What You Need to Know When Considering Buying a Shotgun

Shotguns | The Original Multi-Tool

The most widely owned, versatile and adaptive firearm in the world today is without question the shotgun. Capable of a multitude of tasks, equally effective across an immense range, and adaptable, shotguns are astonishing tools. Every hunter and shooter should have at least one shotgun in their collection. There are guns designed around specific tasks and guns that excel at fitting many niches, many factors should be recognized and considered when buying a shotgun.

Shotguns come in a wide variety of types, makes, and models. Some shotguns are built specifically with a special use or task in mind, yet others are built for versatility and adaptability. The options can be mind-blowing with so many choices and use cases out there, finding the right fit in a shotgun for your collection takes some consideration.

Many shooters, sportsmen, and firearm enthusiasts might consider shotguns simply for bird hunting and wing shooting. Scratching down ducks, field hunts for geese, and upland bird hunts for pheasants, quail, and chukar are terrific occasions to shoulder a shotgun, but shotguns are much more than that. Shotguns in both 12 gauge and 20 gauge, the most common gauges of shotguns, are versatile tools used for law enforcement, home defense, tactical shooting, big game hunting, and the list goes on. There are considerations to account for when it comes to action type, budget, use case, and versatility when you’re shopping for a new or used shotgun.

Use Case

Shotguns are extremely versatile, with the ability to function at a variety of tasks. Identifying a shotguns use, or deciding on an all-around firearm that performs well at many tasks calls for use case examination.

All Around

Shotguns are the original multi-tool, performing a variety of tasks equally well. A pump or semi-automatic gun chambered in 12 or 20 gauge with a 26 or 28-inch barrel equipped with screw in chokes can easily be considered the world’s most versatile firearm.

A shotgun barrel with a modified choke and loaded with light birdshot, will happily harvest upland game including pheasants, quail, rabbits, grouse, and squirrels. Feed that same shotgun 3” steel shot and you’ve got yourself the ultimate tool for taking ducks and geese. Change chokes and load up with slugs for hunting big game like deer and elk in areas that only allow low-velocity firearms. You can’t forget the perfect wild turkey gun in either spring or fall seasons, in most states shotguns are the only firearm allowed for turkey hunting.

Double up with the same gun as a formidable home defense weapon. Loaded with anything from buckshot and slugs to heavy game loads or even birdshot, a shotguns versatility lends itself to being a terrific option for home defense. Last but not least, don’t forget the sporting and recreation you can have with the same gun. Sporting clays, trap shooting, and tactical shooting at the range are all a perfect fit for the same pump or semi-auto in 12 or 20 gauge, with only the change of a choke and ammunition.

Specialty Tactical

A12 gauge setup with tactical furniture and the latest accessories creates a shotgun that starts focusing its use towards tactical. Shotguns are effective as weapons for law enforcement, military, home defense, and bug out scenarios. Shotguns are effective at door and lock breaching, and even engaging a target behind a cinderblock wall. There are even “less than lethal” rounds available, loaded with things like sandbags and rubber balls for assault use cases.

Manufacturers make a variety of accessories for most of the popular shotgun makes and models including accessory rails, lights, lasers, side saddles, and a large selection of grips, stocks, and forearms. Tactical shotguns can be built with a staggering measure of individual need and necessity, often starting with a platform that most would consider an all-around shotgun. Tricking out the popular Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 into a tactical style shotgun for whatever your use case is easily done by the at home handyman with common tools.

Slug Gun Hunter

Most people don’t think of deer or elk hunting when they think of shotguns, but don’t overlook the effectiveness of taking big game with a shotgun. Interestingly enough, states like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland had or still have shotgun only mandates when it comes to deer hunting in at least part of the state. Also, there are public hunting areas the country over that require archery, muzzleloader or shotgun only when hunting big game, including deer and elk.

Putting a shotgun to work in pursuit of big game and feeding it slugs is easy to work for modern shotguns. In this scenario, the all-around pump or semi-automatic gun we discussed earlier is perfectly happy to become your big game firearm with the switch of a choke and ammunition. Many hunters, however, opt to build or buy a shotgun designed specifically for big game hunting. Most of the time this amounts to swapping barrels on an all-around shotgun to one designed with iron sights or one tapped for scope rails or bases. In fact, most optics companies produce a line of shotgun scopes with slug gun hunters in mind.

