Survival Shotgun

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A shotgun is
a valuable tool that should be in every survival toolkit. In today’s
environment the shotgun can be a bit of a question mark; it’s
more powerful than a pistol but has less range than a rifle, and
limited magazine capacity. It’s not always clear when or how
to deploy the shotgun. Here are 6 good reasons every survivalist
needs one.

1. Power
and Performance

A shotgun is
a large step up in force from a handgun. Since their inception they’ve
been know as a solid performer. They have been the backup long arm
for law enforcement for at least a hundred years. Shotguns have
been used to such great effect in the closed-in trenches of World
War I that Germany protested their use and threatened execution
for any troops found in possession of them.

2. Versatility
of Ammunition

Shotguns can
fire rounds that other small arms usually can not. An example is
bird shot, which can get small game for food, or less lethal rounds
like beanbags that are meant to stop violent encounters without
causing serious harm. There are less lethal weapon systems, but
they are expensive and can only deploy less lethal rounds. Only
the shotgun is capable of firing both rounds (and more.)

3. Price
and Availability

Shotguns have
a high availability, and are cheaper than most rifles. With a few
hundred dollars you can walk into a local superstore and purchase
a shotgun in most of America. This means you can afford to upgrade
your preparedness right now. You should still save up for that semi-auto
rifle, but you can bump up your firepower now. Shotguns are also
cheap enough that you can hand one out to upgrade a member of your
team’s loadout if they do not have a long arm.

4. Legislative

The shotgun
is looked at as a sporting arm by legislators and usually the last
type of weapon to be banned or legislated against. This is not always
the case, but even in cities like Chicago it is legal to own a shotgun
where handguns and large capacity magazines are completely banned.
This may be extremely helpful for the urban survivalist.

5. Ease
of Maintenance

Most shotguns
are very easy to maintain. You can clean and maintain a pump shotgun
cheap and easy with both commercial and improvised supplies. A cleaning
kit can take up no more than the space of a coffee mug if you wish.
You can pack a spare cleaning kit in your Bug Out Bag and not worry
about it going bad or ruining the contents of your pack. Improvised
supplies are all dual use items, making maintenance even easier.

6. Modular

Shotguns are
modular. You can take a basic “home defense” model and
swap the short barrel with a long game barrel and hunt rabbit or
duck. You can change the furniture from wood to synthetic to reduce
weight and increase strength. You can swap the stock for a pistol
grip if you want a backpack gun. The options are endless, but you
have to make wise choices; one bad part could compromise the reliability
of your shotgun.

I am not suggesting
the shotgun be the only weapon in your survival toolkit, but it
is a powerful tool that can be adapted for many situations. There
are some big limitations that you will be made aware of, but it
should be obvious that force, cost, diversity, and adaptability
are the main strengths of the shotgun.

Gauge and Type

If you are
new to shotguns understanding what type of gun to buy and which
gauge to choose for your survival needs can be difficult. Continuing
the Survival Shotgun series, here is a basic rundown of the types
and sizes of shotguns you should consider for your survival gear.

The basic operation
of a shotgun is to fire a dose of round lead balls (shot) down a
smooth bore barrel. Shotguns existed before rifles and pistols,
and the concept of blasting shot down a smooth barrel may extend
all the way back to ancient China. Modern Man’s innovation
has managed to stuff all sorts of things into a shotgun shell, but
the basic operation still remains.


Shotgun barrels
are typically chambered in gauges, not calibers. A gauge is the
number of lead balls it takes to roll down the barrel to make a
pound. If you’re wondering why that sounds crazy, it’s
an imperial measurement created by the English, and they tend to
over-complicate things. But it does explain why a 12 gauge has a
larger tube than a 20 gauge. The most common chamberings for shotguns
are 10, 12, 16, and 20 gauge. There is also .410 bore, which is
a newer size based on the .45 Colt. It’s an American invention
and is not a true gauge.

a Gauge

Why is this
important? You need to pick a gauge (or bore) that is suitable for
your stature or needs. Recoil is usually the determining factor,
but for the prepper you want to also consider availability. Up to
50% of shotguns sold in America are 12 gauge. You will simply have
an easier time finding ammunition for a 12 gauge.

