Shotgun Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Your First Shotgun, Types Explained
Why shotgun? Versatile, powerful, easy to use.
When you make the decision to purchase a firearm, you have a lot of choices available. Mainly, you need to think about what you’re going to use the firearm for and what type of firearm would best suit your needs for this. Most people who purchase firearms will want to go hunting, target shooting, competitive shooting, or just keep it around for home defense. Well, there is one type of firearm, in particular, that can accommodate all three of these purposes. This would be the shotgun. The great thing about a shotgun is that it is easy for anyone to use, even people who have little to no experience with firearms. And because shotguns are so powerful, you don’t have to be a perfect shot to hit your target. But if you are able to aim accurately, you can be sure that your target will be destroyed with one shot.
Another reason why shotguns are so popular is because of their versatility. You can literally find versatility in all aspects of a shotgun. The ammunition, for example, has a variety of choices like birdshot, buckshot, slugs, and exotic rounds. You can also upgrade the parts of your shotgun to turn it into a much more powerful weapon. Some of the most commonly upgraded parts include the barrel, stock, forend, and sighting. You could literally turn a factory standard Remington 870 shotgun into an 870 Police shotgun with just a few upgradable parts. This gives shotgun owners more experience when it comes to assembling and disassembling a shotgun and enhances their skills for choosing the right upgradable parts and knowing what they will do for the weapon.
Finally, shotguns have different size gauges and different types of actions. Gauges refer to the diameter of the bore and the number of sphere pellets that make up one pound of weight. For example, a 12-gauge shotshell means that the diameter of the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun is equal to the diameter of a 1/12th pound lead ball. The size gauge you choose will help you determine the distance of your shots as well as the impact they will have. As for the action type, this basically determines how fast you are able to fire rounds from the chamber. Pump action, for example, means you have to pump the forend prior to shooting, whereas a semi-automatic allows you to fire faster by just pulling the trigger each time you want to shoot.
As you can see, you’ll have a lot of choices when it comes to shotguns and the upgrades you can make to them. This variety of choices is why homeowners, military officers, hunters, and police officers all use shotguns to serve their own special needs.
Multiple ammo choices: birdshot, buckshot, slugs, exotic rounds
Ammunition is one of the most important things to think about when you are preparing to use your shotgun in some way. First, you must understand what a shotgun shell consists of before deciding on which type of ammo that you want to use. A shotshell contains a series of tiny spherical projectiles which are often called pellets. These pellets are commonly made of lead but more ammo manufacturers these days are making them out of steel as well. This has to do with laws surrounding the use of lead due to environmental concerns.
Aside from shotshells, there are shotgun slugs which are just large individual projectiles that almost resemble bullets. You could also add excitement to your shooting experience by using exotic rounds. This is special ammunition that does something extra besides its originally intended purpose. It could shoot through armor, leave a trail of fire behind it, or create a flash bang. Just be careful when using exotic rounds because they could cause unintended damage to your ears or fire to the immediate area. You also risk damaging your shotgun if you use them too often. So, it is best to get advice from a gun expert before choosing any exotic rounds.
Birdshot and buckshot are two popular types of shotgun ammunition which use pellets. The main difference between the two is the size of the pellets in them. Birdshot tends to have smaller pellets which allows your shots to have a much wider range. The only thing is that it won’t cause as much damage when shooting something big at a farther range. That is why hunters will use birdshot to hunt birds because they are small and fast. Buckshot, on the other hand, uses bigger pellets which cause more damage but has a narrower range. Some hunters like to use buckshot to hunt deer but if you do then make sure you are close to it. Hunting a big animal like that with buckshot or birdshot would just cause it to suffer. That is why it is better to hunt smaller animals with those shotshells.
The only way to really ensure that you kill an animal, or another living thing, is to use slugs. These will cause the most internal damage to your target and it will allow them to die quickly. Of course, there is only one projectile per shot so you’ll have to be good at aiming if you want to hit your target and have accuracy. A lot of people use slugs in their shotguns for home defense purposes for this reason.
