At this moment I have a safe full of nice and expensive rifles and handguns. But…it is a shotgun that sits by the bed.
Because, per trigger pull, it delivers the most terminally devastating payload possible from a controllable, shoulder-fired firearm.
When it comes to home defense we all want the most effective weapon possible. Our family, lives, and homes deserve that protection.
That’s not the only reason though.
Throughout this article, we are going to dive into what the tactical shotgun is, why it rocks, and how to recognize and address the weaknesses.
And of course…our favorite ones across all price points.
Update: See the best beginner shotguns in action, and how we at Pew Pew kitted out our personal shotguns, in our video review!
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Table of Contents
What is a Tactical Shotgun?
What separates a tactical shotgun from a hunting shotgun?
There are certainly a few different features that make a shotgun tactical, though.
18 to 20-inch Barrel
This length of barrel keeps the weapon short and maneuverable when used inside buildings or even vehicles.
Worth noting, 18-inches is as short as you can legally go with a shotgun barrel without requiring a tax stamp and federal registration.
Pump or Semi-Auto Operation
Shotguns come in every flavor imaginable — this includes pump-action, semi-auto, lever-action, bolt-action, and single and double barrels.
Pump and semi-automatic actions are the only two that are practical for home defense. They are the fastest forms of operation for a shotgun. (We go over the difference between these two actions later in this article.)
A Good Set of Sights
Most shotguns come with a single bead at the end of the barrel that acts as a sight.
These work for a lot of applications but if you want to squeeze the most out of your shotgun a front and rear sight are important, or even a quality red dot.
A sling allows you to attach the weapon to your body.
This allows you to retain the weapon while using your hands for other tasks and makes it difficult for an attacker to strip you of your weapon.
Chambered in 12- or 20-Gauge
12-gauge is the most common combat shotgun caliber, especially when it comes to semi-automatics. The 12-gauge is the more powerful option as well. It also makes the firearm larger, heavier, and recoils fiercely.
A 20-gauge is still a very potent round and is much friendlier for smaller people.
Capacity of 4+1 Minimum
The shells a shotgun uses are quite large and therefore most shotguns are limited in capacity.
4 +1 will settle most encounters, but preferably you are using something more akin to 7+1 to give yourself that extra edge.
Any fighting shotgun needs a stock. Pistol grip only shotguns are fun, look cool, and are handy in some situations.
However, a shoulder stock makes a shotgun much easier to handle, much easier to shoot accurately, and more comfortable.
What Can the Shotgun Do?
Why is a shotgun so effective?
I can fire the widest variety of projectiles from a shotgun. I can engage anything from pests like possums to two-legged varmints, and even creatures as big as bears.
The shotgun has three primary loads:
A load filled with small pellets, ranging from dozens to hundreds depending on the particular load used.
Designed for hunting birds, clay pigeons, and other small game. Not very effective for home defense.
Here is my Mossberg 590 with birdshot…
A load of larger pellets commonly ranging in caliber from .24 (No 4 Buckshot) to .36 (000 Buckshot).
The number of pellets varies per load and caliber of the ball used — perfect for medium game and tactical applications.
The most common is 00 (“double aught”) buckshot which is equivalent to nine lead pellets roughly 9mm in diameter.
And here is my Mossberg with buck…there’s a lot more kick:
Solid projectiles of around 1-ounce in weight.
Often quite larger, heavy, and powerful. They allow you to extend your effective shotgun range.
Best Home-Defense Tactical Shotguns
With all this in mind, let’s look at the top tactical shotguns on the market today…
1. Mossberg 500 Series
If you want one of the longest-serving combat and police shotguns, the Mossberg 500 is for you.
One of the “Big 2” in the pump shotgun world…the Mossberg 500 is one of our favorites.
The big difference from the Remington 870 (the “other” popular pump shotgun) is that its safety is on top of the receiver and accessible with your thumb.
And since it’s so popular…it has one of the largest pools of potential upgrades. Check out all of them in Best Mossberg 500 Upgrades.
