Shotguns: An Overview
A shotgun is a powerful firearm that is usually fired from the shoulder. It fires a fixed shell containing numerous small, spherical pellets (called shot) that spread out over a relatively short distance. It may also fire a solid slug.
Shotguns are designed with a wide range of bore sizes and cartridge gauges. Some shotguns are small enough to hold with one hand and others are so massive that they need to be stabilized by a mount because they are longer or heavier than the operator.
There are also numerous shotgun types (with varying operating mechanisms or fire actions) such as double-barrelled (break-action), breech loading, lever-action, pump-action (slide-action), revolver, semi-automatic (autoloading), or fully automatic. Several of these design factors are discussed in subsequent articles.
Modern shotguns descended from smoothbore firearms of the 15th to 18th centuries such as the arquebus, blunderbuss, fowling piece, and musket.
These ancestor firearms were able to fire shot or solid balls due to their large diameter barrels and were commonly used in hunting, sport shooting, and military combat.
A blunderbuss is a firearm with a short, large caliber barrel and flared muzzle that is loaded with shot or random projectiles. It is widely considered to be the direct ancestor of the modern shotgun. The classic muzzle-loading ‘Brown Bess’ smoothbore flintlock musket used by the British army from 1722 to 1838 had a barrel roughly the same size as a 10 gauge shotgun.
Musketeers also started to deploy a “buck and ball” loading tactic with the Brown Bess during the 18th century in which a musket ball was loaded down the barrel along with three to six buckshot. This allowed the musket to produce an effect similar to a shotgun.
Evolution Of The Modern Shotgun
Eventually, smaller bores and rifled barrels were adopted in firearms and shotguns began to emerge as a separate entity from rifles and muskets.
This categorical separation brought about many modifications and advancements to the shotgun’s overall design and operating mechanisms. For example, breech loading shotguns and hammerless shotguns (no exposed firing hammer) were introduced by the mid-19th century.
These archetypes paved the way for what most people perceive as a contemporary shotgun: a medium length firearm that is cartridge-loaded by hand from the top-rear (closer to the backstock and trigger hand) and without needing a hammer or exterior mechanism to be pulled before firing. However, the main characteristics that distinguish a shotgun from other firearms are those that describe the firing shot.
A typical shotgun shell must be relatively short and wide, with straight walls and operate at low pressure (this is partly why smoothbore shotgun shells travel slower and shorter than pistol and rifle rounds). However, rifled shotguns fire solid slugs that travel farther and more accurately than the typical spread shot from smooth bore barrels.
As previously mentioned, shotguns usually fire shells filled with shot (tiny pellets) that spread out after leaving the barrel. This spread shot is arguably the firearm’s most defining characteristic.
The efficacy of shotguns in the civilian and military spheres has been apparent since adoption of the firearm began in the 19th century.
Although shotguns were mostly used for hunting and sport prior to the 20th century, the World Wars saw a significant reintroduction of shotguns for military use — especially during the trench warfare of WW1 and the jungle combat of the Pacific War during WWII.
Since then, the shotgun has remained a specialty weapon for modern military units. Many effective uses have been associated with all types of shotguns. For example, shotguns are an immensely popular firearm for hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense (especially at short range).
They have immense stopping power (more than most pistols and rifles) and outstanding offensive capabilities, thus making them a favorite tactical weapon for law enforcement agencies and military units.
The spreading of the firing shot makes the firearm an excellent choice for inexperienced shooters because they do not have to aim a shotgun as precisely as other firearms to hit their target. Shotgun shells are ideal for small and fast moving targets which is why shotguns are popular in hunting and competitive sport shooting.
The following articles will describe in detail various shotgun design types and operating mechanisms as well as offer superior products that you can purchase for your own needs.
The Best Pump Action Shotguns Reviewed
A pump-action (or slide-action) shotgun is one of the fastest firing variants of shotguns. Its fire action operating mechanism is characterized by a movable forend that is manually slid backward and forward for cartridge ejection and chamber loading.
The first slide-action shotgun was patented in the 1850’s. Interestingly enough, some older pump-action shotguns are faster than modern semi-auto shotguns because they lacked a trigger disconnector. This allowed the operator to hold the trigger down and fire rounds as fast the pump-action could be cycled.
This aggressive technique is called “slamfiring” and was first used in the trench warfare of WW1. Today, proficient shooters can easily fire a pump-action faster than a semi-automatic. Generally speaking, pump-action shotguns have short cycling times and can be fired faster than almost any other type of shotgun (e.g. lever, break-action). They also allow the shooter to use rounds of varying power unlike a gas or recoil operated system that may fail to cycle specific types of rounds.
