Home Authors Posts by Scott Wagner

Scott Wagner

Best Tactical Shotgun Options And Buyer’s Guide (2023)

Here are the best tactical shotgun options for home and personal defense, plus the definitive guide on the weapons system.

Updated 08/18/2023

The tactical shotgun still has a place in self-defense, even though its popularity has been supplanted by the meteoric rise of the AR-15. Really, the shotgun exists outside of the basic self-defense arena, which is dominated by the handgun. Because of its legendary reputation and brute power, the shotgun is more of an offensive weapon. It has been used in warfare since the invention of the powder which powers it, and the military is not usually in a defensive mission.

A tactical shotgun need not be fancy.

The shotgun is also the most versatile weapon out there. While it’s not always the best for every purpose, it can serve nearly every purpose requiring a firearm. For home and property defense, at close to moderate range, it is hard to beat the right type of shotgun. Also, a tactical shotgun may be legally obtained more easily than a handgun (as in Canada or Australia). But before we look at the best in class of this type of gun, let’s get into what actually makes a tactical shotgun.

Already know all this stuff? You can JUMP AHEAD to our picks for the best tactical shotguns.

What Is A Tactical Shotgun?

Table of Contents

Pump-Action Vs Semi-Auto Shotguns
Tactical Weaponlights
Ammunition Selection
Shell Length
Less-Lethal Rounds?
Tactical Shotgun Myths
Best Tactical Shotgun Options

A tactical shotgun can take several forms (there is no hard and fast definition), and also serve as a multi-role tool, especially if one lives on a farm or ranch, where it can serve animal control duties as well. Traditionally a standard hunting shotgun is used for this purpose, such as a Remington 870 Wingmaster, loaded with hunting loads, since the concept of a tactical shotgun is relatively new. While a weapon like this can suffice, there are some better shotgun configurations to work with.


Yes, size does matter, but sometimes the biggest isn’t the best for everyone. A shotgun can be too heavy, kick too much, or penetrate too much. Some people can handle it and some can’t. Also, abilities change over time, for better or worse. That said, let’s talk size.

Like a law enforcement or military shotgun, the tactical shotgun should have a short barrel, 18.5 inches is the shortest civilian-legal length (outside of shotgun-style firearms, such as the Mossberg 590 Shockwave). Making it more agile, the shorter barrel keeps the gun maneuverable in close confines—such as a house.


The gauge of choice for the tactical shotgun is almost universally the 12 gauge, but other gauges can work as well. The 20 is not a 12, but being on the receiving end of a load of 20 gauge buckshot or slug will certainly ruin your day. There is the added side benefit of being much more user-friendly than a 12 gauge for smaller-framed members of your family. A 20 gauge tactical shotgun is a great idea from the standpoint of maneuverability since, in home defense situations, you may use your shotgun to check the interior of your home.

Tactical shotguns can be customized to your needs and applications.


Reloading in the middle of a gunfight is something no one relishes. Most standard Remington 870s or Mossberg 500s have a magazine capacity of four to six rounds (three and six in box magazine fed versions), which really should be enough. If you want a larger magazine capacity, that’s fine, but realize that the extra weight forward of an extended magazine tube slows down your swing and makes the weapon decidedly muzzle-heavy, as well as just heavy in general.

Pump-Action Vs Semi-Auto Shotguns

While there are some outliers, tactical shotguns come in two styles—pump-action and semi-automatic. Personally, I prefer semi-automatic shotguns—especially for hunting—given their quickness and ease of use, however, each action has its pros and cons.

The great advantage of pump-action shotguns is their versatility and affordability. No matter what you load into a pump—be it high wall, low wall, etc.—it will run it. This is a great advantage when you take the tactical shotgun out of a strictly defensive role. And they’re cheap to get into, often running $500 or less. Heck, the legendary Mossberg 500 can be had around $300 to $400. This means nearly any shooter can arm themselves well.

As for cons, pump-actions open the door to human error—in particular short-stroking in which the pump isn’t completely actuated and fails to cycle. Not good. Furthermore, they are slower shot to shot than a semi-auto.

We’ve established the semi-auto in most shooters’ hands is the faster option, however, there’s another advantage. Gas-operated shotguns also generate less recoil, which makes them less punishing in practice and improves their shot-to-shot accuracy.

The tradeoff, semi-autos are the more expensive option. Not across the board, there are solid affordable semis out there, but most options run $500 and north. Pick one up with an Italian accent, such as a Berretta, well you’re talking a definite champagne tab.

Additionally, semi-auto shotguns are sometimes picky about loads. Too light and it won’t cycle, which leaves you with a pretty intricate single-shot. Some of this has been cured in recent years with innovations such as Remington’s Versa Max and Savage’s Dual Regulating Inline Valve, but it’s a facet you’ll need to pay attention to when you go out shopping.

Tactical Weaponlights

There are several ways of attaching a tactical light which don’t necessarily require the use of a Picatinny rail, commonly found on the AR-15 system, which more and more tactical shotgun manufacturers are starting to add. There is the option of using a light-bearing forend such as the one offered by Surefire. These forend units, which are model-specific for pump or semi-auto, replace the original forend on the weapon and hold the tactical light and operation switches. The switches allow for thumb operation by both right- and left-handed users. There are models available in LED or incandescent bulb systems, with the LED versions far outnumbering incandescent versions. The LED is going to stand up to shotgun recoil much better than any incandescent bulb, and the lumen power is now right up there with the formerly dominant xenon incandescent systems.

Surefire's Dedicated Shotgun Forend provides 600 lumens of illumination.

In addition to dedicated forend mounts, there are universal mounting systems available that can be affixed to the magazine tube to hold your light system of choice. These, however, usually require the use of a light that has an external wire leading to a pressure switch adhered to the forend by Velcro. This wire can catch on things. This may not be the best system available, but it is less expensive than the Surefire system and, since we are talking defense here and not dynamic entry on a SWAT team, the external wire mounting might not be an issue.


A single bead works okay for ranges of 15 to 20 yards when using buckshot on a full-size silhouette target. But for accurate fire, you are missing out on the precision capability of the weapon when you use a bead-sighted shotgun.

Shotguns can be very accurate with slugs and shots if you equip them properly and train with them. Remington’s rifle sights mounted on their shotgun are excellent, but ghost ring rear sights and red-dot optics can bring the system to another level.

A tritium front sight, such as this XS Dot, can enhance a tactical shotgun's low-light capabilities, but has limitations.

Ammunition Selection

Load selection for your tactical shotgun will depend on where you reside, or rather, what type of structure you reside in. Interior construction and location may even determine if a shotgun is a viable home and self-defense option. If you live in an apartment with paper-thin walls, or even a house or trailer with this type of construction, the shotgun may be totally out of the question due to over-penetration risk.



These are the shot on the upper part of the chart. Essentially, there are dozens to hundreds of these loaded into a shell, meant to increase your chances at hitting an airborne target on the move. Yes, they'll put a two-legged threat down, however, they are not the optimal choice. The shot loses velocity quickly, can have poor penetration qualities and in most circumstances isn't advisable for personal defense.


These are the shot on the lower part of the above chart. The pellets range in size from .24 inch to .36 inch and as their name implies were originally used to harvest deer. They still fill this role, but are generally the go-to option for tactical applications. Typically, 00—also known as “double aught”—is the most common, with a shell pitching nine pellets approximately the size of a 9mm or .38 Special bullet. The one concern tied to buckshot, particularly at the “aught” end of things is over-penetration—something to keep in mind if you envision the tactical shotgun as a home-defense tool.


Again, the slug finds its genesis in hunting season and presently is the most used load for those who hunt medium to large game with a shotgun. The advantage of slugs, they extend the effective range of a shotgun and have absolutely devastating terminal ballistics. Weighting 1 ounce, slugs also do a job on drywall and other permeable barriers, a facet worthing considering.

Read Also: Styles Of Shotgun Slugs

Shell Length

Next comes shell length. The most commonly-used shell lengths, regardless of gauge, are 2-1/2 (.410 gauge only) to 2-3/4 (20 and 12 gauges) inches. These shells, depending on powder charge and shot type, are adequate for most any shotgun duties that the particular bore is capable of handling, from clay targets to deer, or larger close-range game when slugs are used. Magnums can be overkill both on the giving and the receiving end in most defensive encounters.

There is a 2-3/4-inch magnum load (same velocity, slightly heavier payload) but it is not commonly encountered. Beyond that is the 3-inch magnum round. A round is generally considered a “magnum” charge for the given gauge when it provides longer range, more power, a heavier payload, and/or, you guessed it, more recoil. For example, the standard 2-1/2-inch 12 gauge shell loaded with 00 Buckshot holds nine pellets. In the 3-inch magnum load, it packs 12 pellets and begins to become unpleasant to shoot.


Speaking of recoil, here is a chart comparing recoil energy for various 20 and 12 gauge loads and how they compare. For load selection, this may help some of you who are a little overzealous with the “biggest is the best” mindset. Yep, you can handle the big loads for a few shots, but not for long-term practice, and you must practice with the rounds, or their direct equivalent, that you plan on keeping in your weapon.


This is kind of a “beating” chart — it shows what kind of beating you will take based on gun weight and load. To understand foot-pounds, the measure of free recoil energy, we will use this definition: one foot-pound is a unit of work equal to the work done by a force of one pound acting through a distance of one foot in the direction of the force. In other words, one foot-pound is the amount of energy required to move a one-pound object (not including calculations of friction) a distance of one foot. 12.5 foot-pounds of energy is the amount of energy required to move a 12.5 pound object one foot and so on.

12.5 has always been given as the standard amount of free recoil energy for the 12 gauge, but, as you can see, when you change gauge, payload and shell length, you boost the amount of foot-pound recoil energy. The other factor involved in felt recoil in this list is the weight of the gun. What is not included in these calculations is action type, which is important, since a gas-operated semi-automatic shotgun (such as the Benelli M4 Tactical Shotgun) has reduced recoil over that of a pump or double in most cases.

Benelli M4 tactical shotgun outfitted with ATI furniture.

Okay then, how much of a thumping do you want to take on the butt end of your defensive weapon system? How much can you take, while still being proficient and not developing a horrible flinch? How effective will your shots be? A 3 or 3-1/2 inch magnum in a six-pound shotgun for home defense in suburbia or Midwest rural areas? No. While traversing or living in grizzly country in Alaska? Sure, no problem, but in my house or on my property — no way. I want my shot to hit the first time, every time. I don’t want stray pellets or slugs endangering others. I don’t want a flinch developing. And maybe most importantly, I want to have fun shooting my guns.

Less-Lethal Rounds?

Even if you buy some of the new rubber pellet or bean bag “less-lethal” 12 gauge rounds, similar to law enforcement less-lethal rounds that are available to civilians, you can still kill or maim someone at close range, especially if you hit them in the head or throat. We now use the term “less-lethal” to describe intermediate weapons in law enforcement rather than “non-lethal” for precisely this reason. People can die due to any type of force being applied to them, so nothing is considered non-lethal in terms of force application.

If you can’t stomach the use of deadly force to preserve your own life, then maybe you can be prepared to use it in order to save your family. But if you feel you couldn’t take a life to save even your own family then you shouldn’t be using a lethal force weapon for defense to begin with. Instead, consider using a civilian C3 Taser or pepper spray.

Now that we have what makes up the tactical shotgun, let’s dispel some of the myths that revolve around the weapons system.

Tactical Shotgun Myths

Myth #1: The tactical shotgun is an “alley cleaner.” Fire one shot at a group of people and they all go down. Well, at least in the movies. Shot pellets in most choke configurations spread at a rate of one inch for every yard traveled. Seven yards is the standard assumed distance in interpersonal firearms combat. A seven-inch hole at that range means that you can miss your target or its vitals if you don’t aim. Remember that seven inches is an average for all shotgun barrels and ammo types. Depending on our choke and load, many combinations will shoot even tighter than that.

