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Smith & Wesson M&P12 Shotgun: Tested

A new, and unexpected, 15-plus-round bullpup-style pump-action shotgun that is ready to defend; here's a full review of the Smith & Wesson M&P12.

Smith & Wesson M&P12 Shotgun: Tested

Smith & Wesson M&P15 12-Gauge Shotgun (Photo by Mark Fingar)

This strange-looking apparition could be the new king of self-defense shotguns. Some might counter that statement with “... but the KelTec KSG …” and that’s a valid remark. However, the features that Smith & Wesson included on the M&P12 separate it from most other pump-action shotguns — including the KSG

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(Photo by Mark Fingar)

The M&P12 is a pump-action bullpup shotgun built on a steel receiver. Like the KSG, the M&P12 has dual magazine tubes nestled under the barrel. Rounds are loaded and ejected from an opening just forward of the buttstock’s toe, and a selector switch determines which magazine tube feeds the chamber. The KSG and M&P12 approach the “switch” differently. Their controls are completely ambidextrous, and the safety on the M&P12 functions like that of an AR-15, whereas the KSG has a rectangular crossbolt above the pistol grip.

You’ll notice that there are two pistol grips on the M&P12. The rear-most pistol grip is for the firing hand. The forward pistol grip is removable but can help to cycle the action. (Some disassembly is required to remove the forward pistol grip from the forend.)

The Dual Tubes

It’s pretty obvious that this type of shotgun was designed as a self-defense firearm, and it could be great for inside the home. Smith & Wesson’s website even describes the M&P12 as such. I don’t plan on hunting birds with the M&P12, although I’m sure someone will, just to prove a point. As a home-defense firearm, it meets all of the essential criteria required of that task. A few of those boxes to be checked are difficult for any pump-action shotgun to accomplish without significant modification and expense.

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The overall length of the M&P12 is shorter than a typical AR-style carbine featuring a 16-inch barrel. For comparison, S&W’s M&P15 Sport II measures 35 inches. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Size matters for a home-defense firearm. The longer the firearm, the more ill-suited it is for this job. Long firearms that protrude far in front of the individual wielding it can be a liability in a home-defense situation. Move around a wall or door, and the exposed barrel offers the assailant a long lever to grab. Should the bad guy have a working knowledge of leverage, it’s not too difficult to yank a firearm out of unsuspecting hands. The best remedy for this problem (in addition to training) is to keep as much of the firearm behind the shooter’s forward hand as possible. The bullpup shotgun concept only puts about 1 inch of muzzle in front of the forward hand. An attempt to disarm the homeowner who carries an M&P12 is more difficult.

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The dual-magazine tubes hold six, 3-inch shells each, or seven rounds of 23/4-inch shells. Choose to load these differently for more defensive options, one with slugs and the other buckshot. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

The next advantage that the M&P12 has over most shotguns is capacity. The M&P12 will feed every load ranging 3-inch magnums down to the 1 3/4-inch mini-shells offered by Federal and Aguila. The M&P12 holds 14-plus-1 rounds of the common 2 3/4-inch shells, and 12-plus-1 of the 3-inch magnums. You ask, “How many minishells can the M&P12 carry onboard? Twenty! That’s a lot of capacity for a compact, home-defense shotgun. It’s also a good thing because loading the M&P12 to max capacity is a bit of a time-consuming and tedious process.

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Loading is helped by placing the buttpad against your torso and turning the shotgun down on the side featuring the tube you want to load. Assist buttons make loading and unloading easier. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

It seems like everyone loves a shotgun for home defense, but two of my biggest hang-ups about the practice have been limited capacity and slow reloading times. The M&P12 properly addresses the capacity issue, and it does so in a way that it keeps all those rounds in a compact and easily portable package. The M&P12 has an overall length of 27.8 inches. For comparison, an AR-15 such as S&W’s M&P15 Sport II measures 35 inches.

There is no better way to carry copious shotgun shells on a single shotgun than the dual-magazine system. The only issue is, once empty, the M&P12 is slow to load. This is true of every tubular magazine shotgun, including the dual-tube KSG. To get ahead of this issue, S&W put load-assist buttons on either side of the receiver to make loading and unloading easier. Once I figured out the best way to load the M&P12, I never used them again. However, they were convenient for unloading without having to cycle live rounds through the receiver.

The best way to load the M&P12 is to flip it upside down and place the buttpad against your torso. Next, lay it over almost on the side of the tubular magazine that you want to load. There is a scallop cut into the inside of the receiver to guide shells. Angle the shotgun on its side so the shotshell can lay unassisted in the scallop. Then, just push it into the tubular magazine. The load-assist button is there in case the case head is a little too big, but I had no issues loading the M&P12 with Federal, Hornady, and Remington shotshells without it.

