Cool vs. Tool

posted on August 17, 2011

The "Black Gun Revolution," the explosion in popularity of all things black, semi-automatic and tactical—fueled by the growing abundance of AR-15-style rifles—has had a tremendous effect on shotguns as well. More companies than ever offer some sort of tactical or home-defense shotgun, both pump and semi-automatic. Whether black or some pattern of digital camo, many of these shotguns come direct from the factory with a wide array of what were once exclusively aftermarket accessories.

And aftermarket accessories have continued to flourish, since shotgun owners never tire of finding new ways to hang seemingly anything and everything off their scatterguns. But for anyone taking their first foray into the tactical-shotgun market, some accessories have more practical merit than others. Here's a quick rundown of some common shotgun accessories, weighing their tactical benefit versus their flat-out coolness.

Tacticool: Heat Shields

I know you've seen these on old Winchester 97s and Model 12s from World War I, therefore many of you believe they are a necessity, as if use by our doughboys makes them divine. However, in my years as a Marine, whether in the field or aboard a ship, I never saw a shotgun fitted with a heat shield. Moreover, nobody puts as many rounds through a shotgun as do practical-shooting competitors—they don't use them, so you don't need one.

A crew-served, belt-fed machine gun is a great place for a heat shield. A shotgun is not. But hey, they look pretty righteous on your Mossberg 500, so if it's all about the cool, I say go for it.

Tactical: Shell Carriers

Few objects look as mean as a line of 00 buckshot riding like a row of gnarly teeth on the receiver of a tactical shotgun. And few things are as useful. While we may gear up with all sorts of ammo holders when we go to the range, the fighting shotgun is the one gun above all others where you "fight with what you got." That means the ammunition you have in and on the shotgun is all you can reasonably expect to use under stress.

There are several makes and models on the market that can collectively more than double the payload you carry into a fight. And if 16 or more rounds of buckshot don't solve your problem, well, you're probably in the "Red Dawn" remake. But don't worry; you never have to reload in the movies.

Tacticool: Pistol Grips

I can see some of you physically recoil at the ludicrous notion of a pistol grip being anything but the most tactical of enhancements to a shotgun. But here's the deal, unless you are law enforcement or active-duty military on a door-kicking entry team and use a pistol-gripped pump gun with a stand-off device to bring the pain, then you really don't need a pistol grip. The simple fact is this: Pistol-gripped shotguns are more difficult to shoot well. Our accessories should enhance accuracy, not diminish our ability to hit the target.

However, there are some exceptions for civilians. If you have a reason to stow a shotgun in a small space or work in wilderness country where toothy critters roam and you've determined this is the size you need, then for you, the pistol grip is still very much a tool. But if you're like me and your pistol-gripped 870 is relegated to obliterating soda cans with your buddies, then you have a tacticool shotgun my friend. Like Fonzie said, "Be cool," and rock that pistol grip by shooting from the hip on your next range day.

Tactical: White Light

While it's one of the most tacticool accessories you can add, it also happens to be the best decision-making aid. A high-output white light is, in my opinion, the best accessory you can add to any defensive firearm.

"In 1986 SureFire introduced the first light designed specifically for mounting on handguns," said Derek McDonald, SureFire's vice-president of marketing in a recent statement. "This light (equipped with remote switching) was quickly adopted by SWAT teams, including LAPD's D-Platoon."

Since then, we've seen the weaponlight portrayed on TV attached to pistols, carbines and shotguns. More importantly, countless police officers, military personnel, training academies and tactical schools have codified the skills and doctrine that enable the white light to deliver a decided advantage against an adversary. Despite any reports to the contrary, until we all have night observation devices, the white light is here to stay.

So What?

It's hard to argue civilians absolutely need a bayonet lug, stand-off device, pistol grip or seemingly miles of Picatinny rail. But the kicker is this: Who makes that decision? While I may subjectively question the merit of any one of these items for home defense, I will happily admit to owning guns with all of these accessories and more.

The point of this article is not to shame any one device, rather to get us thinking intelligently about the purposes for which our firearms and accessories are used. That makes us smarter consumers and therefore better advocates for firearms in general. While we may not "need" a bayonet lug, when is the last time you heard about a crime being committed at bayonet point? What is so "evil" about pistol grips and Picatinny fore-ends and the like? And if I want any one of those items, I believe the Second Amendment protects my right to have one.


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