If things get hairy around my place, I’m leaving the .223-caliber coyote killer in the closet and reaching for my shotgun loaded with a double handful of double-aught buck. But, just because a shotgun shoots a spread of pellets doesn’t mean it’s ideal for defensive use. It’s got to hold plenty of shells, be easy to reload, be supremely reliable, point and handle well and its design has to mitigate recoil so it doesn’t kill me each time I drop the hammer on a magnum load. What follows are my top choices (and a runner up) for defensive shotguns in six categories. Just know that these are my picks, laced with opinion, and yours may differ.
All-Around Defensive Shotgun, Semi-Automatic
Remington Versa Max Tactical Remington designed the perfect defensive shotgun in its Versa Max Tactical. This gas-action semi-automatic holds eight rounds with one round in the chamber and measures 44 inches long with a 22-inch barrel. Thanks to its gas action and a fitting-stock design with a rubber-cheekpiece insert, I believe it’s the lightest-recoiling 12 gauge on the planet. This means accurate shots and faster follow-ups. It comes with everything a home defender needs, including a Picatinny rail for mounting an optic if you desire, a side-mounted flashlight rail and oversize controls that are easy to manipulate under pressure. Most significantly, its Versa Max action is efficient and reliable regardless of payload. This is the defensive gun that’s so enjoyable to shoot that you can use it for sporting clays, turkeys or deer—and doing so will make you that much more proficient in your home when it counts. It’s only downside? It’s fairly expensive at around $1,400. Runner Up: FN SLP MK1 Tactical This nine-round (8+1) gas gun is a toss-up between the similarly priced Remington above. Featuring a multi-use rail and a pistol grip, the FN was inspired by 3-gun competitors who demand a solid, reliable, fast and smooth-shooting shotgun with a great stock that soaks up recoil. In sum, you can’t go wrong with the FN.
All-Around Defensive Shotgun, Pump
Mossberg 590M Mossberg’s new twist on its venerable pump-action shotty remedies two of the shotgun’s biggest drawbacks: limited mag capacity and speed in reloading. That’s because the M stands for (removable) magazine-fed. Choose from five-, 10-, 15- and behemoth 20-round magazines. All can be loaded into the 590M in less than a second. Take away the magazine, and the 590M is still a 590. It’s virtually indestructible, as reliable as a rake, affordable, intimidating and all-around badass. Runner Up: Remington 870 DM Magpul The only reason this detachable-magazine 870 isn’t at the top is because its detachable magazine only holds six rounds to the 10, 15 or 20 of the Mossberg. However, its Magpul furniture fits and feels wonderful, and the gun, of course, exhibits the same legendary reliability as all 870s.
SRM 1228 If round count is your biggest concern,28 rounds of Aguila’s small—but effective—Minishells should do just fine. Simply twist the SRM’s multi-tubed, cylindrical magazine and fire away. The SRM’s bullpup design makes the gun extremely compact at just 32.5 inches in length. Negatives? It’s expensive (nearly $2,200) and has a distinct balance that only a bullpup’s mother can love, but did I mention it holds 28 rounds? Runner Up: IWI Tavor TS12 This futuristic-looking, 15+1-round bullpup semi-automatic would be ahead of the much-more-expensive SRM if it would ever finally be released on the market.
Mossberg Maverick 88 Security This low-priced shotgun (specifically model 31046 with the 7+1 capacity and 22-inch barrel) is much like its cousin, the 590A1, except its parts are made overseas, and therefore it’s less expensive. Still, it has everything you want in a no-frills pump gun for the home including dual action bars and a no-nonsense, recoil-absorbing buttstock. Considering its price—$231—this gun is surprisingly close to being my all-around favorite. Runner Up: Escort PS Guard If this list were based on features and price alone, the Escort PS Guard would almost certainly be at the top. The 20-gauge semi-automatic variant for which I would opt holds eight rounds, has a 20-inch barrel,weighs less than 6 pounds and comes in at an MSRP significantly less than $500.
Remington V3 Tac-13 One of the best new guns on the market—and a firearm that vied for my all-around favorite due to its compact size, full-size controls, Remington reliability and its price—is Remington’s Tac-13 with bird’s-head-grip that requires no NFA stamp despite its 13-inch barrel. But, I don’t like the gun all that much as a serious defensive tool without the addition of a laser sight. With a laser, it is capable of being extremely accurate at common defensive ranges despite the lack of a cheek weld. Runner Up: Mossberg 590A1 Cruiser Compact If you truly need a shotgun that you can stuff into a gym bag or behind a tractor seat, the 17-inch-long (total), 3+1 round Cruiser Compact—an Any Other Weapon (AOW) requiring a tax stamp—is it. While perhaps not the most practical for most defensive uses, it certainly has its niche.
Wilson Combat CQB If price isn’t a concern and you just want the best defensive shotgun you can buy that’s set up perfectly for defense right out of the box, it may be Wilson Combat’s CQB. When you consider its inclusion of a SureFire fore-end light, a pre-mounted side saddle, collapsible stock and an action that’s been honed for silky-smooth pumping and reliability, the unit begins to seem like a bargain indeed at $1,695. Runner Up: Langdon Tactical LTT 1301 Born of a collaboration between Beretta and Langdon Tactical, the new LTT 1301 pairs Magpul furniture, Aridus Industries hardware and a Nordic Components’ magazine extension with the outstanding Beretta 1301 semi-auto shotgun.