Myth #2: The tactical shotgun is easy to use and fire. In an old police training film from the late 1960s, the instructor, with his best John Wayne/Clint Eastwood attitude, says, “The shotgun doesn’t need to be aimed. With the shotgun, you can whirl, fire and blow the guy away.” This statement sounds cool, but now brings a laugh from police cadets when they see the tape. The fact is, you can’t go out and buy one of these wonder weapons, load it, and leave it in a corner or close at hand ready to go without practicing with it. The tactical shotgun requires work to master, and it is not for the recoil sensitive, at least in its 12 gauge configuration. You cannot fear or dread this weapon. You have to embrace it and make it an extension of yourself — zen-like but true. If you are using a shotgun for self-defense, you must be able to hit the target you are facing without endangering others.

Myth #3: The tactical shotgun is an infallible “stopping weapon,” guaranteed to take down the largest attacker with ease. Many people think that if you hit the bad guy with a shotgun round, it’s gonna kill him instantly and blow him six feet backwards to boot. Well, no. Remember, your shot pattern may be no more than an inch wide when it hits the intended threatening target and can easily miss the vitals, which would fail to stop a determined opponent. Shotguns can fail to stop the aggressor — it’s happened. This also means that a shotgun hit is not always fatal. Many people survive. Sure, it’s way better than a handgun in a fight, and usually a better choice, it just isn’t guaranteed. Nothing is.

In Summery, What You Want In A Tactical Shotgun:

  • 18-inch barrel
  • Chambered 12-gauge or 20-gauge
  • Mininum of 4+1 round capacity
  • Sights or optic
  • Ability to change out chokes
  • repitable manufacture and a quality build that doesn't require aftermarket upgrads

Now that we have a handle on the platform, what makes it up and what it can and can't do, let's check out the best tactical shotguns currently available.

Best Tactical Shotgun Options

Mossberg 590A1 Tactical

Mossberg 590

Given the foggy future of the Remington 870, the 500 Series is the undisputed king of the pump-action hill. Not that many shooters didn’t already have it there previously. The smoothbore is battle-tested, having filled enumerable military and law-enforcement roles, and is as dependable as a well-trained dog. Not always the case, nowadays all of Mossberg’s tactical models are 590—special-purpose models of the original 500. Of the off-the-shelf sections, the 590A1 comes with everything you could want, from ghost-ring rear sight to 6+1 capacity. Its heavy-walled barrel takes a lot of abuse, giving you the peace of mind the 590 won’t flop under testing conditions. Additionally, there are 11 variations of the shotgun with some excellent features some might find better fit their needs. Best of all, nearly anybody can afford to get into one of the best tactical shotguns ever conceived. MSRP: Starting at $727

Stoeger M3000 Freedom Series Defense

Stoeger M3000

Turkish shotguns, in many cases, have a deservedly shaky reputation. The decided exception being Stoeger, which under the ownership of Benelli has become synonymous with affordable quality. When it comes to semi-auto tactical shotguns that description fits the M3000 Freedom Series to a tee. Inertia driven (there is an explanation here about the mechanism), the gun is light and agile, plus clean running. We’ll confess, it’ll thump a bit more with heavy loads compared to a gas gun, but you’ll find inertia’s run faster. Not a bad tradeoff. You won’t want for firepower either, with the gun coming with an 7+1 capacity standard. Ghost ring rear sight, blade front sight, adjustable length of pull, optional Weaver scope base—the M3000 has a lot of positives. There’s a nit to pick, however, the gun has a fixed cylinder choke. No big shakes if the aim is a strictly defensive gun, but hems its versatility if your aim is more at a survival tool. MSRP: Starting at $619

Kalashnikov USA KS-12


The Kalashnikov is a proven platform for shotguns. They have been appreciated and used by law enforcement, military, civilian sports shooters and hunters since they were first introduced in the early 1990s. While they were still being imported, the Russian-made Molot Vepr-12 was the established king of 12-gauge tactical AKs but was sanctioned from import in 2017. If you can still find a Vepr for a decent price, that’s the real one to hunt for on the secondhand market. As far as newly produced and available AK shotguns go, the current best choice is KUSA’s KS-12. Offering better build quality and higher average customer satisfaction than the Chinese or Turkish versions, the KS-12 is an American-made Saiga-12 clone that comes in the gun’s ideal configuration straight from the box. Whether your 12-gauge needs are for home-defense, SHTF or 3-gun competition, the KS-12 has all of the AK’s best features to offer in a shotgun platform. It reliably cycles with a variety of loads and is fed by detachable 10-round box magazines. It comes ready to mount optics and muzzle brakes, and the KS-12TSFS variant also includes a folding stock, making this a true tactical option. MSRP: $856.80

Beretta 1301 Tactical


While it doesn’t get the credit of other Italian tactical shotguns, the 1301 is an unassailable system. It should be, Beretta has been turning out shotgun since before America was a country. This is apparent in the little things the company includes on the 12-gauge, from an adjustable length of pull to a rounded loading port (no mutilating your thumb on reloads). The scattergun is versatile too, able to digest light load, heavy loads and everything in between. This is thanks to Beretta’s BLINK gas operating system that’s designed to digest almost every off-the-shelf load. To boot, it’s fast—the company claims the fastest, but I don’t have split times to plead their case. The ergonomics of the gun are traditional but very comfortable and intuitive. And the controls are well proportioned, making manipulating the gun easy. Personally, I would have liked better than 5+1 capacity, but with all its other assets that’s far from a deal-breaker. MSRP: $1,720

Benelli M4

Benelli M4

If you’re after a truly battle-hardened option, this is it. With users from U.S. Marine Corps to the SAS, and other pros, the M4 certainly has the resume of “best tactical shotgun”. But what makes it so special? More than anything, it's ARGO (Auto Regulating Gas Operated) system. Basically, the gun was specially designed for the Marines, who had trepidations about adopting a semi-auto. Thus, Benelli whipped up the ARGO, which improves reliability by taking gasses further up the barrel than normal. Essentially, it’s cleaner gas, that reduces fouling. It can digest thousands of rounds between cleanings. And it’ll keep fighting through swamp mud or an arctic freeze. Pretty nice assets. Furthermore, it’s simpler and lighter than most gas systems. But is it worth its top-shelf price? Depends. If your answer is, I need something to survive the end of the world, then yes. But if it’s, I need to defend hearth and home, it might be overkill. MSRP: Starting at $2,099

Remington 870


An oldie, but a goodie. When it comes to pump-action shotguns, there are few more classic, trusted and reliable options than the legendary 870. Its twin action-bar design set the standard for unfailing cycling and the gun itself is all but bulletproof. And affordable. Basic 870 models can still found in the $350 range. While Remington had turned out several tactical models in the past, most are gone from their present catalog since the company’s sale in the fall of 2020. Presently dominated by hunting variants, if you want a fancier tactical model, you may have to check the secondhand market for the time being. Otherwise, more basic configurations like the 870 Tactical are still available and affordable. MSRP: Starting at about $500

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Tactical Shotguns. Elwood Shelton and Adam Borisenko contributed to this post.

More On Shotguns:

Survival: 4 Types Of Shelter-in-Place Guns

Shelter-in-place survival guns
Shelter-in-place survival guns can be divided into four categories: extreme range rifles, moderate range rifles, close range long guns and intimate range weapons.

When it comes to firearms for sheltering in place, one concept is key: the layering of weapon coverage for your permanent position.

Your weapons should cover threats at extreme range (200 yards+), moderate range (200 yards down to 50 yards or less), close range (15 yards and in), and intimate range (closer that 3 feet).  You don’t need a lot of guns; a minimum of four will suffice, but get more if you can afford them.

Requirements for such weapons, in addition to being from a military lineage, should be as follows.

Extreme Range Rifle

The 5.56mm does not get it for true extreme range shooting. It is accurate, but runs out of gas. For the AR-15 weapon system cartridge selection begins with the 6.8 SPC and goes up from there. The addition of an adequately powered scope sight is helpful, depending on the layout of your living area. If you won’t be shooting at extreme range, you may still need a caliber able to penetrate heavy cover or vehicles. For me, my M-1 Garand works well in that role (a Springfield M1A is as good as it gets), while my custom 6.8 SPC AR with scope works well at the extremes. Stay away from bolt guns if you can, as your threats may be numerous.

Moderate Range Rifle

Here is where the 5.56 ARs and 7.62×39 or 5.54×39 AKs, and the M1 carbine shine. If semi-autos are banned in your area, then your next best choice is a lever gun. Pump rifles are fine, but you can’t lay the forend on a solid rest and keep shooting. The .357 or .44 Magnum Marlin 1894 carbines come to mind here.

Close Range Long Gun

At 15 yards and in, the shotgun still shines, even though it has a reduced magazine capacity. If you have a semi-auto that runs good, the home is a good place to use it. You can even trick it out with high-capacity competition magazines or speed loading systems. Concealment is not an issue. Of course, your AKs and ARs are still good to go for this purpose, as are pistol-caliber carbines.

Intimate Range Weapon

Three feet and closer means pistols, weapons with bayonets mounted (as the ultimate weapon retention device), and combat tomahawks or large knives as last-ditch options. For pistols, I still err on the side of capacity. The 1911 or a classic combat revolver are great and reliable tools, but not when you are expecting a lot of company. If you can’t afford anything else, go with what you’ve got, and practice reloading.

Think about your defense mission at home and reevaluate what you have.  If you don’t have a gun safe, get one, and fire-lined ones are the best. You don’t want marauders cleaning you out in advance of a major event. Know your local laws and practice, practice, practice.


Gun Review: Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style .45 ACP

Don't let its compact size fool you. The SR1911 Officer-Style 1911 is a full-powered defender.

How the SR1911 Officer-Style provides a powerful, yet compact defensive option:

  • Ruger's take on the U.S. Military's M15 .45 ACP
  • Designed as a full-powered compact pistol
  • All-stainless steel frame and barrel, lightweight aluminum frame model available
  • Chambered both .45 ACP and 9mm
  • Fast lock time, in part thanks to a titanium firing pin

The Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style .45 ACP Compact pistol is a 21st-century take on the M15 .45 that was produced for general officers in the U.S. military from 1972 to 1981. Produced by the Rock Island Military Arsenal (not to be confused with the modern commercial manufacturer Rock Island Armory) the M15 General Officers Model was created by cutting down and modifying existing 1911A1 pistols to make the new gun. The M15 was created because certain generals at the time wanted a full-power combat pistol that was more easily carried than the 1911A1. The new M15 would replace the .32 and .380 M1903 pistols that were carried at times even by the likes of George S. Patton.

Retired Ohio probation officer and Colt 1911 aficionado Michael Skeen tests the Ruger .45 ACP Officer-Style 1911 pistol. The solid stainless steel frame and slide keep recoil controllable even when firing SIG’s 230-grain Elite V-Crown .45 ACP ammo. Empties were ejected smartly forward and to the right of the shooter.
Retired Ohio probation officer and Colt 1911 aficionado Michael Skeen tests the Ruger .45 ACP Officer-Style 1911 pistol. The solid stainless steel frame and slide keep recoil controllable even when firing SIG’s 230-grain Elite V-Crown .45 ACP ammo. Empties were ejected smartly forward and to the right of the shooter.

In the not too distant past, I would have said that manufacturing a compact.45-caliber combat pistol was a somewhat questionable project for personnel who were generally located outside of active combat zones. After all, even Gen. Patton never fired his silver Colt .45 Peacemaker or Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum in combat during World War II — although Patton did shoot at a German plane with a .380.

Find Out More About Ruger Firearms

Around October 18, 2018, Brigadier General Jeffrey Smiley was shot and wounded during a meeting in Kandahar, Afghanistan in a Taliban attack at the governor’s compound. Two Afghan leaders were killed. The top military commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, was also present but not injured. It was not known if the generals were armed with handguns or if they returned fire. Because of that I can see the need for the M15 General Officer’s pistol considering the type of warfare we have engaged in since 2001.

