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When it comes time to buy a shotgun there are a few things to consider. In all actuality, there are many things to consider but let’s take a look at what I believe are the core items to look at before you make your final selection. Considering these few points can lead to you getting the shotgun that best serves your needs while not breaking the bank.

Pump or gas gun? The two main styles of shotguns are pump action and semi-auto guns which are often referred to as “gas guns.” This is because they operate on a gas blowback system. When choosing between the two you need to look for guns that are known for reliability. Of the two systems, the pump action shotgun is more reliable because the action is manual. Gas guns can have cycling issues if not lubricated properly, have light loads, or even if the shooter is not set firmly enough behind the gun. This can be overcome of course by choosing a well-made semi-auto gun and really learning to run it. However, out of the box, the pump action wins in this category.

pump versus semi-auto shotgun
A pump shotgun gets the highest marks for reliability, but a semi-auto wins on speed and ease of shooting. (Fred Mastison Photo)

Another item to look for is the length of pull or “LOP.” This refers to the length of the stock. This is significantly more important than most people realize because it determines whether you will be able to correctly shoulder the shotgun and shoot it well. I find that most guns have a set LOP that fits only a small number of shooters right out of the box. If the LOP is too long you will not be able to seat the stock in the correct spot in your shoulder without turning your body. This leads to uncomfortable shooting and possibly even bruising if done for a long period. There are aftermarket stocks you can buy for your shotgun from companies such as Hogue that can make the gun a truly personal fit.

Third on the list of things to look for is caliber. There are numerous calibers or more specifically “gauges” in shotguns. While 12 gauge is the most common, it is by no means a must. What will determine the gauge of the shotgun are two things. What will the gun be used for and what can you handle? I tend to lead people to either 20 gauge or 12 gauge. Either of these two will work as a general round for most people. These two rounds can be easily found at any sporting goods store or gun store in a variety of flavors. From bird shot, which is nice to train with, to defensive loads.

shotgun sighting, pump shotgun, tactical shotgun
A variety of sighting systems are available for a shotgun. Fred Mastison Photo

The final thing to consider is the aiming system. Contrary to what Hollywood may suggest, you do in fact need to aim your shotgun correctly if you want to hit your target. There are many options but as you can guess, it is up to personal preference. The most common sighting system is a bead site. This is literally a BB-style object placed on the end of the barrel and used as a point of reference for the front of the gun. While it has been around forever, I believe there are better options. First is an actual rifle site setup. This would have a blade-style front sight and a notch rear sight. These are very easy to use and increase accuracy. The next is a ghost ring-style site. This is a blade front sight with an aperture-style site in the back. This is my favorite of the iron site options because it is very easy to use and very fast. The last option is an actual optic which is the most accurate tool. With advances in optics, they can now easily manage the shock and recoil found in a shotgun. All of these are helpful in making sure the shot that you launch down range actually hits the target. Yes…you can miss with a shotgun if you do not aim correctly.

As I alluded to earlier there are dozens of sub-points we could dig into, but these are the primary things to be aware of as you look at adding a shotgun to your collection. Take your time and weigh those points most important to you and in the end, you will have a gun that fits all your needs.

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  1. First shotgun? Buy a used pump or new Maverick 88. Something that works. After months of use and familiarity, then get something a little higher quality. Just my opinion.

    • I was gonna say, the whole article could be summed up as ‘870/500 and then upgrade’. Your usage will determine things like barrel length, capacity, chamber length, etc. but those two platforms will cover probably 98% of the people needing this article.

      • Got my Mossberg 500 50 years ago this year. Still sits first chair in home defense. Starting to wish it was a 20 gauge though. Perceived recoil increases with age.

        • PERHAPS buy TWO shotguns every 50 years or so? I’m pretty sure that Mossberg is still making 20ga every day including today.

        • Eh… it’s easy to find low recoil 12-ga shells. For 20 you almost have to load your own. To the point where 12-ga self defense buckshot recoils less than 20ga. (especially if the 20 Gauge shotgun is built on a 20-ga frame)

        • I’ve got 20 gauges and 12’s

          I find my 20’s kick harder than my 12’s
          Sling 7/8 oz to 1oz of shot in a 12 vs 20
          My opinion the 20 kicks more

          Low shot loads at 5/8 oz in the 20 don’t kick much

          20vs 12 slugs it’s to me about equal in recoil

          If you really want kick try a 20 ga single shot with a turkey choke and turkey loads lol

    • I love the wood on those old Ithaca scatter-guns.

      It just screams ‘Business’… 🙂

  2. Mossberg 500 with 18.5″ & 28″ interchangeable barrels. I paid $360. If I got another one, I’d go for the 940 Pro. The Beretta 1301 looks nice as well.

