To choose a best all around shotgun is a difficult proposition. So many different ideas exist surrounding the concept of what a shotgun is, that it'd be a real challenge to tell people what they should buy, when so many already have such varied ideas as to what makes sense.
Nevertheless, there are some special shotguns on this list and with the idea that shotguns don't have to be used only in a single scenario, the following article will attempt to construct a best all-around shotgun list, using two principles:
- The ability for the shotgun to be used for more than one dedicated discipline relative to peers
- The shotguns that feature game changing technologies or design elements that allow it to be used across the board effectively
So, what does shotgun use entail from a discipline perspective?
While this article won't weight the specific "discipline" categories differently, it is important to discuss how they fit with regards to the shotgun as part of the gun landscape.
This is the obvious historical discipline. The shotgun has been used for years for small game and flying animals and simply to put food on the table. It has even historically been used in high volumes for large game hunting.
It is often seen as a contender for the best "One gun" title, up against stalwarts like the bolt action and the lever action, both of which are also proven as valuable options for the homesteader, pioneer and the even the modern sport shooter.
You can kill upland birds, waterfowl, turkey, deer, coyotes, rabbits, and even elk with a shotgun. The versatility in loads (as also discussed below) makes this a powerhouse option for filling the freezer and the belly.
It's also been a perennial favorite for close quarters use, popularized by the trench warfare tactics in The World Wars.
But as a police and law enforcement, military and later a home defense option, the shotgun has proven itself capable of both, immense stopping power and excellent friendly fire controllability.
Because, again, of the load options and the ability to shoulder-fire the shotgun, it has become a premier choice for home defense and duty use for close quarters combat where stopping a threat is of absolute importance, and where a stray high velocity projectile could mean civilian or friendly fatalities.
Thanks to the abundance of support for the "tactical" mindset of most mainstream consumers, there are legion options on the market that favor this tactical duty style of shotgun, and it is a popular option.
With the advent of modern shooting sports, and the cheap ammunition options on the market, the competition shotgun has flourished and given birth to several exciting shooting sports, all of which dwarf most other platforms in popularity.
Including trap, skeet, clays and now a robust inclusion in multi-platform competitions like 3-gun, the shotgun is a competition darling.
The shotgun is approachable despite heavy recoil; easy to understand and offers new shooters much more leeway for missed shots. It's an easy choice when it comes to the more gamified competitions.
Again, variety of ammunition options and relatively low barrier to entry from a cost perspective makes the shotgun a popular choice for general range use. It's fun to have so much power and not have to overpay for the gun or the ammunition.
Ability to accept a wide range of loads
This has perhaps, been the most important part to the staying power of the shotgun in modern shooting disciplines, as it makes a once, specialty gun into something that carries over so many boundaries and allows so much to be done with the platform.
You can shoot to 150+ yards and kill a 500 lb. elk with the right slug; you can nail a turkey at 65+ yards with the right load, despite their fidgety behaviors; you can shoot rabbits in the backyard and not destroy the skins or the meat; you can stop a human invading your home with a single shot; you can hunt geese that are 30 yards out and evasive. You can knock down hinges of a door to breach it with lead-powdered specialty rounds that limit deflection and offer maximum impact.
There are few limits to what a properly fed, properly outfitted shotgun can do.
This article seeks to show you some exceptional guns that showcase this carryover ability and highlight unique properties of the shotgun for maximum multi-use purposes.
Best All Around Shotguns
Remington - 870 Express Shotgun
No best shotgun list is complete without the Remington 870. It's not the oldest, or the prettiest, or the most technical offering on the shotgun market, and yet, it is probably easily the most proven.
It has reliably worked for law enforcement, military, civilians and sportsman for many decades and it's still virtually the same build that debuted in 1950. Sure, there have ben a few changes (some of which, fans of the 870 hated), but it is among the most reliable firearms in history.
Remington also counts it as one of the most reliable money makers in its portfolio year after year too. This too, despite having a bargain price point.
Sixty-plus years of widespread adoption has seen the Remington 870 as perhaps the most used shotgun in history, and it has killed every type of game you can imagine; stopped countless home invaders; offered policed and military professionals close quarters protection and served as a failsafe for all 60+ of those years.
Countless aftermarket products exist for the 870, and you can heavily modify it to your liking, and still spend less than you would for a moderately good semi-auto shotgun from the factory.
In the variant highlighted here, you get a bone stock variant with a composite stock that holds 6 rounds. It's seemingly nothing special, but when your life depends on it, or you need it to function in rain and sleet and other weather conditions in the field, the Remington 870 will deliver. It's just made to do that.
From a consumer perspective, the Remington 870 may offer the best value for your gun dollars of any firearm in history, in rarified air with proven guns like the Ruger 10-22 and Smith & Wesson revolvers.