The M15 was sized the same as a Colt Commander. The Colt company would eventually introduce what we now know as the “Officer’s Model” .45 in 1985. Equipped with a 6- or 7-round magazine in .45 ACP, the Officer’s Model, and the later aluminum-framed Lightweight Officer’s Model, featured a shorter grip frame than the Colt Commander and a shorter 3.5-inch barrel.

The Colt Officer’s series always seemed to me to be a cool pistol. One of the detectives I worked with years ago carried a nickel-plated Officer’s Model as his duty sidearm. The original Colt Officer’s handguns had developed a reputation for being unreliable. However, I owned a M1991A1 Compact .45, which was a budget-priced version of the Officer’s Model and never had a problem with it. The Officer’s concept still lives on today with Colt in its Defender Series and the longer-barreled Wiley Clap CCO (Concealed Carry Officer’s) Series, neither of which seem to have reliability issues.

Now, Ruger has added an “Officer-Style” pistol to its fine SR1911 lineup that picks up where the original Colt Officer’s Model left off — and it has no reliability issues.

Built To Impress

The Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style pistol is an all-stainless steel compact 1911 that brings the original concept into the 21st century. Equipped with a 3.6-inch barrel, this impressive pistol comes equipped with two 7-round magazines, giving up nothing in defensive capability over its full-size brethren — yet it is sized for all day carry.

When I took the SR1911 Officer-Style pistol out of the box, I was pleasantly surprised by the appearance of the matte stainless steel finish of the slide and frame. It appears to have a slight gold hue to it, reminiscent of the brushed-nickel finishes applied to various handguns in the 1980s, including the Colt Officer’s Model. It gives the Ruger a richer tone than standard matte-finished stainless steel.

With a weight of 27.2 ounces, the 9mm Luger chambering of the lightweight Officer-Style pistol may prove to be a better caliber choice for the average concealed carry permit holder than the heavier-recoiling .45 ACP.
With a weight of 27.2 ounces, the 9mm Luger chambering of the lightweight Officer-Style pistol may prove to be a better caliber choice for the average concealed carry permit holder than the heavier-recoiling .45 ACP.

The weight of the Officer-Style is 31 ounces, which is important in terms of soaking up recoil from the powerful .45 ACP cartridge. The overall length is 7.25 inches and the height is 5 inches. The Ruger has many features favored by today’s 1911 shooter. Starting at the top, it features a set of black, drift-adjustable Novak 3-dot sights. Novak sights are the gold-standard in combat handgun sights and are designed not to snag on clothing during a rapid draw. There are many manufacturers that make copies of the original design, but the Officers-Style Ruger uses the real deal.

The slide features wide, slanted grasping grooves at the rear only — the barrel is too short to perform a press check from the front. If you need to make sure of the Ruger’s loaded status, there is a large circular viewing port at the rear of the chamber.

The Officer-Style has a black-accented, oval-shaped skeletonized hammer mated with a titanium firing pin in the slide for faster lock times. There is also a black-accented oversize beavertail grip safety to protect your hand from hammer bite. The mainspring housing, also black, is rounded and is a nice compromise between a flat and traditionally arched type.

The black manual thumb safety is extended and easily reached. While Ruger’s website states that the black slide lock lever (which I refer to as the slide release) is also extended, it didn’t appear that way on my test sample. More so than the thumb safety, the slide release needs to have a rear extension so that it can be released during a rapid reload without having to twist the pistol in the shooting hand to reach it. My thumb just can’t quite reach it without twisting. The black-checkered magazine release is prominent enough to be operated easily by the shooting hand thumb, but not so prominent as to be accidentally activated.

The Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style .45 features modern enhancements preferred by law enforcement in a 1911-type pistol. These enhancements include a beavertail grip safety, genuine Novak 3-dot drift-adjustable combat sights, rounded mainspring housing and skeletonized hammer and trigger. It is a lot of .45 for the money (and size).
The Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style .45 features modern enhancements preferred by law enforcement in a 1911-type pistol. These enhancements include a beavertail grip safety, genuine Novak 3-dot drift-adjustable combat sights, rounded mainspring housing and skeletonized hammer and trigger. It is a lot of .45 for the money (and size).

The replaceable G10 grip panels feature the Ruger logo on both sides, which is textured to enhance the gripping service. Their gray-black color blends in well. If you haven’t yet figured this out, the Ruger Officer-Style .45 is one sharp-looking pistol. The handgun has a skeletonized aluminum trigger adjustable for overtravel, which, when combined with the “Series 70” operating system, makes for a crisp trigger pull. There was no need for any adjustment.

On The Firing Line With The SR1911 Officer-Style

I took the Ruger to a friend’s private range for testing along with an assortment of ball ammunition and SIG’s Elite 230-grain FMJ practice .45s and 230-grain Elite V-Crown defensive ammo. I enlisted the help of a fellow police firearms instructor Probation Officer Mike Skeen (ret.) to help evaluate the Ruger. Skeen is a long-time aficionado of 1911 .45 autos.

Skeen was just as enamored with the look and feel of the Ruger as I was. We tested it right out of the box with no pre-cleaning or additional lubrication. I started out with the assorted brands of 230-grain FMJ ball. The reason I do my tests that way is that I believe many purchasers of new guns will do the same thing. I was not disappointed by the Ruger’s reliability.

I had forgotten how pleasant it is to shoot a properly fitted and balanced .45 ACP — especially an all-steel one. I often test .40- and 9mm-caliber pistols, and I’d forgotten about the .45’s pleasant muzzle blast — at least with standard pressure loads. It’s not the push of a recoiling gun in the hand that bothers new shooters most, it’s the muzzle blast. This is especially true if the handgun is being fired in an indoor range.

Five shots fired from 30 feet using SIG Sauer Elite practice ammo.
Five shots fired from 30 feet using SIG Sauer Elite practice ammo.

Skeen and I both averaged 3- to 4-inch groups at 30 feet shooting two-handed standing. The sights were regulated dead on to the point of aim. Switching to the SIG Elite .45 ball ammo produced the same results, as did SIG’s Elite 230-grain V-Crown load — which felt the same as the practice loads in terms of recoil and blast. With a muzzle velocity of 830 FPS from a full-size pistol (which is actually 20 FPS slower than SIG’s practice load), the V-Crown should still be traveling around 750 FPS or more from the short barrel of the Ruger (weather was not conducive to chronograph testing that day). There were no malfunctions of any kind.

In our opinion, the Ruger SR1911 Officer-Style .45 ACP is a great defensive and carry pistol. If you desire a lighter-weight version, there is an aluminum-frame 9mm variant that weighs in at only 27.2 ounces. Both have an MSRP of $979.

SR1911 Officer-Style Spec</strong

Model: Ruger Officer-Style
CHAMBERINGS: 9mm and .45 ACP
SLIDE: Stainless steel
GRIP FRAME: Low-glare stainless
GRIP PANELS: Deluxe checkered G10
WIDTH: 1.34 in.
SIGHTS: Drift-adjustable Novak 3-Dot
WEIGHT: 31 oz.
HEIGHT: 5 in.
TWIST: 1:16 RH

For more information on the SR1911 Officer-Style, please visit www.ruger.com.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Tactical Gun Digest book, available at GunDigestStore.com.


Get More Ruger Info:

Does This Mossberg 590 Tactical Shotgun Blow The Rest Away?

When it comes to the Mossberg 590 tactical options, this adjustable stock model might be the cream of the crop.

What does the Tactical Tri-Rail Adjustable offer:

  • Nine-round capacity.
  • 3-inch chamber.
  • Heavy-walled barrel.
  • 6-position adjustable stock.
  • 20-inch barrel.
  • Cylinder bore.
  • M16A2 pistol grip.

Of all Mossberg 590 tactical shotguns this is the one fits me perfectly, and the only pistol grip shotgun that I like: the 590 A1 tactical pump. This is an outstanding example of a traditional pump, based on the original and long-serving Mossberg 500 series. It was previously only available in law enforcement and military models and is part of Mossberg’s extensive Special Purpose line of shotguns.


What makes this gun, formally called Tactical Tri-Rail Adjustable, work so well is the use of the M4 carbine six-position buttstock complete with M16A2 pistol grip. With the M4 grip collapsed to its smallest length, it is a perfect fit. In addition to the stock configuration, the 590 A1 I tested came equipped with three-dot (ghost ring sights are also available), non-adjustable, non-luminous front and rear sights. Very solid. The only complaint I have is that the rear notch is a tad too wide for the front, and I would prefer the ability to regulate the sights for full power or 3-inch magnum loads. The magazine capacity of this particular version is nine rounds. It'd be nice to see an 11-round Mag-Fed version come down the line.

I had never worked with Mossbergs prior to writing this, so I don’t profess to have as much familiarity with them as I do the Remington 870, but I can tell you I really liked this gun. Like I mentioned earlier, the handling of this gun is quick, and it feels more like a 20 gauge pump than a 12.

What I also noticed about it was the recoil, or lack thereof. I had it at the range, along with a Mossberg gas operated semi-automatic 930, a bigger, heavier gun with a standard stock. As I got buckshot out to test both guns, Federal full power 9-pellet 00 Tactical, I expected a bigger, gas operated gun with an actual recoil pad to shoot with less perceived recoil than a smaller, lighter pump shotgun. I was surprised to find that the perceived recoil of the 590 A1 was less than that of the 930! Actually, I was shocked how I got thumped by the 930 over the 590 using the same exact loads.


The stock on this Mossberg 590 tactical shotgun is angled sharply downward away from the receiver, and not straight back like it would be on an AR-15 M4 due to the design of the receiver. Remember, a sporting design had to be adapted to a military part that was originally never designed to be on a shotgun. So I’m speculating that some of the free recoil energy is being dispersed straight back into nothing, with a lesser part of it being sent downward through the stock. We’ve all heard that straight stocks on guns cause it to “kick more,” right? That’s the only way I can explain it. I hope that’s plausible, but even if it’s not, I’m sticking with it.

Mossbergs have a sliding safety on the rear of the receiver. It took just a little bit of familiarization to be comfortable with it as compared to the pushbutton trigger-guard safety on the 870. The main reason is that I have always worked my law enforcement shotguns out of Condition Three, and almost never actually engaged the safety during training or use in the field. I just plan on leaving the safety off during all usage. I also had been taught at an early age and in Boy Scout shooting programs that safeties, particularly crossbolt type safeties on long guns, were unreliable and should never be trusted or counted on, so I always kept an empty chamber unless actually shooting. In police work, the safety position shouldn’t be a big issue. I worry more about where the slide release is than the safety, and on the Mossberg, the slide release button is on the left rear of the trigger guard, rather than the left front. The A2 pistol grip on this particular model slightly obstructs (very slightly) the release button and it took a little while to get used to it, but it was also no big problem. The entire weapon has a parkerized finish, including the sights.

ins_590A1-XS-Systems1 (1)

The 590 A1 also worked well for smaller statured females in my academy. They found it easier to work with and/or better for them than the 870 Express magnums we use. They also felt there was less recoil than with the Remington 870.

The construction and setup of the Mossberg feels solid, and it is the only brand to have passed military spec requirements to become part of our defense inventory, so there has to be something going for it. If anything, it is priced reasonably, and it is a U.S.-made piece, which is remarkable for a price range that competes with Turkish-made guns.

Tactical Tri-Rail Adjustable Specs:
Gauge: 12
Capacity: 9
Chamber: 3″
Barrel Type: Heavy-Walled
Barrel Length: 20″
Sight: Ghost Ring
Choke: Cylinder Bore
LOP Type: Adjustable (six positions)
LOP: 10.75″ – 14.25″
Barrel Finish: Parkerized
Stock Finish: 6- Pos Adjustable Synthetic/Alum (Black)
Weight: 7.5
Length: 36.125″
MSRP: $879

Related (Model 500 Adjustable, Not 590):

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Gun Digest Book of Tactical Shotguns.