Need something that’s built upon the 500 receiver, but more hardened for combat and tactical use?
Enter the Mossberg 590A1.
Mossberg has built a wide variety of different configurations for the 590A1.
This includes Ghost ring sights, or night sights, fixed or collapsible stocks, and capacities of up to nine rounds.
Regardless of the features you choose, you are getting one of the best pump action combat shotguns ever designed.
Built for the dangers involved in military life, the Mossberg 590A1 is a solid combat shotgun. From the finish to the thick-walled barrel the 590A1 is a tank.
You can even mount a bayonet to it if that floats your boat.
As a pump-action shotgun, it can handle everything from powerful magnum loads to the lightest reduced recoil ammunition, and even less-lethal ammo types.
Also, be sure to check out our Best Upgrades for the Mossberg 500/590 Series.
What’s your take on the Mossberg 590 variants?
2. Remington 870
Something can always be said about a classic hardwood stock and pump.
Combined with the classic Remington 870 platform and you get a design that has lasted the test of time.
The Remington 870 gives you 6+1 capacity and an 18.5-inch barrel for maneuverability inside close quarters. You get a front rifle sight, so I would certainly suggest adding a nice adjustable rear sight.
The main difference from the Mossberg 500 above is that its safety is a button near the trigger.
The 870 design is so well known and so popular that there are tons of different accessories for it available.
This includes numerous different designs of sight saddles, lighting options, and even scope mounts for a red dot.
You can swap the barrel with any other 870 barrel without modification as well.
Top it off with a solid sling and you end up with a perfect home defense pump-action shotgun.
Check out all the options in our Best Upgrades for the Remington 870!
If you were going to pick just one upgrade though, we highly recommend the Streamlight TL-Racker. Not only is it awesome looking, but the integrated flashlight adds a lot of tactical and practical usefulness.
The design of the TL-Racker also makes the shotgun easier to rack, a major plus in a high-stress situation.
Otherwise, it’s another workhouse pump shotgun that has a stellar reputation.
Got one you need to clean…or want to see how easily one breaks down? We go over it in our 870 Cleaning & Lubing Guide and video:
Intermission: Mossberg 500 vs Remington 870
We could stop right now if we wanted…since these two big boys of the tactical shotgun market are the two most suggested firearms.
But if you were to choose between these two dependable pumps…how would you?
No worries…we’re here to help!
- In materials, the 870 has the upper hand since its receiver is made out of steel while the Mossberg is alloy. However, for the normal user, this will never be a problem.
- In ergonomics, we believe the Mossberg wins because of its placement of the slide release and safety. You can reach everything with your shooting hand.
- The Mossberg also gets some points in having two extractors on its bolt instead of Remington’s one. This is a “just in case” sort of thing since the Remington has a huge following and history of reliability.
- One thing we don’t like is that Remington’s ejector is riveted while the Mossberg’s can be removed and changed with just a screwdriver. If your 870’s ejector wears out or breaks, you’re going to your gunsmith.
- Both have similar accessories such as shell carriers to extend capacity (Remington 870, Mossberg 500) and forend grips with flashlights (Remington 870, Mossberg 500).
In the end…I chose the 590 since it holds more rounds (8+1) and I liked the placement of the safety on the top. But you really can’t go wrong with either. Hold them both in your hands and see which one chooses you!
Want to get even gun-dorkier? We now have a full hands-on article covering the Remington 870 vs Mossberg 500 in even greater detail.
3. Benelli M4
You could put any Benelli on this list, to be honest, but the M4 might be the king of combat shotguns.
When the U.S. Marine Corps needed a semi-auto shotgun, they went to Benelli. And Benelli designed their first gas gun, the M4.
The internal auto regulating gas-operated system, or ARGO, provides an extremely reliable short-stroke piston system using dual pistons to ensure reliability.
This shotgun beats out Benelli’s inertia guns if you want to strap on optics, lights, and such.
Inertia guns are picky when it comes to weight, and when you add weight, you can affect the gun’s reliability.