History of shotguns
Many people forget the true meaning of a shotgun and just think about the long shape of the weapon. A shotgun can be defined as any smoothbore gun which fires from the shoulder and projects lots of small round pellets or a slug. The ammunition which contains the small pellets is called “shot,” hence the name shotgun. But this type of weapon was not always called a shotgun. In both the military and civilian worlds, shotguns have had many different names over the centuries. Some of these names include musket, blunderbuss, trench gun, scattergun, and fowling piece. These names originated from different nations over the last 400 years.
In the 1600s, the Germans designed a musket called the blunderbuss. You had to load the musket by putting the ammo in through the muzzle and then you would shoot the weapon from the shoulder. This musket would eventually be discovered by the British and then it integrated into their society in the 1770s. However, they referred to the weapon as a fowling piece because they used it primarily to hunt birds in the wild. The type of ammunition they were using to hunt these birds was the equivalent of what birdshot is nowadays.
It wasn’t until 1776 that the term “shotgun” was used. Soldiers in Kentucky were using both smoothbore muskets and rifled muskets at the time and they needed to find a word to differentiate the two muskets. So, they started calling the smoothbore a shotgun, or smoothbore shotgun. Around the time of the Civil War was when soldiers began to use the shotgun for more than just hunting. They found that the shotgun worked very effectively as a close-range weapon or as a way to hit a moving target without needing to be completely accurate. After the Civil War ended, more Americans moved west into a region which later became known as the Old West.
At this point, everyone had a shotgun for self-defense and survival. There were Indians, cowboys, Union soldiers, coach riders and lone rangers who were all packing one. In 1875, technological advances were made to the shotgun so that it could have two barrels instead of one. You could also load the shotgun on the side of the receiver rather than through the muzzle. Coach riders who were transporting strongboxes usually rode with a shotgun, which is where the saying “riding shotgun” came from.
By the year 1900, an inventor named John Moses Browning revolutionized the action of shotguns by creating the first lever action shotgun as well as the first pump action shotgun and auto loading shotgun. Most of these action designs are the same ones used in today’s shotguns. The only big advancements since then have been in sighting technology with laser sights and optical attachments.
Barrel length and type, short for home defense, long for hunting, rifled for sabot slugs
The length of a shotgun barrel is something that a newbie probably won’t care about because they will likely figure that barrels are all the same. The truth is that the length of a barrel makes a huge difference when shooting short range or long range. For example, if you plan to use your shotgun for home defense then you will likely be shooting up close at your target. Therefore, you would want to have a short barrel that is around 18-21 inches in length or less. Shotguns with short barrels will spread the shot wider and help you hit targets that are in tight spaces. They are also easier to maneuver around with when you’re in your home too. If you had a longer barrel in your home, then you’d likely bang it into things because of all the tight spaces around.
Long barreled shotguns that are between 24 and 36 inches are better for long range shooting. If you’re a hunter who wants to hit far away targets with your shotgun, then you will want a long barrel. The accuracy and precision of your shots will certainly be better with a longer barrel. You will also be comfortable holding a long-barreled shotgun when you’re outside with all the wide-open spaces to move around in. You will notice the angular momentum is steadier and slower as you swing the weapon around to shoot at something. The reason for this has to do with the extra weight since it is a longer barrel. Unless you plan to shoot your prey up close in the wild, stick with the long-barreled shotgun.
Now there is a special kind of shotgun barrel called a rifled barrel which contains lots of helical grooves inside of the barrel’s bore. These rifled barrels are meant to be used with sabot slugs, which are small projectiles that have plastic sabots to support them. These sabots are what make contact with the helical grooves of the bore. That way, when the sabot slugs get fired from the bore, the grooves will cause the slugs to spin as they leave the barrel. This spinning is supposed to stabilize the slug in the air and help you improve the accuracy of your shot. A lot of military soldiers and law enforcement officers use rifled barrels because of their ability to shoot straight and damage the target. Civilians can use them too for home defense or hunting purposes as well.