If you cannot
handle the recoil of a 12 gauge, then go with 20 if possible. If
you cannot deal with the recoil of a 20 gauge then .410 bore is
your last resort. Other gauges like 10 and 16 are available but
too rare for a prepper to consider seriously; you are not going
to find 16 gauge ammo on the shelf at a superstore.

For the sake
of brevity and to show how versatile the shotgun is, I will stick
to 12 gauge for the majority of this series. Birdshot, slugs, and
buckshot ammunition are available in 20 gauge. Birdshot and buckshot
are available in .410, but you are getting three pellets of 000
buck per shell for the buckshot, versus a 12 gauge 000 load which
holds 10 pellets or more. There are also slugs available for .410,
usually weighing 1/4 an ounce versus a standard 1 ounce slug in
12 gauge. .410 slug ammunition is also extremely hard to find unless
it’s deer season in a shotgun hunting state.

Type of

For most preppers,
the standard survival shotgun is going to be a 12 gauge pump shotgun;
readily available at your local superstore. Semi-auto shotguns are
great, and usually a joy to shoot, but there are issues that should
be considered.

cost more, usually starting at double the cost of a pump and up.
Some of the cheaper models have reliability and quality issues.
Parts can and do get worn out more frequently. Some autoloaders
will only feed reliably with certain kinds of ammunition, like full
power loads.

Barring oddball
rounds like the Aquila mini-shells, a pump action gun will cycle
any load you feed it because of the manual loading process, including
reduced recoil loads, light birdshot, and less lethal ammo with
no projectile. Autoloaders rely on either recoil or gas to operate
the action.

Each has its
advantages, but both systems require more preventative maintenance
and cleaning for reliable performance. What a prepper is looking
for in the survival toolkit is something cheap, reliable, and versatile.
And that is the 12 gauge pump action shotgun.


If you have
questions, or need help choosing a gun, ask
and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.

the Gun

When it comes
to survival shotguns, your choices really come down to two brands:
Remington or Mossberg. There are proponents of each shotgun, and
both have their strengths and weaknesses. Performance of the basic
models will be on par, but there are limitations that should be

Both guns are
extremely high quality pump action shotguns that are easily the
most popular models in the world. Each company makes dozens of variations
of the guns and either will serve you well. Reading about specific
differences and your own preferences is the only way to choose.


Remington 870 Express 18" Barrel and Synthetic Stock

to Remember:

  • The Remington
    Express five-round magazine tubes have dimples that need to be
    removed in order to attach magazine extensions.
  • The stock
    factory pump is too long to use with a sidesaddle ammunition carrier.
  • The Remington
    870 uses a push button safety that is not as ambidextrous or obvious
    as Mossberg’s tang safety.


Mossberg 500 Lineup

to Remember:

  • The Mossberg
    500 series has an aluminum receiver that lightens the shotgun
    significantly, but prevents the use of most sidesaddle ammunition
    carriers (they are not recommended by the factory).

  • The Mossberg
    500 series has a polymer safety button and trigger assembly.
  • The Mossberg
    500 series magazine cannot be extended because the barrel secures
    to the end of the magazine tube.


Remington makes
an Express model (#25077) that comes equipped standard with a two
round magazine extension and a short pump from the factory. The
Remington 870 Express 18" Synthetic 7-Round

Mossberg makes
several other versions of the 500 called the 500
Special Purpose
and a heavier duty version of the 500 called
that comes with a heavy walled barrel, parkerized finish,
metal trigger group, which holds 6 rounds.

These shotguns
are more expensive and harder to find, although both companies have
increased availability, but for the small price increase you will
get more gun. Some other weaknesses can also be overcome by purchasing
accessory parts, but the more you change, the more chances you have
to cause a failure with the firearm, something you can’t afford.


For the most
part an 18.5" barrel, 5+1 capacity model with synthetic furniture
will do fine in the survival toolkit. If you are concerned about
getting some game, an additional longer barrel with a choke can
be purchased.

Try not to
be drawn to the new “tactical” models with folding or
collapsible stocks, or unorthodox muzzle attachments. If your shotgun
came equipped with a heatshield, remove it, it can shoot lose and
bind the action. Keep your shotgun simple and slick (as in clean,
fast, and smooth).

