The MOST Effective Close Quarter Small Arm Currently in Existence!

Mike Boyle

For almost 50 years, the shotgun was “king of the hill,” but of late there has been a shift in the paradigm.

The resurgence of the rifle has caused many police departments to reconsider the shotgun as a viable weapon system. Some outfits have done away with shotguns entirely whereas others now limit them to special applications, such as door breeching or a less-lethal munitions delivery system.

Without question, a semiauto, magazine fed rifle brings a great deal to the table. But, is it the best tool for the job? Consider that the vast majority of police action shootings take place at close range. Except for the most unusual circumstance, the shotgun may still be the best choice for the task at hand.

Critics often argue that the shotgun is a holdover from the 19th century and its heavy recoil, limited range and modest capacity make it less than an optimum choice for dealing with modern problems. For fighting in close quarters, the shotgun simply has no peer. Should you load up with rifled slugs, a shotgun offers limited rifle potential and a skilled operator can make decisive hits on a man-sized target out to 100 yards.

True, a shotgun does not have the onboard ammunition capacity of a semiauto rifle, but history illustrates that it has seldom been an issue. More often than not, a well-placed hit from a 12-gauge shotgun typically brings hostilities to a screeching halt. How about multiple threats? A squared away shooter can place nine pellets of 00 buckshot on three different targets in two seconds or less. A pretty fair hand can do that in half the time. You simply can’t replicate that with a rifle or submachine gun.

There is simply no getting around the fact that a shotgun generates a significantly greater rearward push than a 5.56mm rifle, but that can be mitigated with proper stock fit, ammunition selection and training. I’ve enjoyed some pretty good success getting small stature shooters, male and female, up to speed with the shotgun. Contrary to popular opinion, training with the shotgun does not have to be a negative experience.

Perhaps the greatest attribute of the shotgun is its superior stopping potential. The most commonly encountered ammunition for the combat shotgun remains 00 buckshot. The classic 12-gauge 00 buckshot load contains nine .32 caliber pellets with a muzzle velocity of roughly 1200 feet per second. When nine pellets of 00 buck are simultaneously introduced to the torso of a determined adversary, the end result is typically immediate incapacitation. Rifled slugs which are a single .73 caliber projectile have an even more devastating effect.

The shotgun is also a tool without peer when engaging threats in low light environments. When you consider that most police shootings take place under less than optimum light conditions, this is yet another tactical advantage. Muzzle flash from the 18–20″ barrel of a combat shotgun is minimal and will not have an adverse effect on night acclimated vision. In poor light, hit probability with the shotgun is far greater than with a pistol.

In certain areas, there has been a backlash of what is perceived to be the militarization of the police and the town fathers are reluctant to embrace military-style rifles. The shotgun carries no such baggage.

With a small investment and a commitment to training, the shotgun can give you the means to prevail over seemingly insurmountable odds. Love it; don’t leave it.

All About Buckshot

One of the unique qualities of the shotgun is the fact that one can load up with a wide range of ammunition types, depending on the mission at hand. For true combat applications, buckshot and rifled slugs remain the “go-to” loads. Additionally, less-lethal impacting rounds are also readily available. To complete the picture, specialized rounds for door breeching, gas delivery and distraction can also be launched from a shotgun. However, our discussion on ammunition will be limited to the buckshot and slug rounds used by law enforcement.

More often than not, buckshot is the ammunition of choice for the fighting shotgun. Buckshot consists of large spherical pellets made of lead with sizes ranging from 000 buck (.36 caliber) down to four buck (.24 caliber). The most popular buckshot round chosen for combat applications is the 12-gauge, 2¾ inch case loaded with nine pellets (.32 caliber) of 00 buckshot. This particular load is available from just about every manufacturer of shotgun ammunition, but performance characteristics can be very different. Advertised muzzle velocity of the traditional hunting loads runs just south of 1200 feet per second. One of the drawbacks of firing traditional buckshot loads is recoil. Shotguns generate a healthy amount of muzzle energy and launch a much heavier payload than any handgun or 5.56mm rifle. According to Newton’s Third Law, we can anticipate a pretty stout rearward push. This may not faze the outdoorsman or shooting enthusiast, but many people find the heavy recoil to be a distraction and a major obstacle to training with the shotgun.

Some years ago, Remington® introduced reduced recoil buckshot which they felt would allow law enforcement officers to train in greater comfort. Why not use this same concept in the development of loads for combat applications? The manufacturers did just that and, today, all the big players are offering one or more spins on this theme.

The first step in creating reduced recoil or tactical loads is dialing muzzle velocity back a notch or two. This reduces felt recoil to levels similar to that of light trap loads which enhance user comfort. Harder pellets with a copper wash, buffering material and redesigned wads make for tight, uniform patterns throughout the shotgun’s practical range. In tests into ballistic gelatin, I’ve noted no difference between the old-school hunting loads and reduced recoil loads, as far as penetration, and I doubt real-world performance would be any different.

