Today we’re revisiting our most popular video ever — a tutorial on how to keep your home defense shotgun ready for use. We suggest the “cruiser ready” condition, and the original video explained what that means and a few of the whys. But in the years since that original post, you guys have responded with a ton of questions (and critiques, criticisms, and comments), so we’re going back to address some of those.

Details in the video below, or scroll down to read the full transcript.

Hey everybody, Chris Baker here from Earlier this year, I decided to revisit some of our older videos and offer a few updates, clarifications, and corrections. Today, I want to take a second look at our most viewed video ever: Cruiser Ready: How to Store a Home Defense Shotgun. This one is from February 2016 and it’s up to a little over 2 million views now on YouTube. I wouldn’t say it’s our best video. It’s not one I ever expected to be very popular. But I guess we happened to hit YouTube’s algorithm just right on that day.

It’s also one of the shorter videos we’ve done at just over five minutes. I don’t think it necessarily needed to be longer than that because the main point is pretty straightforward. This is a simple concept, it doesn’t require a lot of explanation. But a shorter run time does mean I didn’t elaborate much on every detail and that left a lot of room for questions. Fair warning: some of those questions are going to take us into the weeds a little bit and we’re going to cover a lot of ground beyond simply how to store your shotgun. So let’s watch a couple of clips from the original video and I’ll come back and try to answer some of those questions.

What Is Cruiser Ready?

“I’m going to suggest that you keep a home defense shotgun in what is called “cruiser ready” condition. That name comes from the way cops have often stored shotguns in their patrol cars. And that is with the magazine tube loaded, the chamber empty, the slide unlocked, and sometimes with the safety on, but I’m going to suggest you leave the safety off. So that way, if I need the gun in an emergency, all I have to do is just grab it, rack a round in, and it’s ready to fire.

“There are a few reasons to store the gun this way, but as far as I’m concerned the only reason that really matters is the safety issue. Most shotguns are not drop safe. If there’s a round in the chamber and the gun falls down in the closet or it’s dropped, it can go off by itself. Even with the safety on — the safety just prevents the trigger from being pulled, it doesn’t block the hammer, it doesn’t block the firing pin, and it doesn’t prevent the gun from being discharged if there’s some kind of sudden jolt.

“And really, you’d be surprised at how little it takes for one of these things to go off if there’s a round in the chamber. If we keep it stored in cruiser ready condition, the chamber is empty, so we eliminate that possibility. And with the slide unlocked, it really just takes half a second to get the gun into action.”

The Demo Gun: Remington 870 SBS

Okay, a couple of things I want to add here. First, one of the most frequent questions I’ve been asked about this video is, “what shotgun is that?” It’s a Remington 870 with a Magpul stock and forend, and a 14-inch barrel. It is a legally registered short-barreled shotgun. I did a whole video about it just a month after the cruiser ready video if you want more info on it.

Shotguns Aren’t Drop Safe?

More importantly, in this first segment, I think I might have given the impression that shotguns are just spontaneously going off left and right without anyone actually pulling the triggers. I don’t want to over-state the issue of shotguns not being drop safe, but it is a real thing. In fact, most long guns are not technically drop safe. You are very unlikely to run into an issue with that if it’s a newer shotgun or one that’s been well maintained with all of the appropriate springs and parts replaced periodically.

But, you know, people tend to keep shotguns around for a long time. A lot of them get passed down in families. There are a ton of surplus police shotguns that are pretty beat up. Those are the guns that are far more likely to discharge if they are dropped. The problem is that there is usually no outward indication that the internals aren’t in great shape. And it seems like when they do discharge from a drop or a jolt, it’s often a very minor one. If you’ve got an old 870 with a worn out sear, there’s a chance it could drop the hammer just from something like tapping the butt on the ground.

Obviously, the most ideal solution is to keep your shotgun in good repair. That’s not going to make it 100% drop safe, but it will certainly help. Either way, there are other good reasons to store your shotgun with an empty chamber.

Protect the Trigger

My general rule of thumb is that outside of the shooting range, I don’t leave a round in the chamber of any gun unless, A: the trigger is completely enclosed and protected like it would be with a holster, AND B: it’s either on my person or locked up somewhere.

The reason for that is pretty simple. We tend to store guns in places that are kind of dark and cramped. If I’m grabbing a gun from the inside of a safe, a case, a bag, a closet, or under the bed, there’s a good chance I’m not going to have a great view of what I’m doing. I won’t necessarily be able to carefully pick up the gun in a particular way like I would if it was sitting on the table at the range in the middle of the day.

That’s usually not a big deal. But if you handle guns often enough, eventually, you will grab a gun and something will catch on the trigger guard or you will find your finger inside a trigger guard when you did not intend for it to go there. Combine that with a round in the chamber and a single action shotgun trigger that’s probably about 4 pounds, and you’re really close to putting a hole where you don’t want one.

An empty chamber also provides an extra layer of safety if you’ve got kids in the house or anyone else who probably shouldn’t be handling the gun. In general, it’s just an easy way to avoid accidents.