Pump-actions are ambidextrous, comfortable, and feel intuitive thus making them easy to operate in any firing position. They are hugely popular for a variety of uses such as hunting, sport shooting, self-defense, law enforcement, and military combat.
Mossberg Model 500 Centennial Limited Edition
This proudly American favorite is built as rugged and dependable as they get. The Centennial Limited edition represents the 100 years that Mossberg International has been manufacturing high-quality firearms.
It has a finely checkered high-gloss walnut stock finish, a beautiful blued 28” barrel, and a nickel finished receiver. It is essentially a special edition of the Mossberg 500 Hunting family of pump-action shotguns.
The 500 series represents some of the most versatile and reliable shotguns on the market. Its innovative tool-less locking system allows for a remarkably adaptable platform that accommodates every kind of user application from military to household. The system consists of a series of connectors that allow users to easily switch stocks, forends, recoil pads, and various accessories to create amazing cross-platform flexibility.
Other features include dual extractors, twin action bars, an anti-jam elevator, and a top-mounted safety. This special 12 gauge edition has an overall length of 47.5” and weighs 7.5 lb.
Mossberg 835 Ulti-Mag – All-Purpose Field
This awesome firearm is part of the 835 hunting family and features the world’s first 3.5” chamber designed in a pump-action shotgun allowing the user to unload the most powerful magnum shells.
The 835 has a specially overbored barrel to 10 gauge dimensions that creates exceptionally dense, uniform shot patterns. A reduced felt recoil and muzzle jump allows the shooter to fire quick and accurate follow-up shots. This All-Purpose Field variant has a “Mossy Oak New Bottomland” camouflage finish and a synthetic stock.
It is a rugged piece of work that is ideal for hunting deer, turkey, and waterfowl. Additional specs: 12 Gauge with a round capacity of 5+1, front fiber optic sight, overall length of 46.75”, barrel length of 26”, and weighs 7.5 lbs.
Winchester SXP Waterfowl Hunter – Moss Oaks Shadow Grass Blades
The Winchester SXP (Super-X Pump) is one of the fastest pump-action shotguns in the world and a highly popular choice among speed clay shooters and upland bird hunters.
The inertia-assisted slide-action, found in all SXP variants, allows the user to fire three shots in half a second. This incredible performance feature means the SXP is one of the fastest shotguns for follow-up firing that you will find, if not the fastest. A unique rotatory bolt action allows the shooter to reload with virtually no delay after shooting. The Winchester SXP is also extremely reliable – a result of over 50 years of perfecting firearm designs.
It is revered for being easy to point and shoot because of its light weight and superbly center-balanced design. These features make this SXP variant perfect for waterfowl hunting. It is back-bored (with Invector-Plus choke tube system) for optimally consistent shot patterns with a hard chrome barrel/chamber, TRUGLO front fiber optic sight, and Moss Oaks Shadow Grass blades camouflage (a favorite pattern with top waterfowlers). 3” and 3 ½” chamber for loading magnums capable of downing long-range fowl with ease. Synthetic stock with textured, non-slip grip surfaces.
Browning BPS Field Mossy Oak Shadow Grass Blades
For those preparing for hunting season, this full-coverage camouflage bad boy is the bane of waterfowls everywhere. The Browning BPS pump-action field shotgun is ideal for the marshes.
The 2020 edition comes with a brand new stock and forearm design for superior grip and feel, a larger trigger guard, an Invector-Plus choke system, and Inflex recoil pad system for trigger pull flexibility.
Many pump-action shotguns are designed for novice shooters. This new BPS is designed for everyone including the most serious and extreme waterfowlers. It has been favored by seasoned veterans for over 50 years because of its exceptional quality, reliability and durability.
The floating rib design prevents point of impact shifting due to overheated barrels. A bottom ejection expends shells down and out of sight. This model is available in 20 Gauge, with a 26” barrel and 3” chamber.
Pump Action Shotguns – Conclusion
Pump-action shotguns and their predecessors have been around for over 150 years. They began seeing widespread use by hunters, sport shooters, and backcountry folk simply needing a simple and powerful firearm for self-defense.
Ultimately, pump-action shotguns began to evolve to serve many uses by law enforcement and military units worldwide. They are highly respected for being easy to aim and quick to fire. Major technological advancements in operating cycle mechanisms, trigger suppression systems, and overall component designs have greatly increased the speed and accuracy of pump-action shotguns.
This has positioned the firearm as a premier option for hunters, speed shooters, and law enforcement.
