Shotguns and Magazines

Why haven’t shotguns with box magazines caught on?

posted on April 14, 2024
ammo with magazines

About 20 years ago I entered a 3-gun match where, at that point in time, the top finishers were pretty much even in the rifle and pistol disciplines and the matches were often decided by the competitors’ skill with the shotgun—specifically by reloading it quickly. Emerging techniques, equipment and skill level varied wildly. To shave a few seconds off their runs, shooters came up with all kinds of solutions.

Initially, most competitors used bandolier-style shell belts and gun-mounted sidesaddles so each shell could be oriented for quick grabbing and loading. Then, arm carriers were developed that strapped shells to each forearm to increase economy of motion. Later, the double-loading technique was born that required a specific shell holder, and that further spawned the “quad load”—which remains very difficult to perform consistently under pressure. While most of these styles of competitive reloading are impractical for home-defense situations, the point is plenty of shooters must have thought, “Why can’t one of the major gun companies just make a high-quality shotgun with a detachable-box magazine already?” 

Problem was, fat, squared-off, rimmed shotgun shells are not, by nature, conducive to reliable stacking and feeding from a magazine. Saiga-12 shotguns and variants (AK-47-style shotguns with long, box- and drum-style magazines) began to show up at competitions, but they were not overly reliable and did not point as intuitively as traditional guns. Other companies pushed the boundaries of just how long extended tubular magazines could be made to work reliably, while others developed long, stick-style speedloaders. Then came a spate of bullpup shotguns such as the UTAS UTS-15, IWI Tavor TS12 and the KelTec KSG that used multiple tubular magazines to increase the shotgun’s capacity. But, while these carbine-style shotguns are cool-looking and measure out well in theory, in practice they are difficult to shoot well, mainly due to poor ergonomics and a lack of recoil mitigation.

Finally, in 2017/18 Remington and Mossberg answered the call, Remington with its 870 DM and Mossberg with its 590M series. The Remington was doomed from the get-go, as its version only held six rounds—and because Remington’s corporate difficulties led to production being discontinued soon afterward. Mossberg’s 590M pump-action, on the other hand, remains a fantastic gun that comes with a 10-round magazine, but can accept five-, 15- and 20-round mags sold separately. 

I own a 590M along with all sizes of its magazines, and I have tested the gun extensively. It’s extremely reliable and remedies the shotgun’s biggest drawback. I can’t figure out why it’s not more popular for home defenders. I think there are three main reasons. 

The first is that a large box magazine on a shotgun alters the shotgun’s familiar feel. The 590M’s five-shot mag drops 4.5 inches from the receiver; 7 inches for the 10-shot mag, 9.5 inches for the 15-shot and 12 for the massive 20-rounder. (For reference, a 30-round AR drops approximately 4.5 inches from the bottom of an average AR receiver). The fully loaded 10-round shotgun magazine weighs slightly less than 2 pounds. There is no doubt that the 10-round magazine alters the shotgun’s feel by giving it ballast—but not nearly as severely as I thought it would.

The question is, can the altered feel be overcome with practice and familiarity? I know it can be, because after only a few sessions at the range I found myself shooting the gun instinctively, even shooting airborne targets from a skeet thrower. Is the M model more cumbersome? Yeah, a little, compared with the average five- or six- shot, tubular-magazine-fed shotgun, but I think the added firepower is worth it.

Second is cost and/or availability. While Mossberg’s 590M is relatively inexpensive at around $550, extra magazines are rather pricey. Ten- and 15-rounders retail for $75, while the 20-rounder is $100. And, they are not easy to find in stores. This can’t help Mossberg’s cause. 

But, I believe the most plausible explanation for why detachable magazine shotguns haven’t caught on is simply because they are not yet widespread enough to have been normalized by the shooting public. Change in the defensive world happens much slower than the proving ground that is competition, and indeed, home defenders should be skeptical of any new equipment until that equipment is proven. I suspect that if (when?) Benelli, Winchester, Beretta and others join Mossberg in launching reliable mag-fed guns (including semi-automatic variants), they will catch on.


S&W M&P-15 22
S&W M&P-15 22

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