Shotgun action types: break actions (single or double barrel, “over/under”, “side by side”), pump, semi-auto, semi-auto with magazines
A shotgun action signifies the mechanism for which the shotgun operates from. The three most common types of shotgun actions are the break action, pump action, and semi-automatic action. One of the first action types ever used was the break action shotgun. Break action refers to when you can flip the barrel(s) perpendicular, allowing you to load ammunition right into the back of the barrel (called the breech). Break action shotguns could either be a single barrel or have a double barrel design. Not only that, the placement of the double barrels could be either side-by-side or over/under. Side-by-side means each barrel is beside the other horizontally while over/under means one barrel is on top of another barrel vertically.
The break-action shotgun with a side-by-side design was traditionally used by hunters and competitive target shooters. In the early days, this shotgun was referred to as a fowling piece because it was commonly used to shoot at flying birds and ducks. Although it was used for sporting purposes too, the over/under design of the break-action shotgun was more popular with competitive shooting or target practice. If you were going skeet shooting or clay pigeon shooting, for example, then the over/under design is what you would use. However, it is really a matter of personal preference for most professional shooters. If you are just starting out at shooting then you may want to stick with side-by-side for hunting and over/under for sporting. Otherwise, do what you’re comfortable with.
The pump action shotgun was revolutionized over the turn of the 20th century. This weapon has a sliding forearm underneath the barrel which is responsible for working the action. You work the action by placing one hand under the forearm and sliding it back once and then forward again. This is referred to as the “pump,” hence the name “pump action.” The tube in which the forearm slides on underneath the barrel is called a tubular magazine. This not only guides the forearm’s pump, but it also stores and feeds ammunition into the chamber of the weapon. When you want to load the weapon with more ammunition, the receiver has a port on where you can load the ammunition into. This is certainly easier and more convenient than having to rotate the barrel like you would with the break-action shotgun.
Pump action shotguns serve a wide range of purposes. You can use them for sporting, competitive shooting, hunting, and self-defense. The exact purpose that you choose to use your shotgun for will depend on the model of your weapon, the length of the barrel, and the type of choke. Like you just learned, barrels that are longer are better suitable for hunting and sporting, while the shorter barrels are better for home defense and law enforcement or military use. The ones used by law enforcement and the military are typically called riot guns, which have a barrel length of just over 18 inches. But rather than using buckshot or slug shells, a professional may use rubber or sandbag projectiles instead. This kind of ammunition is not lethal to the target but it is enough to incapacitate them and cause a heck of a lot of pain. Overall, pump action shotguns are the most popular in modern society and you will see people everywhere using them in various settings.
Semi-automatic shotguns are finding their way into more people’s hands these days. Like with rifles, a semi-automatic shotgun allows you to shoot at a faster rate. Rather than having to pump the forend before each new shot that you want to take, you just pull the trigger to initiate each shot. Semi-automatics are called autoloaders for this reason because you don’t have to actually load the shot before taking it. Because of this, you could use a semi-automatic with just one hand rather than two if you needed to. When you go to shoot your weapon, the action of the cycle does everything for you automatically. It will eject the shell that was just used and then load a new shell into the chamber in a matter of seconds.
Some of the most popular semi-automatic shotguns are the Saiga-12, Benelli M1, and the Remington 1100. Other kinds of semi-automatics, like the Benelli M3, are hybrids which have the ability to let you switch between pump action and semi-automatic. The reason you might want this ability is so you can abide by the laws of the jurisdiction that you’re in, since some places don’t allow hunting with semi-automatic shotguns. As for law enforcement and military people, some of them may choose to use semi-automatic shotguns with magazines. These are basically shotguns which have the ammo capacity and firepower of a rifle because of the built-in magazine chamber it has in it. A good example of this is the Armsel Striker which is a 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun which contains a revolving cylinder for the ammunition. With each pull of the trigger, the cylinder rotates like a revolver and lets you shoot another round. Another example is a magazine-fed Vepr-12 shotgun.
