Twenty Things To Know About Tactical Shotguns

By Ralph Mroz

Why this? Because the questions come all the time. “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 shot 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.

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 across a room.

6: A case is sometimes made for #4 or #1 buckshot, but the far more commonly available 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.

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.

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

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.

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 are often ammo sensitive.

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 will simply not 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.

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.

21: To read more wit and wisdom — or lack thereof — from Ralph, check out his blog at

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7 thoughts on “Twenty Things To Know About Tactical Shotguns

  1. MJN1957

    Interesting perceptions and generally accurate in my experience, except for #15.

    The only reason any random “good shooter” might run a pump faster than the same “good shooter” can run a semi is that the “good shooter” has an agenda other than objective honesty.

    Not that pumps can’t be run fast, but faster than a semi? Riiiiight……

  2. John Burns

    I have both the 12 and 20 guage shotguns for self defense and I am a big guy also. I totally disagree with you on recoil, There is a big difference. Put on a blind fold and shoot both and tell me you cannot tell..Parts for and accessories are not hard to fine. At least for the main accessories that 90% of the population uses. Same with ammo. Just a matter of looking.
    Ballistics at close range are practically the same. 12 guage in a home can be overpower if anything. Don’t use a sling, Oh, come on. I use one for training and they are a big help. Easy to carry in tactical, gives you use of one free hand,
    Every expert does not always recommend 00 buck inside of a house. #4 is extremely powerfull in a 20 and so is #3. My God, that is some very powerfull heavy lead coming at a intruder.
    I do thank you for your post. Just like folks to get all the opinions before just buying a 12ga. If you need more than yards for bad guys like 75 to 100. Then yes get the 12. But seriously, are your really shooting that far in home defense.

  3. Steve Edward

    Excellent advice and knowledge…although I may look into an after-market stock for my home-defense Mossberg. Thanks for all the helpful hints and information. Keep up the good work.

  4. Joe

    18 seems backwards.A well fitting shotgun stock should put the bead in your eyeline when you shoulder it. Shotguns are pointed not aimed. Somebody should make replacement stocks for Mossbergs with the proper drop. 12 Shotguns are easier to hit with than an AR. It would be dangerous to aim high with one but I’m pretty sure I couldn’t hit clays as well with an AR.
    A good semi-auto that you’re certain is reliable could be better in some situations. One arm wounded, for recoil sensitive people and faster follow up shots if you are not one of the whiz kids who can work a pump quickly.
    My opinion.

  5. Jeff

    Put on a leather jacket and let me shoot you from 20 ft. away with #8 birdshot. Then we’ll sit and have a beer and laugh about how the #8’s all got stopped by the back of your jacket.

    1. jason emig

      You mite wanna bring a bottle of Jack too.At least that’ll help numb up some pain.Plus you can pour the alcohol right in the open bloody wound.Just like the old wild west days.

  6. Bill Luvender

    Great article! Well thought out and well written as is usual with Ralph. Might disagree with a few observations, but NO ONE agrees with everything! Also really do appreciate the quality of all your mags especially the writers!……..God Bless!


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