The best combat shotgun can mean a lot of different things depending on who you ask. For the purposes of this article we will focus on tactical shotguns for duty use and defensive shotguns for use in home defense settings.
The classic interpretation of a successful implementation for a combat shotgun will be the one that works every single time you use it. Many shotguns on the market cannot make the claim that they work every single time. What’s more, many of them require specific loads or fine tuning and extensive training to effectively make them as reliable as you need them to be. We seek to separate the reliable guns from a plethora of guns that might be flashy but don’t deliver.
What makes a great combat shotgun?
It isn’t as simple as saying a semi-automatic shotgun is better than a pump action because it shoots/cycles faster. It isn’t as simple as saying a magnum capable pump shotgun is better because it has more versatility and potentially better reliability. It isn’t as simple as saying that the lighter weight gun is always better, or the longer barrel is always inferior for short engagement distances.
What really makes a shotgun great as a combat tool, is a balance of factors that cater to the specific needs a shooter has at that moment. For some situations, a different shotgun will make a different impact. Sometimes you can make the argument that one is better than another, but we will seek to show you already well-balanced shotguns that can do more than just deliver pellets on a target.
Here are some things you should look for:
A shoulder stock
Another point of clarification. We do not underestimate the value of a shoulder-fired weapon. We believe that to be called a combat shotgun, it must be shoulder-fired. The benefits of a shoulder fired gun are many. In the case of a combat shotgun, any variant of the tool that doesn’t include a shoulder stock is a non-starter.
The number one aspect of any legitimate combat shotgun is how reliable it is. Nothing else matters in the heat of the moment. Not the cool optic, or light you added to the fore end; not the barrel length; not the amount of shots you have in the magazine/tube. The only thing that matters in a life or death tactical scenario is whether you can count on the gun to fire. In the case of a shotgun, even accuracy is relatively moot.
Particularly when you are talking about home defense, accuracy is much less important because the hit probability with adequate training for the shooter is very high due to the physical space layout and the closeness of the proximity of engagement.
If you know it will fire when you pull the trigger and cycle after the first shot so it can fire again, then you are already hitting the most important aspects of practical defensive/combat shotgun theory.
Durability is very important because it speaks to reliability and ability to function under demanding conditions. You’d be surprised how often your gun will bump into an object or slip from your hands when you are subjected to real world training or, of course, actual combat situations.
Durability can be very important. You don’t want to lose your buttstock because you smacked the shotgun against the wall. You don’t want the cartridge lifter to bend because you dropped your gun with a round being chambered. Durability begets reliability in most cases.
Quick second shot capabilities
Not so much the speed of the action of the gun itself, but rather, the ability for the shooter to adequately produce a condition where they can fire a second shot reliably and smoothly. This will require good quality of build and well-thought out mechanics and proper training.
It is also interesting to have a fast cycling shotgun, or a well-made mechanical action so that you can shave seconds off this timeline – the guns on this list are all capable of improving this second shot capability. Partially through mechanical design; tolerance control; fit and finish and reliability in the implementation of the balance of component parts and systems.
Ability to cycle many off the shelf loads
To know that you can shoot anything in the gun, or at least easily tailor loads to your needs is important. Too many guns on the market don’t allow for you to shoot any off the shelf load. When your life depends on it, you must know that mainstream loads will work.
This is not a gun you can fiddle with later because it didn’t work well at the range. The modern combat shotgun MUST be able to work every single time with mainstream loads.
Some people get hung up on the idea that old traditional winners aren’t innovative enough to be useful at times. Indeed, historical performance is no guarantee of future potential or performance. But reputation and performance does mean a lot when it comes to what you can expect to see.
For the purpose of this article we are staying focused on the 12 gauge variants of the shotguns on this list. There is a very specific and simple reason for this – the amount of loads available and the amount of stopping power is exceptional compared to other options in the shotgun market.
That is not to say you cannot stop a threat with a 20 gauge or a 410 or some other niche shell size. It’s just to say it’s not as easy to find an applicable load and it’s not as easy to find guns, as well as accessories for those guns to make them custom-tailored for you.
Best combat shotguns
Benelli M3 (12 Gauge)
Innovative, relevant and technically very proficient, this is a shotgun that can essentially do anything. It is easily the most versatile shotgun on this list, and it performs well in any scenario or environment. It is also made to a top-quality standard and by a company that has a reputation for exceeding expectations.
If you aren’t familiar with this groundbreaking shotgun it is a multi-disciplinary shotgun that can function as either a pump shotgun or a semi-automatic shotgun. The groundbreaking design is as good now as it was when introduced more than a decade ago.
