This is the sec­ond install­ment in a series of papers to edu­cate the new prep­per about what weapons they should have on hand.  I’m approach­ing this from a SHTF sce­nario, and while I’m not advo­cat­ing using any firearm in an offen­sive man­ner, I stress that being able to use one to defend your­self is imper­a­tive… so when I use terms like stop­ping pow­er or lethal range, keep the defen­sive mind­set.

Prob­a­bly the most ver­sa­tile of guns to con­sid­er adding to your arse­nal is the shot­gun.  It is, with­out a doubt, the most adapt­able firearm you can own. The west was­n’t won with a  lever action rifle as many would believe (although they did play a part). In every wag­on that trav­eled west was a scat­ter­gun, it was the afford­able, easy to shoot firearm that every house had behind the front door. In mod­ern times, a shot­gun can per­form equal­ly well as a CQB (close quar­ter bat­tle) weapon and hunt­ing gun for many dif­fer­ent species (includ­ing squir­rel, grouse, deer, or bear).  In short, a shot­gun has the abil­i­ty to keep the fam­i­ly fed and defend them from ver­min (both four legged and two legged vari­ety).   If  you have to bug out on foot and can only car­ry one long arm, a shot­gun isn’t a bad choice.   Just like any oth­er type of firearm, there are quite a few shot­guns and action types on the mar­ket to choose from… and even more com­pa­nies that make them.  For sim­plic­i­ty sake, I will stick with the most com­mon actions and man­u­fac­tur­ers and spend some time talk­ing about ammu­ni­tion choice.  Keep in mind, this analy­sis isn’t com­plete and you should find a gun you like and stick with it.

Shot­guns range in price based upon action type, man­u­fac­tur­er, and qual­i­ty.… and just like any­thing else, you get what you pay for.  So let’s take a look at the most com­mon actions on the mar­ket and ana­lyze a few guns from each based upon cost, reli­a­bil­i­ty, and ergonom­ics.  But first let’s talk about gauge.  The tech­ni­cal def­i­n­i­tion of gauge is the num­ber of per­fect­ly round lead spheres that make up a pound when the diam­e­ter of the sphere fits per­fect­ly in the bore.  In lay­mans terms, the small­er the gauge num­ber, the larg­er the bore size and the more pow­er­ful the firearm.  The most com­mon gauge used for hunt­ing, com­pe­ti­tion shoot­ing, self defense, law enforce­ment, etc. is a 12 gauge.… for stop­ping pow­er and pat­tern den­si­ty, you sim­ply can’t beat it.  For any­one who thinks a 12 ga has too much recoil for them, do your research (or send me an email and I’ll try to help you out)… you’ll see that the right 12 ga can have com­pa­ra­ble or less felt recoil than an off the shelf 20 ga or even a .410.  Look into bar­rel port­ing, recoil reduc­ing stocks, light loads, and a hand­ful of oth­er recoil reduc­ing advance­ments and you’ll be pleas­ant­ly sur­prised.  So for the pur­pos­es of this write-up, we will dis­cuss 12 ga only shot­guns.