Classic or pistol grip stock, Wood or plastic forend and stock (furniture).
The stock of a shotgun is important to consider for the size and shape of your body. Think about when you aim your shotgun and how the end of the stock rests against the front of your shoulder. If you don’t have a stock size that is comfortable then you won’t be comfortable when you’re aiming. Also, the material of the stock is another factor that you’ll want to consider. Classic grip stocks are typically made from wood and contain a curved grip for you to hold the shotgun. It also helps you keep the shotgun steady as you rest it against your shoulder to aim.
On the downside, classic grip stocks are not usually adjustable and the default size tends to be rather long for most people to get comfortable with. In this case, you could shop around for another classic stock that has a better size and then just replace your current stock with that one. Either that or you can cut the original stock down and make it shorter yourself. Just be careful if you choose this method because you need to know what you’re doing or else you’ll mess up the stock.
As for pistol grip stocks, these are becoming more common in both tactical settings and recreational settings. You will find most pistol grips are made of a durable plastic, like polymer, which allows the weapon to be lightweight and durable at the same time. Plus, the polymer can survive tough environmental conditions such as heavy rains and winds. Law enforcement and military officers love to use pistol grip stocks on their shotguns because it lets them hold their shotguns with one hand like a pistol or rifle. If you are someone who has always been more comfortable shooting a rifle and then you start transitioning to using a shotgun, then a pistol grip stock will be the easiest way for you to get used to it. And when you use one hand, your other hand will be free to load the weapon with more ammunition.
When you purchase a stock, it usually comes with a matching forend that is made from the same material. If your stock does not come with a forend, then try to find a forend that matches the stock as much as possible. Go to the stock manufacturer’s website and see if you can purchase the forend separately from them. That way, you can be comfortable with the feel of the weapon by having a stock and forend that feel the same, since these are the two areas that you will be holding most of the time.
Read more: Best Remington 870 shotgun stocks
Bullpup shotguns are the types of shotguns where the action exists in the back of the trigger group rather than in front of it. The buttstock has the action built into it which means the length of the shotgun can be greatly reduced. Of course, the length of your barrel can still be whatever you want it to be, depending on your needs. As you know, a shorter barrel lets you maneuver better in tight spaces and environments. Well, the length of the buttstock on a bullpup shotgun is just over half the size of what you’d see on a regular shotgun stock. This makes them even easier to maneuver with when combined with a short barrel. Not only that, bullpup shotguns have a much higher ammo capacity than traditional shotguns as well. This makes them one of the best tactical shotgun solutions that you will ever find on the market.
You won’t normally see hunters or competitive shooters using bullpup shotguns. Instead, the most common use for a bullpup shotgun is either home defense or a close combat situation. Generally, this weapon is suitable for targets that are between 10 and 15 yards away. Any target closer than that will be destroyed and any target farther than that will be tougher to hit accurately. If you decide to use a bullpup for hunting then make sure you are close to your target, especially if it is a bigger animal.
One thing you will notice right away with the bullpup shotgun is that it has less recoil than traditional shotguns. This is another reason why your accuracy will be better with this weapon. Plus, the short length of the bullpup makes it lighter to carry around which allows you to move and maneuver quickly. In combat situations, you will feel much less fatigue because of this lighter weight on your arms. Then, if the enemy is attacking and you must act quickly, your reaction time will be faster with this shotgun.
As for the disadvantages, left-handed shooters might not like having the ejection port and the face so close together. Since the right-hand side has the ejection port, left handed users might not like having used shells being ejected toward their faces. The only way around this is to learn to shoot right-handed but not everybody wants to do that. And although the shortness of the shotgun is useful for close range combat, you won’t be able to modify the weapon for long range combat like you could with a traditional shotgun. So, keep these things in mind.
Optics and red dot sights.
