Historically, the shotgun has been the most versatile weapon of farmers and ranchers throughout the world. This is mainly due to the fact that a shotgun can utilize several different types of ammunition. Even repressive governments have allowed their rural citizens to own shotguns, some have even handed them out to their citizens. This do-everything gun can handle almost all hunting and defense chores but does not really shine in any single area, save long range hunting of birds, (where no other type of gun can perform the job very well) and in short range combat where the brute power of a shotgun blast can virtually smash opponents with a hail of lead. Some submachineguns also have this ability, but cannot put as much lead on a single target in a short period of time as a shotgun. If you are in a situation where you can have no other gun, a good pump (slide action) shotgun will serve you well.
Shotguns are pretty limited on the number of shots they hold even though each shot does put out a lot of lead at one time. This means that spare ammo is always going to be an issue when you use a shotgun. This is an example of a Mossberg 590 high capacity shotgun maxed out for ammo capacity. This package gives the user a maximum of around thirty shots ready to roll, but notice that would involve some well practiced reloads in as you go. The bayonet is more than just decoration at the short distances you might be likely to need a shotgun. The red-dot sight combined with a powerful tactical light makes a good combination for shooting slugs and buckshot at night. The powerful light is also good for flash stunning an opponent of identifying individuals in a security shoot/no shoot scenario. I personally consider a flashlight to be an absolute must for a survival shotgun. The red dot sight is optional, but in my opinion superior to a ghost ring sight.
Automatic shotguns are a bit more costly. In the past, they often suffered from reliability problems when outfitted with shorter barrels because the barrels did not produce enough backpressure to operate the actions with lower powered loads or when held in a loose grip. Newer designs and materials have largely dealt with these issues and most modern auto shotguns (after about 1990) do not have these problems.
The best all around survival shotgun deals are the "combo kits" offered by Mossberg and Remington. Other companies like Winchester and Mitchell Arms also sell good survival shotguns, but spare parts are harder to get and spare barrels are often not competitively priced. The Mossberg model 500 12g kits are cheaper and far more common. I most highly recommend sticking with the 12g rather than any other gauge of shotgun. The 10g shotguns offer a whole lot of power but ammunition is costly and the recoil is harsh. Future developments in recoil reducing technology might make the 10g a good choice for those who want the extra power and are willing to pay for the more costly ammunition. There have been recent developments to increase the variety of special ammunition available for the 20g shotguns but it is my opinion that the cost and recoil savings of the 20g over the 12g is insignificant. The 16g is a bad choice because ammunition and spare parts for 16g shotguns are rare and often out of production.
The 12g combo kits usually include a basic pump action gun with a short barrel (typically 18") for defensive purposes and a spare long barrel (typically 22" or longer) for hunting that may or may not have a vented rib, interchangeable choke tubes or rifle sights. Some of the combo kits will have a slugster barrel that allows a scope to be mounted on the barrel for accurate slug shooting. You may even wish to add to the versatility of your combo kit by adding several spare barrel types that are not included with the initial set. Mossberg, Remington, and several aftermarket companies offer spare barrels for just this purpose. I would suggest that if you feel the need for more than three configurations, you also need another action, thus making it a set of two guns with three or more barrels. If you stick to one brand, the interchangeability of parts and barrels can be a great advantage as you develop your own weapon system that can be adapted to different tasks. The Mossberg kits usually include a pistol grip that can replace the buttstock so that the gun can be made into a compact weapon when used with the shorter barrel. For those who want it all in one gun and are willing to sacrifice some of the versatility but want to dispense with the bother of carrying around extra barrels and whatnot, the 20"-22" barreled combat modified shotguns are a good option. They usually have extended magazines (higher capacity than normal), full length stocks, slings, and improved sights. The Mossberg 590 is a good economical combat shotgun that can also be used for hunting. There are a few companies that sell semi-custom Remington "tactical response" shotguns for more money than the Mossberg. They are usually of higher quality and more durable. Mossberg guns are available with a chrome-like "Mariner" finish that is more rust resistant than stainless steel and is intended to protect the gun in salt water environments for long periods of time. The Mossberg "ghost ring" sights are also an excellent option that is available for most of their 590 series guns. With the introduction of strict laws regarding assault rifles and combat handguns, combat shotguns are likely to become more popular than ever.
There are several makers of hunting shotguns marketing combat shotguns based on their hunting models. Italian gun makers Benelli, Beretta, and Frianchi all make excellent combat / survival guns based on their semi-automatic sporting shotguns. The Benelli guns are sold in the U.S. and Canada by Heckler and Koch and the components of a "combo kit" are available as spare parts and accessories but they are very costly. To those who may be limited in the number of guns they can own, but are less concerned with cost, the H&K/ Benelli system may be the best.
A "combat modified" pump shotgun like this can be used effectively at night in close quarters, especially with night vision goggles and an IR filter on the flashlight mounted under the magazine tube. The gun can hold a total of fifteen shots with the "sidesaddle" shell carrier and is still nearly as compact as a submachinegun. The most accurate way to fire a dual grip shotgun like this is to hold and aim it like a bow, pulling apart by the grips and sighting down the barrel as you would pull the string away from the bow and sight down the arrow. Even without the night goggles, the flashlight gives the user the ability to identify targets at night. This is critically important in conditions where you are not certain you are encountering hostiles. Note that you can be momentarily blinded by the muzzle flash from most shotgun shells if you fire this in the dark with or with out night vision goggles.
