At one point in time the shotgun was the supreme home defense weapon. None doubted it, and no one questioned its ability for home defense. These days, people argue for the pistol and the rifle as well. No matter what, opinions will always vary, but I’ve always stuck to the shotgun. In the end it will always be personal ability and preference, along with the intended defensive location.
The shotgun has always held a special place in my heart, even at times when I didn’t realize it. Recently I had some friends over for an afternoon BBQ and shooting sessions. One of my friends pointed out that the amount of shotguns I had far outnumbered the rest of my guns. My collection includes the pumps, double barrels, semi-autos, single shots, and even two handguns chambered in .410.
The first gun that was mine was a shotgun. On my eighth birthday I received a Remington 870 .410 and it came with a rabbit hunting trip after the candles were blown out. I spent countless hours restoring an ancient Stevens/Savage double barrel 12 gauge that I picked up at a flea market for $50. I had to sandpaper two layers of spray paint off of it and learn what exactly a cold rust bluing was, and how to stain wood.
I was one of the very few Marines with an issued shotgun, a 14-inch barrel Mossberg 590. The Mossberg 590 with the short barrel was by far the handiest close-quarters weapon I’d ever trained with.
I simply love a good shotgun. I view the shotgun as a thinking man’s weapon. The vast amount of different loads available allows someone to tailor the load for whatever is necessary. A 12 gauge is capable of taking small game like squirrel and birds, and immediately able to load a buck shot round and harvest medium game, like deer and hogs. Of course, slugs and buck shot are awesome self-defense loads. Special considerations can be taken for less lethal loads as well. And, you can swap out the chokes to change the shot pattern around.
A few basic differences reside with a few of these shotguns. Each system has advantages and disadvantages. Let me give a little bit of a primer on the pros and cons of each before I jump into the article.
Pump Versus Semi-Automatic. First, pump shotguns will always be more reliable. Like most manually operated weapons they are much simpler, and therefore have less chance for failure. They are not as fast to fire as a semi-auto, and have more felt recoil. They also handle reduced recoil rounds, lowered bird shot, and less lethal rounds much more reliably.
Semi-auto shotguns give you a much faster firing rate. A semi-auto shotgun can put a lot of punishment downrange in just a little bit of time. Semi-auto shotguns tend to have less recoil.
Magazine Vs Tube. Tube-fed shotguns are far more common in the United States. Shotguns with tubes are easier to top off during a fight, but slower to reload when fully empty. Having an internal magazine does negate having to buy and carry extra magazines, though. You can also take a bit more advantage of a shotgun’s versatility by simply loading whatever style of round you need in the chamber.
A magazine is easier to reload than an empty weapon, and it’s simply a case of rocking the mag in, and then you keep fighting. If you break a magazine, you can simply replace it. If you break or bend a tube it’s a whole different process.
I’ve compiled a list of various shotguns I think make excellent defensive weapons. I’ve tried to keep the weapons varied.
1. Mossberg 500/590
I can’t call a weapon the handiest close-quarter weapon without giving it mention here. The Mossberg 500 is a very robust and simple weapon. The Mossberg 500 sets the standard for the pump shotguns that followed it. With the advent of Mossberg’s new FLEX system the weapon really shines. The FLEX is a tool less system that effortlessly allows you to customize and adapt your shotgun for a variety of roles.
A pump shotgun is like any manually operated weapon and is extremely reliable. Pump shotguns can handle heavy and light loads without any issue. There is more felt recoil than a semi-automatic shotgun, but modern defensive loads are controllable. Of course, the shotgun comes in 20 gauge and .410.
The Mossberg 590 and 590A1 are more purpose-built self-defense shotguns. They have different magazine tubes and barrels, and usually a tougher finish, and though they are uncommon they can be found with a bayonet lug. The Mossberg 500 series of shotguns are used all across the United States by our police and military, and are copied around the world. Aftermarket accessories are vast and allow the user to customize the shotgun just for them.
2. Benelli M1014/M4 Super 90
This is another shotgun I had the pleasure of shooting in the Marines. The Benelli M4 Super 90 (which I will now shorten to M4) is also known as the M1014 Joint Service shotgun. The M4 was the chosen inter service shotgun to begin replacing the aging Mossberg 500 and 870s still in service. The transition has pretty much stopped. With the war in Iraq dying down and the war in Afghanistan ramping up, we are seeing most fighting at a range outside of a shotgun’s capability.