Choose for
Your System

Whatever shotgun
you ultimately end up with, remember to keep it simple, rugged,
and test it’s reliability. Train with it, make sure any changes
you’ve made have not compromised the shotgun, and keep shooting
it to find any weaknesses in you and your technique or the shotgun.
Even when I shoot skeet recreationally, I will bring my survival
shotgun and break a few clays with it; it’s just another way
to keep rounds through the gun and maintain familiarity with my


Shotguns easily
have more possible different types of ammunition than any other
gun. From buckshot and slugs, to non-lethal and everything in between,
the survival shotgun is an incredibly versatile tool.

the various loads and their uses is important for any prepared survivalist.

Worth The

be realistic about what the shotgun is and is not. It’s no
longer the king of the hill when it comes to Close Quarters Battle.
Terms like “street sweeper” and “room broom”
get thrown around but for the pros, the shotgun has been relegated
to specialized tasks like ballistic barrier breaching and less lethal
munition deployment.

The carbine
and short-barreled rifle have taken over the realm once dominated
by the shotgun. The ergonomics of the AR-15/M16 and the magazine
capacity, as well as the armor penetration and terminal ballistics
make it a clear winner. Shotguns are not rifles. But let’s
take a look at what kind of diversity is available to the shotgun
that makes it worth the effort in the first place.


From Law Enforcement
reduced recoil to full power 3 1/2" magnum loads, buckshot
is a proven performer in soft tissue. Most buckshot is effective
out to at least 25 yards.


Usually 1 oz.
“Foster” style slugs with rifling, or “rifled slugs”.
The rifling on the slug is meant to conform to the contour of the
barrel and collapse if there is a choke on the barrel. It does not
impart any spin on projectile. Slugs can be fired accurately, and
with good effect on target, with a bead sight out to at least 50
yards, possibly 100 depending on load. Slugs are effective on all
mammals, including bear, that inhabit North America. Slugs may be
your best chance at defending yourself from aggressors using soft
body armor.


Also known
as “shot”, used for hunting and sport, smaller lead or
steel balls from the size of a kosher salt rock to loads big enough
for large waterfowl, rabbit, or coyotes.


copper, steel, or zinc slugs that burst open locks and hinges with
reduced risk of ricochet or over-penetration. Can be used on padlocks
as well. Not for a novice user, proper technique is required.

Less Lethal

Ranges from
cheap rubber buckshot that can be skipped off pavement into a target
or a crowd, to beanbag and rubber baton rounds that can have the
option of leaving a UV marking dye. There are also less lethal rounds
that do not fire any projectile, like the ALS “Bore Thunder”
which “produces a stun/diversion effect by using a flash with
an extremely powerful concussion blast.” Less lethals require
practice and can be expensive. But there are times when a less lethal
round can cause a stop, enforce compliance, or provide cover for
retreat when lethal force is not required or justified.


In the survival
toolkit, keeping a good supply of all these different kinds of ammunition
is a good idea. Even value-packed sport loads can be useful in a
survival situation for more than just game.

If you have
no use for a #8 shot sport load, it’s possible to melt down
the lead shot inside, use a slug mold, and reload them into a poor
man’s slug. Will it perform as well as a factory slug? Absolutely
not. Will the homemade slug provide more stopping power than a dose
of small shot? Absolutely. The process can upgrade your stopping
power if all you can find is sport or game loads with birdshot,
but you would really like a slug for self-defense. This processes
is being used by people in countries where a shotgun and birdshot
loads are the only available legal firearms to citizens.

In a survival
situation, a shotgun and even mild assortment of loads can keep
you protected and fed, and give you the opportunity to flee from
a superior force.

Myths Explained

Thanks to television,
movies, and popular Rambo talk there are lots of myths about the
shotgun. If you are going to use yours effectively in a survival
situation you need to separate fact from fiction. Here are some
common misconceptions the smart prepper should be wary of.

Rack It

“The sound of a pump racking is enough to scare away an intruder.”

