THERE A BEST COMBAT SHOTGUN?
experienced with virtually every other kind of weapon-system, the
so-called "combat" shotgun, too, is the subject of heated
debate as to which type -- gas or recoil operated self-loader or
slide-action (pump) is the "best." Indeed, for as long
as I can remember, gunshop arguments over this topic range far and
wide, with surprising intensity.
example, slide-action proponents claim vehemently that their favorite
is just as fast as an auto-loader and more functionally reliable.
On the other hand, auto-loader fans discount this claim entirely,
stating that auto-loaders recoil less, are easier to operate, making
them a far better choice. And the argument doesn't stop there --
it also includes which kind of choke, open or closed, is best, and
whether or not rifle sights and extended magazines are actually
the arguments go on and on. Yet, I know of no scientific attempt
at actually determining if one design is, in fact, better or if
sights, magazines and chokes really make much difference -- quite
the reverse! Almost always, the emotional intensity of the debate
quickly reaches the point where little objectivity remains, thus
preventing anything of any value from being learned.
in an effort to settle the issue for once and for all, I consulted
with CTASAA Senior Instructors Greg Nordyke and Dale Fricke. A number
of conferences on the subject resulted in the creation of a comprehensive
evaluation program that would disclose the truth -- factually, scientifically
First, to insure a realistic analysis, the following eight tests
were agreed upon to simulate the typical situations in which the
shotgun is used. In addition to providing the means by which to
determine if a particular action-type was indeed superior, they
also provided the opportunity to determine whether or not and if
so, to what degree, rifle sights, choking, muzzle brakes, pistol
grips, extended magazines, et al. influenced shooter/weapon performance.
TEST 1 - Buckshot -- Single Targets X 5 at 7, 10, 15 & 25
meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter
engages five single targets at each range listed.
TEST 2 - Slugs -- Single Targets X 5 at 50, 75 & 100 meters.
Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages
five single targets at each range listed.
3 - Buckshot -- Multiple Targets (5) at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters.
Weapon presented from "Low Ready." Shooter engages all
five targets at each range listed.
4 - Buckshot & Slugs -- Multiple Targets (5) at 7, 10, 15,
25, 50, 75 & 100 meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian
Ready." Shooter engages all five targets at each range listed.
Buckshot is used at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters; while at 50, 75
& 100 meters, he will utilize slugs.
5 - TACTICAL -- Multiple Targets (5) at from 7 to 50 meters. Weapon
presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages five
targets at various ranges and angles, shooting until they're all
down. He starts with buckshot in the weapon and is free to change
to slugs at any time he wishes.
6 - Buckshot -- Partially Obscured Targets (2 left , 2 right)
at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters. Weapon presented from "Low
Ready." Shooter engages target that is 40% obscured, leaning
out to the left and right from behind projectile-resistant "cover."
He engages the target twice from the right and left side at each
7 - Buckshot -- Small Targets (2) at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters.
Weapon presented from "Low Ready." Head and 3-inches
of shoulder-line of silhouette are visible above projectile-resistant
"cover." Shooter engages target twice at each range
8 - Buckshot -- Hostage Situations (2 left & 2 right) at 7,
10 & 15 meters. Weapon presented from "Low Ready."
2/3 of head of hostage-holder is visible from behind left and
right side of hostage's head and body. Shooter engages twice each
side at each range specified. A 3-second (Elapsed Time/Points
Per Second)1-shot added on (Points Per Round Expended) penalty
is assessed for each instance in which the hostage is struck.
So-called "holdoff" is authorized if shooter wishes
to utilize it.
Second, we decided that knockdown steel silhouette targets, rather
than the paper variety, would be appropriate. These were 18x30 inches,
with a 6x6-inch head, and constructed of 1/2-inch T-1 armor plate.
