The Pros & Cons Of The Pump Shotgun For Personal Defense

In terms of being used as a fighting weapon, the pump shotgun first saw limited military use during World War I, and since then has served in many conflicts around the world in a variety of specialized roles, right up to the current day. Pump shotguns are still widely used by law enforcement agencies all over the globe. As firearm technology has steadily improved over time, and philosophies about the use of weapons have changed, the pump action shotgun is still with us and can still be found in front-line service. There is little doubt that pump-action shotguns will continue to be around for many years to come.

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I am limiting the subject of “fighting with a shotgun” to pump actions, because it’s been my experience semi-auto shotguns are simply too difficult to keep running reliably, especially during periods of hard use with heavy loads. There are definitely situations where semi-autos are ideal, but for hardcore, extended, extreme use, the pump shotgun is my personal choice. Other types of shotguns like over-under or side-by-side designs are just too slow to operate and are not modular enough to be viable choices for fighting weapons. With all of this said, in my personal opinion, the best pump action shotgun designs which I think can be considered for serious use as “fighting guns” are the Mossberg 500 & 590 series and the Remington 870. I currently own or have owned several of both types over the year. At this point, I prefer the Remington. Regardless, I could argue why each one is better. Both models are time-tested, battle-proven designs. You can’t go wrong with either one.

Why choose a pump-action shotgun as a fighting weapon?

The Advantages:

In terms of being used as a primary weapon for the armed civilian, the pump action shotgun has a lot of advantages to offer:

1.)  Rugged and Reliable: As I already mentioned, few will disagree the pump action shotgun is a workhorse. It can operate well in almost any environment with minimal maintenance. A pump shotgun will also reliably digest the widest variety of ammunition types. If ammunition becomes scarce, having a weapon that remains effective regardless of what you feed it is a huge plus.

2.) Versatility:  Pump shotguns are very modular, and can perform many functions well. Every weapon system has its own limitations, but pump shotguns are easy to re-configure with the right mix of parts and accessory items. You can more or less easily modify a pump shotgun to build what you need in a few minutes, with just a few basic tools.

pump shotgun
Features like ghost-ring or rifle sights, pistol grip stocks, magazine tube extensions, and gun-mounted shell carriers allow basic pump-action shotguns to be much more capable fighting weapons.

3.) Power Factor: Regardless of what type of ammunition you are using, there are few weapons that offer the “get the lead out” stopping power of the shotgun within its effective range. We are talking about at least 1 ounce of lead for each pull of the trigger. For the average person, the pump shotgun has enough power and magazine capacity to get most jobs done. At close range, for combative applications, even light birdshot loads are completely devastating at close range.

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4.) Commonality: Pump shotguns are ubiquitous. They are present all over the globe. If you are going to invest time in training with a weapon system, spend it on those you are most likely to encounter anywhere you travel to. The same commonality can be said of shotgun ammunition. It is a staple commodity in the world of firearms.  If there ever was an “end of days” scenario, I would bet 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotgun ammo would still be around long after most other types of ammunition had disappeared.

5.) Social Acceptance: The pump shotgun is permissible to own, or purchase in just about all jurisdictions. Although some features like pistol grip stocks and magazine tube extensions may not be allowed, you would still have a very potent weapon with a basic 18.25″ barrel pump gun. If you travel a lot and prefer to take a weapon on the road, having a weapon that conforms to most legal jurisdictions is important. Pump shotguns are usually not perceived as “evil assault weapons” and while you may not care what anyone thinks, that perception could become an important issue if you use the weapon to defend yourself, and you end up having to deal with the legal aftermath. It’s something to think about.

6.) Price: A good quality basic pump shotgun can usually be had for much less than a name-brand striker-fired polymer pistol, or semi-auto rifle, making it very affordable for most people as a primary or secondary weapon option.

Now that I hit the high points of using a pump shotgun as a primary weapon, we should also realistically look at the pump shotgun to understand its limitations and true potential. There is no “perfect” weapon, but as much as the pump shotgun has going for it does have some considerable shortcomings.