For many years, my agency has issued Federal’s LE132 00 Tactical

Buckshot load for duty use. From our Remington 870® shotgun, it will reliably keep all nine pellets in the center of an FBI Q target placed 20 yards away. Unlike some other reduced recoil loads, it also has enough juice to reliably cycle my Beretta 1201 recoil operated autoloader.

Other loads I’ve had some very good luck with include the Remington eight pellet reduced recoil load and the Hornady® red and blue TAP loads. Hornady also markets another good choice in their Critical Defense® line.

If you are running an autoloading shotgun, I strongly counsel that you avoid the reduced recoil loads and stick with the high-test. At the top of my list is the Hornady Light Magnum® round, loaded in a red case to differentiate it from their blue load designed for pumps. On several occasions, I have seen autoloading shotguns fail to function with low impulse, reduced recoil loads. The last thing you need at the moment of truth is a stoppage, so be sure your gun runs reliably with the load of choice.

Pellet size does indeed matter. The FBI tells us that one buck is the minimum size pellet which will meet their penetration criteria when fired into ballistic gelatin. Smaller pellets, such as four buck and birdshot may not have enough energy to get the job done. A nice balance of pattern density and penetration can be found with Federal’s LE132 1B which will consistently place 15 one buck (.30 caliber) pellets in a tight circle.

Because of its spherical nature, buckshot sheds energy quickly. It can also be deflected by light cover or obstacles. In the infamous 1986 FBI Dade County shootout, Special Agent Edmundo Mireles, Jr. fired multiple shots of 00 buck at criminals Michael Platt and William Matix, with most pellets being deflected or stopped by the windshield. To get right to the point, buckshot works great against threats in the open, but, for problems in vehicles or behind light cover, there is a better choice.

By all means, pattern your shotgun at various distances with your chosen load. At close range (inside of seven yards), most of the new, cutting-edge defensive loads will throw a pattern about the size of a lemon. Yes, you can miss with a shotgun! Beyond ten yards, patterns begin to open up. I consider the practical limit of shotguns loaded with buckshot to be 20 to 25 yards. Beyond that distance, it may not be possible to keep all the pellets on a static silhouette target on the sterile range. Real life will be even more challenging. Shotgun barrels have very individual characteristics and it pays to see exactly how yours will pattern.

Go the Distance with Slugs

The polar opposite of buckshot is the rifled slug. Where buckshot is best described as a multiprojectile load, a rifled slug is a single, large caliber projectile which, in concept, is similar to a rifle bullet. The primary advantage of a rifled slug is that it minimally triples the practical range of the combat shotgun loaded with buckshot and gives the user limited rifle capability.

Shotgun slugs are typically made of lead, although examples made from copper or a copper/polymer matrix are sometimes encountered.

Most American manufactured slugs are of Foster design which features a soft lead alloy projectile with a hollow base. Foster slugs are a full caliber projectile and are loaded by all the domestic ammunition manufacturers. To achieve the greatest accuracy potential, Foster slugs should be fired out of an open choke barrel.

Sabot slugs represent yet another category of rifled slug. The slug itself is smaller than the bore diameter and is enveloped by a plastic sabot sleeve. As the projectile leaves the barrel, the sabot separates from the slug, which flies to the target. To exploit their better accuracy potential, a rifled, rather than a smoothbore shotgun barrel, should be used. Although specialized sabot slugs have been developed for law enforcement applications, they are most commonly utilized for hunting.

As indicated earlier, slugs extend the effective range of the combat shotgun. Unlike buckshot, slugs are target specific and a squared away shooter with a properly setup shotgun can place his shots with a fair degree of accuracy. Rifled slugs also have the capability to defeat many types of light cover an assailant is hiding behind. Depending on the situation, this greater penetration quality might be a good or bad thing. As far as stopping potential, a torso hit from a full diameter .72 caliber projectile clearly trumps lesser rounds fired from a handgun or carbine.

Like buckshot, reduced recoil rifled slugs are readily available from the major manufacturers. They do indeed decrease felt recoil, but those same caveats about low impulse loads apply to autoloading shotguns. Point of aim and point of impact will also be slightly different than with full-power slugs. As with any load you might use to protect your life, know where it’s going to hit and make sure it’s compatible with your gun.

In addition to the full power and reduced recoil slugs, there are a few other noteworthy variants which rate a hard look. Winchester® markets a segmenting slug which is designed to break into three pieces on impact, each creating its own independent, yet significant, wound channel. Risk of over penetration is also greatly reduced. Another Winchester offering is the PDX1® which combines a one ounce slug with three pellets of 00 buckshot. I would imagine this new spin on the “buck and ball” load would be devastating at short to intermediate range.