The Best Lever-Action Shotguns Reviewed
Lever-action firearms use a lever situated around the trigger guard area (or the lever forms part of the trigger guard itself) to load rounds into the barrel chamber when the lever is cycled. It is a type of repeating firearm such as a bolt-action rifle or pump-action shotgun.
Although the lever-action is usually associated with rifles, there are some lever-action shotguns in production today that are mainly used for hunting and sport shooting. The first types of repeating firearms were lever-action rifles, so when shotguns started to emerge as a distinct entity they naturally followed the design trend of using a lever fire action.
Shotguns had to be repeating in order to compete with rifles at the time so the first successful repeating shotgun was a lever-action Winchester Model 1887, probably the most famous lever-action shotgun of all time.
Around the time that the Winchester Repeating Arms Company (famous for its lever-action rifles) had plans to develop a shotgun, it was suggested by certain firearms designers that a pump-action or bolt-action would be the most appropriate type of loading mechanism. However, because Winchester was known as a “lever-action firearm company” they decided on developing a lever-action shotgun to maintain their brand recognition.
Generally speaking, lever-action shotguns aim easily and are faster than bolt-actions but slower than pump-actions. They tend to have sleek designs mimicking the looks of rifles and are usually shorter than pump-action shotguns, often by up to 10 inches.
Check out these most classic looking models:
Henry Repeating Arms Lever Action .410 Shotgun
Part of a new introduction of sleek .410 bore models, this Henry Repeating Arms lever-action shotgun is a small gauge, blued steel-framed beauty designed to be quick-handling and similar to more powerful rimfire and centerfire field versions.
This .410 is ideal for small game hunting or camping. It is simple, rugged, and beautiful. This variant has a stock and forearm made of dark straight-grained American walnut, a pistol grip wrist, sling swivel studs, and a robust non-slip rubber recoil pad.
Additional specs: 24” round barrel for longer ranges (shorter version is a 20”), removable invector-style full choke, and a 5-shot tube-loading mag chambered for 2.5” shells.
Henry Repeating Arms Side Gate Lever Action .410 Bore Shotgun
This beauty combines the best features of Henry Repeating Arms’ Lever Action .410 shotgun and its brass-framed Side Gate Lever Action rifle.
The result is one of the most perfect lever-action shotguns in the world. The Side Gate Lever Action .410 has a 5-shot removable tube mag and a rifle-inspired side loading gate for loading up to six 2.5” .410 shells. This model also includes a rifle ivory bead frontsight with an adjustable semi-buckhorn rear. A cylinder choked smoothbore barrel provides a controlled shot pattern.
Perfect for clay shooting or close-range hunting where swift point-and-shoot is required. It will definitely draw attention from your camping peers.
Chiappa 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun 12GA/22″BBL
The Ciappa 1887 Lever-Action is a faithful reproduction of the classic Winchester Model 1887 from the late 19th century.
If this vintage looking model seems familiar to you it may be because it is the iconic shotgun from Terminator 2: Judgement Day. That film, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger expertly operates the lever-action, is probably the best showcase of the awesome effectiveness of this firearm.
The Model 1887 was the first successful repeating shotgun in the world. This reproduction utilizes the original solid lever design and includes an innovative internal safety mechanism. A beautiful European Hand Oiled Walnut finish on the stock and forearm, along with a color case finished receiver, compliments the beautiful form of this highly functional firearm.
Additional specs: 12 Gauge, 2.75” chamber, 22” barrel length, 39” overall length, Beretta/Benelli Mobil Choke Thread MC-3, overall weight of 9 lbs.
Lever-Action Shotguns – Conclusion
Lever-action shotguns are popular because of their graceful and classic designs that provide the shooter with a relatively lightweight, easy-to-aim, and robust feeling firearm.
They are portable and reliable as well. They may not be as fast as pump-action types but they are adequate enough for those who carry them over their shoulder.
Lever-action shotguns were among the first repeating firearms and this legacy is attractive to recreational shooters, hunters, and those wanting an accurate, well-balanced firearm that offers the right amount of firepower and practicality.
The Best Semi-Automatic Shotguns Reviewed
Semi-automatic shotguns (aka autoloading) are among the fastest types of shotguns because they are able to fire a shell after every trigger pull without the operator needing to manually chamber a follow-up round or manually cycle a fire action mechanism (like a slide or lever).
You simply pull the trigger as fast as possible and let the shotgun unload shells with no remorse. This semi-automatic cycling mechanism is due to a gas, blowback, or recoil operation that loads and ejects shells one after another.
Additionally, semi-automatic shotguns provide operating flexibility by including a pump-action firing mode. Many law enforcement and military units deploy the semi-automatic shotgun in the field (often modified with tactical improvements) because of the firearm’s superb efficiency, versatility, and firepower. They are also popular for hunting and target shooting.
