Scattergat Endeavors: Making the Case
Welcome to Scattergat Endeavors, a dive into the world of shotguns. This is intended to be a read-along journey as I, a relative newcomer to shotguns, dedicate range time and research to the shell-slinging variety of guns and their uses. As I gain familiarity I will tackle new topics to offer a fresh take on shotgun use and gear, sharing with you all my successes and dead-ends along the way.
For this first installment I want to discuss just why I think the shotgun deserves such attention. Recently I was posed with the question, “If you could have just one long gun, what would it be?”
Of course, my immediate default answer was the AR-15. I’m sure yours was as well. It’s a versatile, affordable, ubiquitous tool for many jobs. However, the more I thought about it, the more I started making the case for something else.
So without further delay, a case for the shotgun.
We declare the AR-15 a versatile weapon, and it is, but it is not king of flexibility. With a single 12 guage from the rack at your local gun store, someone can go from being totally unarmed to the ability to drop anything in North America. Be it as small as a dove or large as a moose.
The same gun can claim a jackrabbit, and with one pump, stop a grizzly. While I would rarely find a situation where I’d keep a slug in the tube behind a bird shot in the chamber, the magic is the ability to do so. An AR gives you one caliber without having to take an armorer’s wrench to it. And while you can get it in a range of calibers, no one caliber will both drop an elk while still giving you enough of a pheasant left to eat after obliterating the poor thing.
You are only as limited as your availability to different types of shot and slugs. Which is akin to saying that one is only limited in writing a song by the amount of notes on a piano. “There’s an app for that,” could likewise be applied to shotgun ammo. “There’s a shell for that.”
Shotguns are easily the cheapest way to get into a self-defense long gun. The Hawk 12 GA Pump and Maverick 88 both will run a customer under $200 brand new, and offer capable firearms that also benefit from accepting aftermarket components for the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500.
Want the “real deal,” in pump shotguns? The Remington 870 Express and Mossberg 500 Tactical can both be had for under $500. Both are combat proven firearms for well under the starting point for even some PSA ARs. At that you are already far cheaper than what many would consider the barrier for entry for reliable and combat ready ARs at Colt and BCM price points.
While $1,000 may get you to the starting point of a factory AR you can trust your life to, the same cash can get you a shotgun, a quality optic, enough ammo to last you the rest of the year, and a burger on the way home.
Shotguns are ruggedly reliable. Especially in pump configuration. Mossberg famously touts that the 590 was able to pass the 3443E Military test of over 3,000 rounds of full power buckshot without malfunction. I’m pretty sure my shoulder would be ground into a jelly before I could ever get that far in one sitting.
The Remington 870 has found its way into armories for the Marines, Army, and hundreds of police departments as a go to gun for riots and defense. It has seen widespread deployment in militaries the world over and has been praised for its reliability endlessly. The Mossberg 500 has been reported to be used as a crowbar in reports from doorkickers in Iraq. Crowbar? Should have put that in the versatility portion…
I avoid terms like “stopping power,” but I will use one tired axiom, and it is that a shotgun can be a fight stopper. The joke among doctors performing autopsies is that you never see someone with two shotgun wounds. And while that may have been quite the knee-slapper in the May 1986 issue of Guns & Ammo it probably came from, we can take the spirit of the sentiment and apply it to defense scenarios.
In the unfortunate event that you would have to use your shotgun on two legged longpig, you will be bringing some of the heaviest firepower you can under 25 yards. Unless you’re in a commercial building or perhaps you have a Bill Gates budget mansion, odds are your indoor defense situations will be at much, much shorter distances than even that.
00 Buck (pronounced “double aught”) very commonly comes in 8 or 9 pellet loads where each pellet is a .33 caliber (0.330”) projectile. Remington advertises their Express Buckshot with 9 pellets as having a muzzle velocity of 1,325 fps. Each pellet carries 172 ft-lbs of energy, landing it somewhere between a 32 ACP and 380 ACP. However, combine all 9 and you get a staggering 1,548 ft-lbs of combined force striking your target. For comparison, many 9mm loads deliver somewhere between 300-350 ft-lbs. That’s a lot of thump behind each trigger pull.
The Remington Rifled Slugger 2-¾” slug round has 2,361 ft-lbs at the muzzle according to Remington’s ballistics chart. For comparison, many .458 Socom rounds come in at 2,200 and below.
Unfortunately for some, legislation may be a factor in firearm choice. California’s SB 249 legislation bans detachable magazines, and assault weapons are outright banned in New York if not owned before 2014. This can limit what would otherwise be incredibly viable choices for some law-abiding citizens.
Worries about legislation, or even future legislation, could make a shotgun a future-proof choice for someone with their rights eroding at a faster pace than some other states.
Unlike ARs and AKs, shotguns rarely bring the ire of gun grabbers. In fact, many who would claim to be against assault weapons are perfectly okay with shotguns. If one wanted to have a reliable tool in an area where owning an AR would draw lots of ridiculous attention, a more pedestrian looking shotgun may be a viable answer.
Easily one could tell their classmates or neighbors that what they like to take out on the weekend is their duck gun they keep in the closet. Little do they know that you’ve been intensely practings your quad loads like John Wick and can throw out a dozen shots in as many seconds with your “non-frightening skeet shooter.”
It’s not all peaches, unfortunately. While there was a time where the shotgun was the ubiquitous home defense go-to, and even used as a primary for many soldiers, it has fallen by the wayside in the tactical and defense world. This is due to a few reasons.
The biggest reason for which is the range. Buckshot loses effectiveness quite rapidly compared to rifles. Some accounts say 25m, some say 50m, and almost none say over 100m. The spread is too unpredictable and you may as well be rolling dice and flipping coins to determine hits. For those that would expect to shoot that far or further, the de facto buckshot load just won’t cut it. Even with slugs, at 200m (a long range for a slug) one must aim a few feet above the target, obstructing view with the sight or barrel, and engage in some precision guesswork. Even then, whether the slug still has enough effective velocity once it reaches its target can be tenuous.
Capacity is also an issue. Many practical defensive shotguns hold 7 shells in the tube, and that is on the upper end of what many shotguns offer. You can get far more for competition builds, but even those pale in comparison to the standard 30 round magazine offered for many, many carbines and battle rifles.
Reloading is also a skill-intensive and time consuming affair. Being fast requires a lot of practice and even some specialized gear depending on the application. Detachable magazine shotguns do exist, but feeding issues and shell deformation are gremlins that many manufacturers have seen persist. One could easily put down 90 rounds out of an AR on target as compared to 20 rounds out of a Remington 870 tactical.
The shotgun is a classic for many reasons. Reliability and versatility never go out of style and the ol’ pump action has both of those qualities in spades. So much that to cover it all in one article is impossible. Jeff Cooper took a whole book just to cover one discipline, after all. I look forward to learning and sharing with you all on this scattergat endeavor!