The Disadvantages:

1.) Rounds-Limited Weapon: Most pump-action tube-fed shotguns have a magazine tube capacity of 4-8 rounds depending on the make/model of the gun and the type of shotgun shells used. Compared to a 30-round semi-auto rifle magazine, that’s not a lot of ammo on tap, and the process of re-loading a pump shotgun from the tube is very slow, compared to the process of changing out high-capacity magazines.

2.) Limited Range:  Perhaps the biggest limitation of any type of shotgun intended for use as a fighting weapon is its limited range. There are a few important factors that can increase a shotgun’s limited range to some degree such as barrel length, type of choke, type of sights on the gun, and the type of ammo being used. We’ll discuss this a bit later. However, using most types of shotgun shells intended for offensive/defensive use at silhouette-sized targets, out of barrels 18.25-20″ in length, the effective range is usually limited to about 50 yards. Compared to effective ranges of rifles or carbines, this is a major limitation.

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3.) Weight and bulk of ammo: Shotgun ammo is very heavy and bulky compared to rifle and pistol ammo. If you are going to employ a shotgun as a fighting weapon, you quickly realize that carrying a lot of ammo gets difficult compared to other weapon systems. Combat load-outs for rifles can be up to several hundred rounds, but try carrying 150 rounds of shotgun ammo in a way where you can get to it easily in order to keep loading and moving. It’s not as easy as you might think, especially if you don’t have the proper gear to carry it.

pump shotgun
“One of the primary disadvantages of the shotgun is how heavy/bulky the ammunition is to carry compared to other types of weapons: (Left to Right) 15 round 9mm pistol magazine, 30-rd AR-15 magazine, 30rd AK-47 Magazine compared to (4) 12 gauge shells on a loop, or (2) stacked 5 round boxes.

4.) Heavy Recoil: Due to the heavy recoil impulse of the 12-gauge pump shotgun, it’s definitely not the best choice for everyone, especially for smaller-statured individuals or people with physical limitations. Notice how I finally used the term “12 gauge” here. I have done enough shotgun shooting to know that using a 20-gauge is not that much different than a 12-gauge for use as a fighting weapon. In fact, for some people, a 20-gauge pump shotgun is a better choice, as a 20-gauge shotgun is about 20 percent smaller in size, and the recoil is significantly less. Several firearms manufacturers have actually caught onto this, and are now offering 20-gauge “tactical” models for just such customers.

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.

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Subscriber Comments

Comment by:

I'm surprised "short-stroking" isn't listed as a negative. I used to think a pump shotgun would be the ultimate home defense weapon until I starting using a pump on the skeet field. When shooting a pair, (i.e., doubles), it's surprising how often you'll short stroke a pump going chasing after the 2'nd clay - especially if you're not used to it.

The "excitement" going after the 2'nd clay pales in comparison to the excitement you'll find yourself in a gunfight situation. In a life or death situation, there's a real possibility I'd short-stroke the action & possible be dead.

And don't give me the old "practice, practice, practice" drill, (i.e., as a means to eliminating short-stroking.). I've been shooting pumps on the skeet field for several years now & I'll guess I still short-stroke at least once each day I'm out on the field. I'm not willing to bet my life on it. And I know for a fact that I'm not the only person that short-stokes a pump while chasing that 2'nd bird; it's really not that uncommon.

Comment by:

Concise and informative. Glad to read this. I am considering a shotgun for home protection and this pointed me in the right direction.

Comment by:

Finally! There is someone who recognizes that 12 gauge is not for everyone; too many people who shoot want to shame anyone who cannot handle a 12, in spite of all the YouTube videos showing young women being injured while attempting to shoot something beyond their capability. I keep a 20 gauge in the house for my wife; as for me, I am very traditional and rely on one of two 1911's which is the weapon that I carried overseas in early 70's; today they are loaded with RIP ammo. Keep up the good work.

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