Survival Scatterguns

The Undisputed Self-Defense Champ Gets New Life

The refurbished Remington 870 pump-action 20-gauge is shown here alongside the larger 12-gauge version on the right.
Thanks to the Mesa Tactical adapter, all of the 12-gauge stocks now fit the smaller gun.

There is a timeless axiom in the annals of gun fighting. Most any rifle is preferable to most any pistol. At appropriate ranges, most any shotgun is preferable to most any rifle. It has been my lot as a physician to be privy to more than my share of gunshot wounds. Pistol wounds are fascinating. Rifle wounds will make you wince. Close-range shotgun wounds take the breath away from seasoned trauma surgeons. For exchanges of gunfire at bad-breath range the shotgun is the undisputed champ.

Heavy firepower comes at an often painful price. The muzzle blast and recoil physics dictates must result from touching off a firearm with a 3/4″ bore can be frightful. Ammunition design, shooter’s technique and some proper firearms engineering can help but at the end of the day, mass times acceleration in one direction will always equal mass times acceleration in the other direction. There is no way around it — it’s the law.

The gauge system used to describe shotguns is itself an anachronistic reference to old English measurements. Twelve, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge describe the number of pure lead balls of a given diameter making up a pound. This is why the larger the number means the smaller the bore. For whatever reason, the .410 is an exception and describes the actual bore diameter in inches.

After a brilliant September afternoon spent over a busy Mississippi dove field, or a full day invested on the range wringing out the latest high-tech, 12-bore slug and buckshot rounds, I am man enough to admit I want a couple of days off to recover. I often find some fairly massive purple bruises waiting for me on my right shoulder the first time I step into the shower after a protracted range session with a 12-gauge. However, there are some interesting alternatives.

The Remington 870 20-gauge is the spitting image of its 12-gauge brother simply scaled down a bit.

Winchester On Defense

The very name is an American icon. When a combat aircraft is weapons dry after expending all ordnance on Bad Guys downrange, a simple call is transmitted via radio. This call sign is “Winchester.” It communicates to all who can hear the transmission — you are out of ammo.

The company Oliver Winchester began in the 19th century has evolved into one of the most prolific and innovative munitions manufacturers on the planet. The Winchester plant in my little Mississippi town is rumored to produce some 15 million rounds of ammunition a day. Winchester is the sole source for 9mm ball ammunition for American troops and they produce the entire spectrum of military cartridges to stoke the small arms of US forces.

Winchester’s patented bonded bullet technology produces some of the most effective defensive handgun ammunition in the world. Law Enforcement agencies across the country feed their weapons with Winchester Ranger loads. The civilian defensive counterpart to this extraordinary high-tech ammo is their PDX1 Defender line.

Available in a wide array of calibers ranging from .22 Winchester Magnum up to 12-gauge and everything in between, the PDX1 Defender is optimized for social use. PDX1 ensures adequate penetration with massive expansion and predictable weight retention no matter the loading. Winchester recently introduced a PDX1 round in 20-gauge as well.

Where the venerable 12-gauge mikes out at .72″, the 20-gauge is more like 1/2″ — with commensurately lower recoil and payload capacity. However, caging the discussion in different terms, this is still a .50-caliber shotgun. While the 12-bore does knock me around a bit with full power loads, I can shoot a 20-gauge all day long without a spot of inconvenience.

The Winchester 20-gauge PDX1 Defender round launches a proprietary copper-plated 3/4-oz. slug at around 1,600 fps. This projectile is carefully designed to split into three predictable fragments in a soft target medium to squeeze every joule of energy out of the round into the target. In practical usage it’s the next best thing to a grenade launcher.

The Chinese-made side-by-side 20-gauge coach gun from Century International Arms is both well built and inexpensive.

Deal Of The Century

Century International Arms has built its business upon providing American shooters with quality innovative firearms at reasonable prices. Sometimes this means inexpensive sporting guns from places like China, Russia, Turkey and the Philippines. It also means building up semi-automatic versions of popular military weapons from demilled parts kits on newly made US receivers here at home. At the end of the day, however, nobody else really does what Century does. My personal collection is peppered with cool guns from Century and I have never had any trouble out of them.

Century’s range of shotguns appeals to the collector, the competitor, the Old West re-enactor and the security-minded individual. Their basic side-by-side coach guns are made in China and come in 12, 20 and .410. They sport exposed hammers, dual triggers, sling swivels and short barrels. Each gun incorporates rebounding hammers for safety. This means the hammers will not contact the firing pins unless the triggers are depressed. Fore-ends are beefy and the guns all maneuver well. Doc Holliday used a similar shooter in 10-gauge to help educate the Clanton gang during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

The new 20-gauge Winchester PDX1 Defender loads push a tri-lobed copper-plated
segmented 3/4-ounce slug to around 1,600 fps.

A drill and hand tap mounted an inexpensive aftermarket front sight.

Defensive Firepower

Selection of a survival firearm can be a daunting decision. Most folks default to a semi-auto handgun, arguably the hardest of all modern firearms to learn to shoot well. Truth be known, submachineguns are probably the ideal tools, but the prejudices of the uninitiated preclude their use by most Americans. For folks who don’t really have the interest or means to shoot frequently, however, a side-by-side shotgun can be an excellent choice.

