There are two schools of thought on the best tactical shotgun. Old school reliability, and new school functionality. But the field is well populated and the candidates on this list are easy winners in the category.
This article will discuss some basic attributes of the best tactical shotguns and will give an overview of the contenders for the title with specific functional aspects well defined.
First, the difference between the two schools of thoughts, because it provides a fork in the road to refining the legitimate candidates for a specific individual.
Old school reliability generally refers to time-tested designs that have been in use for tactical reasons since before the tactical scene was, what it is now. They are the die-hard, bulletproof variants that will digest any ammunition and offer mechanical operation at the most basic level with true input from the shooter. These are the pump action shotguns of the world.
New School functionality basically breaks down to innovative ways of adding capabilities without completely redefining the shotgun. Things like semi-automatic loading, and adjustable gas systems; recoil reduction technologies and integrated accessories.
Depending on how you define “tactical”, either of these options will work well. But if you look at both under the discerning eye of the true definition of “tactical” both will work, and interchangeably. Because in the realest sense, “tactical” means purposeful, pre-determined advantage created by superior tools and training. Both, the modern, innovative shotguns that feature all the bells and whistles, and the tried and true, never fail options fit that definition very well.
There isn’t a “either/or” argument here; simply options for the modern shooter to decide from.
In fact, some of the tactical shotguns on this list are a mix of both the traditional and the innovative. Some are straddling both realms.
What makes a shotgun so “tactical”?
Basically, we want to break down the shotgun as the perfect tactical option for most situations under 75 feet of engagement.
With a pistol, you don’t have the shoulder fired accuracy and two-handed control that you get with a long-gun. A pistol is easier to take away from you.
In close proximity, the amount of lead on target in a single trigger pull is generous compared to any other option that you might consider, including a rifle. You don’t have the difficulty of dealing with overpenetration with most shotgun options as you do with a rifle. So, you get a lot of lead on target in the first shot, without some of the potential drawbacks of the high velocity, high energy options that come out of a rifle.
You get better control in engagement and sufficient stopping power for close range work.
In essence, especially for CQB, the shotgun has a lot to offer. This is particularly true in a home defense scenario. We believe that the “home defense” subject requires its own examination of suitable firearms, and you would likely benefit from reading our article entitled “Best Home Defense Shotgun” available elsewhere on the website. Yes, there is some carryover of shotguns between the two lists, but they are looked at from two different perspectives.
This article will explore the options that make the most sense to general users of a shotgun in a tactical scenario, which may include law enforcement or civilian shooters. It will talk about engagement at a level between 25 and 75 feet, where there is a lot of opportunity afforded by modern shotgun loads and build outs of guns to increase certain ballistic advantages.
In the case of the shotguns on this list, this will favor guns that offer strategic advantages to a wide range of users through the hardware (gun configuration and ammunition). You will find guns that are built with multiple functions in their core capabilities.
A short barrel and a black finish do not a tactical shotgun make. The theory on effectiveness in engagements of this distance where a shotgun makes sense will contribute specific attributes to the equation and will help to showcase the unique benefits of the modern shotgun.
You’ll see a mention of these important attributes in the shotgun overviews that follow.
The listed 7 shotguns represent the best candidates for the title of “Best Tactical Shotgun” from the available wide-market options.
The Best Tactical Shotguns on the Market
Remington 870 Express
Legendary for its reliability and virtually unchanged design over the years, there are a few modern changes to the Remington, some of which help, and some of which are debatable as far as their efficacy in a purely functional perspective.
None of the debate about plastic trigger guards matter, however, because this shotgun has seen it all, and worked in conditions that no other gun on this list has sustained for even half the time frame.
Notably, it is not only among the most reliable options on the list, it is also overwhelmingly the least expensive option and serves well out of the box in a basic formation.
Easily the best value build on this list, this is the one you get when you want a no-nonsense, proven shotgun for any use, which is particularly well-suited to home defensive use as a tactical short range engagement gun.
Sure, it’s no frills, but it is more than $150 less than the nearest legitimate competitor and it has the history to back up the design’s value.
It will easily digest any 12-gauge round you can throw into it. Even if the different loads are in the same mag tube because of the robust pump action and the smart design of the internal components.
With inherent reliability and 6 shots of potent 12 gauge firepower this is the easy budget winner on this list.
- Proven design and will eat up any shotgun shells you can find in 12 gauge
- Equally at home hunting ducks as it is being used as a tactical shotgun
- Simple deployment and robust safety
- A bit basic for this list, even if it couldn’t possibly be excluded from it by virtue of its reputation
This is best for
The budget conscious builder who wants access to a ton of aftermarket accessories for potential future custom tailoring of the shotgun.