Disasters: When Should You Bug Out?

When is it time to bug out? That depends largely on location.
When is it time to bug out? That depends largely on location.

Bug Out, Shelter-in-Place or Both?

What plan should you be working on, sheltering in place, bugging out, or a mixture of both?

The answer depends on what the real estate agents always say is important—location, location, location. Simply put, is your home someplace you would want to get to or away from? The answer to that requires an equally simple set of additional questions: Where do you live? Is your home in the middle of a city? Is the area already high crime? Who are your neighbors? How aware of your neighborhood are outside people, i.e., is it a high-value area that might provide the best return for the least amount of work by marauders?

Next, ask if your home and property can be reasonably defended for a long period of time. Do you have the ability to harden any area of your house? Is there any chance your utility services or any other aspect of modern comfort, safety, and convenience will remain intact, even if it is through your own power generation?

Finally, is your home a place you cannot leave due to an invalid family member or some other such limiting condition? If your answers to these and other questions point to relocating to a different piece of real estate rather than staying in place, then you will need to be focused on being able to take as many essential items with you as you can, maybe at a moment’s notice, leaving behind only non-essential, replaceable items
of little survival value.

When Is it Time to Bug Out?

Hopefully, some of you have already looked ahead, or thought ahead, and have realized that living in a trendy urban area in the midst of or proximate to a big city with major crime problems isn’t the best of ideas.

Cops and firemen who regularly deal with the dregs of society have made it a long-standing tradition to live and keep their families as far away from the urban mess as possible.

In the rural area in which I live, there are firefighters and cops from both the nearby major urban police department, as well as from many of the now decayed suburban municipalities surround ing the main urban center that used to be considered safe.

In my neck of the woods, an average cop with any time under their belt has dreamed of, and sometimes managed to obtain, a “cabin in the woods” on a few acres of defensible land. Those of us who have made this choice are already ahead of the game and are not trying to work our way out of a hole. Cops in particular have been moving out and away from their jurisdictions for the 32 years I have been a cop, but so, too, have many firefighters.

Recently, more and more of those cops who have been moving “out” have been doing so not just to keep their families away from day to day criminal activity and other undesirable conditions, but to find a location from which they may be able to withstand a larger societal collapse. This is an entirely new twist on the practice.

If you are hemmed into living in a location near large centers of our population (the epicenters of civil unrest), and you are living in a home that is part of a shared building, such as an apartment or other multi-unit, multi-family condo structure, or a rehabbed or converted factory or warehouse, you will be lucky to just make it out of your
unit in one piece.

In those kinds of living spaces, the chance of being able to defend yourself against a large number of desperate neighbors or interlopers for any long-term period is very poor, since you cannot protect all sides of your living area or even have visibility on all sides, due to the common-wall construction. If you live in these types of structures, your plan should be for you to leave at the first sign of trouble and know where you are going to go via the safest route.

Keep the Lights On

From rolling blackouts to hurricanes, floods to tornadoes, power can go out at a moment's notice. If the grid fails, the PowerPot will keep you charging! The PowerPot thermoelectric generator converts any heat source directly into power that charges your USB handheld devices. Get Yours Now

3 Rules: Choosing Centerfire Survival Handguns

Survival handguns in societal disorder situations have the same basic requirements that rifles and shotguns do. The survival gun characteristics of reliability, ruggedness, portability, simplicity, effectiveness, and sustainability are just as critical.

Survival Handguns Rule #1: Portability

Now, portability may seem to be an “oh, duh” type of requirement for a survival handgun, since they are designed to be portable, but it really isn’t.

For example, if you don’t expect your travels to carry you through wilderness areas where grizzly bears roam, than a handgun chambered in .500 Smith & Wesson or even “just” a .44 Magnum simply isn’t required and, in fact, can be detrimental.

Portability for a handgun also doesn’t mean you have to have a primary handgun as small as the Ruger LCP.

What you need is a standard size, standard make, law enforcement or military duty sidearm, in its most basic configuration, meaning lights, optics, or custom competition modifications of any kind are not only not needed, but detrimental to the mission.

Survival Handguns Rule #2: High Capacity

The survival handgun you choose should be a high-capacity firearm of a commonly available caliber. With the present ammunition shortage, go with what you know you can obtain now and later.

That may seem like another “duh” point, but a firearm becomes less reliable the harder it is to find ammunition.

Survival Handguns Rule #3: The Six Centerfire Calibers

There are six basic centerfire calibers to consider for survival handguns, and I will list them in order of my preference.

  • 9mm
  • .40 Smith & Wesson
  • .45 ACP
  • .357 Magnum
  • .38 Special (I know, these last two are for revolvers)
  • 5.7x28mm (just to stir things up a bit)

While I love the .357 SIG and .38 Super and would take them over the .40 in a gunfight (the .357 SIG was our duty caliber at the sheriff’s office), they are not easily obtainable

Again, these are my personal favorites, but they are also top choices for survival handguns.

What Survival Handguns Do You Use?

What kinds of survival handguns do you use? Leave a comment below.

Experience WWII’s First True Combat Rifles through .22 Replicas

German Sport Guns' StG44 (above) and Chiappa's M1-22 (below).
German Sport Guns' StG44 (above) and Chiappa's M1-22 (below).

There is one big barrier in collecting World War II era firearms — the price tag. But high quality .22 replicas have made stocking your gun safe with the finest guns of the Allies and Axis accessible.

The First Assault Weapons

As currently defined, an “Assault Rifle” is considered to be a lightweight battle arm firing a cartridge of intermediate power (somewhere between a pistol cartridge and a full-blown traditional battle rifle cartridge like the .30-06) capable of being fired in a semi-automatic or full automatic mode from a high capacity detachable box magazine.

Most people consider the German StG44-Sturmgewehr 44, literally “storm (or assault) rifle, which fired the 7.92mm Kurz (short) cartridge to be the world’s first assault rifle under that definition. It was an outstanding weapon for that time, and was likely to have been at least in part, the progenitor of the Soviet AK-47.

Fortunately for the world, Adolph Hitler, besides being a psychopath, was also a micromanaging psychopath. He believed that since the M98K bolt action rifle had been good enough for him in the First World War, it was good enough for his troops 25 years later in the Seccond World War.

Development of this weapon had to be kept under wraps from him until it was perfected AND Germany was in such dire straits that a weapon of this type was needed to turn the tide of battle(s).

Fortunately again, the allies had so severely interfered with the ability of Germany to manufacture what it needed that not enough of this revolutionary arm could be produced to have much effect on the outcome of the war. But there was another assault rifle that was invented before the Stg44 that made an impact, before it was even envisioned as a weapon of this type. Our very own M1 carbine.

As many of you know, the M1 Carbine was designed originally to replace the .45 pistol as a more effective, yet easily carried weapon for rear echelon types, or specialty troops such as mortar crews. It provided much longer range accuracy and firepower than the great .45 did. But it was never intended to be fielded as a frontline.

Or was it? Well, yes and no.

There were other specialized troops that needed a weapon that was lighter and more compact than the M1 Garand or Thompson-so paratroopers were in line for the weapon-which was initially designed to have a selective fire feature. Apparently that feature was deleted by the military as being too costly, or slowing the initial development and fielding of the new weapon.

German Sport Guns' StG44 might be a .22, but hasn't lost its intimidation factor.
German Sport Guns' StG44 might be a .22, but hasn't lost its intimidation factor.

It wasn’t until the War was drawing to a close that conversion kits were provided to make the M1 Carbines in the field full auto capable, while production of the M2 select fire carbine was undertaken stateside. The late addition of select fire capability was a direct response to our encounters with the few German troops that had been equipped with the StG44.

So technically we COULD have fielded the select fire M2 carbine much earlier than we did, beating the German’s to the punch But typical stodgy military thinking may have also been involved in detouring the select fire capability as unnecessary. I say we won the race on a technicality.

We definitely won on the intermediate cartridge concept. While the .30 carbine cartridge is often thought of as a wimp of a round, it really isn’t. Launching a 110gr. bullet at over 1990 fps, and developing 967 ft. lbs. of muzzle energy-basically three times that of the 9mm at the muzzle, it is certainly nothing I would want to get hit with.

By contrast, the StG44’s 7.92×33 Kurtz, clearly the predecessor of the 7.62×39 AK47 round, launched a 125 grain bullet at 2250 fps for a muzzle energy of 1408 ft. lbs. Again, while the .30 Carbine lacks the ballistic potential of the 7.92 Kurtz, it is clearly in a ballistic class well above standard handgun cartridges. Again, the .30 Carbine qualifies as an assault rifle round, not only because of its ballistics, but because it was used as such throughout three plus Wars.

.22 caliber makeovers

The problem with both these weapons and their cartridges is that they aren’t available at reasonable cost or any cost that the average shooter can afford. Try $20,000 plus for an original StG44. Original M1’s in shootable condition are well into the $2000 range.

While there are outstanding newly manufactured M1’s available from Kahr/Auto-Ordnance, there is still the issue of ammo cost. .30 Carbine ammo is somewhat pricey. Ball ammo runs around $23 for 50 rounds. Not horrible, but not cheap.

Fortunately, the ability to have and shoot these two old war horses (or at least their stand-ins) at a very reasonable cost for both guns and ammo has arrived via two companies who are heavily invested in the burgeoning .22LR replica market. The Italian manufacturer Chiappa has given us the M1-22 .22LR M1 Carbine (sold through Century Arms and now available in a 9mm model), while Germany’s GSG (German Sport Guns) imported through American Tactical has given us the .22LR StG44. Both these guns are worth their fun, and maybe hunting and defensive weight, in gold.

The .22 replica market has been a beautiful thing.

The replicas I have worked with are often indistinguishable (without close examination by a trained eye) from the real thing. Remember the old .22LR M16 “replica” from the 1980’s? The only thing that vaguely resembled an M16 was the fact that it had a carry handle/sight and a triangular handguard. Any other resemblance To a real M16 was purely coincidental.

Chiappa's M1-22 has the potential to be a slick camp rifle.
Chiappa's M1-22 has the potential to be a slick camp rifle.

Chiappa's M1-22

All that has changed. Let’s start with a closer look at the “American” entrant.

The M1-22 is a dead ringer in the wood stock version to late war production “low wood” M1 Carbines. The stock is a very walnut appearing hardwood in a natural style low-gloss finish. The barrel and bolt are made of steel, while low stress components are polymer.

Seriously, there really is a difference between polymer and plastic-quality polymer is very durable and it works well in terms of appearance and function on the M1-22. The late war style also features a faux bayonet lug (I tried a real M1 Carbine bayonet on the gun, it didn’t fit but it looked good).

The magazine release is the correct style, and is in the correct location. The safety is the rotating lever style that replaced the original push button to avoid confusion with the magazine release button on early military M1’s. The charging handle can be locked to the rear with the small button found at the rear, just as the real M1. The bolt also stays open on the last shot.

The polymer magazine has the same profile as the original and is entirely enclosed due to its 10 round capacity limit. No loading assist button is needed. The magazine locks in place in the same manner as the original.

The rear sight is the same style as the late model adjustable carbine sight and the front sight is standard M1, plain blue-no fancy light gathering inserts. There is a slot in the stock that would accommodate an original carbine oiler and sling combo should you wish to add it, although the M1-22 is certainly no burden to carry as is.

Weight and feel is indistinguishable from the original M1 Carbine. This is about as exact a replica that could possibly be found with one exception. The receiver is grooved to accept a “tip-off” type .22 caliber scope and mount. This feature is very low profile and does not detract from the lines of the gun, but does allow the user to add a scope for hunting if they felt the need to do so and increases the versatility of the carbine. It actually took me awhile to notice it was there.