Pump action

The pump action shot­gun in the right hands is a dev­as­tat­ing and reli­able weapon.  Two of the most pop­u­lar pump shot­guns are the Rem­ing­ton 870 and the Moss­berg 500 (and vari­ants like the 590)… and I per­son­al­ly rec­om­mend both.  Both are rugged, reli­able firearms that have stood the test of time (both designs are over 50 years old and I per­son­al­ly have owned both for over 20 years and they are still going strong); both are rea­son­ably priced (the Moss­berg comes in a lit­tle cheap­er than the Rem­ing­ton); both have change­able chokes in their base mod­els; they both are cham­bered in 3″ mag­num; both have a wide vari­ety of after­mar­ket acces­sories.  The designs are basi­cal­ly the same with a few sub­tle, but impor­tant dif­fer­ences.  The Rem­ing­ton has a load­ing gate inside the action that is sup­posed to aid in load­ing… sup­posed to  (I’ve seen the gate become a prob­lem for oper­a­tors not well versed in the firearm).  The Moss­berg has no load­ing gate and the load­ing is a bit more labo­ri­ous, but with prac­tice you won’t notice it.  The safeties are locat­ed in dif­fer­ent places on the firearms; the Rem­ing­ton has it on the rear right hand side of the trig­ger guard.… which is great for a right hand­ed shoot­er, but it can be dif­fi­cult for a lefty; the Moss­berg has it on the top of the action, mak­ing it ambidex­trous… which is great unless you want to put on a pis­tol grip (oper­at­ing the safe­ty will then require remov­ing one hand from the fir­ing posi­tion).  The Rem­ing­ton has a slight­ly dif­fer­ent mag­a­zine tube design… the Rem­ing­ton can be mod­i­fied after­mar­ket to hold a high­er capac­i­ty, the Moss­berg can’t (unless you buy a bar­rel kit that changes the 500 to a 590).  For dura­bil­i­ty and reli­a­bil­i­ty, the two guns tie.  I know of one Moss­berg whose action was worn out… but it was an old­er firearm that was shot well over 10,000 times.  My advice, han­dle both firearms, see which feels best in your hands and has the best ergonom­ics for you… you can’t go wrong with either.  Do your­self a favor, how­ev­er, stay away from the 870 cham­bered in 3.5 inch­es… it’s an 870 with an extend­ed ejec­tion port, but all oth­er parts are essen­tial­ly the same; the bolt has a flim­sy dust cov­er that is just a bad idea.  If you like the Moss­berg 500 and want the capa­bil­i­ty of a 3.5 inch shell, get the Moss­berg 835… same basic design but all parts are made pro­por­tioned for the larg­er cham­ber.


Rem­ing­ton and Moss­berg make great semi-autos… but in the inter­est of expos­ing the read­er to dif­fer­ent firearm com­pa­nies, I’m going to dis­cuss two oth­er shot­gun com­pa­nies (and much bet­ter semi-auto man­u­fac­tur­ers), Benel­li and FN Her­stal.  The FNH SLP is the most sought after semi-auto “tac­ti­cal” shot­gun on the mar­ket right now (and as a result the price is slight­ly inflat­ed).  The load­ing gate is per­fect­ly placed and allows for smooth, fast load­ing; the gas oper­at­ed action cycles faster than any oth­er gun on the mar­ket; the slight­ly heavy weight soaks up a lot of recoil but the bal­ance allows for a smooth tran­si­tion between tar­gets; FNH says the gun can only oper­ate on 3 dram or high­er shells but I have run mine on 2 3/4 dram shells quite well.  Benel­li makes three tac­ti­cal mod­els (M2, M3 and M4).  The M2 is an iner­tia based sys­tem that oper­ates sim­i­lar to the proven Benel­li Super Black eagle design (the SBE is equipped with a 3.5 inch cham­ber as opposed to the 3 inch on the M2).  The recoil is absorbed very well by the iner­tia sys­tem and it’s quite com­fort­able to shoot.  The M3 is actu­al­ly a dual action firearm… it can be used in both semi-auto and pump action.  The pump action is uti­lized to shoot severe­ly under­pow­ered shells (like rub­ber buck­shot) and the semi-auto action can be used to shoot heav­ier shells (allow­ing the action to absorb some of the recoil).  The M4 is the very first gas oper­at­ed shot­gun design by Benel­li but it beat out all com­peti­tors and was picked up by the Unit­ed States Armed Forces as their main bat­tle shot­gun.  It’s a proven design that has seen quite a bit of action with few reli­a­bil­i­ty issues.  In my expe­ri­ence, the Benel­li has a very reli­able cycling sys­tem and can shoot a wide range of ammu­ni­tion (from low brass and reduced recoil buck­shot all the way up to mag­num high brass) with­out adjust­ment of the gun (required by some oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers… FNH requires a gas port adjust­ment).  Safeties on both firearms are on the right rear of the trig­ger guard and the ejec­tion port is on the right side (as with most semi-autos) so a lefty may find oper­at­ing the guns a bit trou­ble­some at first.  Both of these man­u­fac­tur­ers make firearms that rank at the top of the reli­a­bil­i­ty scale… how­ev­er, they are also priced sev­er­al hun­dred dol­lars more than Rem­ing­ton or Moss­bergs.  As I said before, you get what you pay for… so buy the best qual­i­ty you can afford.