Gas guns don’t care! Load ’em down and have at it.
The Benelli M4, in particular, seems to love just about every load I’ve ever put through it.
From reduced recoil tactical loads to even light buckshot loads. The only ammo I’ve had it cough on were ultra-light skeet loads loaded for 950 feet-per-second.
Not to mention, the M4 also allows for a good degree of customization.
It’s a shotgun with a cult following and decent little aftermarket. It’s soft to shoot and boringly reliable.
If you want the best, be prepared to pay for it, though. This gun and its accessories are far from cheap.
4. Hatsan Escort Aimguard
If you are looking for something that is incredibly affordable, and extremely durable the Hatsan Escort series of shotguns may be for you.
The Escort Aimguard has a 7+1 capacity and comes with a 20-inch barrel or 5 + 1 with an 18-inch barrel.
One thing that is important to remember is the low price is not because the shotgun is poorly made. In fact, the Escort even has a chrome-lined barrel and all-metal components.
The pump is actually quite unique and placed more rearward than most shotguns.
This makes it much easier to use for people with shorter arms.
The pump actually passes the receiver when used. The shotgun is available in both Marine-grade finish and standard blued for between $150 to $200 dollars.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
5. Mossberg Maverick 88
How about another budget choice…that’s essentially a clone of the Mossberg 500?
The Maverick 88 is made by Mossberg and the primary difference is that its safety is not on top…but is in front of the trigger.
This cuts down the price drastically and the 88 can be had for under $200 if you look around.
But because it’s essentially a 500, it fits (almost) all the upgrades. For us, we put on a nice recoil-reducing and folding Fab Defense buttstock and a side-saddle.
We also have a full-on review of the 88 right here.
6. Mossberg SPX 930
The Mossberg SPX 930 is the tactical derivative of the Mossberg 930 series.
Out of the box, this shotgun is ready to rock and roll out of the box.
It’s also one of the most reliable semi-auto shotguns and is priced affordably.
The 930 SPX is topped with an amazing set of sights, sling swivels, 7 +1 capacity, and a Picatinny rail for mounting an optic.
Since it’s made by Mossberg you know it’s a quality firearm and backed by an excellent warranty. The 930 SPX is built like a tank, and the semi-auto action reduces recoil to a pleasant thump.
Adding a side saddle is incredibly simple, and there are a variety of options to go about it.
The ambidextrous safety is certainly handy. You also have a wide ejection port for speed reloads, and clear and consistent ejection.
7. KelTec KS7
Wanna talk about odd ducks? Then take a peep at the KelTec KS7.
This bullpup shotgun has descended from the KSG, and to me, is a better option for shotgunners.
While the KSG is cool it’s heavy and complicated.
The KS7 provides a simpler option with a single 7-round tube.
It’s more than enough for shotgun problems and allows for a simpler, lightweight, and cheaper shotgun.
I ran the heck out of a KS7 and could never get it to fail. It surprised the crap out of me!
This short and handy little fella provides space-age looks to a pump shotgun.
The KS7 provides you with a shotgun that’s 26.25-inches long with an 18.5-inch barrel – just legal in both OAL and by barrel length.
Weighing less than 6-pounds makes it a very light and maneuverable shotgun.
Reloads are slow like most bullpups, but it’s completely ambidextrous and lefty-friendly. It feeds and ejects from the bottom so no brass slams into your face.
As I said, it’s tough to mess up a pump shotgun. The weird design doesn’t make it too tough to mount lights, slings, and extra ammo, either.
Check out our full review of the KS7 here!
8. Beretta 1301
Beretta has cornered the market on fine combat shotguns. Owning both Benelli and Stoeger, they produce some fantastic firearms.
While the M4 might be the king of combat shotguns, the 1301 is vying for the crown.
The Beretta 1301 powers through with a gas-operated system that utilizes what Beretta calls the BLINK that integrates a cross tube gas system.
Beretta claims it cycles 36% faster than any other semi-auto shotgun. I can’t measure that claim, but I can attest that this gun cycles like a maniac.
