What to Look for in Survival Shotguns

Best survival shotguns

This woman offers a persuasive argument in favor of the practicality of survival shotguns with a view of the business end of her 12-gauge Mossberg 590A1.

For most wilderness, farm and ranch utility duties or home-defense situations, the survival shotgun is an outstanding tool.

You could do just fine if it was the only weapon you had for those purposes. It can be useful, too, during civil unrest, and while it shouldn’t stand unsupported, it is a good mid-range and close-quarter battle (CQB) weapon in many situations.

Of course, if it is the only firearm you have or can afford, like so many other things in life, you make due.

Having a survival shotgun for defense is certainly better than throwing back the rocks hurled at you by the mob that wants to tear you and your family apart.

Short-Barreled Shotguns: Good as Survival Shotguns?

Short-barreled shotguns, starting with the 1897 Winchester pump, used to be known as a “riot” shotguns. This was back in the day when it was still alright for cops to shoot lead pellets (rather than rubber), at people who were causing mass property destruction and injury to others.

Don’t worry about going through all the BATFE paperwork and obtaining the NFA tax stamp for a short-barreled shotgun. You lose too much in terms of ballistics by going shorter than 18 inches.

The barrel length for survival shotguns should ideally be 18 inches. A 20-inch barrel will also work, but 18 is best. Twelve- or 20-gauge models are the gauges that will work best. Leave the .410-bore out. It simply doesn’t have enough longer-range power for riot duty outside the home. The 20-gauge has more than enough power but with less recoil than the 12-gauge, which means faster follow-up shots.

Survival Shotguns: Go with a pump

There is only one type of survival shotgun that should be selected for riot gun-type purposes and that is the pump. The pump shotgun is simple, fast, reliable, and can digest any ammo of the proper gauge and length you can find.

The semi-auto shotgun is much more complex to operate, more expensive, and more likely to be sensitive to different power levels within a gauge range. Too, other than the recoil-operated Benelli shotguns, the majority of semi-autos will require more maintenance and cleaning to continue their functionality. That is why police agencies never went to semi-auto duty shotguns en masse and limited their issue to specialized units like S.W.A.T.

The survival shotgun should be of the type termed the “tactical shotguns,” which I cover extensively in my book, The Gun Digest Guide to Tactical Shotguns.

Survival Shotgun Extras Not Worth It

Best Survival Guns Book

Read up on survival shotguns, rifles and handguns in the author’s book, “Gun Digest Book of Survival Guns.”

Don’t worry about needing a flash suppressor or compensator on the barrel in either gauge.

You or another selected user should be able to handle one without compensation, and if that’s not possible, then get a different weapon.

Also, the bore should be choked Cylinder or Improved Cylinder. Don’t waste money on a gun with an interchangeable choke system.

Those are for sporting use and, in addition to racking up the cost, mean parts that can be lost or, worse yet, used with the wrong type of ammo. It would be a bad thing to shoot rifled slugs through a shotgun wearing a Full choke, for instance.

Do not get a shorty pistol grip-only shotgun without a buttstock. A folding stock is okay and is useful for defending yourself from inside a vehicle, but don’t forgo a buttstock altogether.

A Survival Shotgun Extra Worth It

The survival shotgun should have a tough protective coating, Parkerizing or some sort of matte finish, and be a model in common use by military or civilian police forces.

The Final Verdict: What Survival Shotgun to Buy

Go for a quality survival shotgun or riot shotgun made by a recognized manufacturer is not that expensive compared to most AR-15s.

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4 thoughts on “What to Look for in Survival Shotguns

  1. reformer17

    You guys are being way to sensitive about the picture. No offense but in the real world there is no down range. As well in advanced training things are not always the same as with beginners. People with special teams know this. in short, give the guy a break.

  2. cevgunner

    Addition to my earlier comment:
    The woman has the backstop visible BEHIND her – clear violation of range safety rules everywhere: all guns point down range, unless cased for transport.

    Pictures like this get my blood pressure up.

  3. cevgunner

    Well written article, offering good advice for the novice. One point NOT covered – FORCEFULLY rack the slide when firing! Short-stroking the pump action causes jams, which are slow to clear. Better to wear the weapon out, than put your neck on the chopping block by jamming your weapon. For those wondering, I am a lifelong shooter, former military – 10 years – as well as former firearms instructor. CCW licensee as well.

    Also, would someone PLEASE EXPLAIN WHY THE F**K you need to show a weapon from the muzzle end??
    Do you WANT to give anyone seeing this, or any other, article for the first time a negative perception?

    Start by remembering some of your subscribers have been a part of the “gun culture ” for decades longer than you have been out of diapers, and we know that muzzle awareness and the four cardinal rules of firearms safety would put this picture in the “unsafe practices” category, regardless of the intended use. Leave the “Hollywood” gun-handling to the popular culture, or use it as a bad example where needed.
    I get more out of an article that’s well written, and PROPERLY demonstrated photo poses – are the less experienced shooters/gun owners going to be able to tell how the woman posed had her weight well forward, the stock tucked into the pocket tight, and her support hand properly placed on the pump?
    Answer : No. All they can see is the bore of a shotgun barrel, a picture framed solely for dramatic impact.
    The camera had to have been inches from the muzzle for that shot to be taken. The editors need to take a close look at the picture policy, and rework it to avoid “pop culture ” style pictures. Criminals already know what the business end of a gun looks like. We know by inference, or personal experience. Let’s NOT give the anti-gun crowd any more examples they can mis-characterize to their advantage, ok?

  4. nmgene

    I have a 12 gauge winchester 1400 and a 20 gauge pump. Both are long barrelled but I dont need a short barrel as I also have 7 handguns and an AK47 in 223 with 5 30 round magazines. I will be 63 in 2 more days and have never had to shoot anyone but just having a gun has stopped gangbangers from beating my 2 neighbors who were in there 80s.