No less a firearms luminary than Vice President Joe Biden famously opined a double-barreled 12-gauge was the ideal home defense tool. Google it if you want a chuckle. Of course he suggested it be used solely as a noisemaker to fire warning shots into the air from your back porch when confronted by a dangerous criminal. How this might disturb his full-time, on-site Secret Service security detail was not explored, but the basis of his rant has some scant merit. The classic side-by-side shotgun is easy to use and indisputably effective for personal defense.

The shotgun is indeed an incredibly versatile tool. I live on a rural Mississippi farm and we use our shotguns for utility purposes every few weeks. Birdshot dispatches any venemous serpents with the poor judgment to homestead too close to my hacienda.

Home-rolled rounds loaded with plastic 6 mm airsoft BBs discourage the local male hounds from seeking the affections of my she-dog without causing any lasting damage. Buckshot or slugs like the Winchester PDX1 Defender can transform a curious whitetail into deer jerky with remarkable efficiency. With appropriate ammo a proper scattergun can feed your family or keep the zombies at bay. The same attributes making the shotgun a solid defensive performer also make it a natural survival tool.

The exposed rebounding hammers on the Century coach gun bring added safety to the design.
The hammers will not actually contact the firing pins unless the triggers are depressed.

Sling swivels on the Century coach gun may detract a bit from the aesthetics of the arm,
but they sure make it easier to carry.

The Next Level

For those rugged individualists with a spare $200 and a little patience, a BATF Form 1 downloaded from their website and a bit of administrative red tape can produce some seriously cool survival iron at a very reasonable cost. Our pump-action contender began life as a rusty and shopworn pawnshop beater desperately in need of some TLC.

I suspect this particular Remington 870 20-gauge was likely some kid’s starter gun. When he graduated up to more serious iron, the 20 found its way to the local pawnshop. Always one to seek out diamonds in the rough, I picked up the tired old shooter for a song and headed to my workshop.

The paperwork to shorten the barrel at home is straightforward enough and details are available online. Just keep in mind the difference between a lifetime of shooting enjoyment and 10 years in the Big House is having the approved form in hand before reaching for a hacksaw. As turnaround for a BATF Form 1 can range from 3 to 12 months or more, you’ll need something to keep yourself busy while you wait. This is where the rest of the project comes in.

I started by stripping the gun completely and degreasing it meticulously with mineral spirits. I then sprayed the major components with automotive engine block paint. This stuff is available at any auto parts store for less than $10 per can. It’s available in a broad spectrum of colors to include basic black. Once the paint has dried completely it must be cooked for maximum resilience.

You can do this in the kitchen oven. The instructions are printed on the side of the can and most brands require three heating and cooling cycles at various temperatures to cure the paint fully. However, if you choose this option your baked potatoes will forever taste like a battery factory and you’ll likely have to cut the dog in half before the divorce settlement is finalized. A better solution is to pick up a cheap toaster oven at your local box store. Once the barrel is cut down it will usually fit.

After the paperwork comes back approved you can cut the tube down with a hacksaw but I opted for a metal cutoff blade on a table saw. This gave me a nice square cut and after a bit of dressing with a Dremel tool the project looks like it was done in a factory. A drill and hand tap mounts an aftermarket front sight without much fuss.

There are basically no aftermarket stock options available for the Remington 870 20-gauge but accessories abound for the larger 12-bore. Fortunately, Mesa Tactical produces an adapter that drops in place and bridges the gap splendidly. The adapter will set you back about $20 on Amazon and is both simple and robust.

With the adaptor in place the world is your playground. Top-folders, side-folders, pistol grips and spring-assisted recoil-reducing contrivances more complicated than my laptop are but a click away. With a little creativity an old beater 20-gauge can now perform on par with tuned tactical scatterguns costing multiples more and look cool doing it.

A refurbished short-barreled pump-action 20-gauge combined with a bugout bag from Echo Sigma
and some Winchester PDX1 Defender ammunition equal an optimized survival package.

Twice The 20

Century’s shotguns are ridiculously cheap yet exhibit remarkably good quality. With a little love an old beater 20-gauge Youth Model can become something markedly more sinister. When stoked with some appropriate Winchester defensive ammunition they will also drop most anything that walks. In a 20-gauge chambering they are manageable by most anybody old enough to be handling a firearm.

If your manhood allows it, a 20-gauge packs nearly as much horsepower as its larger-bore cousin with a markedly more palatable recoil impulse. It still retains all the versatility and maneuverability and, if had from Century’s expansive offerings or built up from scratch, remains quite affordable.

As you ponder what sort of survival firearm solution best suits your family’s defensive plan, you might want to consider a 20-gauge stoked with premium defensive loads from Winchester. The resulting package is fun to shoot, easy to manage indoors or within a vehicle, and will put food in your pot while simultaneously persuading criminal opportunists to look elsewhere for easier pickings. In fact, while I was typing these very words I spied an opportunistic water moccasin cruising across the lake toward my house. Snatching up the Century side-by-side, I dropped a pair of 20-gauge birdshot rounds into the tubes on the trot and sent the venomous monster straight to snake heaven less than half a minute after the initial sighting. I can think of no better practical exercise for a general-purpose survival arm. The 20-gauge is still, after all, a.50-caliber shotgun.

Century Arms

Winchester Repeating Arms