A shotgun is a simple, yet versatile tool. Shotguns differ from rifles in their lack of …rifling. Rifling are spiral grooves cut into the inner surface of a gun barrel that impart a spin on a single solid projectile and increase accuracy. Picture a perfect spiral on a great football pass, and you understand what rifling is for. Shotguns typically fire not one projectile but several individual balls of (historically) lead “shot”. They are generally shorter range weapons compared to rifles (due to shot style projectiles and lack of rifling, there are exceptions) and are used for primarily different purposes. Shotguns are most commonly used for small game, and excel in the hunting of birds. Shotguns are also excellent for use in self defense, especially home self defense. They come in a variety of sizes, typically (with one notable exception) expressed in Gauge. The definition of what a gauge is has to do with the number of equal size balls of lead cast from a one pound ingot that will pass through the barrel. Hey, don’t ask me, I didn’t come up with the system. The larger the number the smaller the hole in the barrel. So a 20 gauge is smaller than a 16 which is smaller than a 12 gauge, which is smaller than a 10 gauge. Just go with it. There is another common shotgun chambering used primarily in youth shotguns, and some pistols called a .410. A .410 is a caliber, meaning that the bore is actually .410 of an inch. Again, I didn’t come up with this stuff. The most common chamberings of shotguns are 12 Ga, and 20 Ga, with the 12 Gauge as the “default”. 20 Gauge shotguns are about 90% as effective as a 12 Gauge with less recoil and are typically favored for smaller shooters, youth, and anyone who prefers less recoil. Ammunition price or availability are not really a consideration between the two.
Shotgun actions, meaning the method that they load, chamber, and eject shells vary. There are single shot shotguns that open on a hinge and are fed shells one at a time, ejecting a spent shell when they are opened. There are double barrels, sometimes side by side, and sometimes in an over/under configuration, that work somewhat like twin single shots. There are “pump” or slide action shotguns that hold multiple shells in either a tubular magazine running longitudinally under the barrel or fed by a detachable magazine, both styles eject spent shells and chamber a new shell with the manual movement of slide (making that ubiquitous “shuck-chuck” sound) and there are semi-auto guns that use recoil, inertia, or more commonly nowadays; spent gases to cycle the bolt. There are even some bolt action shotguns.
Almost all pump shotguns have John Browning design DNA in them, no matter the manufacturer. Pump action shotguns are by far the most popular, and a person who is skilled can get close to the level of speed as a person using a semi-auto. Pumps guns are a little more reliable, or perhaps the better word would be “rugged”. Pumps are also typically lighter than a semi-auto as well as being typically more affordable.
The Pump Action Shotgun
Winchester Model 12
The first extremely popular pump shotgun, and many would say still the best, was the Winchester Model 12. Designed by Browning and T.C. Johnson, and released in 1912. Shot shells were loaded in the bottom tubular magazine, and spent shells were ejected out of the right side of the gun. Called the “Perfect Repeater” , it utilized many parts, was hand machined, and hand fitted, making it very smooth running. This complicated machining caused it to become too expensive to make, with the rising costs of labor, and was discontinued in 1964.
Remington Model 17
In 1915 Browning designed a bottom loading and bottom ejecting pump shotgun and sold the rights to Remington, becoming the Remington model 17, production began in 1921. This shotgun design became the basis of at least three other models, The Remington 31, the Ithaca 37, and the Browning BPS. By all accounts it was a great gun, but it never seemed to catch on.
Remington Model 31
In 1931 Remington was still searching for something that would help them gain market share. CC Loomis re-designed model 17 featuring side eject and released it as the model 31, it was a good gun, but never really made a dent against the “perfect repeater.”
The Winchester Model 1200/1300
Winchester ceased full time production of the Model 12 in 1964, when they released the Model 1200 followed later by the 1300. The Model 1200/1300 was cheaper to manufacture, and has a unique rotary locking bolt mechanism which creates an extremely strong lock up, and very fast action and it uses an alloy receiver to give it a slight weight forward balance . Winchester 1200/1300 shotguns have never been as popular as their ancestor, or their contemporary competition. They were produced in New Haven CT until 2006. They feature a crossbolt safety at the front of the trigger guard and a slide release positioned at the rear of the trigger guard. Marketed as Ted Williams at Sears in the past, and at various department stores as Ranger brand. This model basically lives on as the SXP, read below.
Currently Produced Shotguns
Still looking to topple the Winchester 12, Remington went back to the drawing board in 1951 and developed the best selling shotgun on the market, the Remington 870 “Wingmaster”. It was cheaper to produce, and cheaper to buy than a Model 12, and it was every bit as reliable, it was lighter than the Winchester and people flocked to them in droves. Over 11 million Remington 870s have been built.
Another American firearm manufacturer, O.F. Mossberg, introduced their Model 500 in 1960. Using the Browning designed, Remington Model 17 as a basis. Designer Carl Bensen utilized similar concepts as Remington did with the 870 and created the second most popular shotgun in history. Originally using a single action bar, a tang mounted safety, a behind the trigger guard placement of the slide lock, a right side ejection, and a similar lock up to the 870, the Mossberg also featured an aluminum receiver for lighter weight. When the 870’s patent on double action bars ran out in 1970, they were incorporated into the Mossberg 500. The design of the Mossberg 500 has nowhere near the level of precision in the machining of an Ithaca 37 or Winchester Model 12, but it’s looser tolerances make it more rugged, able to work fine after being dunked in mud or grit in a way that would make an owner of a Model 12 cringe.