One of the most common accessories used for upgrading a shotgun is optics and red dot sights. These types of accessories are meant to help the shooter aim at their target more accurately by looking through a lens or scope and seeing their target painted with a crosshair or red dot. These sights have been traditionally used to upgrade rifles and even pistols. A lot of people don’t traditionally use them on shotguns because these are considered to be short range weapons. Sight technology is meant to be used for long range shooting since the target is so far away and you need the help of optical or laser sighting to aim better at it. You could use this sighting technology to aim up to 100 yards away and hit your target fairly quickly and accurately. The only thing is that you must prepare your shotgun for long distance shooting. This means using slugs and long barrels with it, among other things.
The market is filled with optics and red dot sights to choose from. Some cost as little as a hundred dollars while others cost upward of one thousand dollars. One sight in particular that is recommended for any standard 12-gauge shotgun is the Aimpoint Micro T-1 Compact Red Dot Reflex Sight. Aimpoint is one of the best brands of sighting technology on the market. Their sights have been used by law enforcement and military officers for years. The small red dot that it casts can appear up to 80 feet away, whether there is daylight or darkness outside. You can also mix this technology with other magnifiers so you can see the target more clearly at such great distances. Although this is on the more expensive side, those who want to shoot better at long distances with their shotguns should invest in this sight.
The optical sights are installed above the receiver so it can be close to your eyesight as you aim. The question of how long the battery lasts will depend on the quality of your sighting. If you’ve spend $750 on the quality Aimpoint sight that was just mentioned, then you’ll have 50,000 hours of use out of it before you have to change the battery. On the other hand, if you’re using a $100 sight like the Bushnell TRS-25, then expect it to last for up to 3,000 hours before you change the battery in it.
Bead sight, rifle sights, ghost ring sights
Three common sights for a shotgun are bead sights, rifle sights, and ghost ring sights. Each sight has their own unique purpose and the one you choose really depends on your preference more than anything else. Bead sights, for example, are the most common sights found on a factory issued shotgun. The bead is typically located on the front of the weapon and the idea is that you just align the bead with the target that you want to shoot. This is the classic way of aiming and it can work out fine if you have good eyesight or a magnifier attachment to help you see your target better in the distance. The downside is that you will need very good lighting to see what you’re looking at. After all, the bead is rather small and there are no fiber optics or lighting to help you align the bead with the target properly. That is why most users choose a better sight.
Ghost ring sights are a step up from bead sights. Ghost rings go on the rear of your shotgun. When you aim with these thicker ghost rings, you will be able to find your target and aim more accurately at it. They are the easiest non-optical sights to use. A ghost ring usually looks like a ring. You can only install this on the back end of the barrel or receiver if there is no rear sight that already exists. On a side note, there are some ghost rings that are sold in combination with an optical sight like tritium or fiber optics. That way, you get the small lighting inside of the iron ring so you can aim at nighttime.
As for rifle sights, these typically have a front sight and a rear sight that are both adjustable. If you’ve used rifles in the past and prefer the sighting that they provide, then rifled sights for your shotgun are the best thing you could use to upgrade it with. And if you want to integrate optics into this one, you could get something like the TRUGLO Remington Shotgun Rifle Sight which integrates ordinary metal rifle sighting with green fiber topic dots in the rear and a red fiber optic dot in the front.
Read more: Tritium Night Sights for Shotgun
Fiber optic (light gathering) and Tritium (night) sights
Fiber optic sighting is a form of light gathering sighting which uses the surrounding light to create the sight that you need to aim. Obviously, you won’t be able to use fiber optics at nighttime because it depends on a well-lit environment for it to work. The way it works is quite fascinating. Inside the fiber optics sight, there is a plastic pipe that is translucent. This pipe is what gathers light from the outside environment and then draws it toward the rear so it is close to your eye. This is a very small but bright light that you can see clearly in the daylight, regardless of how bright the actual environment is that you are in.
