What to Look for in Survival Shotguns

What to Look for in Survival Shotguns
This woman offers a persuasive argument in favor of the practicality of survival shotguns with a view of the business end of her 12-gauge Mossberg 590A1.
This woman offers a persuasive argument in favor of the practicality of survival shotguns with a view of the business end of her 12-gauge Mossberg 590A1.
This woman offers a persuasive argument in favor of the practicality of survival shotguns with a view of the business end of her 12-gauge Mossberg 590A1.

For most wilderness, farm and ranch utility duties or home-defense situations, the survival shotgun is an outstanding tool.

You could do just fine if it was the only weapon you had for those purposes. It can be useful, too, during civil unrest, and while it shouldn’t stand unsupported, it is a good mid-range and close-quarter battle (CQB) weapon in many situations.

Of course, if it is the only firearm you have or can afford, like so many other things in life, you make due.

Having a survival shotgun for defense is certainly better than throwing back the rocks hurled at you by the mob that wants to tear you and your family apart.

Short-Barreled Shotguns: Good as Survival Shotguns?

Short-barreled shotguns, starting with the 1897 Winchester pump, used to be known as a “riot” shotguns. This was back in the day when it was still alright for cops to shoot lead pellets (rather than rubber), at people who were causing mass property destruction and injury to others.

Don’t worry about going through all the BATFE paperwork and obtaining the NFA tax stamp for a short-barreled shotgun. You lose too much in terms of ballistics by going shorter than 18 inches.

The barrel length for survival shotguns should ideally be 18 inches. A 20-inch barrel will also work, but 18 is best. Twelve- or 20-gauge models are the gauges that will work best. Leave the .410-bore out. It simply doesn’t have enough longer-range power for riot duty outside the home. The 20-gauge has more than enough power but with less recoil than the 12-gauge, which means faster follow-up shots.

Survival Shotguns: Go with a pump

There is only one type of survival shotgun that should be selected for riot gun-type purposes and that is the pump. The pump shotgun is simple, fast, reliable, and can digest any ammo of the proper gauge and length you can find.

The semi-auto shotgun is much more complex to operate, more expensive, and more likely to be sensitive to different power levels within a gauge range. Too, other than the recoil-operated Benelli shotguns, the majority of semi-autos will require more maintenance and cleaning to continue their functionality. That is why police agencies never went to semi-auto duty shotguns en masse and limited their issue to specialized units like S.W.A.T.

The survival shotgun should be of the type termed the “tactical shotguns,” which I cover extensively in my book, The Gun Digest Guide to Tactical Shotguns.

Survival Shotgun Extras Not Worth It

Don’t worry about needing a flash suppressor or compensator on the barrel in either gauge.

You or another selected user should be able to handle one without compensation, and if that’s not possible, then get a different weapon.

Also, the bore should be choked Cylinder or Improved Cylinder. Don’t waste money on a gun with an interchangeable choke system.

Those are for sporting use and, in addition to racking up the cost, mean parts that can be lost or, worse yet, used with the wrong type of ammo. It would be a bad thing to shoot rifled slugs through a shotgun wearing a Full choke, for instance.

Do not get a shorty pistol grip-only shotgun without a buttstock. A folding stock is okay and is useful for defending yourself from inside a vehicle, but don’t forgo a buttstock altogether.

A Survival Shotgun Extra Worth It

The survival shotgun should have a tough protective coating, Parkerizing or some sort of matte finish, and be a model in common use by military or civilian police forces.

The Final Verdict: What Survival Shotgun to Buy

Go for a quality survival shotgun or riot shotgun made by a recognized manufacturer is not that expensive compared to most AR-15s.

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Elwood Shelton is the Digital Editor for Gun Digest. He lives in Colorado and has provided coverage on a vast spectrum of topics for GD for more than a decade. Before that, he was an award-winning sports and outdoors reporter for a number of newspapers across the Rocky Mountains. His experience has consisted of covering the spread of chronic wasting disease into the Western Slope of Colorado to the state’s ranching for wildlife programs. His passion for shooting began at a young age, fostered on pheasant hunts with his father. Since then, he has become an accomplished handloader, long-range shooter and avid hunter—particularly mule deer and any low-down, dirty varmint that comes into his crosshairs. He is a regular contributor to Gun Digest Magazine and has contributed to various books on guns and shooting, most recently Lever-Actions: A Tribute to the All-American Rifle.


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