ran continuously until 1986 then closed. It was reborn in 1991 as H&R 1871 and after a series of M&A activity became part of Remington, then Freedom group. The current Protector model is manufactured in China by Hawk industries, a subsidiary of the famous (infamous?) Norinco. Now that the corporate lineage is dispensed with, the current organization is bringing you another solid, inexpensive option in the home defense shotgun space.
First things first – It’s heavy. It’s about a full pound heavier than any of the other shotties on our list. Weight does have its advantages. It promotes a solid feel and a shotgun’s mass is the primary factor in perceived recoil. That said, do not expect the Protector to be a soft shooter. It’s not. It will never be. It’s as subtle as a clap of thunder. It feels like something you could pound nails with, play rock baseball with, toss in the truck and still expect it to shoot.
It comes with a classic (basic) bead front sight and the beefy forend is textured give you somewhat better purchase when cycling the action. There is a perforated rubber shock pad on the buttstock. The cross bolt safety is positioned behind the trigger and the slide release in front. There is no choke to manage shot pattern in the heavy barrel but at its intended target distances this is probably not a factor. Norinco manufacturing tolerances being what they are, this beast would likely benefit from an extended break in period if your shoulder is up to it.
Barrel Length: 18 1/2
|Sights: Bead, tapped for scope mount|
Length: 37 5/8″
Length of Pull: 14 1/4
Weigh 7 1/2 lbs.
5. Winchester SXP Defender
Rounding out the list of home defense shotguns under $300 is the Winchester SXP Defender. OK, ok… Now technically the list price of the SXP is not under $300. However, this model can be routinely found at street prices dipping under $300 so I’m going to say it qualifies. [Note: Winchester has come out with a new uber “Tactical” iteration of the SXP Defender which debuts at an MSRP of $449, unclear how long the current version will be out there.]
This is a fine looking shotgun and the fit and finish are indicative of the price point pushing slightly upwards. The receiver looks refined and is accented with the red SXP moniker. The grip is textured and the buttstock is capped with a resilient rubber shock pad. The SXP is also available in a slick looking desert tan “Desert Defender” version as well as more tactical and marine versions which continue to push the price point higher.
The SXP has a four lug black chrome rotary bolt that gives a secure and solid lockup. The chamber and bore are chrome plated as well to provide a long and trouble free barrel life. The forearm is somewhat slim which is good if you have smaller hands but is ribbed along its length for better grip much like the Maverick 88. The basic model comes with a standard bead front sight although the Desert model and others come with a TRUGLO fiber optic sight. The TRUGLO is a very easy, inexpensive and effective upgrade from the bead sight and I highly recommend it no matter which brand and model you end up with.
The SXP Defender also steps up by using an Inflex Technology recoil pad which is an improvement over most in this lot. The intent of this design is to redirect energy down and away from the shooters cheek rather than straight back into your shoulder. This reduces felt recoil and assists in faster follow up shots. Does it work? Yes, at least somewhat to my senses. For a few dollars more than the other choices in this list, the SXP Defender is a solid choice.
Barrel Length: 18
|Sights: Front Bead|
Choke: Cylinder Fixed
Length: 38 1/2″
Length of Pull: 13 3/4
Weigh 6 1/2 lbs.