When the patents ran out on the Remington model 17 in 1937 , another US based firearm manufacturer, Ithaca, began marketing their Model 37 which was an updated design based on the model 17. Ithaca has went through a few changes in ownership, but the Ithaca Model 37 is still in production, now in Ohio. You would be hard pressed to find a finer pump shotgun. It is arguably the finest pump shotgun still being made. It still features machined steel construction, a threaded barrel, and the excellent ambidextrous bottom ejecting action.
In 1978 the company using Browning’s name released the Browning BPS, which ironically was the first pump shotgun to bear Browning’s name even though the man had a hand in designing shotguns used by virtually every other manufacturer. Not actually being designed by the man himself the Browning BPS is best described as a mixture of the Mossberg 500, and an Ithaca 37. The roots of the Remington 17 are evident in both. The BPS uses a tang safety, dual action bars, rear of trigger slide release, full steel receiver, and bottom eject that lefties love. It is a very high quality firearm, made in Japan, every example of which I have handled has been very nicely fit and finished.
Not discussed yet, but important to any conversation involving pump shotguns is Benelli. Benelli is an Italian firearms manufacturer and is a sister brand to Beretta of handgun fame. Benelli makes very nicely made, forward thinking, well engineered, reliable, smooth running, popular shotguns. Their semi-auto guns are some of the best. They also use a rotary locking bolt similar to the Winchester.
There are people who love their pump gun, the Benelli Nova as well, but this author is not among them. They may work as fine and be as engineered as well or better than any other shotgun on the market, many say they are. But they are…for lack of a kinder word… weird looking, possibly bordering on… ugly. Friends, there is no reason to shoot an ugly shotgun. Utilitarian is ok, there is a need for utilitarian firearms in this world, but there is no excuse for ugly. But that is only one man’s opinion and beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At any rate a Benelli is a top tier shotgun, and they are made in Italy.
Winchester is now a brand name shared by FN Herstal and Browning. Winchester introduced the SXP in 2010 as the replacement to the 1300. The SXP still uses the Winchester/Browning chokes of the previous Winchester models. The safety location is in front of the trigger , the natural resting position of a trigger finger which is convenient. Winchester calls their system the “inertia-assisted action”, and reports are that the gun typically unlocks and ejects a shell with no extra muscle from the operator. They are available with wooden stocks as well as polymer. Although the SXP is made in Turkey, Turkey has a reputation for producing quality firearms. It is important to note that the SXP is not a import of a Turkish design, it is a shotgun made to Winchester specifications that is being produced in a foreign country. In 2015 Winchester recalled several variants of its SXP model 12 gauge shotguns which might have had an issue allowing them to unintentionally fire while the action is being closed. If I liked a new SXP and was thinking of purchasing it I would not let that sway my purchasing decision. I might be a little more circumspect on a used one until I could determine its’ age.
Value Priced Shotguns
Remington 870 Express
Remington, sensing that there was more market to capture at the lower price point than their Wingmaster was offered at, introduced the 870 Express in 1989. It was a stripped down version of the original 870 with a less refined surface finish, no engraving or checkering, and black synthetic stocks. Otherwise it was the same 870. It continues to sell and function very well.
Not to be outdone, Mossberg released the Maverick 88 in 1989 as well which is a nearly identical version of the Model 500. The Maverick 88 gets the black synthetic stock treatment, and the tang mounted safety is moved to the trigger guard similar to the Remington 870, the trigger mechanism is revised from the Mossberg 500, they are still assembled in Texas, but many components are made South of the border in a sister Mossberg facility. It is a very good value and a top seller.
These days the patents on all the Remington and Mossberg designs have run out. This has opened the import market up in a big way. The following models are not necessarily poor quality, in fact several of them are likely very high quality firearms, but these are all foreign made, US branded offerings that are able to be offered at value prices.
H&R, Harrington and Richardson was a proud American firearm manufacturer that is now simply a brand name of The Freedom Group, which incidentally makes them a sister brand to Remington. The currently sold H&R Pardner is a Remington 870 inspired design made in China. There appear to be significant parts commonality between the Pardner pumps and the Remington 870, but that is not to imply they are the same. Reviews are generally good to great on these guns, and the prices are very attractive.
Not affiliated with Remington/Freedom Group, is another shotgun that bears a very close resemblance to an 870 and these are branded as Escort and imported from Turkey by Legacy Sports which is the owner/distributer of Howa rifles in the US. These appear to be a good quality value priced Turkish import, if you would prefer that to the H&R Chinese import 870.
Stevens, is a brand name that is owned by US Manufacturer Savage Arms. Savage markets their shotgun line under the Stevens name. These guns are also sourced from China in a Savage owned facility which seem to be related to or inspired by the Winchester 1300. The controls are located in a similar place to the Winchester offerings and they have the rotary bolt lockup, a fiber optic front sight, and their receivers are drilled and tapped for optics. They have a good reputation for rugged reliability and their price is a big selling point.
Benelli’s value brand is Stoeger. The Stoeger Shotguns show a family design resemblance to their Benelli cousins, but have alloy receivers instead of polymer over steel. They have a rotary style bolt similar to a Benelli. Stoegers are mostly made in Turkey, which turns out surprisingly high quality shotguns for value prices. Some of the Stoegers in the past were manufactured in Brazil.
There are probably a dozen other pump guns that we failed to mention, but these are certainly the most popular in the marketplace at this time. No gun battery or collection is complete without at least one shotgun. Choose one that fits you and your budget, find them at Liberty Tree.