It’s built specifically for combat purposes. It is probably the most tactically specific shotgun on this list, and it still seems quite ordinary if you judge it by the exterior aesthetics.
It boasts a 19.25 inch barrel and very good ghost ring sights; the receiver is lightweight aluminum and the bolt is hard chromed while the steel internals seem to be floating because the action is so smooth.
A standard pistol grip helps to control difficult rounds and the difficult ones are easy to manipulate with the option to switch to a pump action manual operation. In practice it’s slower than other guns, but in a moment where you need to clear a jam, with training, you would not find a better second chance than the Benelli M3.
The market has some “aftermarket” accessories to increase capacity, though the 5+1 is usually enough. In semi-auto, you can easily shoot the whole mag-tube before the first shell hits the ground. Many would say: that’s fast enough.
- Still innovative
- Built to tight tolerances and feels super smooth on cycling
- Made with a distinctive tactical slant
- No real cons
This is best for
Someone who might actually be able to use multiple operational designations. A shooter who wants all the bases covered and is willing to train extensively with the gun.
Kalashnikov - KS-12T (12 Gauge)
If you already shoot an AK, there is no other option on this list that will make more sense. If you don’t already, then you surely must know of the reliability and durability of the platform over the last (more than) 70 years. For the benefit of locating the control set and utilizing the disassembly protocols of the AK variants, this is an easy winner. But you’d be unwise to discount the other attributes of the platform.
Probably most interestingly, the ability to customize with a robust aftermarket presence and to be able to use high capacity magazines to keep sustained fire and easy, fast reloads. You can even utilize a 50 round drum that exists readily on the market.
38 inches of overall length makes this a quick moving shotgun and the feel of the gun is svelte like a battle rifle. It is probably the most easily used CQB gun on this list as a result of the combination of all of these things. It’s short, fast to fire; quick to second shot and offers a ton of potential capacity. Not to mention it tends to be more reliable than many of the semi-automatic shotguns on the market thanks to the design openness and optimization of the gas system.
- Reliability in semi-auto that is hard to match
- Very durable and easy to move with, considering the integrated build style and the compact footprint
- Huge capacity potential
- A nice price point considering all that you are getting
- No cons
This is best for
Shooters who will hit the range often and want something that is no-nonsense on the maintenance side.
Remington Versa Max Tactical (12 Gauge)
Remington seems like they may be trying to hard with this shotgun on the surface, because it seems to embody the essence of “tacticool”. But it’s actually the real deal – every single aspect and design concept on the VersaMax is actually usable and makes a difference in the theory and the implementation of combat. As a result, when you take the gun as a whole, it is easily a part of a list called the best combat shotguns.
You see the obvious pieces that stand out, like a very robust vent rib; a 22-inch barrel and a huge mag tube. Optical mounts and an aggressive stance from the position of the stock to the trigger guard make it a clear tactical model. What’s really interesting is that this is one of very few shotguns that are built with a tactical slant from Remington. That’s interesting because some of the best selling traditional tactical shotguns in history have been Remington’s.
This is arguably just one of three that still has that angle in their shotgun portfolio. What is most interesting though, is not that they have moved away from the segment so heavily, but that this is so dedicated to the segment and yet, is not one of their best-selling models.
Maybe it should be. If you want a semi-automatic shotgun for combat use, there are few guns that make more sense at the price point – only a handful exist that can compete at the same level. Perhaps Remington knows exactly what they are doing by not clouding the consumer mind with more than a single option in the semi-auto product portfolio. Dedication is the deciding factor here.
The longer barrel allows for a good balance and better velocity and spread of pattern on most loads. The increased capacity keeps you in the fight longer without having to reload. The aggressive design allows for gloved hand use and the speed of the action increases second shot quickness. The vent rib helps with optics. Plainly: this is a gun meant for combat.
- An easy to understand traditional design
- Very specific in its build; made for combat
- High capacity and great reliability
- It’s big, even if it is well-balanced
This is best for
The shooter who doesn’t want to learn a new platform and desires a traditional style semi-auto shotgun that has a tactical buildout.
Kel-Tec KSG, Pump Action, 12 Gauge
High capacity, simple pump design, super short overall length and a now proven design makes this a powerhouse option for adopters of innovative platforms who can handle a little bit of a learning curve.
The pump action allows it to feed any size or type of load in 12 gauge; while the increased capacity and the dual magazine tubes allow a shooter to specify certain loads for certain tasks; and use those loads to the best effect. It also increases the amount of time you can stay in the fight. Having twelve rounds of shotgun ammunition can be a game changer.