Break action

A break action shot­gun isn’t the best choice for a per­son­al defense gun (actu­al­ly is a pret­ty bad one) but any­one who has walked behind a qual­i­ty point­ing dog can tell you, it’s much more enjoy­able with a break action in your hand.  So if you already have one, don’t think you need to break the bank buy­ing new “tac­ti­cool” shot­gun.  A very afford­able break action on the mar­ket is the Stoeger.  They make both side by side and over/under shot­guns that are com­pa­ra­ble in price to pump actions.  Stoeger was bought out by Benel­li a few years ago and, as a result, their qual­i­ty con­trol has got­ten much bet­ter (they now have very few cas­es of weak ham­mer springs and cracked stocks).  Safe­ty and action releas­es on vir­tu­al­ly all break actions are on top of the action mak­ing the oper­a­tion ambidex­trous.  There are many oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers of qual­i­ty break actions on the mar­ket… but the price gets very pro­hib­i­tive for a prep­per who is also look­ing to stock up on beans, bul­lets, and bandaids.  A break action, if already in your safe, is best kept as a recre­ation­al hunt­ing gun or used for a barter item in a SHTF sce­nario.

A few caveats regard­ing shot­guns… the knock­offs you can find on the mar­ket are sim­ply that, knock­offs, and they should­n’t be used to replace a qual­i­ty firearm for your arse­nal.  NEF Parder Pro­tec­tor is a prime exam­ple, it is designed based on the Rem­ing­ton 870 and the after­mar­ket parts are almost entire­ly inter­change­able… but it is half the price of the Rem­ing­ton.  The Pard­ner (as with many oth­er knock­offs) has a sub­stan­dard fin­ish, weak­er met­al parts, and is poor­ly put togeth­er.  That being said, part of my sur­vival plan is own­ing firearms I can loan or barter… and they include a few of these cheap knock­offs because I can pick them up much cheap­er… but I won’t rely on them.  Also, prac­tice with your firearm (that should go with­out say­ing).  Most peo­ple think a pump gun is more reli­able than a semi­au­to… but my expe­ri­ence has been exact­ly the oppo­site.  I have seen quite a few oper­a­tors “short stroke” a pump gun and jam it… but the same oper­a­tor can pick up a well main­tained semi-auto and have no prob­lems.  Also, prac­tice load­ing.  I have won many knock­down steel match­es and the sim­ple rea­son is that I reload faster than most oth­er oper­a­tors… but I prac­tice it with my eyes closed so its sec­ond nature.  Fast reload­ing can make a good shot­gun­ner great and a great shot­gun­ner unbeat­able.  And last­ly, don’t get crazy with acces­sories for your shot­gun.  Buy a basic shot­gun, add a light mount, a sling, and ammu­ni­tion stor­age device (such as a side sad­dle) and leave it alone.  In my expe­ri­ence: pis­tol grip stocks impede load­ing, tac­ti­cal rails add weight with­out adding much use­able real estate, red dot sights can’t han­dle the recoil of a shot­gun over time, laser sights are only use­ful if your shoot­ing from the hip (bad idea unless the web­bing of your hand is made of wood), fold­ing stocks light­en the weight and add to felt recoil, breach­er chokes look cool but don’t help with func­tion at all, and a cat­a­log full of oth­er acces­sories just aren’t nec­es­sary.


Now that we have looked at a few dif­fer­ent shot­guns and action types, let’s look at the ammu­ni­tion they shoot to under­stand why a shot­gun is so use­ful and ver­sa­tile.   A rifle or hand­gun shoots a sin­gle pro­jec­tile and is lim­it­ed in scope to what it can do.  A shot­gun, how­ev­er, has a wide range of ammu­ni­tion avail­able, each serv­ing a dif­fer­ent pur­pose.  It’s inter­est­ing to note as well, that the ammu­ni­tion craze cre­at­ed by the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion left shot­gun ammu­ni­tion large­ly untouched.  Its price has risen slight­ly due to raw mate­r­i­al cost but has­n’t dou­bled in price like 45 or 5.56.