Operation, like any other semi-auto .22, is blowback, and the bolt doesn’t rotate during cycling like it does on the .30 caliber gun.

German Sport Guns' StG44 comes in an authentic looking pine box.
German Sport Guns' StG44 comes in an authentic looking pine box.

German Sport Guns' StG44

Now for the StG44 for GSG, a gun which takes the replica .22 world to even greater heights in terms of authenticity.There is no nod with this weapon to modern shooting-it is an absolute dead ringer for the original.

Now, since I have never held an original StG so my comparison is based on what I have seen in pictures, but is sure feels right, in terms of the hardwood stocks, use of metal in the construction, and the weight, which is significant compared to modern assault rifles.

The StG44 ships with one 25 round magazine, which does have a witness port down the sides. With that high a capacity, the port is needed to allow proper loading of the magazine by pushing down on the side loading levers as capacity rises. Otherwise there is too much pressure put on the relatively delicate .22 rounds as they are being stacked into the mag.

One of the most unique aspects of the StG44 is how it ships. It comes packed into a pine wood crate manufactured by Amish Craftsmen, with rope handle sides. The carbine is shipped with the wood buttstock removed in the crate which keeps the size compact. A simple captive pin system allows the stock to be mounted and kept securely in place. On the top of the box is an etched Nazi style condor, and the ATI name. The condor is a close enough style to add to the realism of the gun, but not so close as to offend.

The StG44/.22 metal portions are all finished in a matte black.There is a sling swivel at the front of the upper near the front sight,and a cut through the wood stock for rear attachment. There is no sling included, which there should be, as the StG44/.22 weighs in at substantial 8 ½ lbs, three pounds more than the Chiappa M1-22. A sling would come in handy.

Of course, the operation is blowback. The magazine port cover opens and functions much in the way that it does on the AR-15, an idea that didn’t carry over to the AK, but obviously did on the AR.

The thumb safety is on the left side, and is position like, hmm the AR15, although it operates in the opposite direction in terms of the placement of the raised thumb portion, as the Ar15. I’m beginning to think that Eugene Stoner may have borrowed as much from the original StG44 as Mikhail Kalishikov did.

The magazine release takes the form of a large checkered button on the left side of the frame directly behind the magazine well. It works positively and is best actuated with the thumb of the left hand (for right hand shooters).

The charging handle is also on the left side at the top of the receiver and can be used to lock the bolt back without the magazine in place. Below the adjustable rear sight which is adjustable for both windage and elevation. On the left side of the magazine well are the markings “Schmeisser” and “GSG-StG44”, followed by the American Tactical diamond logo.

Running the Replicas

Chiappa's M1-22 sticks closely to the original's specifications.
Chiappa's M1-22 sticks closely to the original's specifications.

Shooting both models revealed, well, a lot of fun.

I positioned a set of targets at 70 feet in my backyard, and set about to sight in both rifles. I had two different loads on hand, some Federal bargain hi-speed 40 gr. copper coated hollowpoint loads (almost every semi-auto functions best with high velocity .22’s) that are packed loose in the 250 round box, and a 100 round package of one of my favorite .22 rounds, the Remington Yellow Jacket.

I like the both the Yellow Jacket and the similar Remington Viper. Both are semi-wadcutter in shape-the Yellow Jacket is a hollowpoint and the Viper is a solid. Both cut clean holes in paper and are likely good choices for .22 caliber self-defense. Likely due to the semi-wadcutter shape, neither rifle performed flawlessly with the Yellow Jacket, like they did with the round nose Federals. I would save the Remington’s for manual repeaters, unless your particular .22 worked well them.

I fired the guns in 5 shot strings until the end. The sights of both needed adjustment and were easily adjusted just like their original military forebears. I was firing unsupported from a seated position, at plinking speed. I was rewarded with groups from both guns and both loads in the 2- 2 ½ range size. I guarantee that some well spent, bench rested, slow fire shooting time would produce tighter results. There were no malfunctions with the Federal loads.

Triggers on both guns were quite reasonable and crisp. The Yellow Jackets produced one fail to feed in five rounds in the M1-22, and one in 10 rounds with the StG44.

After I had the sights reasonable regulated, I decided to load up the StG44 to full 25 round capacity, and let fly. All 25 went off without a hitch, and it left me thinking about what a late war German soldier felt like when armed with one of these, seeking to hold off the Soviet onslaught. It may have given him a glimmer of hope, but fortunately for the world, the StG44, like the ME262 was unleashed too late.

Rifles' Results

So, what are these two .22 replica’s of the world’s first true assault rifles good for? A heck of a lot actually. They are both an absolute hoot to shoot, especially the StG44, which, even though it’s a semi-auto .22 and not the real deal, gives a good feel as to what the real deal must be like.

Both are excellent plinkers, but the M1-.22 has the edge on prone shooting due to its shorter magazine. With a scope, the M1-.22 would be great for using on small game or as a camp gun. Both could be used for home or travel defense. No badguy who is faced by a determined citizen armed with either of these guns is going to think, “aww, that’s just a .22”. You simply could not tell in in a high stress situation. The StG44 clearly is the winner for intimidation factor between the two.

Besides thinking “oh oh” when faced with one, I am sure said badguy will also think “what the hell is that?” and leave before finding out. But the StG44 is limited in the .22 caliber roles it could play. Remember, the M1-22 is much easier to haul through the woods, or to let a small statured shooter handle. Plop a scope on it, and it should do a great job on small game, varmits and other pests. The StG44 shines best in the pure fun arena-and might make a good gun in informal .22 caliber competitive events.

I love this new .22 LR replica trend. It allows interested shooters to get their hands on guns that they either can’t afford, or that aren’t available, or to practice with a replica of the full power gun with much less expense and noise, and to have controllable guns capable of personal defense. It’s a good thing for everyone.

This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2013 edition of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: The IWI Tavor SAR Bullpup

IWI Tavor SAR Review.

One of the immutable laws of firearms is that if the Israelis make or design something, it is sure to be of high quality and reliability—absolutely drop-dead battlefield reliable. The IWI Tavor SAR is exactly that.

However, one of my personal immutable laws of firearms is that if I don’t like a particular firearm, I will tell you how I feel and why I feel that way. I don’t like the Tavor.

Easy to handle, takes time to love. The author found that the bullpup design required some getting used to while testing it at the range.
Easy to handle, takes time to love. The author found that the bullpup design required some getting used to while testing it at the range.

It isn’t for me, but it might be just the rifle you are looking for.I will start by saying that I am a traditional kind of guy when it comes to firearms, particularly long guns. They have to feel and point right for me, and operate in a “me friendly” manner.

A short list of my preferred defensive shoulder arms is the Ithaca M37 Defense Gun 12-gauge pump with bead sight, the M1 Carbine, the M16 A1 rifle and the M4 Carbine. Why? They all point and swing well, and snap up to the shoulder easily.

All can be fired from the right or left shoulder without doing anything more than moving them there. The exception is the M16A1. It has no case deflector, but aftermarket deflectors can easily be attached to the carry handle.

IWI Tavor Review: Designed for Close Combat

After Israel was established in 1948, their military relied on a plethora of arms supplied to it by its allies, arms that included the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine and the M16.

Close-in warfare and warfare in open deserts taught them that these weapon systems might not be ideal for their combat missions, and that it might be wise to find something that met their military needs more precisely.

From 1972 until the 2009, the Israeli Military fielded the 5.56mm Galil, a highly modified AK-47 variant. The Galil has been in service for 40 years and has served well, but the Israelis thought they could do better.

They needed a 5.56mm weapon system that was more compact and maneuverable and ready to go at a moment’s notice. This time they built one of their own designs, the Tavor TAR-21. The Tavor SAR is the semiautomatic-only civilian legal variant of the TAR-21.

The SAR is different, radically different from most American combat rifles primarily because it is of bullpup configuration, where the action sits to the rear of the trigger assembly in the buttstock of the weapon.

This makes bullpup rifles much shorter than standard style combat rifles and outstanding for maneuvering in tight spaces, such as inside armored transport vehicles, aircraft, ships or tight hallways. That capability is the main reason for choosing a bullpup over conventional designs. Its compactness can improve the ability of soldier or a civilian in accomplishing their mission or defending home and property.

There has only been one bullpup rifle that I really liked—the FN PS90 Standard 5.7x28mm carbine. It shoulders well, is compact, drop-dead reliable, has zero recoil due to its cartridge and weight and is truly ambidextrous.

There is nothing to switch or change to enable the PS90 to be used by left-handed shooters. Its empties are ejected straight down. The magazine is removed from its top position by a central release, the safety switch is on both sides of the pistol grip, and the backup iron sights are mounted on the right and left side of the receiver. It is in some of these areas that the SAR has a few issues that must be understood from the outset.

Every battle rifle ever made has characteristics that draw criticism. Look at the M16—even with 50 years of criticism, it is still our primary battle rifle and the most popular sporting rifle ever made. Before that we had the M14, which was too long and too heavy and couldn’t be fired controllably in full automatic mode.

The great M1 carbine, the handiest battle carbine ever fielded, was hampered by its relatively low-powered cartridge but still stayed in service for 40 or so years. Then there was the M1 Garand, the “greatest battle implement ever devised.” During WWII it was criticized for its eight-round en-bloc feeding system, but it served as long as the M1 Carbine. Every firearm designed for use in life and death situations has its issues and your appreciation of them depends on which issues you are willing to overlook and adapt to.

Retired SWAT officer Sgt. John Groom aided the author with a second opinion during testing. He admired the SAR the most for its compactness and agile handling.
Retired SWAT officer Sgt. John Groom aided the author with a second opinion during testing. He admired the SAR the most for its compactness and agile handling.

Hassles for Lefties

The first and most critical issue is that the SAR can’t readily be changed to accommodate a left-handed shooter.

While this may not be a big deal for most civilian shooters, it can be for police—at least during their rifle qualification course of fire. Many such courses have a phase where you shoot from behind cover.

Often, it is required that you fire from both sides, shouldering your rifle on the weak side. If you fire the SAR from your left shoulder, you will get hot brass in the face, and there is no way to convert it for left-handed fire quickly. Here is what it takes to convert from the standard right-hand configuration to left-hand configuration:

  1. Remove the top flattop rail (Allen wrench required)
  2. Remove front swivel and lock
  3. Remove foregrip group
  4. Remove the cocking group
  5. Disassemble the cocking group and reinstall the cocking bar and handle on the right side
  6. Remove the barrel
  7. Covert the dust protection cover by removing the gas cylinder and dust reduction plate, then reposition the plate so that the cocking hole is on the right side
  8. In reverse order, reassemble the weapon and it is now ready for left-hand operation.

Obviously, this is not possible during a phase of qualification, or in a gunfight. So you will have to take hot 5.56 brass and powder in the face in the short term, just like soldiers firing pre-case deflector M16s.

Tight Mount and Watch the Mags

The second issue for me involves the “me friendliness” handling issue. When I began working with the SAR, I noticed that there is so much weight in the buttstock compared to standard carbines that it felt ungainly.

The stock weight wants to make the SAR slide downward off the shoulder, bringing the barrel up as you are mounting it. M4 and AR-15 rifle stocks weigh next to nothing, and the weight is well balanced and distributed more to the front.

The SAR needs to be mounted tightly into the shoulder, more tightly than the M4 before firing. This is an issue that can be overcome by spending time with the SAR, and understanding the handling difference involved. A single point sling, which I didn’t mount, would be helpful for keeping the SAR in a good position for mounting.

The final issue is the magazine release. The magazine release is a large lever located on the underside of the stock to the rear of the magazine well. It is exposed and can be bumped accidentally, resulting in an untimely dropping of the magazine.

That happened during testing a couple of times. But once we were aware of why the mag kept dropping out of battery, we were able to keep the magazine in place.

Let Loose the Bullpup

For live fire testing, I enlisted the help of an experienced SWAT officer, Sgt. John Groom, recently retired after a long stint as a team sergeant, sniper and training officer with the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department.