Mossberg International SA-20 Youth Bantam
The Mossberg SA-20 Youth is a great semi-automatic shotgun for serious novices or seasoned youth. It is a lightweight, low-recoil 20 gauge sporting autoloader that is a perfect fit for young wingshooters looking to hunt small game or shoot up clay targets.
It features a smooth gas-operated cycling system, a range of cylinder bore or interchangeable choke systems, and an optional Picatinny accessory rail. This soft-shooting autoloader has exceptional balance and easy-handling characteristics that will turn any youngster into a competent and effective shooter.
The SA-20 Youth is 20 gauge with a 24”, vent rib barrel with front bead sight, offers 5-round total capacity and is showcased in a black synthetic finish.
Beretta A300 Outlander 12 Gauge
The Beretta A300 is the latest and greatest model in the 300 series of gas-operated autoloading shotguns. It has been sold to millions of hunters and sportsmen around the globe who trust in the style and quality of Beretta firearms.
This is a durable and high-performing semi-automatic shotgun with great out-of-the-box value (one of the best values of any semi-auto). It has a 3” chamber, 28” Mobilchoke barrel and self-cleaning piston.
The A300 Outlander is light, tough and made from proprietary steel blends which are designed to handle heavy shooting loads. It will work as hard as you can use it — in the toughest field conditions — without compromising performance or shot quality. Moreover, it is very simple to maintain and represents Beretta’s philosophy of “easy, quick and tool-free.” You can disassemble it fast and clean it anywhere.
Put it back together and it will shoot just as clean as any other action type firearm. Its lightness and low-profile action allows it to effortlessly follow your aim as you point and shoot.
The A300 is regulated by a magazine reducer with a 2-shot capacity that restricts the firearm to only 3 rounds (1 in the chamber).
If you operate in a less restrictive hunting region you can remove the mag reducer and fire up to 4 shots with 2.75” cartridges or 3 shots with 3” cartridges.
Mossberg 930 Hunting/Field – Mossy Oak Bottomland 12 Gauge
The Mossberg 930 platform series offers a rugged reliability and ease of use that enables the shooter to engage in various field hunting situations like deer camping, turkey woods, duck blinds, and goose hunts.
It features a dual gas-vent system, quick-empty magazine release for quick unloading, drilled and tapped receiver, and stock drop spacer system (which adjusts the vertical angle of the stock to improve sightlines) for synthetic models.
This version has a perfect Mossy Oak Bottomland hunting camouflage finish. Overall, the Mossberg 930 delivers speed, durability, and reliability for a range of applications.
Remington V3 Field Sport Waterfowl Pro
Remington shotguns have been setting the standard for innovation and reliability for decades and that is why they have been an iconic brand for Americans nationwide.
The Remington V3 Waterfowl Pro is part of the V3 Field Sport family of autoloading shotguns. The V3 series are some of the finest semi-automatic shotguns in the world and are designed and built in the USA.
The V3 Waterfowl Pro, like its sisters in the family, has been proven to be one of the softest recoiling autoloaders on the market with even force distribution across the recoil timeframe.
The patented Versaport gas-operated cycling system (which self-regulates gas pressure based on shell length) is celebrated for its cutting-edge technological innovation that offers uncompromising reliability, consistency, and super-soft recoil. The Waterfowl Pro has a sleek platform with superior pointability and athletic handling characteristics.
Lightweight 2.75” to powerful 3” magnum loads are cycled with consistent ease. The V3 Sport Waterfowl Pro is perfectly designed to accommodate any kind of hunting or shooting passion.
Semi-Automatic Shotguns – Conclusion
Semi-automatic shotguns, commonly known as autoloaders in the field, are versatile and reliable shotguns celebrated for their balance of power, consistency, and practicality.
They are routinely used in fields and waterways as well as the frontlines of law enforcement — acting as ideal hunting, shooting or self-defense firearms that deliver firepower where it is most needed.
The Best Over-Under Shotguns Reviewed
An over-under (O/U) is one of two types of barrel configurations found in double-barreled shotguns (the other being the side-by-side or SxS).
Double-barreled shotguns (aka doubles) feature break-open fire action mechanisms (break-action) in which both barrels are tilted upwards at the rear to expose the breeches for loading and ejecting shells. This simple design makes doubles smaller and more compact than single-barreled lever-action or pump-action shotguns.
Early double-barreled models incorporated two triggers for firing each barrel separately. They were located front to back inside the trigger guard so that the operator would pull each trigger one at a time and not discharge both barrels simultaneously, which would cause insurmountable recoil force.
