The history of the shotgun is a trip through time. The shotgun has been called many different names and has had a variety of uses, both in military and civilian hands. Arguably, it is the most versatile weapon invented in the modern age of warfare. The weapon has had many names over the last few centuries, such as Blunderbuss, Fowling Piece, Scattergun, Trench-gun and in modern time, the Shotgun. Let’s take a look at the history of the shotgun, how it progressed from the 1600’s to today and how it became the weapon/tool we see utilized around the world.
Similar to many things that shoot hot lead, the Germans were the first culture to use a ‘shotgun.’ In the 1600s they designed a weapon called a ‘blunderbuss’ a short musket loaded from the muzzle and fired from the shoulder. This same type of weapon became a ‘fowling piece’ in the 1700s used by the British to hunt large birds with what we now call ‘birdshot.’ In 1776 the term shotgun was first used in Kentucky to differentiate between a ‘smoothbore shotgun’ and a rifled ‘musket’.
During the Civil War, cavalry units favored the shotgun for moving targets and close range work. Right after the Civil War and during the Indian Wars, Americans began the movement west to settle the vast open terrain that is now referred to as the infamous ‘Wild West.’ This was a time and place where nearly everyone had a shotgun due to the versatility and effectiveness of this weapon!
One significant technological advancement in the history of the shotgun occurred with the invention of the double-barrel shotgun in 1875. It was now a breach loaded, side-by-side or over under weapon used with a purpose built shell or cartridge with shot or pellets. This portion of American history is where the term ‘riding shotgun’ and ‘coach gun’ were first used. The term was used for the coach riders who provided security for the strongboxes transported by stagecoaches and trains. Coach riders and lawmen both favored the double-barrel shotgun. It was short and easy to use with devastating results at close range. On a side note, Doc Holiday used a side-by-side double barrel ‘scattergun’ in his only accredited confirmed kill.
From 1887 to 1900 the history of the shotgun progressed as John Moses Browning designed the first lever action, pump action and auto loading shotguns. As with many of the weapons Browning designed, the shotguns of today are still the same basic design he invented more than 100 years ago. Sights and optics have moved forward, but the simple design of the pump action is used by all manufacturers and very little has been changed!
During World War I, the trench-gun was used for close quarter fighting in the enemy trench lines. Short in length, fitted with a heat shield and bayonet, it was extremely effective and reliable in the trenches when compared to the bolt-action rifles of that timeframe. In World War II, the Marines used pump-action shotguns to great effect in the caves and tunnel complexes in the Pacific Theatre. Again, the M-1 Garand was 43.5” long and weighed 11.6 pounds loaded. A shorter barrel length with buckshot proved to be more effective in the typically extreme close quarter engagements of the day.
During the Korean War the shotgun became the guard weapon of choice because of its great effectiveness at close range. The US Navy SEAL Teams used a modified ‘duck-bill’ shotgun for walking as a lookout in the thick jungles of Vietnam. The muzzle of the barrel had a side-cut type of choke system that would produce a horizontal pattern with devastating effects. The weapon of choice was a pump-action Ithaca 10 gauge with 00 buckshot, while the Remington 870 12 gauge was used with great effectiveness as well.
The history of the shotgun continued into urban terrains in the 1980s and beyond, and it became more than just a weapon. As a ballistic breaching tool it gave soldiers a quick, lightweight and effective way of opening doors, gates and anything else that obstructed the assault style of warfare that has become common in the last two decades. The military has now adopted the Benelli M-4 auto loader as the new shotgun of choice for combat units. Many other manufactures are experimenting with fully automatic shotguns with box magazines that hold up to 10 rounds.
The history of the shotgun will continue to add new chapters as new developments are made. Shotgun ammunition has also progressed along with the weapon, but that is a discussion for another time. While the shotgun may adapt, the utility of the weapon still makes it my favorite choice, and if for some strange reason I ever find myself with only one gun, I sincerely hope it is a shotgun!
Drive fast & take chances!
~ Chris White