If you are racking your pump investigating a suspicious noise, you’ve
made a tactical error. You may have escalated a situation from a
simple peeping tom or snooping thief into a full scale home invasion
by engaging their fight or flight reflexes. You’ve also announced
your location to anyone that may have been trying to find you. Learn
to load your weapon silently or leave it with a round in the chamber,
whichever you’re comfortable and can safely do.

If you’re
out in the wild, follow the safety rules you’re comfortable
with (NRA Safety
, Col.
Cooper’s Rules of Gun Safety
), but be ready to bring your
weapon to action quickly and quietly; your threat will usually not
give you the luxury of a distinctive warning.

Room Clearing

“You just point the shotgun in the general direction of the
bad guy, pull the trigger and it’s game over!”

You need to aim shotguns just like rifles and pistols. Rounds like
buckshot will spread one inch for every yard of flight, as a rule
of thumb. If you’re defending yourself from an assailant at
5 yards, the group of shot will be roughly 5" wide, an easy
shot to miss if you’re snap shooting. If the shot was well
aimed in the thoracic cavity, the result would be completely different.

Shooting your
shotgun at
set up at different distances and measuring the size
of the spread is called “patterning” your shotgun, and
it’s what you should do with your gun and with each load you
shoot. You’ll have a better understanding of how your shotgun
performs and the limitations of each load.

If your buckshot
pellets cannot hold an 18" group (average shoulder width of
a man) at 30 yards, but will at 25, you know that your effective
range is 25 yards. Try different loads in your shotgun for the best
pattern. Also, remember, you are responsible for each pellet that
you send downrange and each pellet should hit your
intended target

Mix and

“I like to load in a slug in first, followed by two rounds
of 00 buck, then two rounds of bird shot. If those two rounds of
bird shot don’t end the fight, the buckshot sure will, and
I keep that slug for insurance.”

Fact 1:
Mixing ammo in the same magazine is not recommended. You could pull
the trigger and get an unexpected result. If you need
a different round
, train on how to switch loads.

Fact 2:
Birdshot should never be used for defensive purposes unless you
have no choice. The small shot does not penetrate and will not cause
a stop, especially if the aggressor is determined. There has been
a documented report of a 12-year-old girl surviving a point-blank
blast of bird shot. Dick
Cheney shot a 78-year-old man
in the face with birdshot and
the receiver lived.


Everything you’ve seen in TV and movies about people getting
shot with shotguns.

In close quarters buckshot and slugs do heavy damage, but people
do not explode, fly backwards, and there is not always a huge window
for them to fall through. Train for quick follow up shots, dealing
with multiple aggressors, reloading your shotgun when it’s
run dry, and a especially the Tactical Reload (loading your magazine
between shots.)


A single blast will open a door explosively.

Ballistic breaching is usually a two- or three-step process involving
shooting frangible
breaching slugs
at the latch and bolt of a locked door, and
then the door is pried or battered open. If you’re lucky and
have shot well, a good kick with a solid boot will open the door.

If you shot
poorly, you can actually twist a metal door and frame together so
an explosive breach, battering ram, or Halligan tool is necessary.

Breaching can
be accomplished by a prepper with a shotgun and a partner with something
like a Stanley FuBar, but don’t expect a dynamic entry on an
unsuspecting party. You can use standard buckshot and slugs for
a ballistic breech, but frangible
breaching slugs
are recommended for safety.

Your Favorite

Every armchair
tactical operator and mill ninja has a ton of great “shotgun
myths” Leave a
and tell us your favorite.

and Maintenance

Many shotguns,
especially pump guns, can run well for long periods of time between
cleanings. However, in a survival situation your life may depend
on that gun and you need to know it’s in perfect working order
every time.


When you fire
a shotgun, you are not only leaving primer and powder residue, but
also plastic residue from wads or lead
from slugs
. There are many products available to clean
the bore of all these residues using nylon coated rods, brass brushes,
and cotton patches. For the prepper, this is largely unnecessary.


For a survival
pump you really don’t need much more than a Hoppe’s
. The boresnake is a long cloth tube that has brush
bristles and cloth wipe that you slide through the bore of your
gun. That’s basically all you need to clean up a pump shotgun
in one go and it’s around
. The package is small, light and cheap enough to pack an
extra in your Bug
Out Bag

To be honest,
sometimes I don’t even clean my pump gun until I notice slug
accuracy falling off.