Most of the modern 12g shotguns will accept shells with lengths up to 3" but some may vary. A few of the newer models will take the 3 1/2" shells that are intended to compensate for the reduced impact power of steel shot that is mandated in some areas by environmental laws. Steel shot will not poison meat or water resources and is a good idea to use if you plan to eat the game animals that you shoot or if you target practice around an open source of drinking water (like a reservoir). Shells that fire everything from birdshot (small pellets) to buckshot (large pellets) and pyrotechnics (flares and large firecrackers called "bird bombs") are just the beginning of what is available in the standard 12g 2 3/4" size. I recommend stocking up on a good mix of different types of shotgun ammo, mostly in the 2 3/4" size since the 3" and larger magnum size shells seem to wear down the actions more than the lower power stuff. Steel frame (Remington and Browning) guns take the abuse from these shells a little better in the long run than the aluminum frame guns (Mossberg and Post 64 Winchester).
Probably the most important reason for adding the shotgun to the survival arsenal is the wide range of ammunition that you can use in a shotgun. I suggest getting several types of ammo for your survival shotgun. The ammo is relatively cheap and different loads can give you the ability to deal with different situations. By far the best choice will be 12g for multi-purpose survival, but some combat shotgun experts are now recommending 20g as a better choice in a fighting shotgun.
I have put together this list of available cartridges to give you an idea of what is available.
Birdshot- Small pellets in a moderately powered load with little recoil. Used mainly for target shooting and small game birds. This is the most common ammo for shotguns throughout the world.
Medium game loads, also known as rabbit shot or goose loads - This is more powerful ammo with larger pellets (usually #4 size). It has some limited use for fighting indoors as it is moderately powerful at close range, but is not powerful enough to punch through most walls and kill friendlies. A survivor should stock up on this ammo since it is the most versatile as both a hunting and fighting load. Recommended by hunters for rabbit, fox, geese, and turkey.
BB shot - just a little more powerful than the average medium game load, BB shot is more costly but less likely to poison the meat of a game animal. In years past, this was the most commonly recommended police load, also favored by prison guards.
Buckshot - Usually the most powerful shot loads with the largest pellets. Buckshot is used for larger game animals and as a combat load outdoors. Combat loaded buckshot tends to be less powerful than that intended for hunting. This is usually done to reduce recoil as a full load of buckshot intended to kill a moose is overkill for even a large person.
Buck and Ball - Usually a brush hunting load that combines a single large ball with buckshot to create a load that is suited for crashing through brush or cover to kill tough animals like wild boar. It is also a recommended military load for jungle combat.
Slugs - A single large projectile. This is the most powerful and accurate load for a shotgun. Powerful slugs can penetrate heavy cover, but they do not reliably penetrate body armor due to the large frontal area. Accuracy is limited to 150 yards. Slugs are favored hunting loads in areas where longer range rifles may prove dangerous to unintended targets. Slugs offer the ultimate stopping power for big game at short range and can easily damage vehicles.
Saboted Slugs - Saboted slugs are smaller more aerodynamic projectiles fired in a temporary plastic casing called a sabot. The sabot usually breaks away a few feet from the muzzle of the gun and the saboted slug travels at a much higher velocity than standard slugs. Several variations of these slugs easily penetrate armor and can damage vehicles. Specialized hard metal saboted slugs can even damage armored vehicles at close range.
Rubber shot, rubber slugs - This is less lethal ammo developed for riot control and for dealing with hostile animals where the shooter does not want to kill the animal (as in a zoo). It is also the most commonly used ammo in prisons. Rubber slugs are not exactly foolproof and can cause permanent damage to people at close range.
Ferret and other tear gas rounds - Another type of less lethal ammo. This ammo usually shoots a burning wad of material that gives off tear gas or a similar substance. Some versions have no projectile but fire the burning tear gas in a cloud directly from the muzzle. The genuine ferret rounds pictured to the right fire a type of heated CS gas steam at high velocity.
Bird bombs - Very fun ammo with projectiles that are essentially large firecrackers. They cause little damage and are designed to scare animals away from crops and garbage dumps. It is conceivable that this ammo can be dangerous under some circumstances, but it is not typically a combat load.
Flares - Usually a safety / emergency signaling load. The projectile is a small flare than can be seen for miles. Not designed as a combat load but it can still be dangerous and can start fires.
Dragon's breath - Another very fun load. There is no projectile, but the gun will unleash a 30 foot cone of flame from the muzzle when fired. The burning element is usually magnesium and will cause burns, but the flames from the cartridge last only a fraction of a second. It is a lot like a hot lightning bolt or flashbulb.
Flechette darts - Flechettes are small darts that are fired in a cluster (as opposed to pellets) as an area effect load from the shotgun. While round pellets tend to spread over a wider area as they move away from the gun, flechettes spread out to about a foot wide pattern and carry at a more or less uniform pattern until they lose energy. They also travel longer distances because of superior aerodynamics.
Strung ball - Similar to buckshot, but with a wire holding the large pellets together (usually the pellets are cast around the wire) to prevent the shot pattern from spreading beyond a few inches. This load is extremely deadly at close range because the wire will cut tissue like a razor.
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