  3. Seems to me the article totally missed the first question that should be asked. That question is, what do you want to use the shotgun for?

    The article describes only self defense uses. If you are getting it for hunting or sporting clay uses the type and size you would get would be totally different.

  4. Mine was a Stevens bolt action 410. I was 12 years old. Put a lot of food on the table with that shotgun.

  5. The author 100% completely BLEW IT.

    The first thing to consider is WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH IT???

    Everything else flows from that.

    • Duck gun, sporting clays gun, self defense gun, upland gun

      All different purposes and different ideal configurations.

        • Remington 870 12 gauge with both shot and slug barrels. If you can find an older model, Pre-Remington implosion. You’ll be better off.

        • I gotta Maverick88. Just to have a long barreled gat instead of my dreaded rifle banned by ILLannoy. Until I definitively find out if a Kali Key is “legal”. Or move east🙄

      • I did not plan it this way. But I have more shotguns to my name than other types of firearms. I do not currently have a double or stack barrel. But that can change quickly enough.

        I went looking for an o/u but got distracted by a Benelli m2 and bought that instead. Better luck next time.

        • I’d like a side by side with exposed hammers.
          This bidenomics is killing me.
          Three years ago I had money left over but it’s just about paycheck to paycheck now.
          Maybe that’s the plan?
          Just the bare essentials unless you get a loan,,,get a loan,, that’s another conspiracy theory I have.
          Giving Banks Control over your life.
          Slaveholders and interest rates.

  6. The best feature of a shotgun is judge and jury appeal. After watching so many cartoons of Elmer Fudd hunting Buggs Bunny and Daffy Duck with only comical results, people have been conditioned to believe that shotguns are harmless toys. Some of the Tacticool Fools who post on this site believe it to. The reality is that depending on ammunition type and range, a 12 gauge shotgun has about ten times the wounding potential as a bullet from an AR-15. Contrary to common presumptions, larger caliber projectiles such as slugs or even buckshot can retain enough velocity to remain potentially lethal at considerable range. Buckshot can penetrate a human skull at a quarter of a mile away and slugs can be lethal a mile away.

    The bottom line is that it is likely that a corrupt prosecutor or judge (and most prosecutors and judges are utterly corrupt) will eagerly crucify you for using a politically incorrect AR-15 to defend your family in your own house. However; if a marijuana bootlegger uses a politically correct, Remington 870, Tactical Express, 12 gauge shotgun to shoot at his landlord’s children in retaliation for efforts to evict, they will be given a free pass.

  7. “However, out of the box, the pump action wins in this category.”

    I’ve found the opposite to be true, especially under stress. Anytime I go hunting or to a course where folks are shooting a mix of pump guns and semi auto’s the pump gun folks have a lot more failures to feed and failures to fire. They also end up ejecting a lot more live rounds onto the ground.
    The pump requires the shooter to rack that gun fully every time. Shooters, even experienced shooters, fail to do this and short stroke the gun very often when under stress. The auto doesn’t care.

        • Which requires training in usage. I might go so far as to say that because there are issues acting under duress, that a regimen at home with Dummy’s aught to instituted in greater prevalence. Muscle memory is just that! The opposite is also true of semi-auto shotguns and the inexperienced: “Where did all my Rounds go?”

          Let me know how training with Dummy rounds work out for a new and inexperienced owner when using say an M2 or 1170. Catch my drift?

          I will never not recommend a quality pump a new or old prospect. There are many advantages to pump as compared to a semi-auto. We need not debate the merits of such…..

        • John:
          I had a Remington 1100 once, but that thing made me nervous and queasy. I’ll take an (Ithaca M37) pump every time.

    • That’s if they don’t forget to push the pump forward a bit first before cycling. Recoil will normally do this but if you want safed guns in the blind a new shooter may not realize this.

    • jw, I have to disagree. In my experience those who couldn’t run an 870 didn’t fair any better trying to run an auto. It didn’t matter if it was an 1100, M-1 Super 90, or an A-5. There was always someone who couldn’t remember how to release the bolt, release a round from the magazine onto the lifter, etc. under stress. I’m no fan of the shotgun for self defense and didn’t own one for years after I retired. However, I decided to buy one after moving into a more urban area. Chose a Wilson 870. i prefer Remington repeaters, but I never had a problem with the Benellis I’ve owned.

    • Yes. I’ve taken dozens of newbies to the range and when it gets to the shotgun portion of the outing I’d say 50%+ of people will malfunction the pump despite watching me prior to using it and reiterating the importance of a proper stroke.

      When they pick up the semi-auto it’s a flat out 100% success on the full magazine.

      • And that “success” indicates a prospective/current owner of the competence in running said “firearm” in a hunting or any other 2nd Amendment situation?