It may be a
good idea to invest in a larger
cleaning kit
with rods and brushes once youre
set up and comfortable with the BoreSnake. You will get better slug
accuracy if you can clean the barrel thoroughly, but you must decide
if the cost, extra weight, and effort are worth this.

As a shooter
who puts a large volume of buck and slugs through my shotgun, I
have a dedicated shotgun rod with jags and brushes, but I typically
use them for a 6-months–1-year deep cleaning that a BoreSnake
can not perform.


I have an autoloader
that is gas operated and requires a full detail strip after each
trip. It’s a solid design and well made, and I anticipate many
years of service from it, as long as I keep up the preventative
maintenance and watch a few parts for wear. If you have chosen to
run an autoloader, expect to do the same.

guns do not require as much maintenance, but gas-operated guns may
have o-rings and springs that need to be watched. Find out which
parts are prone to breaking down and keep backups, so that you do
not have to engineer or rig a solution later. Keep a backup to the
backup part if possible, and keep a paper and electronic
of the manual so you know how to install the part.


In a survival
situation you can use some dual-use products to clean and maintain
your shotgun. WD-40,
ATF, or kerosene will clean fouling from the barrel. If you can
mix the ATF and kerosene, it will work even better; there is a recipe
for a home brew gun-cleaning solvent called “Ed’s
” where ATF and kerosene are major components.

To apply the
solvent a tampon with some fishing
will do nicely as an improvised bore snake. If you cannot
get your hands on a tampon, pieces of worn out t-shirt tied to a
line will work as well. The key is to saturate the barrel, let the
solvent stand, and then wipe out the fouling.


You will then
need to lubricate
the inside of the barrel, moving parts, and lightly coat the outside
metal. Too much lubrication is bad, concentrate on where metal moves
against metal. Standard motor oil in a heavy viscosity or 3-in-1
oil can be used to lubricate moving parts and prevent surface rust.

If you have
dropped your shotgun in some dirt, with no resources and a non-functional
weapon, you can do a quick field strip, brush off the dirt, and
lubricate the key points with the dipstick of an automobile. The
shotgun is rugged and simple enough that you can be back in action
that easily.

You Actually Need

Although the
shotgun does a great job on it’s own, there are some accessories
that will greatly improve your capability. People like to load up
their guns with a lot of accessories that add weight but not much
functionality. Here are 4 accessories you actually need:


The best for
a shotgun is a two-point sling. Three-point slings are too complicated
and single-point slings are impractical for running, climbing, or
moving through brush.

You will most
likely be using your shotgun either on quick security checks or
long patrols; a simple two-point sling is best suited for both missions.
A side-mounted sling is best, you can find side sling mounts by
GG&G or Specter Gear.

Stock Carrier
or Sidesaddle

You need a
way of keeping an extra reload on the shotgun such as a sidesaddle
or buttstock carrier (or both). One of the main weaknesses of the
shotgun is firepower; magazine capacity is low and reloads should
be carried on the gun so they are always available.

Look for good
Buttstock Carriers by Blackhawk,
, Specter
, and Uncle

Good Side-saddles,
receiver mounted ammo carriers, are made by:

are not recommended for Mossbergs with aluminum receivers because
over time recoil can cause the pins to deform the action. This is
also true to a certain extent for Remington guns, but it’s
not as pronounced.

made by Vang Comp and Mesa Tactical have mitigated these issues
by using different approaches to the problem. I’d still recommended
using Loctite on the screws and witness marks to be sure the screws
aren’t backing out from recoil.

Weapon Light

Target identification
saves lives, and a tactical bright light can actually deter the
use of lethal force. The best are made by SureFire and are integrated
into the pump: Remington
and Mossberg

The newer models
have unbreakable LED bulbs that stand up to recoil, run hours on
a set of batteries, and batteries will stay stable in the light
for 10 years. However, SureFire is a premium solution, so that may
not be for you.

is another source of lights and mounts for shotguns. Mesa Tactical
offers a Magazine
and Barrel Clamp
that can be used to mount a 1" light like
a SureFire 6P directly to the barrel. GG&G are offering replacement
fore ends with a rail for use as a light attachment. The key is
to use a quality light and mount that will hold up to recoil and
rough handling.