Bird­shot is a mul­ti­ple pro­jec­tile load… the pro­jec­tile size ranges but is approx­i­mate­ly the size of a pen point.  The most com­mon­ly used bird shot mate­r­i­al is lead shot… it is the cheap­est, most read­i­ly avail­able, has good down­range ener­gy, and comes in a wide range of shot sizes (gen­er­al­ly 6 shot through 9 shot-the big­ger the num­ber, the small­er the shot size).  Bird­shot, how­ev­er, does come in sev­er­al oth­er mate­ri­als (steel shot, tung­sten, bis­muth, etc).  Unless you’re plan­ning on duck hunt­ing or hunting/shooting on lands that require non­tox­ic shot, stick with lead.  Bird shot can be used for any­thing from squir­rel to turkey to rac­coon.  For larg­er game or home defense, stick with a larg­er pro­jec­tile.


There are sev­er­al types of slugs on the mar­ket… there are basic slugs that are essen­tial­ly hunks of lead with lim­it­ed sta­bi­liza­tion prop­er­ties, rifled slugs (designed to shot out of a smooth­bore but spin like a rifle bul­let), and sabot slugs (designed to be shot out of a rifled bar­rel).  If you have a basic smooth­bore shot­gun, stick with a rifled slug like Rem­ing­ton slug­gers or Bren­neke KOs.  While sabots can give accu­ra­cy sim­i­lar to a rifle (man­u­fac­tur­ers claim out to 250 yds but my per­son­al expe­ri­ence is accu­ra­cy on deer vitals to 175 yds), the basic rifled slugs can give accu­ra­cy to 100 yds and for most hunt­ing  pur­pos­es 100 yds is plen­ty.  Slugs have lots of ener­gy and are very effec­tive against deer, bear and two legged ver­min… but will also over pen­e­trate, pass­ing through mul­ti­ple lay­ers of sheetrock, so it may not be the best round for home defense.


Is sim­i­lar to bird­shot but larg­er in diam­e­ter.  Dou­ble O (OO) has great ener­gy out to about 50 or 60 yards… but pat­tern den­si­ty keeps its effec­tive range to about 30 yards.  Small­er shot sizes suf­fer from some ener­gy loss but can still be effec­tive rounds.  Gen­er­al­ly, the larg­er the pro­jec­tile, the more ener­gy it retains after impact… so OO buck has ener­gy that lends to over pen­e­tra­tion in homes (sev­er­al lay­ers of sheetrock).   A good all around choice is num­ber 4 buck.… it has ener­gy enough for deer out to 30 yards but dis­si­pates quick­ly inside walls.

Flares, bird bombs, and oth­er nov­el­ty rounds

There are also some “exot­ic” rounds you can pur­chase for a shot­gun as well.  12 gauge flares have a lim­it­ed use but are always in my duck boat for sig­nal­ing rea­sons.  Bird bombs are use­ful for farm­ers suf­fer­ing crop loss due to large flocks of birds… and are just fun to shoot.  There are also fletch­et rounds, rub­ber buck­shot, door breach­ers, reduced recoil slugs, and the list goes on.  They all serve a pur­pose but have lim­it­ed uses for an every­day per­son.

My advice for “stock­ing up” when it comes to shot­guns is buy a qual­i­ty gun, out­fit it prop­er­ly (sling, side sad­dle, flash­light) and buy a vari­ety of ammu­ni­tion.  To be com­plete, buy some 7 1/2 bird­shot, some #4 buck­shot, and some rifled slugs.  Sight it in, pat­tern it, and prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice… you will find the basic shot­gun use­ful on a wide range of game from a few steps away out to 100 yards.  I hope this write­up has helped some of you “firearm chal­lenged” folks look in the right direc­tion. Look for oth­er posts in the com­ing weeks deal­ing with hand­guns and plink­ers.

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