Short Range Firearm Power: The Fighting Shotgun

The fighting shotgun can trace its roots back all the way to some of the first guns ever made. The medieval handgonne, or hand cannon, was nothing but a cast iron tube held under the arm with a hole in the top near the back to ignite the gunpowder. You’d load it up with pebbles, stones, arrows or whatever, point in the direction of the enemy. Ignition was via a spark applied to the hole and then the gunpowder would ignite. Ideally, it would spew whatever was inside the barrel in the general direction of the advancing bad guys. Sometimes, however, it did not, which led to other more reliable guns. 

Time passed. The hand cannon was replaced on the battlefield by more accurate weapons such as the matchlock and later flintlock muskets. The shotgun picked up where the hand cannon left off, allowing users to send many projectiles into an area all at once. This was ideal for bird hunting and other sporting uses but the idea of a fighting shotgun continued to grow and flourish. 

The Fighting Shotgun Comes Into Its Own 

The introduction of centerfire ammunition meant the fighting shotgun could come into its own. Having the primer, power and pellets all wrapped up in one neat little package brought consistent pellet spread to the shotgun. This in turn meant that soldiers and private citizens alike could rely on the scattergun to deliver overwhelming amounts of lethal force at close ranges. 

The fighting shotgun came into its own in the trenches of World War 1. American soldiers and their hammer-fired, pump action Winchester Model 1897 shotguns were so feared by the German army that they declared any Americans caught using one would be executed on the spot

The fighting shotgun also came in handy in the Pacific Theater during World War Two. The devastating effects of the shotgun brought a lot of firepower to the battles. The shotgun was ideal in the tight quarters of the island jungle and even tighter quarters of enemy fortifications and volcanic island caves. 

Run Through The Jungle

Remington 870

A Remington 870 in use by a Marine

The pump action shotgun also proved to be ideal in the tunnels and the urban environment of Vietnamese cities. The fighting shotgun continued to be used throughout the 20th century. Increased illegal drug enforcement meant an increased number of searches on ships and buildings. This , in turn, led to the fighting shotgun being used in those situations.

The wars of today are frequently fought in urban areas. Once again the power of a shotgun in close-fought battles was pressed into service. The utility of a shotgun means it will most likely be used for years to come, anytime when a lot of firepower needs to be used at short distances,

What Makes It So Good

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the elements which make a fighting shotgun different from a sporting or general purpose shotgun. 

  • Magazine Capacity. This is the biggest difference between a sporting shotgun and a fighting shotgun. Due to hunting regulations, most (if not all) pump-action or semi-automatic sporting shotguns have magazine capacities of three or five rounds. In a gunfight, however, running out of ammo means running out of luck. As a result, defensive shotguns tend to carry eight or more rounds in the magazine. They can also carry more shells on the gun for fast reloads. 
  • Choke, or lack thereof. The typical load for any defensive shotgun is buckshot. There really isn’t the need to send out a tight pattern of #7 ½ shot into the air to knock down a bird or bust a clay. Because of this, many fighting shotguns have a smooth barrel with no choke, aka a cylinder bore barrel. 
  • Sights. A bead sight is great for keeping track of your muzzle as you follow a bird or a clay flying through the air. However, using a shotgun for defensive purposes means you need to get hits on a man-sized target out to 25 or even 50 yards. In those situations, a ghost ring aperture sight or even a red dot sight can make for quick sight picture acquisition. 
  • Other features. Weapon-mounted lights, adjustable stocks, sling attachment points and even bayonets are other features that set a defensive shotgun apart from a typical sporting shotgun. 

The Modern Fighting Shotgun 

modern fighting shotgun

The War On Terror meant opening up a lot of doors. Shotguns are great for that.

Some examples of common defensive or fighting shotguns in use today include: 

Remington 870 

A rugged workhorse that has served around the globe with American troops as well as law enforcement agencies. When you think “pump-action defensive shotgun,” chances are, it’s an 870 that you’re thinking of. 

Mossberg 500/590

The 870’s main rival. Another pump-action shotgun that is known for its reliability. The 500 and 590 are also trusted by armed forces and military units throughout the four corners of the earth.

Benelli M4

A semiautomatic scattergun that’s also in use by the U.S. military, the M4 comes in a wide variety of finishes and stock types. 

Beretta 1301 

A defensive shotgun from the world’s oldest gunmaker, the semi-automatic 1301 is quickly gaining popularity for it’s reliability and fast-recycling action. 

The Scattergun Goes To War

Let’s be clear here. A shotgun is useful in combat because it delivers overwhelming firepower on a single target at close ranges. If you absolutely, positively have to stop someone in their tracks right now, hit them with a load of buckshot. A shotguns can also provide access into the building being assaulted. Specially designed slugs can be used to destroy the locks and hinges on almost any residential or commercial door.

Civilian defensive shotgun

The author’s Mossberg 500 has many features of the modern fighting shotgun

A shotgun is also tremendously useful for the armed citizen. A tactical shotgun with buckshot usually ends the fight in one shot, and with proper technique from trainers like Rob Haught, Tim Chandler and Tom Givens, it can be used by almost anyone to defend what’s important to them. 

What makes the fighting shotgun great, however, also limits its usefulness to the military. A small magazine capacity (usually around eight shots) can’t provide effective suppressive fire to cover the movement of troops, and a 50 yard effective range means it’s useless in open country. Despite this, because it is so good at what it does, the modern shotgun will undoubtedly have a role to play in the military for years, if not decades, into the future.