Top 20 Things To Know About Tactical Shotguns

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A tactical shotgun is best served by a short stock so you can get
your elbows down and maneuver in tight quarters.

Why a tactical shotgun, you may ask? This question comes up all the time. “Do I want 12 gauge or 20? Long or short barrel? Folding stock or not? What kind of sights? What’s buckshot? Birdshot or not?” So, let’s just list ’em and tackle them right off.

1: The “normal” legal limit of an 18″ barrel is what you want for ease of maneuver. If you want to bother with the paperwork, fine: go shorter. Mossberg and Remington both offer new models with abbreviated grip areas and very short barrels but meeting the overall length of 26″ mandated by the Feds. They are essentially a new breed of short, tactical shotgun and deserve a look.


The 590 Shockwave from Mossberg offers you an ultra-short “firearm”
that is legal due to its overall length despite its extremely short barrel.

2: Many people advocate the 20 gauge over the 12 for reduced recoil and for smaller people. But recoil is a very subjective thing, and although I’m hardly a big guy I can’t feel much difference.

3: 12-gauge guns are widely available in a bewildering array of options. It’s harder to find 20’s with as many options.

4: Modern “reduced recoil” 12 gauge buckshot is very manageable and very effective.

5: Recommending birdshot because it won’t over-penetrate walls is to recommend a round that may not penetrate heavy leather jackets or similar at certain distances. Make sure your choice fits your situation, environment and needs.

6: A case is sometimes made for #4 or #1 buckshot, but the far more common 00 buck won’t be seen as “exotic” and is widely available. More, every expert recommends 00 buck, usually including the “reduced recoil” versions.

7: The old adage (with 00 buck) of 1″ of spread for every yard of travel is more like ½” per yard these days (even less with some rounds), with late model guns and modern ammo. That conservatively makes for a 16-yard weapon if you want to keep ’em all in an 8″ spread, which is farther than a civilian is likely to need to use the gun.

8: A shotgun is an aimed weapon, even with buckshot, and it’s almost as easy to miss with it as it is with a rifle. Honest.

9: Extended mag tubes are nice and don’t cost too much in terms of weight and maneuverability, even if you are unlikely to need the extra shots.


The exotic-looking Dragon breaching attachment on this shotgun
is an extended magazine tube for additional shell capacity.

10: Ditto shell carriers. Depending on where they are placed and what else you’ve loaded the gun up with, they might cause the gun to give up maneuverability, but that is an individual thing.

11: Shotguns do not have brutal, uncontrollable recoil. Using the push-pull (sometimes called the bow-and-arrow) technique and proper body mechanics anyone can control one well.

12: Shotguns are an expert’s weapon. They take more skill to accurately shoot and control than an AR-15. The safety should come off only when you are in the act of firing the weapon and go back on immediately after, and without changing your firing grip. But that’s impossible with the common Remington 870. The Mossberg tang safety is better in this regard, but it doesn’t work with pistol grips. Getting the safety back on is important. You should not move, run, change position, or challenge a suspect, with the safety off.

13: Pistol grips make the shotgun easier to shoot from tactical positions (elbows retracted, etc.), more instinctive to shoot, and they provide commonality with AR platforms and handguns. But they are at odds with Mossberg’s far better safety position. However, the main advantage of pistol grips is they get your shooting thumb off the stock’s comb where, with a short tactical stock, it tends to get driven into your nose under recoil.


While a vertical pistol grip makes a shotgun more controllable, it does
not work well with the tang-mounted safety of Mossberg shotguns.

14: Almost all factory shotgun stocks are too long for tactical work, even most youth stocks. For a pump gun you can get after-market stocks of the proper length, but autos, because of the spring tube, have severe limits on how short a stock can go.

15: Pump guns will fire any shell fitting in the chamber while autos can be ammo sensitive. Ensure your semi-auto runs the shells you select if you make that choice.

16: Autos are faster in theory, but many good shooters can run a pump as fast as an auto.

17: I can make a case for practicing slug swap outs for police and military. I can’t for civilians. If you need a slug, I have to ask why you don’t simply use a rifle to begin with.

18: The drop on most factory stocks, and all length-adjustable stocks, is too little. “Drop” refers to how much the heel of the stock is lower than the bore axis. Most factory stocks have little drop because that’s okay in the hunting and sporting world. But for tactical applications your head has to come down to the sights and a high comb simply won’t allow it for many people.

19: Slings on a shotgun are essential for police because after they have shot a bad guy they have to then control, cuff and search them, as well as communicate with dispatch. They can’t simply lay the shotgun down or hand it off to a bystander. Civilians don’t have these responsibilities and are far less likely to need a sling. Which is good since a sling can get caught on things.


A weapon-mounted light, like this Surefire 618LMG fore end
for a Remington 870, can be a great addition.

20: All tactical long guns need an attached white light because you need two hands to operate it. The light should have a momentary-on only switch, for reasons I hope are self-explanatory.

So, there you have it. A primer on 20 of the most common questions about the tactical shotgun. Armed with this info, you can now make more of an informed choice about which one configured what way is right for you!

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