What Makes Magazine Springs Wear Out?

“I’m also going to leave the magazine tube down-loaded by one round. So this tube holds five rounds but I’m only going to load four in there. Normally, these pump-action shotguns are extremely reliable, but when they do fail, one of the things that tends to fail is the magazine spring. So I don’t want that spring to be under any more pressure than it has to be by leaving it fully compressed for long periods of time.”

This is probably the least important point I made in that original video but it’s the one that has provoked the most reactions. A great many people wanted to make sure I know that springs do not lose tension from staying compressed for long periods of time. They lose tension from being cycled — from being compressed and decompressed.

Yes, as a rule, that is true. My original explanation was not very good, and my suggested solution was not the best one. A new spring loses a little bit of its initial tension when it’s first compressed. But that decline levels off and it should be able to stay compressed for many decades before noticeably losing more tension. And it should be able to withstand many thousands of cycles before it loses tension. The average shotgun owner is not going to get anywhere close to that.

And yet… it’s very common for shotguns to have feeding issues that are resolved by replacing the magazine spring. So somehow, these things do wear out from time to time even though they’re not supposed to. Some possible explanations are that the magazine springs are maybe not 100% free from manufacturing defects. It could be that in order to maximize the advertised ammo capacity of a shotgun, the manufacturer is using a spring that’s actually being compressed beyond it’s designed limit every time the gun is fully loaded. Maybe the spring has been exposed to temperature fluctuations or corrosion and its integrity has been compromised.

I am not trying to argue against the rules of physics. I know springs are supposed to last a long time. But that’s assuming the spring is made properly, it’s in good condition, and there are no adverse environmental factors. Look at this thing — shotgun magazine springs are kinda flimsy and there’s a lot that can go wrong with them. They don’t exist in a vacuum. Sometimes they live a hard life. Again, a lot of people have shotguns that have been around for a while. The top two shotgun manufacturers right now — Remington and Mossberg — have not had awesome track records for quality control the last few years.

Down-loading the tube by one shell is one way to try to mitigate the feeding issues that can result from a bad spring. It’s not the best way. A better solution would be to simply replace your mag spring every couple of years. You can get a new one from Wolff Gunsprings for under 10 bucks. Also, replace your ammo at least once a year because the shells occasionally get deformed from sitting in a full tube for too long. And keep the follower and the mag tube clean and free of debris. If you do those things, there’s probably not any reason you can’t keep your tube loaded to full capacity.

Cruiser Ready for Semi-Autos

In the next part of the video, I demonstrated the procedure for setting up your gun in a cruiser ready condition. Basically, you clear the gun, double check it, dry fire it — pull the trigger on an empty chamber to release the action, and then load the mag tube. That works fine for most pump actions. For semi-autos it’s going to be a little different. I didn’t cover semi-auto shotguns because there are so many different types and the procedure for setting them up is different for each one.

For example, for this Beretta 1301, if I load the mag tube and then run the bolt, nothing happens. The gun will not pull a round from the tube and chamber it when I do that. I have to press this little shell release button. That releases a shell from the tube onto the shell carrier. Then if I run the bolt, it will chamber the round. So for cruiser ready on this gun, I would load the tube, then press the shell release, and leave it in that condition.

Or if I really wanted to get one extra shell in the gun, with the Beretta, I would fully load the tube, then open the bolt, place a shell onto the carrier manually, and hold it down while I let the bolt ride forward over the shell. That’s sometimes known as “ghost loading,” although normally ghost loading also includes manually loading a shell into the chamber. It’s a method that 3-gun competitors have used to maximize their ammo capacity before shooting a stage.

Other semi-auto shotguns have different buttons or latches to release a shell onto the lifter and completely different procedures for ghost loading. Some shotguns can’t be ghost loaded at all. And some semi-autos will chamber a round directly from the tube when you run the action. So you just have to be familiar with how your shotgun works and practice with dummy shells until you can do it with your eyes closed.

Okay, let’s look at one more clip from the original video.

Giving Away Your Position

“It’s probably worth mentioning (because if I don’t, someone else will) the whole myth about the sound of racking a shotgun making bad guys pee their pants and run away. That has happened before — I’ve heard of it happening before, but it’s not really something we count on and it’s not the primary reason we keep the shotgun in cruiser ready condition. We don’t really want to count on fear and intimidation as a primary tactic.

“On the flip side of that, I also suspect some of you guys are thinking that you want your home defense gun to already have a round chambered because you don’t want to waste a whole lot of time and make noise that’s going to “give away your position.” Personally, I kind of think that’s a little silly. If there’s someone in my house who’s not supposed to be there, I want them to know that I’m there. I want to give them every possible opportunity to leave my house before we have some kind of confrontation.

“So, not only am I going to make some noise racking the shotgun, but I’m also going to issue some sort of verbal challenge, like “Who’s there?” And I’m going to have a flashlight in my hand or mounted to the shotgun. Now, if the guy still wants to stick around after that, that’s why I have a shotgun. But statistically, it’s far more likely that whatever noise I’m responding to is actually a member of my family or a roommate or a pet or something like that. And in those cases, making a little noise racking the shotgun is actually giving them one more opportunity to identify themselves.”