Administrative convenience aside (taping the many holes in paper
silhouettes and excessive target destruction are not necessary to
determine the answers we sought), such targets are reactive, behaving
much like people when hit.
example, a peripheral hit can cause the silhouette to turn, rather
than fall. A low hit, though usually still decisive with a shotgun,
obviously isn't ideal, and causes the silhouette to fall more slowly
than if struck centered. These were placed on a wooden base and
spaced one-meter apart, center to center. Timing would be done electronically,
beginning with the start signal and ending when the target(s) struck
we addressed the matter of who the test participants would be. No
one seems to contest the fact that at least reasonable shooter skill
levels are a "given" in the argument. This being the case,
we decided to use three highly skilled shooters and two who had
only basic training with the weapon. To this end, Shooters A, B
& C were ASAA 4-Weapon COMBAT MASTER- qualified, while Shooters
D & E were Distinguished Graduates of the ASAA Basic Combat
each participant handled and fired each of the test weapons extensively
and was given a choice of which one they wished to use. Their selections
are listed in the "Administrative Data" section that accompanies
this text. To represent the self-loader, a Benelli Super 90 (recoil-operated)
and SKB XL-100 (gas-operated) were selected. Curiously, although
one was available, no one chose the Remington M-1100. However, the
SKB XL-100 is essentially an improved version of the M-1100 design
and was chosen by "Shooter B" because of its better "feel."
venerable Remington M-870 ("Shooter E") and newly offered
Mossberg M-590 ("Shooter D") were chosen to represent
the slide-action. And, to see if such things really made any difference,
a third slide-action, a Mossberg M-500, equipped with a custom-choked,
muzzle-braked VANG (VANG COMP SYSTEMS, Inc., 5970 Daley St., Goleta,
CA 93117, 805-964-7956) barrel, was used by "Shooter C."
after an extensive discussion, it was decided that three separate
methods of scoring would be utilized:
1. Elapsed Time -- the total time it took the shooter to "solve
the problem," e.g. the time it took him to knock down the target(s).
The lowest Elapsed Time is the best, and so on. This was done since
speed is obviously a critical element in all anti-personnel gunfights.
2. Points Per Second -- The qualitative view. Each silhouette was
assigned a point-value of 10.00. Thus, the highest score here shows
the best balance of accuracy and speed.
Points Per Round Expended -- the quantitative view. Since the weapons
used in the test featured varying magazine capacities, we were interested
in whether or not the larger magazines would have any advantage.
the shooters would start from either the "Rhodesian Ready,"
in which the weapon is carried with the muzzle diagonally down across
the body and butt under the arm, or from "Low Ready,"
where the gun was shouldered, but with the muzzle held down at 40-45-degrees
below horizontal. In both cases, safeties were ON, thus requiring
manipulation to the OFF position by the shooter and trigger fingers
were kept outside the trigger guard until the command to engage
didn't take long for the trends to begin emerging. "Shooter
C" and his VANG custom-choked, muzzle-braked Mossberg M-500
produced the fastest Elapsed Times and highest Points Per Second
scores in TESTs 1, 2 & 3. The victories of Tests 1 & 2 showed
that the tang-mounted safety of the Mossberg M-500 is much handier
and thus faster to operate and get the weapon into action. The win
in TEST 3, which entailed multiple targets, proved that with shooters
who know what they're doing, the auto-loader has no real advantage
over the slide-action. The slide-action shooter has to work a little
harder, but since he's cycling the action while the gun in recoil,
little or no time is lost.
"Shooter C" had a tough time in the 50, 75 and 100 meter
stages of TEST 4 and all of TEST 5 because, although his bead-sighted
Mossberg shot just slightly above point of aim with buckshot out
to an amazing 40 meters, it shot several feet high and slightly
to the right with slugs, negatively affecting all three categories
of scoring. Conversely, "Shooter A" with the Benelli Super
90 auto-loader found that rifle sights did him little good -- his
weapon shot 1 foot low with slugs at 50 meters, 1.5 feet low at
75 and 2 feet low at 100. To overcome this handicap, he held at
the shoulders of the silhouettes, taking them down with no loss
in time and producing good performances in Elapsed Time, Points
Per Second and Points Per Round Expended in TEST 4.
when he got to TEST 5, he found that his Benelli Super 90 didn't
pattern tightly enough to take down the silhouette at 50 meters,
thus requiring a change from ammunition from buckshot to slugs to
end the problem. Naturally, this took time and required extra shots
be fired, which, in turn, negatively affected his scores in all
three categories. This problem became recurrent with all shooters
except "Shooter D," whose Mossberg M-590 placed enough
pellets on the silhouette at 50 meters to knock it down, and give
him high honors in Elapsed Time.
due to the fact that the weapon was cycled while in recoil, there
proved to be no real difference between slide-action and auto-loader.