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The receiver cover reciprocates and features a release button for clearing damaged shells. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Creating a dual-magazine-tube pump-action shotgun was difficult, I’m sure, but S&W also had the foresight to plan for contingencies such as how to clear a mangled shotshell out of the action. This has historically been one of the biggest vulnerabilities in bullpup shotguns because the receiver is buried underneath the bullpup’s chassis. A feeding malfunction in a KSG, for example, requires some disassembly to clear. The M&P12, however, can expose the back of the receiver by simply pulling the slide rearward and then sliding the fixed buttstock away from the receiver with the press of a button. I just timed myself doing it and it took less than 2 seconds to expose the receiver to clear a malfunction. Whoever thought that up at Smith deserves a gold star next to their name.

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Quick-detach push-button sling cups are present on both sides of the stock for mounting a sling at the rear. (Photo by Mark Fingar)


While the general layout of the shotgun is ideal, there are also some features that further distinguish it from competitors. The most important are how well it accepts a sling, and there are many options it has for mounting optics and lights.

A sling is essential on any defensive firearm, a lesson I learned long ago while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. When negotiating the threat of violence, the individual must remain capable of handling contingencies that come up. Such contingencies could include opening doors, clearing a path through a cluttered area, climbing over obstacles, or rendering first aid to someone who is injured. In all of these scenarios, a sling is essential because it allows the individual to keep the firearm close should it be needed without interrupting other necessary tasks. Shotguns usually have severe limitations on the types of slings they can accept, and how those slings are mounted.


S&W M&P 12 08
The oversized and textured magazine tube selector button is accessible from both sides of the shotgun. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Rule No. 1 when putting a sling on a pump shotgun: Keep it away from the slide. The slide has to move freely, so attaching a long piece of nylon to it isn’t a good idea. This usually means the sling attaches to the end of the magazine tube and somewhere on the buttstock. The best way to mount a sling to a firearm is to attach one end to the side of the buttstock and close to the top of the buttpad opposite of the shooter’s face. The other end should go just behind the forward-most hand. Putting the forward end of the sling behind the support hand leaves that hand unfettered access to the light and prevent it from getting tangled with the sling when working the slide. The M&P12 is the only shotgun I know of that comes with a sling swivel flush cup on both sides of the buttstock — right where they should be — and then several mounting options for the forward-most end of the sling. My top recommendation would be either the VTAC flush cup that mounts to the Picatinny rail that runs along the top of the shotgun, or a Seekins Precision flush cup that mounts to the M-Lok slots that exist right below that same rail. Any way you look at it, the M&P12 is the most sling-friendly shotgun I’ve ever seen.

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Adding a short piece of M-Lok rail (not included) to the slots in the barrel shroud is all that’s needed to add a light and switch. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Optics and lights benefit from the Picatinny rail along the top of the shotgun, as well as from the M-Lok slots cut into the shroud below it. By the way, that M-Lok-riddled shroud completely covers the barrel, so there’s no chance of touching a hot barrel with the M&P12. There’s enough room behind the shroud that sections of rail attached to them still clear the barrel underneath. An excellent solution for mounting a forend light would be to put it on the rail along the top of the shotgun and a pressure pad attached to a piece of rail installed on one of the M-Lok slots. That still leaves enough room for the sling and makes for a compact, efficient and effective package.

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Modified and cylinder choke tubes, as well as a choke wrench, are included. The barrel is threaded for Rem-Choke compatibility. (Photo by Mark Fingar)

Time at the range proved the M&P12 reliable and accurate with slugs. This shotgun can digest just about anything and, between being threaded for choke tubes — two are included with each shotgun — and the capability of shooting slugs, the only shotgun shells that won’t work in the M&P12 are 3 1/2-inch magnums. 

I patterned the M&P12 with the cylinder choke tube installed at 25 yards with 2 3/4-inch 00 Buck loads from Hornady and Federal. The Federal load put all nine pellets in an 8 1/4-inch circle. The Hornady Critical Defense load put all of its eight pellets in a 17-inch circle. Remington’s reduced-recoil slugs grouped three rounds into an average of 2 1/4 inches for three shots at 50 yards, while the Federal slugs didn’t do as well and only averaged a group size measuring 6.2 inches.

The S&W M&P12 offers a combination of capabilities. With the addition of a small rail section and a flush cup, it can accept an optic, sling and light. Load up, and it’s ready to defend. 

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