Based on the comments I’ve gotten on this video over the years, there are still a lot of people who have concerns about storing their shotgun cruiser ready because it’s too slow and too loud. People don’t want to make any unnecessary noises that might draw attention, or they are concerned about keeping a defensive firearm in a condition that’s not ready to fire the moment they pick it up.

I understand why the speed thing is a concern. The standard doctrine for concealed carry we’ve been hearing for years now is to always carry with a round in the chamber. You may have even seen some of the surveillance camera footage of armed citizens struggling and failing to get a round chambered in their carry gun once they’re already under attack. So it might seem logical to apply that same lesson to a home defense shotgun.

As for the noise issue — I understand, in theory, why you would be reluctant to broadcast your location in the home if you don’t have to. In practice, I haven’t seen a lot of evidence to support that as a major concern. I have yet to find a documented incident when making noise with a gun has gotten a homeowner hurt or killed. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but at the very least, it seems to be rare.

In any case, to address both the noise and the speed issues, we need to take a more critical look at the home invasion context. There are a lot of differences between a home invasion and a violent attack outside the home.

The Home Invasion Context

A home invasion is not usually an ambush. It doesn’t start with someone threatening you or brandishing a weapon where you only have a second or two to react. An attacker has to get inside the house first. Assuming they haven’t tricked you into opening the door for them and you keep your doors and windows locked, they are most likely going to make a lot of noise breaking in.

We don’t want to wait until we see a stranger standing in our kitchen to go and get the shotgun. We have the shotgun in case we see or hear something that might warn us of potential danger ahead of time. If you have enough time to retrieve your shotgun, you have enough time to rack it. Chambering a round takes less than half a second if you’ve left the action unlocked like I suggest. If you’re still concerned about not having enough time, you can buy a lot more time by hardening the exterior of your home than by leaving a shotgun loaded all the time.

A lot of you have probably heard me talk about this before — it’s the layered home-defense strategy. This is where you can really stack the deck in your favor. Make sure your exterior doors have functional deadbolts and replace the factory screws in your hinges and strike plates with three-inch or longer screws. That will make it much more difficult to kick the door in. Maybe get some protective hurricane film on any large ground-floor windows. Alarm systems are great, too, and they’re more affordable now than they’ve ever been. And dogs are good at making noise when they hear something out of the ordinary.

Anything you can do that will slow down a home invader and require them to make more noise is going to work in your favor. Not only does it buy you more time to respond, it also acts as a deterrent. And there are a lot of other things you can do to make your home a less inviting target.

The point is that the shotgun is just one part of a layered home defense strategy. That’s why I’m not too concerned about the racking sound giving away my position. Even if someone managed to force their way into my house before I got to the shotgun, I doubt they would hear anything other than an alarm blaring and dogs barking.

But let’s say you don’t have either of those things and maybe you forget to lock the door sometimes. If someone broke into your home and heard a shotgun being racked and you yelling “GET OUT!”, of all the possible responses they could have to that, which ones are going to be a problem for you and how likely are they? Will this home invader start blindly firing in the general direction of the sound? Are they going to take that sound as an invitation to come and try to find you?

Sure, both of those things are possible. I am sure at least one of them has happened before. Maybe I’m way out of the loop on this and it’s a lot more common than I think but I’m pretty confident those would be considered extreme outlier events. On the other hand, I can show you numerous examples of negligent death, injury, and property damage where storing a shotgun with a round in the chamber was at least one contributing factor.

Some Alternative Suggestions

To me, that’s a pretty straightforward risk assessment to figure out. But maybe I’m missing something and you have some really compelling reasons to store the shotgun loaded, chambered, and ready to go. If that’s the case, I’m going to make a few suggestions.

  1. Store it with the safety on.
  2. Keep the gun locked up, at least when you’re not going to be around.
  3. If anyone else in your home will ever have access to that gun, make sure they know that you keep it loaded and they know how to clear the gun.
  4. And consider buying something that will protect the trigger when the gun is not in use.

A company called TriggerSafe makes a device like this that fits a lot of different shotguns. I can’t vouch for this product. I’ve never used it myself, but it looks like a pretty good design. It’s even got a hole in it where you could attach a string or some paracord to make a little pull tab. Or you could possibly attach the other end to the inside of your safe, so that the shroud pops off automatically when you retrieve the gun. And I’m sure there are plenty of other products out there that accomplish the same thing. This one is only seven bucks which seems like pretty cheap insurance and wouldn’t have to slow you down at all.

Guys, I can’t believe I just talked about cruiser ready condition for 15 or 20 minutes, or however long it’s been. It seems long. But we covered a lot of territory. I hope you learned something or I at least gave you some food for thought. Next up will be the second installment of our lever action series, so be on the lookout for that. In the meantime, hit that like button, subscribe, and… call your mom today. She’d love to hear from you.

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