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
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
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.