One of the most commonly encountered firearms in modern history is the pump action shotgun. Most pump shotgun designs have earned the reputation of being rugged and reliable. They are fairly simple to operate and offer lots of versatility and utility. If you want to talk about “survival” situations, few weapons would be as versatile as the pump action shotgun. If you could only choose one gun, from an offensive/defensive weapon to talking game of all sizes and shapes, few things do it all as well as the pump shotgun.
Of course, there are various choices in accessories that come into play. Let’s take a look at the features to consider, and the do’s and don’t’s in implementing.
Barrel Length & Chokes:
Most purpose designed “combat” or “tactical” shotguns have barrel lengths of 18.25 – 20.0″. If you see one longer than that with a long extended magazine tube it’s probably intended for use as a “tactical competition shotgun”. If you use a shotgun with a longer barrel than 20″, it gets difficult to use inside structures and becomes unwieldy in close quarters. Short barrel shotguns regardless of what class they fall into (NFA or “firearm”) are interesting for use in specialized applications, but the limited range and limited magazine capacity they offer makes them very mission specific weapons. I prefer to stay with an 18.25-20″ shotgun for all around fighting use. As far as chokes go, I’m a believer in a plain cylinder bore barrel and don’t think interchangeable chokes are necessary.
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Magazine Tube Extensions:
A mag tube extension will usually add 2-3 rounds to the capacity of your shotgun. That’s at least a 50 percent increase in magazine capacity for the average pump gun. I think this is a must item for a fighting shotgun. There are people who say this compromises the reliability of gun, but I’ve done a lot of shooting and training with shotguns that have been equipped with magazine tubes over the years. I have never experienced problems or seen other shooters experience problems as long as the magazine tube extension was a quality product and was properly attached to the gun. It’s not a complex part and consists of a threaded tube and an extra- long replacement spring.
Having the proper length of pull on a shotgun stock will make all the difference in how tolerable the recoil is. The better the fit, the less you will notice the recoil. For the sake of space, I’m not going to discuss proper shotgun fit here, but a stock that is too long or too short is a problem. When we consider types of shotgun stocks there a few options.
This is your basic traditional fixed stock found on most shotguns, and is the most common. I think using a straight stock on a fighting shotgun ok, but in my opinion, it’s not the best choice. However, if you only have one shotgun, and that shotgun has to do multiple jobs for you, then a straight stock could serve you well. By simply changing barrels and adding or removing accessory items, the straight stock pump shotgun goes from a sporting or field gun to tactical shotgun fairly quickly and easily. A straight stock is rugged and reliable and provides a lot of versatility. It also has a very low profile non-menacing look and is allowable in all jurisdictions.
Pistol Grip Stock:
In my opinion, this is the best type of stock for a fighting shotgun as long as it properly fits the user with a correct length of pull. There are (2) reasons why I think this is the best choice: First, having a pistol grip stock allows the user to keep the shotgun up into the line of sight easily, using only one arm. You need much less physical effort and get less muscle fatigue over longer periods of time. This is VERY important because of the need to constantly have to combat load the shotgun which is a rounds limited weapon system. To properly combat load a magazine tube feed shotgun, you need to hold and point the weapon towards the threat and take shells from your ammunition carrier to feed the magazine tube with the support arm. Sounds easy enough, right? Try doing it for 15 -20 minutes. It’s a work out even if you are in decent shape. Having a pistol grip stock makes it much easier to balance all the weight of the gun on the pistol grip while using one arm, instead of holding all the weight of the gun on your wrist when using a straight stock. Second, many people feel that recoil impulse is more manageable due to the improved ergonomics of a pistol grip stock design. I’m one of those people who tend to agree with that, and I feel a noticeable difference in recoil between both types of stocks.
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These are very popular today in a design culture, which tries to draw from the popularity of the AR-15 platform. These typically consist of a molded plastic attachment point to the gun via the back of the receiver, and have a buffer tube extending to the rear with a collapsible stock, just like many AR-15 rifles. I have mixed feelings about these, and that not all are created equally in terms of quality. This type of stock is definitely not as rugged as a pistol grip or straight stock. The design of the drop of the stock and the use of an AR-type buffer tube may also create issues for acquiring proper cheek weld and proper sight picture, depending on what kind of sights you have on your shotgun and your individual body type. Even though I’m not a huge fan, this type of stock does give you a pistol grip, and because the stock does collapse, it offers a great way to adjust the individual length of pull. Another added benefit of this type of stock is that when it is completely collapsed, its overall dimensional length is shorter, making it easily transportable and storable in a more compact package. Personally, don’t like the way this type of stock design balances the shotgun, putting a lot of weight forward. I also don’t think this type of stock feels as comfortable during recoil…..But, Hey! It does look cool and “tactical”, and for some people, that’s all that matters.