The M1014 mostly found its way to military police and security forces in the Marine Corps, and I can’t speak for the other services but most grunts will never get their hands on one. I consider myself lucky to have shot this fine weapon. The M4 is a semi-automatic shotgun with a very reliable and very simple gas system known as ARGO. The system is much simpler than most gas-operated shotguns, and this makes repairs and cleaning much easier. The shotgun is quite modular and a variety of parts can be swapped to tailor the load out.
Since the weapon is imported, you are limited at 5 + 1 rounds, but tube extensions are available. The M4 is a superb shotgun that is extremely durable; during military testing more than 25,000 full-powered buckshot rounds were fired before any parts needed to be replaced. The main downside is the steep price tag attached to one of these bad boys: well over $1,000.
3. Catamount Fury 12 Gauge
So since I mentioned one awesome, but expensive semi-auto shotgun I feel I have to mention another that’s a bit more affordable. The Catamount Fury 12 gauge is a semi-automatic AK pattern shotgun imported by Century Arms. The weapon comes with a ton of features not available on other stock. These features include removable chokes, an adjustable gas system, dust cover featuring a rail, a bolt hold open, and mine came with five magazines.
The weapon is capable of handling both buckshot and birdshot quite nicely with the adjustable gas system. On the light setting, cheapo bulk Federal Bird Shot shoots like a dream, without a single issue. While buck shot can function fine on the light setting, a lot of recoil is cut down by switching to the full power setting.
The chokes are easy to remove, and the weapon comes with a cylinder, standard and modified chokes. The main advantage of this shotgun: the magazines. Doing a mag change is much quicker than putting rounds into a tube.
The price for the Catamount Fury 1 was $485 out the door, new in the box with five magazines, three chokes, and some cleaning rods. Usually it only comes with two magazines.
4. Winchester 1897 and IAC 97T
This was one of the original pump action combat shotguns. Its fierce reputation as a trench broom in World War I led the Germans to petition it to be illegal to use in war. The Winchester 1897 is one of the many guns of John Moses Browning. Normally it wouldn’t make the list simply because the old models are tough to find and are often more for collecting than shooting. Recently, IAC, the same importer of Hawk firearms, released their 97T.
The 97T is a faithful reproduction of the 1897 trench gun with heat shield and bayonet lug. The stock is American walnut and while the finish isn’t always even, the weapon functions quite nicely. The only Winchester 1897 I’ve ever fired was a 26-inch barrel, 16 gauge, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. In my shooting the 97T is a great weapon, and even though it’s a reproduction it still makes a great shotgun for home and self-defense.
The 97T has an external hammer which can act as the safety when down. The weapon also has a disconnect — meaning you can hold the trigger and every time you pump the weapon, it fires. This was the feature I believe made it the trench broom it was. You can rapidly empty all six rounds with the same reliability of a pump action at nearly the semi-auto speed.
The 97T was a little rough action-wise, but has begun to smooth out with use, and the slam-firing is just so much fun. The shotgun has a very unique style, and is underrated since most see it as an antique, or just a fun gun. Always keep in mind the brutal close combat of World War I, and the shotgun that made the Germans cry.
5. Escort Gladius
The majority of defensive-built shotguns are chambered in 12 gauge. It is a great round and is the most versatile of the shotgun rounds, but the smaller 20-gauge round is suitable for self-defense. Now why would someone choose a 20 gauge? Well, any number of factors. Most 12 gauges are large and heavy, making controlling, shooting and especially fighting difficult for smaller-statured folks.
The Escort Gladius is designed for the self-defense marketplace and chambered in 20 gauge. It is a semi-automatic or pump action shotgun made in Turkey. The Gladius comes equipped with a tactical style stock and pistol grip combo, a forward pistol grip, a speed feed stock, ghost ring sights, cushioned pistol grip, Picatinny rail for optics, an adjustable cheek pad, and a nice muzzle brake. The semi-auto version also has a sub second cycle rate, which makes it a very fast shooter.
Remington 870 – The Remington 870 is another well-known self-defense shotgun on par with the Mossberg 500. My main reason for not including the 870 has been the declining quality of Remington products in the last few years. If you choose an 870, stick to an older model.
Saiga 12 – The Saiga shotguns are sweet, and the aftermarket accessories, including drum mags, are widely available. The bad news is the heavy price tag. The Catamount won for price and stock features.
MK1919 – AN AR-based shotgun should seem like a no-brainer, but I have yet to even handle one in a gun store, much less shoot one. I’ve heard good things, but want a little trigger time with this weapon, or simply the chance to hold it.
What are your favorite survival shotguns? Tell us in the comments section below.