- It doesn't try to be something it's not
- Proven reliable, proven durable
- Unbelievable amount of aftermarket options to accessorize it with
- Hard to find anything wrong with this gun at this price point
Browning A5 Ultimate Shotgun
Similar to the Remington with respect to the idea that a list of best shotguns without the Browning A5 is a disservice to the readership, this is the flagship A5 and it's not just a hunting gun, it's an American Tradition.
The A5 is as classically familiar as it is good looking and those classic lines mean something. They stand for uncompromising design philosophy and forward-thinking engineering, and top tier delivery on expectations.
When you see the Browning A5 you can tell it means business. When you lay eyes on the Ultimate edition, you can see that many hunters and sport shooters have executed business with this gun over the years, and yet, you can appreciate that hint of frivolity that comes in the form of the somewhat gaudy appearance for a field gun that's been in every field on every continent on the planet, no matter how humble the location.
It's as comfortable carrying 2 rounds in the hunting scenario, as it is modified to hold 6 rounds for a home defense situation. The elongated receiver isn't just for dramatic looks, it offers great sight plane; enhanced overall swing and balance and gets you on target fast.
The premium wood is a nice addition in a world full of tactical black guns and gives you some insight to what you are about to experience when you cycle the shotgun. The smooth action is trademark browning and the A5 is in a league of its own. No other mainstream factory production semi-auto at this price point or lower can boast a smoother, more consistent action.
Yes, it's a bit long for moving room to room to clear a house, but it is also among the most reliable semi-auto firearms in history and that counts for something on the range; in the field and if you need to trust your life to it. It's capable of competition and will likely draw as much positive commentary as the $3-5k guns you're up against. It can certainly keep pace with them.
How about a 100,000 round warranty? When was the last time you remember seeing something like that on a hunting gun?
- Exceptional warranty by a company with an impeccable history
- Accurate and reliable
- Expensive for some
FN SLP MK I Semi-Automatic Shotgun
It's hard to put a price tag or a usability tag on a gun as reliable and built to be durable as the FN shotguns are. Specifically, the SLP, which is a semi-automatic variant that offers tactical sensibilities without going over the top and adding a bunch of nonsensical options that reduce its actual effectiveness.
It is a result of this restraint by Fabrique Nacional design engineers that makes it so desirable from the perspective of the multi-faceted user. The slim and snag free design mentality and the excellent balance make it a fine firearm for more than just home defense or as a duty weapon.
It's fantastic in the field in wet conditions and for waterfowl use (remember the mag tube size limitations and bring a plug). It's also got fantastic optics integration and a svelte appearance that makes it blend into any scenario well.
You can mount true traditional glass, or modern reflective optics on the cantilever mount; with backup iron sights that don't disappoint either.
The 9-round capacity is significant. The smooth action is very fast; and does shave fractions of seconds off of the follow up times from others even on this list.
It has serious 3-gun win credibility. Despite being a muted version of a competition gun *(it's marketed as a tactical duty firearm), it has a ton of wins on the circuit, and at one point it was the top wins aggregator in the competition.
A very nicely balanced overall length of 43" it features a 22 inch barrel and while it is "heavy" from a relative perspective, it doesn’t feel overtly heavy compared to others in its category.
- Proven competition winner
- Simple, muted and conscientious design
- High capacity without too long an overall length
- Durable and reliable
- All black; doesn't always fit with traditional designs
Benelli - M3 Tactical Shotgun
You won't find a more perfect shotgun for the multi-use shooter. It's not possible. In fact, this one gun is more like two guns. And yes, you could be easily convinced that the author is a fan-boy of the M3. You'd be right, but what is there about this gun if not fan-inducing technology and build details?
It is truly a "Jack-of-all-trades" and can be put up against any shotgun, in any setting and still compete. There is perhaps no single other shotgun that can do the plethora of highly technical things that the Benelli M3 can do.
It is without question, one of the greatest designs of any firearm in the history of the world, especially when you consider it's self-correcting abilities and manually interactive controls that allow the power of the human brain to rectify real-world unimaginable situations.
If you are a connoisseur of shotguns, this gun deserves a place in your safe or on your sling, because it is with few peers and offers a user experience that is completely unique, and yet, so unbelievably familiar.
It is both a pump shotgun and a semi-auto shotgun, that can be made to carry up to 10 rounds with certain modifications (and 8 very easily). It can shoot multiple load types in the same magazine tube, and it is fast in semi-auto, but unbelievably reliable in manual pump-action.
It is superior in its balance and controllability thanks to the dimensions and the excellent stock design.
It functions smoothly and feels as tight as a competition gun.