Uplander

No shotgun discussion is complete without touching on the refined and sophisticated class of shotguns. Elegant, balanced, and usually a substantial investment, shotguns designed for upland shooting can be works of art. The all-around pump or autoloader we looked at earlier is more than capable of taking the game on the wing, but for some upland hunters, a fine over and under or side by side is the ticket.

Still capable of shooting the same ammunition and fitting the use case scenarios of the shotgun in general, these noble guns are crafted with discerning clients in mind. Designed for bluebird skies and gentle walks along birdy cover and wing shooting over fine gun dogs, upland shotguns demand price tags in the thousands rather than hundreds. Some guns go as far as custom fit and balance to the shooter, and are equipped with interchangeable gauge tubes allowing a shooter to hunt or compete with the same balanced and custom gun in various gauge competitions.

Action Types

The most obvious difference between shotgun types is the action type. One action may or may not have an advantage over another. Depending on your use case and intended purpose of the firearm, one type action may be better than another. At the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference and what you are comfortable with. Shotguns are available in a variety of actions including semi-auto, pump, break-over, and bolt action. Each action has its own pros and cons, use cases, and price point. Two actions stand above the rest when it comes to popularity and versatility, so for simplicity sake let’s take a closer look at those: pump action and semi-automatic.

Semi-Automatic Shotgun

At home in the duck blind, the deer stand, in a law enforcement patrol car, and on standby for home defense, semi-automatic shotguns have come a long way in recent years. With manufacturers like Benelli, Franchi, Browning, Stoeger, and Winchester all in competition for consumer dollars, the semi-auto shotgun market is full of great options.

Autoloaders have become increasingly reliable in recent years, and are a favorite for many shooters. Semi-automatic actions bring speed to the reload after the first round is fired that can’t be accomplished with a pump gun, making for faster follow up shots. Both gas and inertia action semi-automatic shotguns help reduce felt recoil by utilizing the guns recoil energy to cycle the action.

Pump Action Shotgun

Pump guns are classic American firearms both in modern manufacturing and classics passed down for generations. The pump action shotgun is known for reliability, versatility, and function.

With a mechanical action powered by the shooter, pump guns do not suffer from issues when cycling a variety of shotgun loads. Feeding a pump action shotgun a light brass #8 birdshot, followed by a deer slug, and a round of high brass #2’s behind that is no problem for a pump gun. Offered in a variety of gauges and barrel lengths, most shooters first shotgun is a pump. When it comes to shotguns, the pump action shotgun is the foundation.

New Trends and Emerging Designs

Things can sometimes move slowly in the firearm and shooting world. ArmaLite designed the ever popular AR-15 in 1956, 1911 pistols were developed in the year 1911, and the 30-06 round was established in 1906. Shotguns are no different, and their evolution has been slow. However, there are some new trends developing around shotguns recently.

Magazine Fed Shotguns

Fired by the ever popular AR-15 and AK-47, the convenience and function of detachable magazines have taken the shooting world by storm. Manufacturers understand that shooters are looking for something new and different. Incorporating the idea of a detachable magazine into pump action and semi-auto shotguns, gun makers like Remington and Mossberg have developed detachable magazine fed shotguns for shooters looking for something different.

AR-15 and AK-47 Style Shotguns

Based on the popularity of the modern sporting rifle designs like that AR-15 and AK-47, shotgun manufacturers are developing shotguns in the same style. Primarily designed for home defense, tactical shooting, and just plain looking “cool”; these shotguns come equipped with rails and customizing options similar to the AR and AK rifles. Companies like Tri-Star, Rock Island, and Siaga have developed tactical shooting systems designed around AR-15 and AK-47 styles.

Final Thoughts

Shotguns come in a variety of gauges, actions, and sizes. From little youth hunter starter pump guns to field guns chambered in 3 ½” magnum 12 gauge, and even revolver handguns chambered in .410. There is no other firearm so versatile and complementary to so many styles of hunting and shooting. Shotguns have a place in homes, camps, fields, duck blinds, patrol cars, and on gun ranges across America. Shotguns are as versatile as duct tape, and as tough as nails.

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