While you may not find the fit and finish is as good as some of the more traditional makes, this is still a very well-made shotgun. Like the AK and the 1911, tolerances don’t always need to be super tight to keep a gun functional and durable.
Bottom ejection is a major design implementation that proves the forward thinking that is built into the gun. But overall, the level of innovation is high in this combat shotgun. So much so, that the industry has spawned several copycats that still can’t compete with the Kel-Tec on many levels. Polymer over steel construction gives flexibility and light weight which can help to reduce perceived recoil and keep the operational use of the gun lightweight.
The overall compact size is helpful too, in mitigation of movement and handling concerns in battle. The overall length of the shotgun is just barely over 26 inches, which is practically unheard of.
- Very good design components and systems
- Strong and durable, even if it is a bit clunky feeling when you cycle it
- Has been proven for years now
- 12 rounds of 12 gauge
- Fit and finish is lacking a bit
This is best for
Bullpup enthusiasts who want the compact size and easy mobility of the design.
Remington 870 DM, Pump Action, 12 Gauge
The shotgun below this one is the traditional 870 Remington, a timeless combat shotgun. This variant makes the list too, because it represents two things for the tried and true 870 platform
- It shows that the market can be made by the consumer demand – which can be a very good thing
- It makes the 870 a totally different gun and gives it added capabilities in certain conditions
The DM is the magazine fed, modified Remington 870 that allows for fast follow-up reloads which can make the difference between success and failure; life and death, in battle. This is a combat shotgun with the pedigree of the 870 and the innovation of a new market entry. Together these concepts coalesce to create a very viable option for users that need the extra capacity and faster reloads.
Tactical training used to be the only way to extend the firefight with a shotgun in a defensive situation. It is still a key factor, but for the traditionalists, the 870 DM allows very easy engagement sustainability if needed.
More importantly, it allows for extra magazines to hold different types of loads which, of course the pump action of the durable, reliable 870 can digest easily. That allows you to custom load things like 6 rounds of slugs; or 6 rounds of buckshot or 6 rounds of #4 shot, which can allow you infinite options for changing conditions. In a duty scenario, this makes it a premium option as a combat shogun. As a home defense user, this methodology may be less effective, but can still be helpful.
Overall it’s under 40 inches in length and has an 18.5 inch barrel. It is therefore very mobile.
- Ability to custom tailor magazine loads
- A known entity in combat shotguns – easy learning curve
- Ability to stay in the fight longer if you have access to the magazines
- Hard to find a con with the 870 redesign/variant
This is best for
Users who need to have options in loads and need fast reloading, but also want traditional styling and robust reliability and durability.
Remington 870 Express Tactical, Pump, 12 Gauge
The simplest and cheapest combat shotgun on this list, it is also the most proven gun on this list. Many years of combat use and duty implementation that has made this an icon and a serious option for any user, even if it seems to be too traditional given all the more modern options. The truth of the matter is, the learning curve, the safety; and the reliability of the Remington 870 is legendary and game changing.
Very simply, this is a bargain compared to just about any competitor; not because it is the cheapest, but because it is a complete solution with a traditional design and has everything necessary for the shooter to accomplish the goal: stopping a threat effectively.
This variant is an obvious value product as it includes excellent ghost ring sights which allow great target acquisition and it offers a 2 shot magazine extension which pushes you to 7 total rounds. The combination far outweighs he slight price increase and makes this a simple choice.
If you do not have the money for the other options on this list, or are new to combat shotguns, the simple, robust Remington 870 is the #1 recommendation on this list. It is easy to use; will last forever and is infinitely customizable thanks to a huge aftermarket for parts and accessories.
- Simple and strong
- Clean easy to understand interface with a proven safety mechanism
- Sustained magazine fed capacity
- No cons
This is best for
Anyone who has ever used an 870 shotgun. This gun will do everything you need it to do. Any shooter who has NEVER owned any shotgun and needs to know their first choice is the right one.
Perhaps the most versatile gun for home defense where friendly fire concerns may exist; and a very handy option to have in a law enforcement and duty setting, the modern combat shotgun is a legitimate contender from a stopping power perspective in close engagement ranges.
The above list provides the best options for those who understand the power of the combat shotgun and gives you room for improvement on what you already own.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway for this article is that there are not hundreds of legitimate options. You will find ALL of these guns on other “BEST OF” lists on our site and on other websites. There is a reason for that: capability and reliability are good partners and very few guns (only a handful) can routinely achieve a good balance between these concepts. The 7 shotguns on this list do achieve that balance.