The 1301 Tactical provides you with a fast cycling, low recoiling gun with minimal muzzle rise. It spits out lead and plastic hulls rapidly, allowing for excellent control over the gun and making it very easy to get rapid follow-up shots on target.
Beretta wisely includes a stock that allows shooters to shorten or lengthen the length of pull of their stock.
It makes it easy for shooters of all sizes to adapt the gun to their preferred LOP.
Like the M4, the 1301 has a cult following, and there are lots of high-quality upgrades available.
You likely won’t need much, but you can improve the gun’s ergonomics and make it a little easier to accessorize.
Aridus Industries, in particular, loves the 1301 and makes some extremely high-quality gear for it.
9. Armscor VR80
On the budget side of magazine-fed shotguns, we have the VR80 series from Armscor.
If you dislike your traditional shotgun layout and want to go mag-fed, then there’s never been a better time to get into mag-fed shotguns.
The gas-operated VR80 offers a 5, 9, or ridiculous 19-round magazine.
It’s styled after a modern AR-15 and comes complete with an AR-15 grip and stock compatibility. Armscor includes an M-LOK rail system, sights, and optic rail, and more.
The VR80 feeds extremely reliably and digests a wide variety of loads without complaint.
It’s my favorite of the VR series and delivers a fast cycling, easily controllable platform. Reloads are a bit more intuitive than a traditional shotgun and friendly for those who are a little more familiar with rifles than shotguns.
I’m a fan of the 9-round magazine — the perfect mix of capacity and size. With an adjustable AR stock, you can alternate the length of pull.
While the M-LOK rail allows for the easy attachment of lights, and obviously, the optics rail makes tossing a red dot on simple.
The VR80 mimics most things about the AR-style rifles, including most of the controls. It’s a little hefty but packs a punch and delivers a shotgun’s power with the handling of a rifle.
Prices accurate at time of writing
Prices accurate at time of writing
10. Iron Horse Firearms Sentry 12
Like the idea of a magazine-fed shotgun but want a pump-action? Then the Sentry 12 is for you.
The Sentry 12 stands as one of the rare American-made box-fed shotguns, made from the ground up as a magazine-fed shotgun.
I’ve longed called the Sentry 12 the shotgun for people who don’t like shotguns.
It sports a 5-round magazine with extensions with 8-round magazines coming in the near future.
The stock sports a short 12.5-inch length of pull that makes the gun easy to shoulder and use with a modern shooting stance.
Iron Horse designed the gun to be compact and lightweight at only 6.5-pounds. This makes it quick and easy to wield and even easier to maneuver in the tight quarters of a home.
A smooth pump-action design makes the gun quick to cycle and the action easy to work. Reloads are quick and easy.
The magazines are quick and easy to swap out, and the controls are large and easy to activate.
It’s an awesome little shotgun for those looking for the reliability of a pump-action with the handiness of a magazine-fed gun.
A full-length optics rail makes accessorizing somewhat easy.
However, the lack of side rails means everything better mount to the 12 o’clock optic rail. That said, it’s a sleek, unobtrusive magazine-fed pump-action that succeeds where many fail.
The Sentry 12 gives you shotgun power, pump-action reliability, and rifle-like handling.
Semi-Auto or Pump-Action?
In the home defense shotgun, only two actions matter, the pump-action and the semi-auto. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
I’ve become a big fan of the semi-auto design, but most of my shotguns are pump-actions.
Why? Pump-actions offer unbeatable reliability.
They can function with any ammunition. Not to mention, the manually cycling action allows it to eat super light recoiling loads.
This style also tends to be quite affordable.
It’s hard to mess up a pump-action shotgun. Even the cheapest ones typically work with little issue.
Higher-end pump shotguns like the Mossberg 500 series and Remington 870 series can often be had for less than $350.
The downside is that they open up room for human error. Short stroking can cause jams and racking the pump fast and hard requires a little extra training.
There’s also the fact they typically fire slower than most semi-autos.
Semi-autos offer a faster firing rate and allow for rapid follow-up shots.