Extra Shell

is key. Safariland sells a belt
clip mounted shot shell holder
that is concealable and holds
a quick two rounds. There are a huge selection of modular pouches
for use with shogun shells, which may be practical but not very
versatile, unless you plan on having multiple rigs.

A shotshell
card, like the Jones Tactical SSH-01 can be used in conjunction
with an existing rifle rig or Bug
Out Bag
. They are slim, have hook Velcro on the back, and can
be zip-tied to things like pack straps for expedient ammo setup.
You can even put loop Velcro on your shotgun and use them as a side-saddle.

Best Choices

If I could
only pick two accessories, I’d chose a weapon
and a quality buttstock
ammo carrier
. A sling is nice, especially for those long walks
around the ranch, but target identification and having a reload
on the gun is more important.

important for you is getting quality accessories and having them
work together reliably for you as a team to help round out your
weapon system.

M500SP Loadout

To close out
the epic Survival Shotgun series Scott was gracious enough to give
us a full rundown of his personal survival shotgun, complete with
lots of pictures, gear recommendations, load ideas, and training
tips. Feel free to be jealous.

Scott –
(mr. smashy) Survival Shotgun

My primary
survival shotgun is a Mossberg
, specifically the M500 Special Purpose. I chose Mossberg
because it was cheaper and the safety is located on the tang (my
wife is left-handed). The
safety is not as ambidextrous.


I swapped out
the factory magazine spring and follower for a Wilson
hi-viz follower and extra power magazine spring.

The pump was
replaced with a SureFire
weapon light
that has been upgraded with the LED bulb. I have
a two-point sling made by Jones
, mounted to a Specter Gear Side Sling Mount Plate and
a Specter Gear 6 Shell Buttstock Shotshell Holder.

The buttstock
has been swapped from the factory part to a Houge
12" length of pull. Essentially this gives me
the most compact shotgun possible while still maintaining ammunition
options. I chose to go short because I expect the shotgun to be
a CQB weapon.

Ammo and

I understand
that shotguns are not rifles; the maximum effective range of a shotgun,
using slugs, is about 80–100 yards. I stock a reserve of Federal
LE reduced recoil buckshot
and slugs, some cheaper imported
reduced recoil buckshot that is nickel plated to reduced shot deformation,
cheap bulk pack #8 sport loads, breaching slugs, and less lethal

I have a list
of known wear parts, which have spares, and I perform preventative
maintenance on the gun to check these parts whenever it’s used.
I’m also set up to reload for 20 gauge, so I can make my own
sport, hunting and, if need be, defensive loads. I hope to expand
that capability to 12 gauge soon.

Dummy Shells

Another highly
recommended accessory I use often is a set of dummy shells. These
are necessary to practice loading and reloading the shotgun safely.
Reloading should be something you can do quickly and proficiently
from your on-gun location (sidesaddle or buttstock holder).

There are a
variety of dummy rounds available, but my favorite are “Action
Proving Dummies
” available from Brownells. They are basically
a shell loaded with lead shot but without powder and a primer. The
feel and weight is 100% correct, they are very durable, and the
price is right. There are alternatives available but I have found
these to be the best for my needs.


You should
also learn how to “select slug”, for times when buckshot
is too short range or you need the extra accuracy or penetration
of a slug. Another good drill is called the “Ball and Dummy”
drill, where you load a dummy into your magazine tube substituting
one round with the rest being normal loads. You can use this drill
to observe recoil avoidance (bucking or flinching), and also use
it to train for a failure to fire.

Your Survival

So what can
you take away from all this? Hopefully you can find
a shotgun
, ammunition,
and accessories
that fit your needs and budget, and build the skills to make an
adaptable weapon system. As long as you train and understand the
shotgun’s limitations and its strengths, it will find a solid
place in your survival toolkit.

To see a complete
set of pictures you can check out mr.
smashy’s Flickr Collection

with permission from Survival

7, 2010

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