Tactical Shotgun Essentials

“Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.”

– Joe Biden: Vice President of the United States of America –


Tactical Shotgun Essentials:

Introduction to the Tactical Shotgun:

Shotguns can be used for self-defense, deer hunting, or bird hunting. The following information regards the use of a shotgun in the roll of self-defense.Sarah Conner

Shotguns are not Claymore mines. While they are also not precision weapons, you can’t just close your eyes and point the shotgun in the general direction of the target and expect to have favorable results.

With a cylinder bore barrel, you can expect the shot pattern to spread one inch for every yard of travel from the end of the barrel. After 15 yards the pellets have spread out enough that few pellets will hit the target, and those that do will not have enough terminal energy left to stop the target (except Murphy’s Law says that errant pellets will have plenty of energy to kill innocent bystanders behind the intended target).

Effective range of a shotgun with buckshot is 15-20 yards. With rifled slugs and rifled sights on your shotgun you can accurately engage man size targets out to 100 yards.

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Shotgun Safety:

How To Store A Home Defense Shotgun:

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What is “Gauge”?

Shotgun Shells Comparison

The “caliber” of rifle and handgun ammunition refers to the diameter of the bullet in 100th or 1000th of an inch. The bigger the caliber, the wider the bullet. Shotguns are different. Instead of caliber, shotguns barrel diameter is expressed by “gauge”. Gauge is defined as a unit of measurement used to express the diameter of the barrel and is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the firearm, and is expressed as the multiplicative inverse of the sphere’s weight as a fraction of a pound (e.g., a 112th pound ball fits a 12-gauge bore). Thus there are twelve 12-gauge balls per pound (etc.). Opposite of caliber, the bigger the gauge of a shotgun, the smaller the diameter of the shotgun shell. (So 28 gauge is smaller than 20 gauge, which is smaller than 16 gauge, which is smaller than 12 gauge, which is smaller than 10 gauge, which is smaller than 8 gauge.)

.Shotgun Bore Size410 is the smallest size shotgun. After all the discussion on the definition of gauge, it is interesting to note that “.410” is actually the caliber of the shotgun rather than the gauge. .410’s have very little recoil and are good for teaching young shooters the fundamentals of shooting shotguns, and for taking care of snakes and rodents at close range. It is generally not adequate for self-defense, although I don’t know of anyone that wants to be shot with one.

28 gauge, 16 gauge, 10 gauge, and 8 gauge shotguns are for hunting. There aren’t any over-the-counter combat / defensive shotguns in these sizes that I am aware of. Most of these gauges of ammo are fairly obscure and not readily available Wal-Mart, and since the ease of proliferation is one of my criteria in the selection of a defensive weapons system, I would not consider one these for defense.

12 gauge is the standard for combat/defensive shotguns. 12 gauge makes up 50% of the shotgun market in the U.S. The great majority of combat/defensive shotguns are made in 12 gauge, with a few made in 20 gauge. 20 gauge may be used by smaller frame or disabled shooters, however it lacks the kick-ass factor of 12 gauge. Anything smaller than 20 gauge is not appropriate for self-defense.

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Pump Action vs. Semi-Auto Action:

Semi-autos can be very finicky about the ammo that they will shoot. Lighter powered loads may not cycle the gun.

With a pump-action shotgun the shooter cycles the action, so it will shoot any type of shotgun shell.

Semi-autos are much more susceptible to malfunctioning due to being dirty than a pump-action. Where as the same amount of fouling in a semi-auto may jam up the action, the shooter of a pump-action can force the action through the fouling and still shoot.

When you fire a semi-auto shotgun, the next round is automatically loaded into the chamber. With a pump-action you can choose whether or not to reload after you have fired. This makes it easy should you decide to change types of ammo while shooting (you are shooting buckshot, but need the next round to be a breeching round to open a locked door or a slug for a long-range shot). Load the round in the tubular magazine, work the action, and that round is chambered and ready to fire.

Traditionally both pump-action and semi-autos shotguns have been limited to between three to nine rounds, depending on the model and the modifications, and are stored in a tubular magazine that runs along the bottom of the barrel. Neither types have been quick to reload. Russian built “Saiga” box-magazine fed shotguns have recently been introduced in the United States. They hold a greater number of rounds, and can be reloaded very quickly. They will shoot most buckshot loads, as well as rifled slugs.

Parts of a Pump Action Shotgun:


Parts of a Semi-Auto Shotgun:

Coming soon.