Modern doubles use a selective trigger system in which a single trigger alternately fires each barrel (the single trigger must be pulled twice). One of the main advantages that doubles have over singles is the ability to utilize two different barrel choke systems. This is a major preference in competitive shotgun sports and why doubles are widely used in trap/skeet shooting.
For example, one barrel may have an open choke for near targets and the other barrel would have a tighter choke for distant targets. The main difference between an O/U and SxS configuration is shown in the position of the barrels and the effect that that positioning has on the range and shot string of discharged loads.
O/U barrels are placed one on top of the other. SxS barrels are placed side-by-side. Both configs position the barrels at slight angles parallel to each other. This important specification means that discharges from either barrel will eventually cross each other at a convergence point that is usually 40 yards out.
For example, in O/U configs both discharges will stay dead center until the “under” barrel discharge starts traveling higher than the “over” discharge.
Check out these popular brands of O/U shotguns:
TriStar TT-15 Trap DT Adjustable (DTA)
This specially designed trap gun is part of a dedicated line of shotguns built specifically for competitive trap and skeet shooters.
The TT-15 DTA over-under shotgun is the perfect combination of precision, performance, and beauty. This adjustable double trap version features a raised target rib with three adjustment points, an adjustable comb, palm swell, fiber optic sight, and extended Beretta/Benelli Mobil choke tubes (e.g. CT-5X Skeet, Modified, Improved Cylinder, Improved Modified, Full).
The TT-15 is a highly functional and reliable O/U double trap shooter that will do all the hard work you expect it to do and more.
TriStar Setter S/T Over-Under
Durability and strength describe this solid-framed O/U workhorse. This is another great sport shooting shotgun by TriStar that has strength and safety in mind.
The Setter S/T has a 3” chamber in 12ga or 20ga. Sealed actions keep dirt out. Other features include self-adjusting locking lugs, top tang barrel selector and safety, a steel mono-block barrel construction, and a gorgeous Turkish Walnut high-gloss finish on the stock and forearm.
Five interchangeable Beretta/Benelli Mobil chokes (Skeet, Modified, Improved Modified, Improved Cylinder, Full) are available. The primary safety is positioned on the top tang and designed to block the trigger, hammer level and hammer when it is engaged.
The safety slides backward and forward. The operator may move the safety left or right when it is engaged to select which barrel to fire first.
Browning Citori White Lightning
This “left in the white” beauty is one of the latest double-barreled O/U shotguns by legendary firearms manufacturer Browning.
It’s signature steel receiver, with intricate engraving, has been left all-natural in its original polished condition. This creates a luxurious contrast between the receiver’s components and the high-grade walnut finish of the stock and forearm (the barrel is polished blued with Invector-Plus chokes).
The Citori White Lightning carries on Browning’s legacy of remarkable durability in a timeless design. Available in 20ga, 28ga, .410 bore, and features a well-rounded knob or pistol grip for superior aiming and control. This performance grip is ideal for fast-moving waterfowl, upland game, and sporting clays.
The trigger guard is coated with a nitrided finish to prevent corrosion. The sleek and elegant design of this O/U shotgun is truly represented in its name — the “White Lightning.”
Mossberg International Silver Reserve II Field w/ Shell Extractors
Mossberg International produces some of the highest quality break-action shotguns on the market. This Silver Reserve II version is beautifully showcased with a “left in the white” all-natural steel receiver with an intricate wrap-around scroll engraving that contrasts with the Black Walnut stock finish, giving the firearm a timeless and elegant look.
It comes with a variety of shell extractors and ejectors, corrosion resistant chrome-lined chambers and barrels, tang-mounted safety with barrel selector, and dual locking lugs for solid lock-up.
These features give the Mossberg Silver Reserve II Over/Under unmatched long term reliability and durability. This model has a .410 Bore gauge with 2-shot capacity and overall barrel length of 26”.
Overall, the Mossberg Silver Reserve II is a great field gun best suited for waterfowling and upland game hunting.
Over-Under Shotguns – Conclusion
Generally speaking, double-barrelled shotguns are unique break-action firearms that offer power, durability, strength, and practicality with sleek and elegant designs.
They fulfill the needs of specific individuals. In some parts of the world, doubles are held in prestige and authority. In other parts they are used mainly for sporting purposes.
They are usually smaller and more compact than other shotgun types and look very cool when being loaded and unloaded.
They are preferred by clay/trap/skeet shooters but are also used in waterfowling and upland game hunting. Over/Unders, and double-barrels in general, offer unique advantages such as shot selection versatility and access to variable choke tubes for shooting fast, widely dispersed targets. They are characterized by a unique blend of style, nostalgia, and practical advantage.