You now have decided to dive into the opinion filled world of which kind of shotgun to buy. Like all firearms purchases, you need to be able to make an informed decision that suits your needs. Just like pistols and carbines, the three important factors are FIT, FUNCTION, and FINANCE. Once you have answered these questions, other factors such as accessories and looks can be left to your personal preferences. As shotguns can be used for home defense and sport shooting and hunting, there is long list of variations to suit each need. For this articles purpose I will stick to which shotguns you should buy for home defense.
There are up to two main points when it comes to fitting a shotgun. The first is the distance to the trigger from the butt stock. This distance is important, as you must be able to place the toe or bottom part of the butt stock into the shoulder while your finger can easily rest on the trigger. If this distance is too far you will always feel like you are stretching out and it will not be comfortable holding it, much less shooting it! The ability to mount the shotgun high up into the shoulder firmly and lean into it is essential to managing recoil.
The second is the ability to establish a good grip on the fore end or “pump”. Now if the shotgun is a semi-auto or other than a pump action, the placement of the front hand is simply in a place that you can manage the gun. For pump action guns you need to be able to “run” the action fully. This means pull the action all the way to the rear and all the way forward without short stroking it. Pump action shotguns need to be cycled to function properly and most malfunctions are induced from “shorting” the action.
For young teens and smaller people such as petite women, finding a shotgun with a Youth Model 13” length stock is a good buy. Generally a 14” stock is standard for most 12 and 20 gauge shotguns. A quick way to check is to rest the stock of the gun in the bend of your elbow, if your hand can maintain control of the grip and reach the trigger you can manage the shotgun. For the fore end, if you have trouble reaching and pulling the action to the rear or issues pushing it completely forward while in your shoulder, a extended fore end is a good choice. With My T-Rex arms, I can tell you a shortened stock and extended fore grip make the experience much better. A barrel length about 18 to 24 inches is more than enough, any longer and your looking at a gun great for clay shooting and birds, but terrible for moving through a hallway.
As far as the position of the safeties, action release or shell trips, it comes down to preference. I have no idea why, but Mossberg should feel better to me, everything is in the right place, yet I seem to like Remington. If it feels right go with it.
For home defense you should go with a 12 or 20 gauge with a few features that make it suitable for your personal protection. There are many “tactical” shotguns readily available off the shelf, and when we get to finance you can decide what extra gadgets you want to add on. You want something that hits hard, is easy to use, simple in design and carries enough ammunition to get through a fight. Some of the factors you need to consider are:
Gauge is the diameter of the barrel. The smaller the gauge the larger the barrel.
The most common are 12 and 20 gauge and can fit most any purpose. The felt recoil of a 20 gauge is less than the 12, but both are similar in price and function, and as above, great for youth and some ladies.
Action is the operating system for a shotgun and can be broken down into three groups. Pump, semi-auto and double barrel.
Pump action shotguns are the most popular of the three, they are simple to use, yet need practice and proper fit to be used effectively. Most malfunctions are induced by improperly cycling the action, and can be physically demanding.
Semi-automatic shotguns make you want to spend the money. They work by recoil action and with the proper ammunition run smooth fast and cause less fatigue. However, malfunctions are slightly harder to clear.
Double barrels are generally break action where the barrels tip open to load and unload. They are very reliable, but have a low ammunition capacity.
Magazine Capacity: Most semi automatics and all pump shotguns use a magazine tube. Buying a model with, or adding on an extended mag tube is a great option. Many standard shotguns come with a 3 or 4 round magazine tube; I prefer having at least 5, plus one more in the chamber. Just remember more shells equal more weight.
Choke is a four-inch tube that screws into the front of your barrel that tightens the pattern of the shot. For home defense, “cylinder bore” or no choke will suffice when using buckshot. However, buying a shotgun that has the threading to change out the choke will give it versatility for hunting or sport reasons, just keep in mind that slug rounds will not fire through several types of choke!
Sights, rails, muzzle breaks and pistol grips all are personal preference. I will say that the type of front sight is important, as it needs to be visible and easily acquired. A high visibility dot or fiber optic works great, and suits the home defense purpose. For the rear sight you can go with nothing at all, or one of the various designs available. I really don’t like a rear sight, it is a shotgun after all, but many people like circular peep sights similar to a rifle sight. Rails allow you to mount optics and more importantly, a flashlight to the shotgun and for home defense a flashlight is an excellent tool. Optics such as a red dot sight can make target acquisition fast, but you have to compare the cost to the possibility of speed. As far as muzzle breaks, they are designed for breaching doors, and most owners can due without. You will either love or hate pistol grips, some shooters swear by them, and yes they look very cool, but I can’t draw any definite conclusions that they reduce recoil or make it easier to aim in.
One of the best reasons to buy a shotgun is they are cost effective. A good off the shelf pump action Remington or Mossberg will cost you between $400 and $600. A Benelli semi-auto will cost $1200 or more, with Mossberg and Remington not far behind. You get what you pay for with all three, but I have yet to hear a Benelli owner complain and I would steal Chris Whites M2 if I could get away with it. It is a safe bet to go with a Mossberg 590 or a Remington 870 for a pump action and a Benelli for semi-auto. I was pleasantly surprised at Benelli’s Super Nova pump action after one of our clients brought it to a course and I considered buying one, but went with a Remington 887 instead and loved it.
Shotguns are simple reliable tools, and do not need to be fancy to be effective. My best advice would be to go simple and bare bones, have a good front sight, an extended mag tube and a way to mount a light. After all that it is all fluff. When things go bump in the night, all the super cool gadgets will not make you any more effective. Shop around, ask questions and read Chris White’s articles on how to customize your shotgun without breaking the bank. With knowledge and common sense choosing which shotgun to buy will become easy.
~ Aegis Academy Staff