I wanted John’s input to balance any opinion that I had already formed of the SAR. Sgt. Groom had never handled one prior to our test at the range. The first thing he noticed and liked was its extremely compact size.

While the SAR came with a single 30-round polymer Magpul magazine, we opted to test it with standard aluminum 20-round magazines, in order to take the fullest advantage of its maneuvering capability.

We both felt that 30-round magazines hang down too far and could get hung up on gear. Sgt. Groom said that his team used 20-round magazines for their entry M4s for the very same reason, and never felt at a disadvantage.

The SAR comes equipped with a set of clever folding sights that disappear right into the top rail. In fact, unless you look carefully, you won’t even see them when they are in the closed position.

Since they are truly backup sights, I opted to mount a SIG STS 081 Mini-Red Dot sight on a rail riser. The extra boost was required to get the compact sight up to eye level.

A number of other folks who have tested the SAR had the biggest complaint about the trigger. As is true of all bullpups, the trigger assembly needs a connector to reach back into the stock, which imparts a mushy type of feel as opposed to the crispness that is possible on rifles whose triggers sit directly beneath the action.

Neither John nor I felt the trigger was an impediment. With just a bit of practice it was easy to figure out and get accurate shots on target. Make no mistake about it, however, the SAR will never be selected as a sniper rifle.

We fired the Tavor off the bench at 100 yards using 55-grain Hornady TAP, as well as 55-grain FMJ ammo. Accuracy hovered around the four-inch mark, and would likely have been better if I had not selected a close-quarter combat optic, but that is where the SAR works best.

We worked some close range drills, firing double taps, triple taps and going for headshots. The out-of-the-box reliability was high. As expected the SAR ran well and performed well as a close-quarter combat gun.

Sgt. Groom liked the SAR better than I did. In his case and mine, M4’s are what we are used to. If I was issued an SAR for SWAT use, I could certainly get used to it, but I might have to swear off M4’s for a while.

There you have it. The Tavor SAR is solid and reliable, but isn’t for everyone. If you have a need for a compact carbine, one that needs no adjustment of the stock before shouldering and firing, then the Tavor SAR would work. At the very least, you owe it to yourself to check one out at your favorite gun shop and take it from there.

Tavor SAR
Caliber:    5.56mm
Action Type:    Semi-automatic bullpup
Operation:    Locking bolt, long stroke gas piston
Barrel:    16 ½ inches and 18 inches
Magazine:    30-round polymer Magpul
Rate of Twist:    1:7
Sights:    Folding iron sights
Stock:    Bullpup design, synthetic
Weight:    7.9 lbs
Overall Length:    26 1/8” or 27 5/8”
Accessories:    N/A
SRP:    $2,000
Website:    iwi.us

This article appeared in the January 13, 2014 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

The Case for Direct Impingement AR-15s

The SIG M400 is a popular direct impingement AR-style rifle.
The SIG M400 is a popular direct impingement AR-style rifle.

When it comes to AR-15s for survival, there is a strong case to be made for standard direct impingement over newer piston-driven AR designs.

Why a Direct Impingement AR-15?

The gas piston does one main thing to enhance the AR-15 system: it keeps hot powder gases from fouling out the action of the weapon.

In the original direct impingement system, gas is vented from the barrel through a small tube into the receiver, and it is that gas that blows into the bolt carrier to force it back against the buttstock buffer and spring.

When these are compressed, the weapon cycles and forces the carrier back forward, stripping a fresh round from the magazine follower and into the chamber, where the bolt locks up, awaiting the next pull of the trigger.

The action of a direct impingement gun will, of course, eventually be fouled by carbon. With the short-stroke piston action, the gas is vented from the same area from the fore-end, but instead of being directed into the action, is directed against a piston and rod, which in turn cycles the action.

This keeps the action very clean and, in theory, operating more reliably. This is all well and good, but there are several other things a gas piston system does that make it less desirable for the type of survival weapons we’re talking about.

Direct Impingement vs. Piston AR-15sFirst, piston-actions cost more than direct impingement ARs.

Second, the design of the piston action generally adds up to an additional pound of weight for the weapon (actually for the weapon carrier). This is weight that could be traded for an equal amount of ounces in water, food, ammunition or medical supplies.

Piston actions also tend to cause a given weapon to be somewhat less accurate than a direct impingement gun, due to a sliding assembly of metal moving across the top of the barrel that interferes with harmonics. Every precision AR out there that I’m aware of, especially those set up for sniper use, runs off direct gas for just that reason.

Just like mid-range direct gas systems, no Mil-Spec standard exists for AR piston guns produced for the civilian market. In fact, there are a bunch of different types and setups out there.

It is not something that can be easily repaired if it fails, since there are no standard parts. Even without the survival factor thrown in, it’s entirely possible that the manufacturer that produced your weapon won’t be around to make good on that “lifetime guarantee” they provided to help you.

This article is an expert from the Gun Digest Book of Survival Guns.

Survival Guns: Advantages of the 20-Inch AR-15

On the left, the Del-Ton AR-15A2, on the right the Century International Arms C15A1. Note the shorter overall length of the C15A1 versus the A2 Del-Ton. The C15A1 has been set up for multiple patrol and entry duties with the addition of an Inova carbon fiber tactical light on a Midwest Industries tower sight rail adaptor. A SIG mini red dot sight has been mounted on the carry handle via a Tapco carry handle rail adaptor. The author used the lightest weight red dot and light available so as not to destroy the near perfect weight and balance of the original M16A1 rifle configuration.
On the left, the Del-Ton AR-15A2, on the right the Century International Arms C15A1. Note the shorter overall length of the C15A1 versus the A2 Del-Ton. The C15A1 has been set up for multiple patrol and entry duties with the addition of an Inova carbon fiber tactical light on a Midwest Industries tower sight rail adaptor. A SIG mini red dot sight has been mounted on the carry handle via a Tapco carry handle rail adaptor. The author used the lightest weight red dot and light available so as not to destroy the near perfect weight and balance of the original M16A1 rifle configuration.

Full-length 20-inch ARs with the original pencil-thin barrel profile are rather hard to find these days, but it's my top choice among survival guns.

Among my primary survival guns is the C15A1 produced by Century International Arms. Using an original surplus M16A1 upper receiver—forward assist, no case deflector, birdcage-enclosed flash suppressor, original triangular handguards, and fool-proof sights, Century added a new 20-inch, 1:9 barrel, a new forged lower receiver, and topped it off with an original, shorter, exactly-right-the-first-time A1 buttstock.

I’m here to tell you, this is the gun I would keep if I could keep only one for civil survival. I keep it absolutely stock, just as it came from the factory , and it rides in my personal vehicle as my primary off-duty arm. With it I can respond to active shooters, barricades, warrant service, or entry. The C15 snaps quickly up to the shoulder, swings like a lively field shotgun, can be carried all day with a basic weight of 6.5 pounds (you gotta love that) and, because of the 20-inch barrel, retains the full ballistic potential of the 5.56 round.

If the Marines hadn’t gotten their way in the development of the A2 version in terms of adding the longer buttstock, heavy barrel, and overbuilt sight system (as a corps of riflemen, their reason for the changes wrought was the enhancement of long-range accuracy and so I find no fault with the concept), there would have been much less need for the M4 carbine, which is replacing the full-length rifle in all branches of service.

Other advantages of the 20-inch C15A1 include:

  • It is much smoother shooting than M4-type carbines with their short gas tube. There is definitely less abruptness to the operation.
  • Heat buildup is not as bad, due to the longer distance that the tapped gasses follow back to the bolt carrier during firing.
  • It gives a longer sight radius for iron sight use.
  • It gives longer reach with a bayonet mounted.
  • There is no fooling with stock adjustment, it is always right.
  • If you desire, electronic sights can be mounted on the carry handle or with a forward scout-type system.
  • A weapons light can be added with a front sight tower adapter. (Midwest Industries is a great source for these.)
The rifle that preceded the M16 in combat in Vietnam was the Colt/Armalite-produced 601/601. Issued with a green Bakelite stocks, the 601 featured a hard-chromed bolt carrier group and prong-type flash suppressor. It lacked the forward assist that was added two generations later to the M16A1 series, and the case deflector that appeared on the M16A2. The case deflector has definite merit, which cannot be said of the forward assist. Left-handed law enforcement M16s need the addition of an add-on to protect the shooters’ faces from cartridge case burns.
The rifle that preceded the M16 in combat in Vietnam was the Colt/Armalite-produced 601/601. Issued with a green Bakelite stocks, the 601 featured a hard-chromed bolt carrier group and prong-type flash suppressor. It lacked the forward assist that was added two generations later to the M16A1 series, and the case deflector that appeared on the M16A2. The case deflector has definite merit, which cannot be said of the forward assist. Left-handed law enforcement M16s need the addition of an add-on to protect the shooters’ faces from cartridge case burns.

There is one disadvantage for the C15A1 or any basic A1-pattern upper, and that is the lack of a case deflector when the gun is used by a left-handed shooter. If you want an A1-style AR and are left-handed, you will need to secure a bolt-on cartridge case deflector. They mount through the hole in the carry handle, don’t obstruct the operation of the weapon, and save your face from being burned beyond recognition by hot brass. Dillon Precision carries them for around $20.

Full-length ARs with the original pencil-thin barrel profile are rather hard to find these days, since everyone seems to want an M4 profile for the advantages they feel they gain with the shorter barrel and adjustable stock. DPMS is cataloging one that is very close to the original rifle format, the A1 Lite 20.

Not really a true A1 nor an A2, it is sort of a hybrid. The Lite 20 weighs in at 7.3 pounds (still heavier than an A1, but not by much), compared to the nine-pound heft of the standard A2-style rifle. Weight is saved by using a lightweight barrel and the A1-style carry handle and sight system, which drops nearly two pounds off the basic weapon load is significant.

There is a case deflector and forward assist, as well as a bayonet lug. The handguards are the modern round format, and the buttstock is the longer A2 style (can someone please start producing A1 buttstocks again?), which is a little long when body armor or heavy winter clothing is worn. In any event, the fixed A1 or A2 stocks have one final advantage over any collapsible M4-type stock, and that is the capability of delivering a last-ditch defensive strike with the buttstock.

M1 Garand Bayonet for the Ultimate Survival Gun

M1 Garand bayonet, not a bad idea for a survival gun.
M1 Garand bayonet, not a bad idea for a survival gun.

Why would someone attach an M1 Garand bayonet to their rifle today? One good reason is covered in this article about survival guns.

History of the M1 Garand Bayonet

For civilian use, little thought has been given to the M1 Garand bayonet, other than interest as collectors’ curiosity. With preparation for civil disaster, the bayonet should no longer be considered a collector piece, but as an essential item in the survival toolbox.

Starting in late WWII, the bayonet changed in form and function. Prior to that time, most military bayonets were almost a type of short sword, with a blade roughly from 10-17 inches in length.

This length gave the soldier maximum reach for thrusting through their opponent when battle was close or ammo was low.

However, this bayonet length, or the spike-style bayonet on the SKS was really not good for a whole lot of other purposes, and it spent most of its time adding weight to a soldier’s belt without maximum utility.

As WWII progressed, and the M1 carbine was in front-line combat service, there arose a cry for a bayonet that would fit it. Due to the short length of the carbine, the old school full-length sword bayonets would unbalance the gun severely.

The M4 bayonet was introduced along with the barrel band bayonet lug. The M4 was much like the Ka-Bar fighting knife that was made for the U.S. Marines.

With a 6.5-inch blade length which could be sharpened on both sides, the bayonet was no longer a little-used burden for a soldier to carry, but a piece of equipment that could be used as a bayonet, fighting knife or tool for prying or opening rations.

Eventually the M5 knife/bayonet was introduced for the M1 Garand, which replaced the “sword blade” bayonets that were previously issued. The M5 used the same blade as the M4 and was equipped with a plastic handle.