        Surely you jest!

        There are no better trainers in the use of a firearm’s complete function with Dummy’s than that of 1) Revolver, 2) Lever-Action, 3) Bolt Action, 4) Break Action, and 5) Slide Action *aka* Pump Action. If you can shoot one of these respective Pistol, Rifle, or Shotgun action types which some share across the platforms, the odds are HIGHLY in favor of success in varied situations.

        Hence, handing a Newbie a semi-auto of any sort and expect a successful in the aforementioned situations does NOT have the odds in favor.

        This discussion is broken down at its most basic….I need not explain MOA between the platforms.

        It’s the truth whether you’re woke, a boomer, or a fighter for the 2nd Amendment.

  8. Double barrel. Just fire both barrels through your door at the first sign of trouble. You may go through a few front doors … delivery guys, postmen, friends, neighbors … but the President of the United States endorses this method!

  9. “a ghost ring-style site [sic]. This is a blade front sight with an aperture-style site in the back. This is my favorite of the iron site options because it is very easy to use and very fast.”

    Fast, really? Try using a ghost-ring for sporting clays, and you’ll see how slow that ghost-ring sight is compared to a bead sight!

  10. Winchester 1200/1300 will fit the bill. Rotary bolt that started it all in the scatter guns. Extra barrel can be had for $150-200. Reliable.

    Stay away from any pump Remington shotgun made after 94, Winchester after 2006. Yeah, you’ll more than likely end up with some problems. Own both and USED both. Winchester is lighter to carry, but more recoil felt. Opposite of the brick 870.

    The throat of the 1200/1300 is reliable. I have not had one fail with many, many uses. Please don’t throw hopps or like solvent into the action of ANY firearm. In fact, you’ll have a busted ejector spring out an 870 as often or more than the polymer throat/extension piece.

    Look for the Special Purpose 870’s. They were treated extra special by the factory. Yes, that includes the Wingy’s. Just read the old catalogs.

    You’ll have all in your possession to pass down to family.

    Real world experience that I shared.

  11. My first shotgun is not necessarily ideal for self-defense, due to its length, but it has spoiled me a bit because it is my late Grandfather’s pre-WWII Winchester Model 12. I’ve had several others but, something about that old M12 just makes me happy.

  12. My first shotgun was a mossberg 590. Why? Because I like the ammunition capacity. And I liked the fact that it had a bayonet lug at the end of it. Because I knew in the future. I would have to “really impress people” in public.

    And if I lived in one of those cities that was burned to the ground, during “the summer of love.” Open carrying my shotgun with a fixed bayonet would certainly impress people.

    To the point that they would most certainly run in the other direction. And leave me and my neighborhood alone.

    I’m not a hunter, and the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting.

  13. Another to consider is a benelli M4 clone. semi auto, good capacity, reliable and affordable.

  14. My dad chose my first shotgunm after two drunk guys broke into our house when he was away on a construction job and tried to rape my mom
    A Remington Model10, and I’ve still got it.
    All I had before that was a Crossman 760, a Ben Pearson Bow and a 24lb tom cat named Tiger.
    Quite an exciting night.

  15. I have a couple issues with this article:
    1. It conflates gas operation as the only means of operation of a semi-auto.
    2. In covering length of pull it fails to account for the fact that a shorter length can be easily compensated for by a larger person while the inverse is not true. Highly relevant if the shotgun is going to be a “house” gun used by multiple people.
    3. It fails to consider that the reader may have inherited or have access to a break action which while not optimal is better than nothing.

  16. As others have suggested I also recommend buying one of the shotgun “packages” that comes with two (2) barrels (one shorter for self-defense). My first shotgun which I purchased nearly five (5) years ago is a Savage-Stevens 320 20 gauge w/26″ barrel, it was new in the box and cost me $130.00, it suits my needs, but imagine my surprise when I contacted the manufacturer and learned Savage-Stevens DOES NOT sell barrels separately (I wanted either an 18.5″ or 22″) so when selecting a shotgun choose carefully.

  17. Another great choice for home defense as well as bird hunting is the Browning BPS Upland Special. Great high quality shotgun with bottom eject, shorter barrel, handles great. They no longer produce this model, wish they would bring it back.

  18. I started with a Rem 870 and now have two Benellis. The Nova and Supernova are great shotguns. Both perfect for home defense and blowing up melons….

  19. Two barrels is Ok, but for a mossy 500 the 18.5” barrel is about $100. You can buy a Maverick 88 for just over $200 and never have to switch. That’s how I ended up with the 20” Mav 88, even though i have two 500’s. And it holds two more in the tube also. At the 88 price point I’m not an advocate for the 2 barrel option (I did have one for a while but sold it and got the 88).

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