Left to my own design, my slug of choice is the Brenneke Special Forces Short Magnum (SFSM®). To say the least, recoil is brisk, but it is effectively tamed by my gas-operated Remington Model 11-87. Obstacles such as car doors and windshields are easily defeated by this load which generates 2500 foot pounds of muzzle energy, enough to take the wind out of the sails of a very determined adversary.

To realize the greatest potential with slugs, rifle sights are a must. I’m partial to ghost ring or aperture sights, as they are rugged and give me the capability to hit man-sized silhouettes out to 100 yards and slightly beyond. When a rifle simply isn’t in the cards, a shotgun loaded with slugs is the right tool for dealing with threats near and far.

Shotgun Accessories

The shotguns turned out today by the major manufacturers are indeed better than ever, yet all can benefit with the addition of an accessory or two. By retrofitting a few aftermarket parts, even a bread-and-butter shotgun can be transformed into a first-class fighting tool. Best of all, most of these improvements can be realized as a simple DIY project without retaining the services of a gunsmith.

When it comes down to accessorizing the combat shotgun, there is “must have” and “nice to have.” Let’s first consider the accessories I consider most important and critical to success.

Most law enforcement agencies go to great lengths outfitting their rifles and SMGs with slings, but ignore this area with the shotgun. The sling is essentially the holster for your shotgun. It keeps the gun readily available for instant use, yet keeps the hands free to perform other tasks.

Shotgun slings are available in single point, two point or three point attachment varieties. They range from simple carry straps to tactical versions which hold the shotgun at chest level. I’ve used about every conceivable variety of shotgun sling and have come to the conclusion that there is no one sling which suits every application.

Give some serious thought as to how your shotgun might be utilized. Does your sling allow you to get in and out of it with little fuss? Do you carry a sidearm and, if so, will your shotgun interfere with your draw stroke? Many of us would probably be very well served with a simple two point sling. But, by all means, put a sling on your gun!

Proper Stock Fit

Just about all off-the-rack shotguns come with buttstocks which are a bit too long for proper fit. This leads to all sorts of problems when trying to manage the combat shotgun. Shooter efficiency is compromised in a big way and even a few rounds of buckshot will prove very uncomfortable.

Length of pull refers to the distance from the trigger to the rear of the shotgun’s buttstock. The standard length of pull for most pump-action and semiauto shotguns is right around 14 inches. That may be acceptable for a good size male busting clay birds while dressed in short sleeves, but it’s oversize for a combat shotgun.

Shooters who utilize a shotgun for hunting or the clay bird sports typically snap into a bladed or offset shooting stance. For combat applications, getting the torso square to the threat affords the shooter a number of advantages. Stocks which are too long are a poor choice for combat shooting as they prevent one from getting into a proper stance and slide out of the shoulder pocket toward the arm when firing subsequent shots. Discomfort quickly becomes unbearable and performance suffers. This is especially true for small stature shooters.

The simplest solution to this problem is the addition of an aftermarket stock where fit can be optimized for the end user. Several firms market “youth stocks” which feature a length of pull in the 12 to 12½ inch range. I have a Mossberg 500® with a Hogue® Youth Stock which I provide to small stature shooters in my shotgun classes. Magpul® makes a great aftermarket stock which features spacers to achieve a perfect fit. I’ve also had some success with Mesa Tactical’s Urbino® stock. The Urbino stock features a pistol grip, spacers and a soft recoil pad to achieve proper fit and shooter comfort.

A number of firms, including ATI, BLACKHAWK!® and Mesa Tactical, market M4-style collapsible stocks. The good news is that there are multiple settings which the user can select for proper fit. Some even mitigate felt recoil. Should the user also own an M4-style carbine, that familiar feel may be a tangible advantage.

The forestock of the combat shotgun, particularly the pump-actions, also need to be considered. Most of the shotguns built for combat applications feature a forestock of the proper length, but that should not be taken for granted. After verifying that it is empty, point the shotgun in a safe direction and bring the forestock all the way to the rear. Does it in any way block access to the loading port and magazine tube? This is very common in pump-action shotguns designed for hunting. If it blocks access, the forestock should be cut back or replaced. The forestock should also have an aggressive surface so the hand does not slip off while working the action.

Replacement forestocks with molded-in rails for the mounting of a light or an integral weapon mounted light are also available and come highly recommended. The Mako Group, Magpul and others turn out aftermarket forestocks to which the end user can fit one of the popular weapon mounted lights often used for pistols.

Weapon Mounted Lights

The vast majority of police-action shootings take place under less than optimum light conditions. Poor light limits our ability to navigate; locate potential threats; assess the situation; and, if necessary, take the appropriate steps to ensure our safety.