Kalashnikov USA - KS-12T
Very similar to the namesake that made its legendary reputation in the 7.62x39mm chambering, this is about as good as it gets if you already have an AK variant and have spent time training with it. It’s not entirely the same, and the size of the magazines and the placement of controls is slightly different, but it does offer tactical advantage through similar feature-sets.
The legendary reliability of the AK variants isn’t quite realized in this shotgun, but once you find a load that you like, this gun will easily maintain flawless service records.
No other tactical shotgun on this list offers the sustained firepower potential of the Kalashnikov shotgun, with the ability to take drum mags already prevalent on the market and relatively inexpensive. The detachable magazine feeding makes this an easy transition for shooters in a sustained firefight.
It is likely, however that the 10-round detachable magazine it ships with will be sufficient for most CQB tactical scenarios.
A range of aftermarket accessories ad muzzle end accessories make this a strong contender for those who wish to customize their experience.
- Proven design; excellent reliability once you dial in the load you want
- Intuitive design; very easy to maintain
- High capacity for sustained use
- It’s hard to find a flaw with the Kalashnikov
This is best for
The shooter who is already familiar with the features of the AK style rifles.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE:
Muscle memory and training are huge defining characteristics for honing battle tactics. Therefore, while we did not choose a gun that is outfitted similarly to an AR15 for inclusion on this list, we recognize the importance of having similar feel and control sets from gun to gun. Many of the guns here, have aftermarket options to improve the similarities (to an AR-15 for instance) from an accessory perspective; notably the Remington 870 (the first gun on the list, and overwhelmingly the most proven gun included here).
We think the same goes for native users of the AK style rifles, as they choose a tactical shotgun. The above choice reflects this harmony we think can be meaningful when choosing a tactical shotgun. When a shooter spends a lot of time with the same feature and control set, it makes it easier to deploy a gun in an effective combat role during times of adrenaline and fluid dynamics.
Mossberg - Jerry Miculek Pro Series 930
Jerry Miculek has made his name in fast shooting and this gun has that as a core component in its design. It is also the obvious winner for those who want an automatic and have a very specific set of uses for the gun; namely, to use it in sporting fashion as well as for tactical defensive use.
Sleek and well-refined, this is a 10-round shotgun that utilizes a longer barrel (22”) and a long tube to get that many rounds available to the shooter but relies on traditional semi-automatic shotgun design. Once you find the round you want to shoot, the fine tuning available to this model allows you to use that load reliably and quickly. These are two huge components for inclusion on a list of the best tactical shotguns.
The flat vent rib gives you clear sight picture and easy sight acquisition in sustained use. The inexpensive price point makes this a hard shotgun to pass up on.
The way Jerry uses his own competition variant of this gun makes it seem like an unbreakable rapid-deployment tool for any tactical user. It is.
- Top quality for low price
- Still lightweight and balanced, even though it is a 10 shot capacity shotgun
- Proven on the competition circuit
- Not perfectly reliable if you prefer to use a mix of rounds in a tactical engagement – you will need to fine-tune your load options and practice with them
This is best for
Shooters who want the fastest second shot deployment in a tactical shotgun without having to pay a premium price for the option.
IWI Tavor TS12
A newer entry into the tactical shotgun world, when IWI puts its name on it you can rest assured that it has gone through extensive, difficult R&D and battle testing. One of the world’s most obvious battle tested firearm brands, the IWI Tavor name is not a gimmicky toy, even if it looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
High capacity, a very well-designed bullpup feature set and the name brand backing of one of the best names in the industry, this is a powerhouse option or those who need a battle shotgun. Like the AK variant above (and its rifle counterpart), it offers substantially similar control set placement and feature deployment for those who already shoot a Tavor rifle, which adds to tactical advantage.
100% ambidextrous design makes this a very good choice for left-handers that sometimes get the short end of the stick in the shotgun world.
Super compact bullpup design and a ton of rails for accessorizing, this may end up being a very heavy shotgun once it’s loaded and customized through add-ons, but it won’t take away from it’s tactical abilities. Unloaded it’s already nearly 9 lbs.
Interestingly, the balance and short stature keeps the mass and weight of the shotgun easily handled close to the shooter and helps to minimize recoil and muzzle lift.
- Bullpup design
- Proven design through the eponymous rifle variant
- Super high-capacity
- Very heavy when loaded and accessorized
This is best for
Tavor users who want a tactical shotgun. Bullpup design enthusiasts.
KEL-TEC - KSG
Genuinely innovative, the Kel-Tec KSG set off a new style of tactical shotguns that has become one of the hottest trends in the market in the last 5 years or so. The dual mag tube and the short, stocky design offers good control; tons of firepower and an intuitive design that any user can fall in love with.