If you are interested in a sight to use at nighttime, then a better one would be a tritium sight. These types of sights work a little bit different because they have a radioactive compound inside of them which produces a green glowing light. This light can easily be seen in dim or dark environments just like any “glow in the dark” light. The best part is that the light stays on all the time and never turns off. This makes it very convenient for when you want to aim at something quickly and don’t want to worry about having to flick a switch or anything like that. The lifespan of the radioactive compound inside the tritium sight is about 10-years, which gives you plenty of time to use it.
The decision of which type of sighting to purchase will really depend on whether you go shooting regularly in the daytime or nighttime. Obviously, if it’s the daytime then you will want the fiber optic and if it’s the nighttime, you’ll want the tritium. However, what if you want to go out in both daytime and nighttime? You can either do two things in this situation. You can purchase both sights and just alternate between the two or you can purchase a sight which has both types integrated into it.
The TRUGLO Shotgun Front Sight will give you the best of both worlds because it integrates the technologies of fiber optics and tritium into one sight. That way, you can install the sight just one time and never have to take it off again. The cost of this combination sight is just $114, which is actually not that much more than purchasing the $80 tritium separately. So, if you are a shooter of all hours, then choose this sighting for your shotgun.
|Get TRUGLO Shotgun Front Sight on Brownells|
Gauge (10, 12, 16, 20, 28, .410)
The gauge of a shotgun represents the diameter of the inner bore of the barrel. The calculation of the gauge is made by considering the weight of the spherical pellets which make up the shotshells. These pellets are usually made of lead but they could also be made of steel too. Diameter of the barrel of a 12-gauge shotgun is equal to the diameter of a 1/12th pound lead ball. We touched upon this earlier so you should have a clear understanding of what this means. However, what you probably don’t realize is how many different gauges exist. You’re already familiar with the 12-gauge, but there is also the 10-gauge, 16-gauge, 20-gauge, 28-gauge, and .410-gauge. Let us examine these now.
More than 50% of all American sold shotguns are 12-gauge. They are popular because they are best suitable for hunting game in the wild and target shooting. However, there are some people who find the weight of the 12-gauge to be uncomfortable. So, as an alternative, they choose the 20-gauge because they can handle the recoil and the weight a lot more comfortably. Remember that the higher number of the gauge, the more pellets you’re going to have in the shell because they are smaller. Just like when you have a smaller gauge number, you’re going to have more pellets. You won’t typically find shotguns and ammo that are less than a 10-gauge. If you want this, they would have to be custom made to be either an 8-gauge or a 6-gauge. However, these would be very risky to shoot and they are not recommended.
When you go to choose the right gauge for your ammo, you need to consider the diameter size of your shotgun’s bore. The low gauge shells need to have a wider bore to accommodate the size of those bigger pellets. For example, a 10-gauge shell should be used when you have a .775-inch bore. This would be good for hunting bigger animals like turkey or geese. A 12-gauge should have a .729-inch bore and be used for an average sized game like ducks. A 16-gauge should have a .663-inch bore and can be used to shoot pheasants. As for small birds and other very small game, you should use a 20-gauge, 28-gauge or a .410 gauge. The 20-gauge should have a .615-inch bore, a 28-gauge should have a .550-inch bore, and the .410-gauge should have a .410-inch bore.
Where to buy shotgun online
Are you looking for a reputable place to purchase shotguns online? The world-renowned gun supplier Brownells has just started selling firearms over the internet, including shotguns.
Finally, you can filter the listings by the manufacturer that made the weapon. For example, if you’re looking for a Remington 870 shotgun, you can go to the “Filter by Manufacturer” drop-down menu on top of the search results page and choose “Remington.” This will display all the shotguns for sale made by Remington. However, a much faster way to search for a Remington 870 would be to just type that name into the “Search Within” box and click Go. That will bring up all the listings which are Remington 870 shotguns.
Since Brownells just started selling firearms over the internet, you may not see too many reviews or star ratings within the shotgun listings right now. But as time goes on and people start purchasing these weapons from the Brownells website, you’ll start seeing reviews get added to the listings and then you’ll have a better idea of whether the shotgun is a good investment or not.