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Type of Shotgun Barrels:

Smooth, or Cylinder Bore:

These barrels are exactly what they are called. They are smooth inside and have no rifled grooves. You can shoot any type of shotgun ammo out of them. Some barrels are designed so that you can add a “choke” which constricts the end of the barrel and holds the pattern of shot in a tighter pattern out to a slightly farther distance. You can accurately shoot rifled slugs out of the smooth barrels. Where as on a pistol or rifle the projectile is smooth and the barrel has grooves, on the shotgun the barrel is smooth and the projectile is grooved. The results are the same. Don’t shoot slugs from a barrel with a choke. Damage will occur.


These barrels have rifled lands and grooves. They are designed to accurately shoot sabot rounds. It is not recommended to shoot birdshot or buckshot, as that will wear out the grooves in the barrel. Also, as the plastic cup containing the shot travels through the barrel, the rifled groves will put a spin on the cup. When the spinning cup of shot leaves the barrel the spinning action will sling the shot and widen the pattern and thus lessening the effective range of the weapon. These barrels are great to use for deer hunting. You can use it in a self-defense, but you will be severely limited as to what type of ammo you can use.

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Shotgun Barrel Length And Projectile Velocity:

The minimum length that you can legally own without going through a bunch of BATFE red tape is 18 inches. With this length of barrel you can expect the tubular magazine to hold five to seven rounds. Some combat shotguns have 20 inch barrels. You can expect the magazine tube to hold around eight rounds.

As a general rule, the longer the barrel is, the tighter the shot pattern will maintain over a given distance. This is important with hunting, however in self-defense engagements at close distances it may be desirable to have the pellets spread so as to “spread the trauma”.

Also as another general rule, as a firearm’s barrel length is reduced, so is the projectile’s velocity.

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Shotgun Chokes:

A “Cylinder Bore” choke is nothing but a straight barrel with no choke at all. It is safe to shoot rifled slugs out of a cylinder bore choke barrel, however the slug may not grip the inside walls of the barrel enough to create enough spin to appropriately stabilize it.

An “Improved Cylinder” choke will provide the best spin stabilization for rifled slugs fired from a smooth-bore barrel. The choke diameter is large enough to let the slug pass through without damaging the choke, but the slug will pass through just snug enough to give the rifled groves on the slug enough to grip and help spin stabilize it.

Several rifled slug manufacturers state that their slugs are safe to shoot through any type of choke, however as you can see in the video below, any choke other than “Improved Cylinder” will damage or prematurely wear out the choke. It is best to avoid shooting slugs out of a “Modified Choke”, “Improved Modified”, or a “Full Choke”.

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Shotgun Tiers of Quality:

Tier One Shotguns:

Tier Two Shotguns:

  • Remington 870 Express
  • Mossberg 500
  • Winchester
  • Saiga

Tier Three Shotgun:

  • Mossberg Maverick shotguns

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Shotshell Revolvers:

Smith & Wesson and Taurus both make revolvers capable of firing .410 gauge shotgun shells as well as .45 Colt and .45 ACP (in moon clips). The Smith & Wesson Governor holds six rounds of ammunition and the Taurus Judge holds five. The are both considered handguns rather than short-barrel shotguns because the barrels are rifled. If they were smooth-bore they would require the owner to register them as a short-barrel shotgun with the BATFE, and pay $200 for a tax stamp from the Treasury Department (as with machine guns and suppressors).

In my humble opinion (and I’m sure that there are many people who will disagree with me) I consider these firearms to be novelties and not serious self-defense gear. But wait?! It’s a shotgun! How can it not be a serious fighting tool? First, the .410, whether you use rifled slugs, buckshot, or birdshot, is a pathetically anemic performer out of a full barred shotgun. If you fire it out of a two to four-inch barrel you will be getting only a small fraction of what little potential stopping power that the round can offer. The shotgun rounds will only be effective at very close range. If you want to shoot any distance farther than 10 yards will have to shoot the .45 Long Colt or .45 ACP (on moon clips) handgun ammunition. Rather than shoot .45 Colt or .45 ACP ammunition out of the giant revolver, I’d rather shoot them out of a firearm specifically made for that ammo (and carry more rounds in the firearm with most .45 ACP offerings). If I want a shotgun I’ll shoot a 12 or 20 gauge regular size shotgun rather than .410 out of a “micro barrel”.

Of course I don’t want to be shot with one of these revolvers, but when I’m analyzing what is going to be the most effective handgun (in terms of stopping power and cost) for me to purchase and carry, these .410 revolvers don’t add up. Please feel free to scroll down to the bottom of the page and post friendly and informative comments with any of your experience with these firearms. I’d love to hear them. You might convince me to give them another chance.

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Manuals in PDF Format:

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