Shotguns – have they outlived themselves, or do they still have a place? For citizens? For cops?

A few thoughts on where we are with shotguns and how we got to this point.

Back when I went to the police academy, a fair number of my classmates had time with a shotgun, especially going bird hunting. There were very few semi-auto pistols in my academy class. Everyone who an agency sponsored was carrying a revolver.

The pump shotgun, in many ways, worked like our revolvers. We had to manually load the weapon one shell at a time and then operate it by pumping the action.

Guy working his short-barrelled, pump-action shotgun during a recent class.

In retrospect, the commonality of the designs worked in everyone’s favor. And then semi-auto pistols became more and more common. They operated differently; after loading the magazine, you inserted it in the pistol’s frame, racked the slide (yes, I know – greatly simplified), and were able to fire it.

Over the next several years, patrol rifles finally entered the picture for many agencies. My old office got them in 1993 because some deputies were pinned down by rifle fire the year before. Many other agencies adopted theirs after Los Angeles PD’s North Hollywood shoot-out.

During that time, many agencies considered the shotgun a general-purpose long gun while the patrol rifle was a limited issue or more specialized weapon. One example from my agency, there was no requirement to document deploying a shotgun, but we had to write a memo if the rifle came out.

A Gunsite student working through an outdoor simulator with his Beretta 1301.

Fast forward a few decades. While there are not a lot of shotguns in patrol cars anymore, there are plenty of rifles.

We had the global war on terror with an awful lot of Soldiers and Marines deploying with M16A4 rifles and M4 carbines, some using them to good effect. Then the Assault Weapons Ban expired. Those two things combined to drive a near explosion in carbine classes. Several factors argued for the widespread adoption of patrol rifles by the police and the carbine for defensive purposes by the public.

Pump-action shotguns, like this vent rib Remington 870, can still get the job done. Ghost ring sights, Vang Comp barrel, Surefire light, and more.

What are the benefits of the shotgun? First and foremost, effectiveness. The shotgun is an exceptionally effective reactive or pro-active firearm within its parameters and with appropriate ammunition. The second is its legality, both actual and perceived. There are very few bans on what we consider to be appropriately set up defensive shotguns. Additionally, shotguns are not saddled with the negative connotations some rifles may suffer from in the media and with the public – your potential jury pool.

Eve, a police officer in the Midwest, trained with a Mossberg 940 semi-auto back in September.

Ammunition has radically improved during my time around shotguns. From Federal’s first reduced recoil load – the nine pellet, copper plated, and specially buffered 00Buck load – to the Billings’ loads which was the forefather to Federal’s Flite Control and Hornady’s Versa-Tite loads. Those last loads have a radically different shot cup that protects the pellets while keeping them together longer.

The improved ammunition has quietly mitigated much of the concern about using shotguns.

00Buck loads from three different manufacturers out of two different shotguns. Any differences?

You need to pattern your shotgun with shot loads to address the variances in barrel dimensions. More on that later in the month.

For many years, the pump action shotgun was the preferred version. The two most common versions were Remington’s 870 and Mossberg’s 590. However, semi-auto shotguns have made inroads. Decades ago, Remington’s Model 11 saw frequent police usage. Benelli shotguns – the 121M1 and the Super 90 – started the more recent surge. Other semi-autos include Remington’s 1100 and 11-87, along with Mossberg’s 930 and 940. Beretta’s 1301 (which evolved from their TX4) has emerged as a very popular and reliable defensive semi-auto during the past few years.

The author, during the recent Thunderstick Summit, shooting his Beretta 1301 semi-auto shotgun with an Aimpoint, Aridus & Magpul accessories, and a Blue Force Gear sling.

Why the popularity of the current semi-auto? Once the magazine tube is loaded, the platform works like a pistol – after the trigger is pressed, the weapon functions without needing the user to cycle it manually.

Along with choosing better-performing ammunition, the barrel can be modified to improve its performance. The crew at Vang Comp Systems are the experts in this field and do it without adding anything to the barrel.

Over the next month, look for more shotgun-centric articles.