It offers fast target acquisition with the durable ghost ring sight setup and the accuracy is on-point. Speaking of durability: it's chrome plated n the bolt and in the barrel too.
Furthermore, it is the easiest shotgun to adapt to any shooting scenario of all the market available factory options. You can shoot it in the field with a mag tube plug for birds or waterfowl; take it slug shooting for big game or put it next to your bed for home defense. It's ready for duty for any professional user.
It doesn't give an inch in capability no matter what it's asked to do. It is the most versatile shotgun on the planet. Period.
- Nothing comes close on carryover capabilities
- It can literally save lives in a failure to fire, or failure to extract situation
- It’s got an easier learning curve than most guns that have half its capabilities
- You pay for the versatility
- It's getting slightly outdated in some of the design technology aspects, even if it is super capable
Kalashnikov - KS-12T Shotgun
Some would scoff at the idea that shotgun on a best overall list would be one derived loosely from one of the greatest centerfire battle rifles of all time. But who can argue, if the world was ending, that a highly capable, bulletproof, reliable 12-gauge shotgun with huge capacity, removable magazines and a proven history isn't one of the best guns you could have?
That's right. No one would argue against this gun if they needed to count on a gun for a long time with the type of firepower that this gun alone can provide. Along with the Remington 870, it's among the most durable guns on the planet, and has versatility that cannot be argued.
The ability to have preloaded, fast to reload magazines makes this in a class of its own (even with new entries to this market sub-segment, this gun still outshines its closest competitors). The build is steel and polymer and it's heavy (nearly 9 pounds). It sure doesn't feel like 9lbs. when you are moving through tighter spaces though, with an overall length of 38" and a barely over 18" barrel, this is a gun that is highly mobile.
The bulk of the weight is centered on the receiver too, so the balance is surprisingly good for something that hangs 10 shots in a magazine and not a mag-tube.
Aftermarket options abound. This is about as highly tactical a design as you can get too, with a much slimmer feel thanks to the AK styling and the gas system which is significantly different than any other model on the market.
The gas system is pretty versatile too, with the ability to shoot most of the mainstream cartridges without significant adjustment in 12-gauge magnum (3-inch) rounds. When the adjustment is necessary to cycle a round, you have some adjustment available also.
Choke capable. Fast to reload. Collapsible stock; very good sights and hard to beat reliability. Additionally, one of the most interesting and important features of the AK style KS-12T is that it is field serviceable and easy to maintain.
- Super durable and very reliable
- Compact and well built
- Superior capacity and reloading capability
- Not as easy to keep this one subtle in hunting or competition scenarios, though from a functional perspective, it is easily capable of doing these tasks
Beretta 1301 Tactical Semi-Automatic Shotgun
This is about as good a multi-faceted shotgun as the Browning A5 from a generic use perspective. That is: it can easily fit in anywhere, and not be out of place by looks or by function; better than most shotguns.
Yes, this is a tactically-geared shotgun. You can see that with the ghost ring sights and the picatinny rails. It's fast too. The claim is that it can shoot 4 rounds in less than a second. That means more than 6 shots before the first shell hits the ground if you know what you're doing.
Oversized controls make using it easier. Good for tactical needs, good for competition needs, more than what is necessary for hunting. But that's what makes this gun so good across all platforms, it exceeds the needs for any one given scenario, and still fits in on others.
6 rounds capacity means blocking the magazine tube is easy. Having 6 rounds also means that you can feel confident you won't be lacking when you need more than a single shot to stop a threat or win a stage of a competition.
The vent rib offers better follow-up sight acquisition during sustain fire scenarios like fast competitions.
The easily interchangeable choke system is excellent, proven reliable and quick to change. The maintenance is easy, and the gas system is innovative and smart. It shoots very clean, even with dirty bargain loads.
- Properly built with durability and reliability and speed in mind
- Can look good in any scenario
- This is a fast gun for follow up shots
- Lower capacity than some means it doesn't fit some shooter's idea of what a tactical gun should be
Oh, the enemies that have been built by the list provided in this article. No Mossberg 500 or 590? No Winchester 1100 or 1300? No browning Citori? Two highly specialized, highly tactically oriented shotguns with little to no appeal to traditionalists?
But audit this list carefully and read the reasoning for the inclusion of each shotgun, and we think it will be clear why these guns have so much crossover capabilities in an article like this. When prompted to write this article, the Author could have sought out winners in each of a dozen categories, but instead decided to look at crossover capabilities and overall usefulness for a multi-discipline user.
The author is confident that goal has been achieved, even if you do see a lot of the same guns on many of the lists on this website. A great shotgun is a great shotgun, no matter who you are. And one that can do multiple things really well, deserves high praise.
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