These gas or inertia-operated guns fire quite rapidly and have much lighter recoil than pump actions — the simpler manual of arms makes them more intuitive in the heat of the moment.
Semi-auto shotguns tend to be pricier, especially good semi-autos.
A half-decent semi-auto costs twice what a good pump gun does.
And a premium grade, like the Benelli series, gets into Gucci AR territory.
Semi-autos tend to be pickier about ammo, so you have to ensure the gun works with your preferred brand.
But if your semi-auto can handle reduced recoil loads, then you’ll have a super soft shooting shotgun.
A tactical shotgun is made to end the threat.
Load it accordingly.
When we start talking about using a shotgun defensively we will focus primarily on buckshot and slugs. Inside the home buckshot is king. If you keep a shotgun as a truck or trunk gun you can toss in some slugs for longer range encounters.
My chosen self-defense slugs are the Winchester PDX Defender segmenting slugs.
In a home defense situation, you will be in close quarters combat. CQC moves extremely fast and is supremely chaotic.
You want to end the fight as fast as humanly possible. The last thing you want is an extended firefight happening in your home.
That’s why the shotgun rules in close quarters.
Looking for more choices? Check out the Best Shotgun Ammo for Self Defense & Range.
Shotgun Downsides + Fixes
With this, all said the shotgun does have some inherent weaknesses. A shotgunner needs to acknowledge these weaknesses and train or accessorize past them.
Training is certainly the primary means to overcome weaknesses.
Accessories also have their place on a shotgun.
A shotgun will always have a shorter range than a rifle.
These range estimations are based on effective combat distances, not hunting bird ranges. There are also different factors that cause variances, like ammunition used and the presence or lack of a choke.
Buckshot is largely limited to roughly 25- to 35-yards.
This one is massively dependent on the load you use. In general, birdshot is not the best defensive choice.
It’s made for birds, which are significantly smaller than people. I’d say 5-yards for a critical wounding shot with most birdshot.
Birdshot is like putting a fire out with a bucket of water. You can do it, but a fire truck works a lot better.
Even when loaded with slugs you are looking at 100-yards effective range for a defensive encounter. Because of the shotgun’s inherent short range, you need to squeeze every yard possible out of it.
On a home defense or tactical shotgun, chokes are not needed.
Most common in a cylinder bore design for a good reason, chokes work best with loads designed for hunting and less for modern tactical loads.
Modern loads like FliteControl do not function well with chokes beyond the standard cylinder bore choke.
In fact, you’ll often see tactical loads open up with a choke that constricts. Modern tight patterning buckshot loads do not work well with your chosen load.
As always, pattern your load.
If your pattern seems odd or way too open, check your choke.
Imagine my surprise when my chosen FliteControl load was patterning widely in my Benelli M4. I checked the choke, and for some reason, Benelli shipped it with an Improved Cylinder choke.
I tossed in a cylinder bore choke, and boom, it actually tightened up.
Maximize your Shotgun’s Range
As a shotgunner, this means having a solid set of basic marksmanship fundamentals.
This includes trigger pull, using sights, breath control, and turning your body into a stable firing platform. The old myth you can’t miss with a shotgun is just that, a myth.
Pattern Your Shotgun
This means trying a variety of loads and see which loads are the tightest out of your shotgun.
When you pattern a shotgun you learn how the pellets hit over different distances. The old rule 1-inch for every yard is not always accurate. Again, chokes and ammo selection causes a lot of variances here.
With my Federal FliteControl 00 ammunition and a cylinder choke, I get basically one ragged hole at 10-yards.
At 15-yards we have a palm-sized group. At 35-yards I cover the A zone of an IPSC target, which is roughly a 6 x 11-inch rectangle.
Buckshot gives me about a fist size group at 10-yards.
At 15-yards I’m hitting mostly in that same 6 x 11-inch rectangle and at 20-yards I’m covering the entire upper torso of an IPSC target. At 35-yards the entire target is covered and some pellets miss.
