November 29, 2022
The pump action shotgun remains an iconic American firearm, right up there with a Colt Single Action Army and a Winchester lever gun. Despite cut rate instructors declaring it dead over the last 20 years, it continues to sell out of stores as fast as makers can produce them. When I was talking to an executive from one of the major manufacturers a couple of weeks ago, he told me that they could not take another order for the next six months and still couldn’t make enough to keep up with the orders they have. So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the shotty's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The problem with this is that many folks buy a shotgun based on bad information, hearsay, and old wives’ tales. I include these in every shotgun article I write, because people still spread them. Racking a shotgun won’t make bad guys flee in terror, and, yes, you must aim a shotgun. Shotguns are also not the easiest guns to shoot, meaning that if you want to be effective with one, you must practice. The recoil can be sharp, but it’s not going to be prohibitive for anyone, regardless of size, that has put in work.
If you have decided that you want a shotgun, you must decide what type, a pump or a semiauto. While you can do just fine with a moderately priced pump action, like the Mossberg Maverick 88, you can’t go cheap with a semi. There are value guns out there that will work for you, but the cheap, imported semiautos are often not of a quality or caliber that I’d be willing to bet my life on their performance. If you’re on a tight budget, go pump. Otherwise expect to pay north of $1,000 for a quality Italian or American semiauto. Semiautomatic shotguns are not a load and forget proposition, either. They have manuals of arms that are specific and require practice to be competent in. It’s not hard, but expect to devote some time to training in order to achieve proficiency. Pump actions are more forgiving, but recoil mitigation and loading, unloading, and reloading are skills that take time to develop and have very little in common with other platforms.
So why the shotgun, then? With all these drawbacks and caveats, why put the time in? Well, simply put, there’s nothing more effective at stopping a dedicated threat from 0-25 yards. In the line of duty, I’ve had to shoot people and see others be shot with several different types of firearms: rifles, pistols and shotguns. In my experience, nothing makes bad guys go down as fast as when they catch a chest full of 00 buck or a 1-ounce slug. Consider me convinced.
Once you’ve made your decision on a good pump action or a high-quality semiauto, the next task is ensuring that the gun fits you. If the stock is too long, you will struggle to find a comfortable, repeatable shooting position. This will lead to increased recoil and slower, less accurate rounds on target. I use either a bantam-size stock or, when possible, the Magpul SGA stock. The Magpul stock allows incremental adjustments to the length of pull, making it one of the most solid and customizable options available. In my opinion, there is nothing better for a fighting shotgun.
The Magpul SGA stock also has provisions for mounting a sling at the rear, and that’s what I want to talk about next. Using a shotgun is a two-handed proposition, so that means if you’re going to need to use your hands for a non-shooting task, the gun must go somewhere. In a critical incident, think of the sling as a holster. There is a tendency among some newer shooters to go cheap with a sling, or to use silly, outdated concepts such as the bungee style slings. Get yourself a quality two-point tactical sling and make sure that it’s mounted securely. Mounting a modern two-point sling on a shotgun can be tricky, but there are many options from barrel clamps to the Blue Force Gear Universal Wire Loop. The legacy style loop sling swivels at the bottom of most shotguns aren’t ideal for a fighting gun, but even they’ll work in a pinch.
The next thing that you should be thinking about for your fighting shotgun is some sort of white light. It is our moral and legal responsibility to positively identify anything before shooting it. If the lights are off, that leaves a light in your hand or on the gun. If you have a flashlight in your hand, shooting the shotgun will be next to impossible, so that leaves weapon-mounted lights. I’ve used the Surefire forend lights for nearly 20 years now, and I continue to recommend them. I’ve also recently started using the Streamlight forend and I’ve found it to be bright and durable. Mounting a pistol light to the forend can be problematic, as the forward hand moves a lot under recoil, and incidental contact with the light can beat up the hands and cause accidental light activation/deactivation. Regardless of which option you choose, make sure that it is bright enough to allow you to illuminate a large area without pointing the gun at something that might not need to be shot. With a quality light, most of your illumination needs can be handled at the low ready.
Ammo is always an option on a fighting shotgun, and there’s nothing worse in a gunfight than a click when you need a bang. To help prevent that, I like the Esstac shotgun cards, which feature a Velcro backer that sticks to the gun and allows for several “cards” to be rotated and mounted according to the shooters needs. The extra ammo is great and the ability to use different shotgun loads is an added benefit.
The last thing I want to mention isn’t a necessity in my mind, but the more I use it, the more I see its advantages. That option is a red-dot sight. Shotguns need to be aimed, as at most actual fighting distances the pattern of good buckshot is within the size of a hand. Aiming under duress is easier with a good dot as the shooter can keep both eyes open and pay attention to the target or targets. The new Mossberg 940 Tactical is cut for a red dot, but a dot can be mounted to a Picatinny rail on the top of most modern shotguns. All my fighting guns wear dots now as the benefits far outweigh the added cost and maintenance.
Regardless of the gear choices you make, you need to make sure that you’re training and practicing diligently. Skill doesn’t just appear, especially when someone is kicking your door in.
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