The Switch to Knife Bayonets

The advantages of the knife bayonet were not lost on the rest of the armies in the world and many followed suit by switching to knife-style bayonets.

M1 Garand Bayonet as a retention tool
An M1 Garand bayonet works well against someone trying to grab your survival gun.

Use of the bayonet on today’s survival rifles is not for last-ditch bayonet charges. Where the bayonet shines is for use as the ultimate weapon retention device.

There are a many long gun retention techniques taught to law enforcement officers in order for them to safeguard and control their guns (although my method of defense is a pull of the trigger to discourage the attempt) but affixing a bayonet is most likely the best method of retaining control. Even though some long-range accuracy may be degraded, any close-quarter gun grab would be stopped immediately.

In addition, the modern bayonet is of course, a knife and a tough one at that.

If you have a rifle that can accept a bayonet, find a good used one or a new reproduction model, and make it your survival knife to maximize its usefulness. Anything you are carrying for emergency evacuation use should have as many uses as possible for it to earn a space on your body.

Today's Bayonet Legacy

Looking forward from the M1 Garand Bayonet is the newest M-16 bayonet, the M9. There are a number of manufacturers who make the M9, which has more focus as fixed-blade survival knife, since that is the most likely use for this tool in today’s army.

The M9 is an upgraded version of the previous M-16 bayonet, the M7 in that a wire cutter attachment has been added to the scabbard tip in a fashion similar to the design on the AK-47 knife/bayonet, and the handle is hollow for storage of a small amount of survival items.

The M9 makes a very fine stand-alone survival and camping knife even without the rifle to go with it.

Note that the M9 can be added to properly equipped Mossberg 500/590 shotguns as well, which helps address their lower magazine capacity issue. 

Any rifle that can mount a bayonet should have one available for it. If you have one of the Auto-Ordnance M1 carbines, a barrel band bayonet lug can be added to it with little effort.

All in all, the M1 Garand bayonet should be considered a serious option for today's survival guns.

M1 Garand Bayonet Update

U.S. military bayonets of World War II. Shown are the M1905 Bayonet (blued version), M1 Bayonet, M1905E1 Bowie Point Bayonet (cut down version of the M1905), and the M4 Bayonet with leather handle for the M1 Carbine. Photo: Curiosandrelics
U.S. military bayonets of World War II. Shown are the M1905 Bayonet (blued version), M1 Bayonet, M1905E1 Bowie Point Bayonet (cut down version of the M1905), and the M4 Bayonet with leather handle for the M1 Carbine. Photo: Curiosandrelics

M1 Garand Bayonet Identification

The M1 Garand bayonet’s history is as varied as the gun itself and identifying a Garand bayonet would require an entire dissertation unto itself.

The main bayonets used on the big M1 were the M1905, M1, M5 and M5A1. M1905 Bayonets Type I-III sport walnut grips, while the Type IVs have plastic grips. M1s and M5s also carry plastic slabs.

Early M1905 bayonets had blued 16-inch blades, later models were Parkerized. Manufacturers included Wilde Drop Forge & Tool (WT)Utica Cutlery (UC)Union Fork & Hoe (UFH)Pal Blade & Tool (PAL)Oneida (OL)American Fork & Hoe (AFH).

The M1 was similar in appearance to the M1905, only with a shorter 10-inch blade. The M5 variants were 6-inchers.

M1 Garand Bayonet Reproduction

While there are lots of samples of original M1 Garand Bayonets on the used market, there are some companies making reproductions.

For example, Atlanta Cutlery sells a reproduction M1 bayonet, complete with 1942 markings and the flaming bomb cartouche.

Dig Deeper into the M1 Garand:

Be sure to check out the Standard Catalog Of Military Firearms, 9th Edition.

Corey Graff contributed to this article.

Survival Shotguns: Not Just for CQB


Scott Wagner with a survival shotgun
When selecting a survival shotgun, the author recommends a pump action that can be tucked in tight to the operator. A model like the one above is reliable and easier to use.

Survival shotguns aren't just re-purposed tactical shotguns designed for CQB (close quarter battle), as Scott Wagner details in this article on survival guns.

Editor's Note: The author offers some great tips for selecting a survival shotgun in this article. Keep in mind you're not likely to find a literal “survival shotgun” for sale. Survival shotguns are sporting or tactical firearms purposed for preparedness.

The shotgun has some marvelous advantages for the person who is preparing for civil unrest. Most of you don’t remember this, but the short barrel versions used to be known as a “riot shotguns” back in the day when it was still okay to shoot lead, rather than rubber, pellets at people causing mass property destruction and injury to others. The shotgun may have fallen into third place status for law enforcement use, but it certainly has a lot of use left as a survival gun.

Advantages of a Survival Shotgun

A variety of shells suitable for use in a survival shotgun.
One of the advantages of the survival shotgun is the variety of ammunition available.

1.  Survival shotguns are useful for mid-range and CQB (Close Quarter Battle) defense of one’s home from about 25 yards in to what I call “eye gouging distance.” The close range power of a 20- or 12- gauge shot shell cannot be denied.

2.  Survival shotguns are versatile. They can be located with 00 buckshot for defense against large angry mobs or large angry animals, or with hunting loads for taking small game in an emergency.

3. The appearance of survival shotguns are worth noting. They are large bore, and the sound of a pump action being operated has always been intimidating to the bad guys.

4. Ammunition is universally available. There are an extreme variety of loads: buckshot, birdshot, rifled slugs, sabot slugs, duplex loads, signal flare rounds, rubber pellets and projectile-free stun rounds. There are also low-recoil rounds for those shy to buckshot and slug offerings.

5.  In its pump action format, which I prefer, it is extremely reliable, and takes little maintenance under normal conditions to operate.

6.  A quality, survival-ready shotgun is priced far lower than nearly any brand new AR.

Survival Shotgun Disadvantages

A pistol is the perfect backup for a survival shotgun.
The author recommends carrying a pistol in addition to a survival shotgun. Click the image to read an article about choosing survival pistols.

1. Survival shotguns have limited effective range with a shot or slug. Sabot rounds will indeed be more effective farther out, but they require a rifled barrel to reach their accuracy potential, which in turn, inhibits the patterning of shot rounds. Buckshot runs out of serious steam at around 40 yards, and the accuracy potential of rifled slugs runs out around 100 yards.

2. Magazine capacity is generally limited, unless you attach some huge competition magazine system, which destroys some of the portability of the weapon. I would stick with an 8-round magazine at most. Practice your loading and reloading technique. Also practice drills where you transition from an empty shotgun to a high-capacity pistol until you can get your shotgun reloaded.

Top Survival Picks

I favor pumps over semi-autos. There are some great tactical autoloading shotguns out there. Benelli is among the very best in recoil or gas operated-styles (I particularly like the recoil operated M2 Tactical), but they are pricey and a bit more complicated in operation. That is why police agencies never went to semi-auto duty shotguns en-masse, and limited their issue to specialized units like SWAT.

Here are my top 3 picks for survival shotguns:

1.  The Ithaca Model 37 Defense Gun, either the 4 or 8-shot model with the walnut stock. Anyone notice that wood is actually natural camouflage? These are real Ithacas (not foreign-made knock-offs) manufactured in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, on CNC machinery with hand craftsmanship at a reasonable price. The Model 37 was the favorite of the LAPD and NYPD, to name a few. It is fast-pointing, has only one entry point for shells. This minimizes penetration of dirt.

2.  The Mossberg 590 A1 with M4 collapsible stock is rock solid. It sports mil-spec reliability with fixed rifle-style sights and ambidextrous tang-mounted safety. Too many shotguns have way too long a pull for most individuals, especially with the way my shoulders are these days. I like being able to keep the stock short and tucked in tight. It’s a classic survival shotgun.

3. The Remington 887 Nitro Mag Tactical is the very best in pump shotguns from Remington. A pump action for the 21st Century, its Armor Lokt protective polymer finish makes it nearly impervious to the elements or being knocked about. It was a standout when I tested it for my book, Gun Digest Book of the Tactical Shotgun.

Ball Ammo: The Best Survival Gun Bullets

A lot of careful consideration and planning needs to be done in order to make sure you are ready for surviving a long-term calamity.  One area of attention is the type of combat ammunition you will purchase for stockpiling.

Ball ammo is best for survival guns. Choose brass cases.
Brass cases are better for operation and long-term storage. Avoid steel case cartridges.

Recent technological advances in ammunition of all types and calibers have been astounding, particularly in the area of defensive loads for pistols and rifles—most of which have been tested against the FBI’s ballistic gelatin/barrier protocols.

The only problem with premium defensive ammo is a hefty price tag compared to ball or plain lead ammo.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I can’t afford to stockpile copious amounts of premium defensive and tactical ammo. The good news is that I don’t need to. Ball ammo will be fine for what may come. All of the wars in the last century and the present have been fought with ball ammo almost exclusively, and the millions of military and civilian dead on all sides prove its effectiveness.

Ball ammo actually possesses several advantages over the best premium loads in addition to cost savings:

1.  Ball is easy to acquire in bulk. Depending on the special, they are often sold in quality military type ammo cans making it easier to transport, or sealed in the “sardine can” format which makes it easier to store long term.

2.  Ball does have greater penetration than premium defensive and exotic loads.  In for civilian self-defense or LE applications, the use of premium defensive loads is a must under most circumstances.  We want and need penetration to be limited.  In a calamity situation, your ammo may very well need to perforate vehicles or other hard obstacles you encounter while moving to a safer area (a .30-06 ball in a M1 Garand works great for that), or when vehicles have invaded your property and are in formation against you. If there is a mob of people coming to harm my family, I want my shots to count for more than one per customer if you get my drift.

3.  Quality ball ammo is ultimately the most reliably functioning ammo.  It is what every modern semi-automatic weapons system, rifle or handgun designed for defense or combat was designed to run on.  Premium defensive ammo was developed long after the design any of the current weapons or their operating systems.   If you are pondering the purchase of an AR-15, get it with a 1-in-9 inch barrel twist rate.  It handles both 55 and 62-grain ball very well.

Well-placed rounds of ball will work especially well in handguns and rifles when launched in multiples of one. When purchasing ball rifle and handgun ammo, be wary of using steel case ammo in anything but an AK-47.  Don’t use corrosive primer ammo in anything. The 5.56mm steel case ammo mostly functions, but the AR was designed to run on brass, not steel case ammo, and prolonged use can result in unnecessary extractor wear.  Also, some of the Russian steel case 5.56 ammo produces more visible smoke and carbon fouling than higher quality brass case U.S. made ammo. The last thing that an AR needs is an extra charge of carbon blown back into the bolt carrier with each shot.  Of course, steel case ammo also rusts. Hornady and other makers “wash” their cases with zinc to help delay rust, but after boxes are opened, the zinc case develops a nasty white powder coating on it, even in controlled storage.

Some of the Russian brands use polymer or lacquer coatings on their cases to prevent rust and some of those will begin to gunk up a hot action during prolonged rapid firing.  Effects on the looser tolerance AK-47 will be of lesser concern. Your survival guns may need to last a long time without attention from a gunsmith, so be attentive to what type of ammo you feed it.

One last cautionary word.  Stay away from “Zombie Killer” type ammunition for your defensive needs.  If you need to make a defensive use of a firearm under current conditions, and you keep it loaded with ammo labeled as such, you will be made to look like an idiot in front of a court or grand jury, or worse yet, made to look like a deranged psychopath whose ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality is in question.  Such ammo is for fun use. If you want to play or compete with it, fine.  Just don’t let it find its way into your defensive armament.

Blackout: Rehearsing for the Bigger Threat



Editor’s note: Ohio-based author Scott Wagner recently experienced a power outage from the powerful storms that have swept across America in recent days. Here is his journal during the blackout.