Also, the problem of how close to point of aim the weapon shot with
both buckshot and slugs affected performances more than whether
or not it had bead or rifle sights. Not only did it pattern 1.5
feet high at 15 meters with buckshot, "Shooter E's" Remington
M-870 shot four feet high and a full three feet to the right with
slugs at 100 meters, meaning that he had to aim two feet low and
two feet to the right to guarantee a hit. Naturally this didn't
help his scores!
the other hand, "Shooter D's" Mossberg M-590 shot to point
of aim with both kinds of ammo, making his job considerably easier.
So, without danger of contradiction we can say that this is a highly
variable -- and unpredictable -- problem that demands careful examination
of the individual weapon involved before its used in the field.
Although it didn't perform as well as "Shooter D's," Mossberg
M-590, "Shooter B" with the SKB XL-100 auto-loader, also
found that his weapon: (1) could place enough buckshot pellets on
the 50 meter silhouette to knock it down on a fairly regular basis,
and; (2) shot either to, or so close to, point of aim with both
buckshot and slugs that it didn't matter. Naturally, this gave him
less to think about under stress and made his job as a shooter much
we got to TEST 6 (Partially Obscured Targets), TEST 7 (Small Targets)
and TEST 8 (Hostage Situations), whether or not the gun had rifle
or bead sights mattered little. What did matter is where it printed
in relation to point of aim and how tightly it patterned. Especially
during TEST 8 (Hostage Situations), where the target was only 6x4
inches and behind a hostage as well, this became patently obvious.
Most shooters tried the long-espoused method of "holding off,"
that is, adjusting their aiming point laterally toward the outside
edge of the hostage-holder's head to try and avoid hitting the hostage.
Unfortunately, this caused quite a few complete misses but didn't
prevent the hostage from being hit 12 times!
conclusion, is there a "best" combat shotgun? No. I don't
think so. However, there are several things that make all the difference,
regardless of the weapon or its inherent features:
(1) The shooter must possess skill with his weapon. If not, he's
as good as dead, regardless of what kind of piece he chooses or
what characteristics it possesses. So, get some professional tactical
shotgun training, such as we offer at American Small Arms Academy.
(2) Try to find a shotgun that shoots to point of aim with buckshot
out to at least 25 meters and a full 100 meters with slugs. Rifle
sights, whether they be an open V-notch or "Ghost Ring,"
mean little when the gun won't shoot where its pointed. If possible,
get a shotgun with a variable choke system (Rem-Choke, Win-Choke,
et al) and test it with the various choke tubes until you find one
that satisfies this requirement. Or, buy a custom-choked after-market
barrel, such as offered by VANG COMP SYSTEMS, Inc. Muzzle brakes
can be useful, but remember too that they channel muzzle flash &
blast upwards in front of you, thus obscuring the target in low
Avoid shotguns with poor human engineering, e.g. sharp edges or
stocks that prevent comfortable grip and straight-rearward trigger
pull. As an example, the Benelli Super 90 was the least popular
among test personnel because its human engineering leaves much to
be desired. Not only did it exhibit a plethora of sharp edges that
quite literally left "Shooter A's" hands bleeding after
he had used it for only a short time, but its pistol grip was also
too large, thus quickly fatiguing the firing hand. To make matters
worse, its buttstock demonstrated excessive drop, thus increasing
recoil and preventing a straight-back trigger pull, making the achievement
of maximum efficiency very difficult.
This gun may indeed be popular, but it is by no means the most efficient.
"Shooter A's" performance, though sufficiently good to
take first-place in both Elapsed Time and Points Per Second and
2nd place in Points Per Round Expended, came from the fact that
he's a 4-Weapon COMBAT MASTER, not from any superiority of his weapon.
In fact, when questioned about why he selected it, he said that,
although he preferred the Remington M-1100, he chose the Benelli
because no one else wanted to use it and he felt that, since it
was popular, it should be included in the test! He also said that
he figured his score would have been approximately 20% better with
any of the other shotguns.
don't misunderstand. We played no favorites here. The purpose of
the testing was to determine just how the various action types and
features compared to each other in realistic simulations of typical
real-world tactical scenarios. That by virtue of superior human
engineering, some guns are easier to shoot than others is one of
a number of issues deemed to be critically important by every single
shooter in the test. As such, it cannot be ignored. Like it or not,
when the chips are down, there is more to weapon efficiency than