The biggest advantage a light source affords us is the ability to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. In short, light helps us make an informed decision.

Although it is possible to coordinate a handheld light source with a shotgun, it quickly breaks down after the first shot. A far better fix is a weapon mounted light. There are a number of different ways to go, but I’m partial to the dedicated units. Yes, they are a bit pricey, but the ability they give you cannot be overstated.


Traditionally, sighting equipment on the shotgun consisted of a plain bead. If you are content limiting yourself to buckshot at close to intermediate distance, a bead can still do the trick, but we can do much better. A good set of sights will enable you to make decisive hits to the extreme end of practical shotgun range.

Many combat shotguns are equipped with rifle sights for the accurate delivery of slugs. They do, in fact, help you do just that, but I’ve found that many of these sight systems don’t handle hard knocks very well. This is very true of shotguns used by the police. Banging the gun off the car door, shotgun rack and other hard surfaces takes a toll and sights become misaligned or knocked off the gun and lost. But, there is a better way.

Aperture-style sights have been the overwhelming favorite on most military rifles introduced in the 20th century. A large rear aperture is mated to a front blade; on shotguns, this system has proven durable, yet gives the user the ability to accurately fire rifled slugs at extended range. One merely looks through the aperture and the eye automatically centers the front blade. “Ghost ring” style sights are available as a factory option on Benelli, Mossberg and Remington shotguns and give the user limited rifle ability. Hits on a realistic-sized silhouette out to 100 yards are well within the realm of possibility. Several manufacturers also market ghost ring sights which can be mounted to your gun. In addition to iron sights, various types of optically enhanced systems are available that are well suited to the shotgun. Aimpoint®, Burris®, EOTech®, Trijicon®, and others make some great sight systems which work very well on the shotgun. These sights have proven to be very robust and help shooters to be at their best.

I recognize that setting up your shotgun with a set of ghost ring sights or a red dot system may be beyond the needs or budget of some, so here are a few low-tech solutions which might work. XS® Sight Systems make a good size white dot with a tritium insert which fits over the top of the factory bead. A dab of glue is all you need to equip your shotgun with a quick to find sight which glows in the dark. HIVIZ® manufactures fiber-optic light tubes for shotguns which is yet another cost-effective solution. The light pipes gather up available light and are readily visible in anything other than total darkness.

Extended Magazine Tubes

Unlike pistols and carbines, the onboard ammunition capacity of the shotgun is relatively modest. For example, the magazine tube of the standard 870 is four rounds. For the vast majority of combat scenarios, capacity will never be an issue, but having a few extra rounds at your disposal is not a bad thing.

The easiest way to boost capacity is to affix an extended magazine tube. Simply remove the magazine cap and screw on the extended tube. A longer magazine follower spring is also required and is typically included in the package. Traditionally, these aftermarket tubes have been made of steel, but, of late, I’ve seen examples rendered from carbon fiber to keep weight down.

Ammo Carriers

Extra ammunition can be carried on the gun or the user. To my thinking, the best systems are the sidesaddle shell holders which can be mounted to the left side of the receiver of a pump-action or autoloading shotgun. This ensures that extra ammunition is always with the gun. We can argue that the need to reload the shotgun in combat is relatively rare, but the fact that you can switch to different ammunition readily is another big plus. Is there a threat in the distance? Swap off buckshot for a slug and get back in the fight.

When selecting a side saddle, be sure it holds the shells securely. I’ve had good results from one by Mesa Tactical which also includes a rail for the mounting of optics.

Nylon shell holders which slide over the buttstock of the shotgun remain popular, but I’m not a fan. For the right-handed shooter, the “butt cuff” positions spare shells on the right side of the stock away from the shooter’s face. I remain a big proponent of bilateral shooting or the ability to fire the shoulder weapon from either side to maximize use of cover. If the right-handed shooter suddenly switches shoulders to fire from the port side, those shells are now up on the face. For that reason, I would suggest you find a better way to carry extra ammunition.

“Speed feed” stocks are yet another option. Spare shells are secured horizontally on the buttstock. When there is a need to replace a round or two, the user removes them from the stock and feeds them into the magazine tube. For on-body carry, there are a couple of different routes to take. The popularity of three gun shooting has jump-started a number of manufacturers to produce all sorts of shot shell carriers. Because of their bulk, most are inappropriate for combat applications. Personally, I favor the dual shell carriers from Safariland® which snap over the belt and I’ve been using them for 30 years.

Editor’s Note: This article has been excerpted from a well-written and authoritative book by Mike Boyle, entitled COMBATIVE SHOTGUN: The MOST Effective Close Quarter Small Arm Currently in Existence! Copies of this book can be obtained from Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc., 43-08 162nd St., Flushing, NY 11358; phone (800)647-5547; or by visiting their Web site at The price of the book is $23.95 plus shipping.