It’s not as well built or durable as some of the other shotguns on this list, but the overall durability is still very good. The unique features like the built-in sling points and the soft rubber recoil pad makes it a very good fit for the shooter who wants something different but doesn’t want to overpay for the right to use innovation.
Innovation is what this shotgun is all about. It single-handedly built a whole new genre of shotguns in the tactical space that offer superior firepower and tried and true reliability in a polymer encased design. Just look at how many variants have tried to copy the Kel-Tec design over the past 5+ years.
- Super compact
- Started an innovation revolution in the tactical shotgun space
- High capacity
- Good reliability and good load to load adaptability
- Not as well made as some of the competitors from a fit and finish perspective
This is best for
Shooters who recognize the innovation that Kel-Tec offers the broader market by not trying to make cookie cutter firearms. Those who want dual tube options at a fair price point with a proven platform.
Benelli M1014 Semiautomatic Shotg
Perhaps the most purpose-built tactical shotgun on the market in the last 20 years, the Benelli M1014 is the variant that is in use for the USMC since they adopted the new-ish design in 1999.
It offers some of the most well-thought-out component parts and one of the most cohesive overall integrations of any shotgun in history that can call itself a “tactical shotgun”. The stock is borderline genius, and the gas system is nearly flawless. The top rail for optics with co-witnessed iron sights makes this a clear winner for sight acquisition. The pistol grip and overall mechanics of the gun are a work of art for shooting a high volume.
Furthermore, and the obvious benefit of this gun is noticed immediately when you cycle the action. It is smoother than any of the mainstream options on the market. The aluminum action housing seems to work perfectly with the chromed bolt to provide a slick, smooth, very satisfying cyclic action. The tolerances and feel of the action as it works, inspires confidence.
It will also handle more load types than most semi-automatic shotguns out of the box without tweaking and fine-tuning.
- Impeccable fit and finish; easily the best on this list
- Very robust design from a durability perspective
- Proven history
- Intuitive controls and action
- Expensive relative to some peers
This is best for
A shooter looking for the top tier option from a fit and finish perspective. This is in a class of its own and can easily justify its price point, considering its versatile buildout.
Mossberg - 590A1 Mil Spec
An obvious direct competitor to the Remington 870, the most proven gun on this list from a historical perspective in tactical scenarios, this is kind of a step up for those who want something a bit more that is still, direct-from-factory at a somewhat comparable price point.
At its core, the Mossberg 590 is VERY similar to the Remington 870 and you would be well served with either one. Where the 590 tends to pull away, if money isn’t a determining factor (at 150% of the MSRP) is in the tactical feature set that can add to immediate battle value for the gun. Namely in add-ons, like the ghost ring sights, perhaps the most perfect battle sight devised for the tactical shotgun that is still an iron sight option.
This one add-on, alone, represents a clear value over the basic Remington, with quicker sight acquisition and good accuracy. The very durable sight build also proves the point that the 590 is rugged and durable; many of the tactical shotguns on this list don’t seem to be able to hold a candle to the Mossberg in these categories.
A heavy duty build and a rust resistant parkerized finish make this a clear winner for those who don’t want a gun that needs to be babied.
Furthermore, a metal trigger grouping and trigger guard trumps the 870 easily for most people.
- Very weather resistant and durable; not a “safe queen”
- Excellent iron sights from factory
- Very good price point
- Good swing and overall length for a tactical shotgun
- Pricier than the very proven Remington 870 and constantly being compared to the Remington because of similarities in build
This is best for
The home defense user who needs the reliability of a pump action. Users who can take advantage of the parkerized finish, like those in high-humidity areas or all-weather users.
You can choose the tried and true (and less expensive) variants in this list. They will serve you well.
Ultimately, you could even modify the shotguns in that market segment to make them into very custom, high-cost options that fit you perfectly and barely resemble the off-the-shelf shotgun you see here. But you could also take advantage of a from factory, highly innovative option that allows you a few more bells and whistles, if that’s what you are into.
What remains resoundingly clear, are the inherent qualities of the best tactical shotguns, which make it easier to engage at a close and moderate range and stop a threat easily. The vast load selection available, and these fine firearms make it easy to choose a shotgun as a primary line of defense for anything under 75 feet (25 yards).
Ultimately, any of these shotguns will serve you better than a pistol for 90% of the engagement you are likely to be involved with in a firefight; and will serve equally well for many of the situations you might find yourself in with a rifle as a primary choice. Therefore, we do not hesitate to declare the above 7 best tactical shotguns as an excellent choice for most users with plenty of options available as a result of the diverse field of competitors.