Folding shotgun stocks are mostly a product of the 1980’s -1990’s. Even though they are relatively obsolete, they are still encountered. Most types, with very few exceptions extremely unpleasant to shoot. They are generally not very rugged and other than make the shotgun more compact, they don’t offer many true advantages. I would put folding stocks towards the top of my DO NOT list for the fighting shotgun.
When most people think of shotguns they don’t think of sights. If they do, they think of a simple, plain “bead” front sight. Many people have been taught: “You point a shotgun, you aim a rifle”. While that is true, one of the main drawbacks of using a shotgun as a primary weapon is the limited range. Having good quality sights (rifle style or ghost ring type) on a shotgun makes it more effective by increasing hit probability, and allowing faster target acquisition. Sights also greatly increase effective range, especially when using slugs. I am a huge fan of sights on a tactical shotgun, and they are high on my list of “do have” items. You should consider where on the shotgun the rear sight will be attached. Some designs put both the front and rear sights on the barrel, other designs put the rear sight on the back of the shotgun receiver. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. In my opinion, if you want versatility, choose to have your sight system mounted on the barrel. This will allow you the option of using various types and lengths of barrels without getting stuck with a useless rear sight on the back of your shotgun.
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I am a fan of optics on long guns, just not shotguns. I don’t feel that the ranges shotguns are effectively used to justify the need for optics. In addition to that, optics are usually associated with accuracy and precision, and using optics on a weapon that usually shoots a pattern (slugs are a specialty load in combat shotgun) instead of a single projectile does not make much sense to me, especially if that shotgun already has upgraded fixed sights. I’ve tried to shoot red dot sights on tactical shotguns and all it did was slow me down. Some people may feel optics is an advantage. To those folks, my best advice is to make sure you invest in a good quality optic, and an even higher quality mounting platform for your optic because the shotgun recoil is violent and tends to eventually blow gadgets and gizmos off the gun.
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When thinking about sling use and selection for fighting with a pump action shotgun, keeping it simple is always best in my opinion. When thinking about manipulating a pump shotgun: firing, combat loading and unloading, and transitioning to a pistol (which is more important and happens more often with a rounds-limited weapon like the shotgun), you don’t want a sling system that you are going to get tangled up in. You do want a sling that is going to allow enough adjustment to allow for retention when in use, and for administrative carry when you are transporting it. A simple two-point “old school” nylon sling works great in my opinion. I’ve never been a fan of the single point sling, especially on a shotgun. Whatever sling you choose, make sure it does not restrict your ability to move the shotgun into the different positions around your body needed to operate it or transition to a pistol. Remember that your upper body and arms are going get more use, and experience faster muscle fatigue operating a tactical shotgun than a magazine fed semi-auto rifle, so a comfortable sling helps a lot. When slung for transport mode, I am a big fan of slinging the shotgun muzzle down in “African Carry.”
Forends & Lights:
Whatever type of long gun you choose as your primary weapon, I’m of the opinion that it should be capable of accepting a tactical light. On the shotgun, you only have two realistic options. First, mounting a light to the forend on a rail surface or using a dedicated forend light which replaces the entire forend as a built-in unit. The second option is mounting the light to the barrel, or better yet, the magazine tube extension. The utility of being able to mount directly to a rail surface on the forend is the best choice. It allows you to remove the light, shed weight when possible, and easily replace a faulty light or batteries if necessary. With that said, keep in mind that whatever you choose for a forend on your shotgun, it should NOT be heavily covered by railed mounting surfaces. If you don’t understand why, you will figure it out after shooting a few rounds and losing some skin in the process.
Although I think it’s a great idea to practice and train with firearms while wearing gloves at times, the shotgun is one exception. The amount of manual dexterity required to handle and quickly index individual shotgun shells and combat load them into a tube-fed shotgun is challenging, even with fingerless gloves. I’ve tried several times, and even with the fingerless gloves, I’m nowhere near as fast and efficient. For me, gloves are a real handicap when using shotguns.