As you can see patterning is quite dependent on the weapon, the choke, and the ammunition.
Patterning will allow you to find the best load for your shotgun, and you can also squeeze out a little extra range from it.
You should also test slugs, and see how and where the slugs hit, and zero your sights for slugs.
Why Do Sights Matter?
In terms of accessories, the best thing you can do here is get a good set of sights.
Open rifle sights were the old standard, and they still work fairly well. However, a solid set of peep sights, mounted on the rear of the receiver are much better.
My favorite set is made by LPA and is completely adjustable for zeroing.
To Optic or Not?
I used to think irons were enough, and in many ways, they are.
However, like every other firearm on the market, a shotgun benefits greatly from red dots. Red dots on shotguns provide you a very intuitive aiming option for shooting in any environment.
You can most certainly succeed without an optic on a shotgun, but I’ve found that red dots on shotguns make me a faster and more efficient shooter.
You can focus on your target and put the red dot where you need it to be. A red dot-equipped shotgun allows for rapid and instinctive shooting.
My personal favorite is the Holosun 507C.
It’s teeny-tiny, and I use the 32 MOA reticle to pattern my buckshot. With my chosen shotgun and load, I know that every pellet is landing inside that circle at 15-yards.
For more on shotgun optics, check out our article here.
Lower Ammo Capacity
Your basic combat shotgun is a tube-fed model, that typically contains seven to eight rounds.
Personally, I prefer tube-fed for a shotgun over a magazine any day of the week.
External box magazines are often bulky, and occasionally unreliable. A tube-fed shotgun gives the user a smaller profile and a reliable feeding system.
Seven to eight rounds is a relatively low ammo capacity compared to the 30 rounds a standard modern sporting rifle can hold, or even the 17 rounds most 9mm handguns can hold.
To address this weakness you need to learn how to top off a shotgun.
In a perfect world, your shotgun will never go completely dry. You should always ‘top it off’ when possible.
This means feeding the tube during each and every lull in the action.
One of the more common tactics is to fire two, load two. Maintaining this rhythm will keep you from ever running out of ammo.
To top off your shotgun you need to have ammo on hand. My personal preference is a side-saddle ammo carrier.
This gives you a reload on hand as soon as you grab the weapon. So if something goes bump in the night, you can respond immediately and still have a reload on hand.
Just remember to train with that side-saddle, it isn’t there to just look pretty.
Lastly, always keep the shotgun fully loaded.
There is no reason to pump your shotgun unless you are reloading for a second shot. Do not fall for the gun store gossip that, “racking the shotgun will scare them away.”
It won’t, and you’ll give away your position. The only time they should hear the sound is because you’re about to take a second shot.
For more bad shotgun myths, check out the Worst Shotgun Tactics You Should Avoid.
Recoil on a shotgun sucks, right? Well, it doesn’t have to. You can control recoil and mitigate recoil with a technique known as push/pull.
Rob Haught came up with the push/pull method of recoil control, and I’ve found it to be the most effective means of mitigating both recoil and muzzle rise with a shotgun.
The technique is remarkably simple.
You push forward with your non-dominant hand and pull rearward with your dominant hand.
This creates tension that helps eliminate recoil and institute control over the gun.
Before you pull the trigger, you apply tension and relax it after you pull the trigger. When you first start, you’ll find yourself moving a little slow.
You’ll have to build a rhythm with the gun and your push/pull to employ it rapidly, especially with a pump-action.
I’d advise starting with dry fire and finding that rhythm. Once you do, you’ll be able to rapidly engage with a pump or semi-auto with less recoil and muzzle rise.
A tactical shotgun represents the absolute power a shoulder-fired weapon can have.
If you go the tactical shotgun route remember that like every weapon you need to train with it to be effective. A shotgun is only as good as the shotgunner holding it.
What shottie did you end up getting? Let us know in the comments! Need some gun food for your new scattergun? Check out Best Shotgun Ammo for Home Defense, Hunting, & Plinking. Or looking for upgrades…check out Best Home Defense Shotgun Upgrades.