I am writing this post on laptop battery power by the light of a propane lamp. This past Friday, as many of you also personally experienced, the eastern states were hit by a sudden and powerful group of thunderstorms propelled by straight-line winds (known as a derecho). Straight-line winds are akin to a tornado without the rotation, and the main difference in a straight-line wind event is that large and small debris isn’t sucked up into a vortex and deposited elsewhere as in a tornado and the swath of destruction is much larger. The straight-line winds in this storm were clocked at 90 mph leaving power lines down everywhere.

How to survive without powerThere are hundreds of thousands of people without power in day three and 22 dead across multiple states. There is not a generator to be found as far as I can search on the Internet, which I did at my in-laws home, since they had power. Today is July 1st. In my area, we may not have power back on in until July 8th.

I was prepared for something like this, but not prepared enough. My weapons status was fine.  An AR-15 or M1A1 Paratrooper carbine was in the car; depending on which one I drove, as was an ample ammo supply. I upgraded my “on-the-body gun” from my Smith and Wesson 642 .38 to my Beretta 92 9mm in a fanny pack, just in case since the basic necessities such as gasoline, ice and in some locales, food, were getting hard to come by.

I had my lighting needs taken care of. I have three rechargeable heavy-duty flashlights, a Streamlight SL20, a Streamlight LED Polystinger, and a 5.11 Light for Life light that contains a capacitor instead of a battery and recharges fully in 90 seconds. When they get low, I just pop them on a car charger.

In addition, I have a new Maglite 3-cell LED flashlight that is rated at 131 lumens and runs on common D batteries (although in my area, those aren’t so common now), with an Intelligent Energy Source Management run time of an incredible 79 hours with progressively descending brightness. There is something to be said for good old-fashioned D-cell alkaline batteries combined with modern technology.

In addition I have an assortment of tactical lights, oil lamps, and a double-mantle propane lamp. There is also an emergency supply of food on hand for up to a week for both my wife and I, and a propane camp stove for other cooking needs.

As the event unfolded, I realized I had a large gap in my basic plans (this blog is about weapons for defending oneself in these times, not the entire preparation gamut, so I am not ashamed to admit where I made mistakes on the rest of the plan) that I needed to address.

We have a well at our house with three pressure tanks, to allow the water to keep flowing in outages. I stored 30 gallons of treated water in the basement for general use including flushing toilets. The faucets and toilets worked from Friday night until Sunday. In years past it was no big deal. But, I will be 55 in August. When the faucets stopped, I reached and exceeded my fun threshold. I am getting a generator once they become available again. I put it off since we are trying to sell our house. Big mistake.

Further, while my wife is more of a tomboy than anything else, she doesn’t like this new “no running water” aspect of country living. A portable LP generator is in our future and the wife is all for it now.

Fortunately, this dress rehearsal came without civil disorder. Use any dress rehearsal to sharpen your game and make ready. Be honest with yourself. Find the chinks in your armor and fix them. Long-term disaster preparation is new to most folks. The last time people prepared at anywhere near this level was in the days of the Cuban missile crisis. This storm was a minor event. Once the electricity comes back on, things will be back to normal. Learn from minor events, because a major event won’t be so forgiving.

Survival tipsMore Survival Tips

For more survival tips, check out Stay Alive! Survival Skills You Need.

Click here for a look at this book full of survival tips.

Best Survival Guns for Vacations

The best survival guns for vacations
A compact, extended range long gun is the best choice for survival guns on vacation.

For the past 32 years as a cop, I have never traveled on vacation without an off-duty gun.  Whether driving or flying to my destination, I always had an off-duty gun with me. In years past, that gun was usually something small and concealable—a Smith and Wesson .38, a Colt Mustang Pocketlite in .380, or a Mini-Glock. About three years ago, in addition to carrying the small gun, I began packing a full-size duty pistol on driving vacations. If I had to fly, I packed just the full-size gun.

I have watched our beloved nation decay at an alarming rate. Recently in Miami, a naked man attacked another man and gnawed off part of his face. Officers shot him. I have reconsidered whether I have enough firepower with me to protect my family and fight my way through throngs of angry, desperate citizens bent on harming me and mine.

I came to three decisions involving vacation travel for my family and myself:

1.  I won’t fly anywhere unless it is absolutely necessary for a variety of reasons. While you can check firearms into the baggage compartment, you are limited as to the amount of ammunition you can transport.

2.  Taking a long gun on vacation is now required.

3.   Additional survival gear is essential. That means food and water, flashlights, first aid kit, and a heavy fixed-blade knife or prying tool.
My long gun choices for vacation are different than daily travel guns. Even as a cop, I don’t wish to call a lot of attention to the fact that I may be heavily armed, alarming citizens and having the local authorities called on me. This means instead of taking along a full-size rifle, I need a compact firearm that can be carried in a small, discreet case or in a suitcase, yet be effective from 100-200 yards or more.

Emergency Survival Kit Backpack
An emergency survival kit, like this one, is just as important as a survival gun.

Emergency food and water supplies are also taken along. The very best travel supply is the Food Insurance Essentials kit. Priced at $199.95, this rugged backpack contains three meals per day for two weeks for one person. The pack includes a stove, matches, fuel, water bottle and water filtration kit. The food is very high quality, and Food Insurance has many long-range food plans available for home preparation.

While there are many viable choices for a compact extended range gun, I have selected a few examples that meet the requirements of compactness, reliability, effectiveness and reasonable cost. They are, in no particular order:

1.  The FN-P90S.  This short PDW is shorter than a collapsed M4 carbine due to its bullpup design.  Totally ambidextrous and with a 50-round capacity of 5.7×28 ammo, it is a nearly ideal vacation gun, and can be wielded from inside a vehicle and still deal with threats out to 200 yards. Retail is around $1,600.

2. Auto-Ordnance .30 caliber M-1A1 Paratrooper Carbine. This great firearm and its full stocked sibling are too often viewed as nostalgia pieces rather than effective combat weapons. The “wire” stock folds easily out of the way, yet still allows the carbine to fire when folded.  The low recoil generated by the intermediate power .30 carbine round allows comfortable firing with the stock extended, which is not always the case for folding stock firearms. Our soldiers fought with M1 and M1A1 carbines as primary weapons across Europe and the Pacific theatres in WWII, and again in the Korean War and into Vietnam, with the M2 full auto-version being added to the mix.  American law enforcement fielded surplus M1s in years past. The M1A1 can be fired from inside a vehicle with the stock folded, and is effective to 200 yards or better. They are available for around $900.

3. Century Arms International UC-9-A. It is a 16-inch barreled semi-automatic version of the famed UZI submachine gun built from UZI and U.S. manufactured parts. Capable of handling 9mm ball or hollow-point ammo, the UC-9 is as compact as the M1A1 carbine, and comes with four steel 30-round magazines. With the stock extended, hits at 100 yards or greater are easy and recoil is non-existent. Best of all, the UC-9 is reliable and is available for around $837.00

Any of these weapons can be transported in luggage or cases that don’t scream “gun,” and will not draw undue attention when being taken from your vehicle to a hotel room or vice versa. They are military grade and designed for combat use, as opposed to guns that are tricked up to mimic combat weapons.

Just remember to know and follow all gun laws within the jurisdiction you are traveling in (which may mean there are some places in the U.S. that you may want to give up visiting if you are concerned about your safety), and that your traveling companions know how to operate the travel weapon of choice in case you are disabled or otherwise occupied.

6 Tips for Transporting Survival Guns



Best survival guns

Best Survival Guns for Travel
Instead of a handgun, the author suggests keeping a long gun as your designated in-vehicle survival weapon.


When sudden disaster strikes, where will you be? No one can be sure. Add the additional variables such as whether the disaster will be more or less localized in nature (fire, flood, tornado, hurricane, unknown localized disorder) or one that is national (economic collapse) and you realize daily preparedness is crucial.

There is a very strong likelihood that you and your family won’t be at home near your stored provisions and SHIP (Shelter In Place) protection when it happens. I spend more than 80 percent of my waking hours at least an hour away from home on any given day. Getting back home from work in the event of sudden disaster requires forethought and preparedness than just packing an off-duty or concealed carry handgun. The locale and habits of the population you will need to travel through to get home will dictate just how much gear you will need in your vehicle with you daily.

For 32 years there hasn’t been a day I left home without an off-duty handgun. Until I joined our SWAT team at the Union County sheriff’s office, a handgun, a reload or two, a cutting tool, a less-lethal weapon and a small flashlight was all I felt I needed.

Ten years ago I was right, but not today. While on the team I carried my M4 carbine, sniper rifle and call-out gear in my car on a daily basis, and haven’t been without a rifle in my vehicle since. I still keep a similar response kit in my car as I am on 24-hour call status with the Baltimore PD. Law enforcement everywhere now views a long gun as our primary off-duty gun, with the handgun as backup.

Prepared cops and law-abiding civilians taking the same view must ensure that when they carry long guns in their vehicles they are in compliance with the local, state or federal laws applicable to their jurisdiction.

In addition to legal compliance, consider the following tips for transporting survival guns:

1.  Unless you keep your vehicle VERY close at hand, you should have the long gun securely locked in the trunk, with an additional locking mechanism that can actually be bolted to the body of the car or truck-such as those available from Santa Cruz Gunlocks.

2.  Don’t display any firearms-related decals on your car.  It’s like sticking a “Help Yourself to My Guns” sign on it.

3. How quickly can the weapon you selected safely be brought into action from a loaded or unloaded condition? This must be practiced.

4.  If the gun is kept in your vehicle long term, what are the maintenance requirements?

5.  Any electronic device on the weapon can fail or pose other risks. A nearby agency lost a SWAT vehicle and gear when a weapon’s light was bumped into the “on” position in the case, causing the vehicle to catch fire. Save electronic devices for home-based SHIP guns.

6.  Don’t use an expensive or irreplaceable long gun as your travel gun. It shouldn’t break your bank or heart if stolen. At the low end of expense and magazine capacity but at the high end of reliability and intimidation are pump shotguns. A fine example is the 12-gauge Mossberg 590A1 with a collapsible buttstock. The collapsed stock takes up less room than a standard stock model, and its Mil-Spec reliability is legendary.

DPMS Panther Lite M4-style Carbine
The author recommends this DPMS Panther Lite M4-style carbine as one of the best survival guns to keep in your vehicle.

Prefer a higher round capacity? A direct impingement AR-15 with military-style iron sights and a carry sling is hard to beat.

Two good examples are the value priced Del-ton Alpha 220H, 20-inch, full-size AR-15 A2-style rifle, and the 16-inch Panther Lite M4-style carbine by DPMS. Quality is high on both and neither will monopolize your funds. Both can mount a bayonet.

Keep these rifles clear of add-ons so they can be brought into action without turning anything on, adjusting anything else, and focusing on something other than your threat. The full size Del-ton rifle allows the 55-grain 5.56mm round to work to its full ballistic potential.

The Sporter Rifle from IO firearms is an AK variant that is value priced, reliable in the extreme and very smooth handling if you favor the Kalishnikov pattern.

If you live in an area that forbids semi-autos rifles, you could consider a lever-action gun such as the Marlin Model 1894 in .357 Magnum/.38 Special. Lever guns were the first assault rifles, and the 1894 is powerful with low recoil and holds ten rounds in the magazine tube.

Depending on where you live and work, you may or may not want or need to incorporate a long gun into your daily travel plans. That is up to you. If you do, make sure you stay focused on the issues of legality, safety, weapon security and practice.

What are the Best Survival Guns?

What are the best survival guns?
What are the best survival guns? Find out in Mel Tappen's Survival Guns book.

When Mel Tappen wrote Survival Guns in 1979, he set out to answer that very question. Since then, the book has reached classic status. Whether you're looking for an urban survival gun or something for the wilderness, Survival Guns is required reading.

Click to order Mel Tappen's Survival Guns for $29.75 (15% off retail).