Magazine Feed Shotguns:
Over the past 2-3 years, a few different conversion kits have become available which allow some types of shotguns to use detachable box magazines or drum-type magazines, not to mention the newer factory-ready mag fed shotguns that hit the market this year. To me, the jury is still out on these. Aside from the unique cool factor, for now, I see them having limited applications. The added mechanical complexity to an otherwise simple and robust weapon plus they add weight to the gun and change the way it’s employed. Carrying multiple of these magazines also becomes tricky and cumbersome.
Carrying Your Ammo:
As we have already discussed, shotgun ammo is heavy and rather bulky compared to pistol and rifle ammo. It’s difficult to carry hundreds of rounds. With that said, shotgun shells intended to be loaded in tube-fed pump shotguns need to be individually handled and manually inserted into the tube. The best way to set this up is to have the shells individually separated and in a similar uniform position. This allows you to quickly index each individual shell without focusing too much on that task. The only way I know of doing this is to use a loop style holder in the form of a chest bandoleer, nylon belt bandoleer, or a hard plastic/aluminum loop that mounts onto a pistol belt, molle gear, or on the gun itself, like a side saddle ammo carrier. Even with all of these loops, the most I can carry is about 100 rounds, which is nothing compared to three 30-round rifle magazines. Loop style bandoleers also allow easy visual identification between different types of rounds and are easy to use and integrate with whatever type of gear or clothing you are wearing. Yes, there are different types of speed loaders for tube feed shotguns, but these are mainly intended for competition use. They are relatively expensive, sometimes unreliable, bulky and cumbersome to carry, and not well suited for fighting and shooting from different positions. Avoid the bandoleer sling — trust me on this one.
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Patterning & Sighting Your Shotgun:
Patterning your shotgun is, in many ways, like sighting in or doping your rifle. Knowing what type of pattern your shotgun will produce at different ranges with different types of shot ammunition is important because you need to know what you can hit at what distances, and at what distances your shot pattern becomes ineffective. The same is true for a shotgun with sights when it comes to using slugs. The better you know where the gun shoots with slugs, the further you can extend your range. With the high-quality shotgun sights available today, and with quality slugs, it’s very possible to engage man-sized targets out to 200 yards with a little practice.
Selecting Your Ammunition:
Proper ammunition selection for shotguns intended to be used as fighting weapons is critical. Choosing and using the best loads can significantly increase the terminal performance and extend the effective range of your shotgun. Some people like to use “reduced recoil” ammunition, which works fine in a pump action but may cause functional reliability issues in semi-autos. I tend to stay away from 12 gauge 3″ magnum loads, as the benefits of the ballistic and terminal performance in 3″ shells are not worth the extra recoil and reduced magazine capacity. For me, 12 gauge 2 ¾ shells deliver enough performance. There are lots of opinions on what is the best shot size for use in a fighting shotgun. My personal opinion is that the best all-around combat shot load is a 2 ¾” OO Buck Shot load with plated shot, that contains between 8-12 .33 caliber pellets.
There are lots of choices for slugs, but my advice is to try several different types and see which performs best in your shotgun and which offers the best balance of accuracy and cost. By using the right combination of sights and quality slug ammunition, you can turn your shotgun into a rifle and significantly increase its effective range. If you need deeper penetration on target, or a precision shot that OO Buck loads can’t deliver, the slug is the best tool for the job. Sometimes I see shooters with several different types of shotshell loads on their gear. In my opinion, this is unnecessary. I usually carry 5/1 Buckshot vs. Slug. If I need more slugs, my opinion is I should have chosen to carry a rifle instead. If you wish to add some less lethal loads to your mix, as long as you separate them well on your equipment, it can be an interesting option to add to your shotguns fighting capability. However many different types of loads you decide to carry, you need to be able to quickly and easily distinguish between them, as improper ammunition selection could be a fatal mistake.
For all of its strengths and weaknesses, the pump shotgun is an incredibly capable weapon. Few firearms can match its rugged reliability while offering its power and versatility. Understanding what a pump shotgun can and can’t do is important in knowing when and when not to select it as your primary weapon. When used properly in the right situations, there are few weapons that can deliver the devastating stopping power that the pump shotgun has earned a legendary reputation for over the past 100 years.
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