Survival Shotguns: Not Just for CQB

Survival Shotguns: Not Just for CQB
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.


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.


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  1. If Hunter480 had taken a bit of time to look at my background information, listed at the end of my post, he might have seen that I have had 32 years of experience as a cop dealing in interpersonal confrontations with difficult people. Different people require differing forms of control,ranging from taking verbal control, through all levels of physical control techniques, which includes baton, OC and Teargas Sprays, Taser and oh, yes, firearms-(handgun, shotgun, full-automatic assault rifle, and sniper rifle). In all these areas except for the sniper rifle, I am a state certified instructor.I am also certified to train in-service officers and recruits in the overall application of force against others. The police shotgun, and for that matter, patrol rifle, is carried cruiser ready in condition three-slide forward, hammer down,safety OFF, chamber empty, magazine full as basically a nationally standardized method for law enforcement. It is kept in the locked cruiser rack or case this way. Once pulled out, it becomes the fastest and safest firearm there is to deploy on a suspect. It may be pointed at a suspect in complete safety initially, and as the situation escalates, it can, in a split second, be brought to full ready condition one, by activating the pump action, which chambers a round. THE SAFETY IS LEFT OFF, until such time that the action begins to settle down, then it may be applied, which brings the shotgun into condition two for the moment, then returned to conditon one or three as needed. Condition four is empty. Having had the experience at actually pointing the shotgun at difficult people, and chambering a round from condition three does indeed garner the attention of the person it is being pointed at. I said the sound of the slide being operated and chambering a round is INTIMIDATING. Nowhere did I say that I expected the criminal or attacker to flee. My job, again for 32 years, has been to CAPTURE or subdue the criminal at gunpoint, not have them run and just walk away. Hunter480 is right about one thing. Deadly force is not a game. When we deploy deadly force against an opponent, we deploy it as soon as we draw a weapon and point it at another person. Many agencies require a “Use of Force” report simply by doing that. Moving forward with that level of force will at the least, assuming that an officer is not injured, unleash a cascade of paperwork, interviews, visits with psychiatrists, department investigators, prosecutors, and perhaps personal physicians to deal with the ensuing stress.
    Hunter480 may want to slow down a bit and do a couple of things before writing responses to blogs by people who have some background in their topic. First, take a look at the background of the author and second read and reflect more accurately on what was said. The purpose of blogs is to disseminate information and discuss topics. It might be a nice thing to try.

  2. 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.


    Survival, lethal force is NOT a game, it is NOT a B-movie!!!!!!! You do NOT rack the slide of your shotgun, expecting to make a criminal/attacker flee. If you find yourself, in the unfortunate situation of the need to use deadly force, you already have a round racked, you flip off the safety, and you END THE THREAT, IMMEDIATELY.

    I have no idea why this ignorant notion is still out there, but it`s foolish, and more than likely, a deadly mistake.

    • Scott Wagner is evidently who he says he is. His opinion carries some weight, not only because of his career in law enforcement, but because he’s backing up his words with his name and reputation. He has also been quite polite and civil in his response to you.

      Who the hell are you? Had I been moderating this exchange I would have been tempted to delete your comments and ban you from the site. The use of ‘all-caps’ and excessive exclamation points is like raising your voice in conversation to try to make a point. After a little of that your position has lost all credibility. But feel free to continue to hide behind your anonymity. For all we know you could be a fourteen year-old airsoft ‘fan-boy’. If you are an adult, please try to behave like one. If you do own any firearms, please consider getting some training. Maybe enroll in an anger management course while you’re at it.

      Sincerely, Scott Hicks
      Oakland, California


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