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Project Warhammer: Beginning a Shotgun Journey

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Throughout the last few years, I’ve made a few references to a glaring hole in my collection. A few, actually. I addressed one of those in 2020 by finally picking up a 22LR, but the other egregious omission was the lack of a shotgun. I can’t actually tell you a good reason why I never picked one up. That’s not to say that I don’t have reasons, I just don’t think they were very good.

For the most part, I just found rifle marksmanship to be more fun and pistols were more practical. On top of that, the general feeling around gun culture between 2010 and 2020 was that rifles just did a better job at everything you would use a shotgun for, except for breaching doors.

In comparison to short rifles, shotguns are longer, heavier, more difficult to reload, have lower capacity, and produce far more recoil. If we’re being honest, the world of shotguns is notoriously full of fudd lore like “just rack it and it will scare them away,” using bird shot or rock salt as defensive loads, or the silly idea that you don’t even have to aim. The constant need to refute these myths left a bad taste for the shotgun in general.

On the surface, despite a decades proven effectiveness in hunting, combat, and law enforcement, shotguns seemed to be out.

Until they weren’t.

A shotgun is not a low capacity weapon.

Scattergun Math

I’m not sure where the mood started changing. For me, it was when my friend Justin put up a post at Swift Silent Deadly explaining that a shotgun is not a low capacity weapon. His reasoning was convincing. If you only think of a shotgun’s capacity in terms of the number of shells it can carry, then obviously 7 is less than 16 or 30 for handguns or rifles respectively. However, if you think of it in terms of “work capacity per round,” the equation changes.

A phrase I remember Jeff Gurwitch once telling me regarding pistol or rifle defensive use. It went something like this: “If they’re good for one, then their good for six, so give’m P for Plenty.”

The idea is that given what we know about terminal ballistics, a single round fired from a handgun or rifle is unlikely to cause enough damage by itself to be maximally effective. So we actively plan to shoot 3, 4, 6, or more times per target to end the threat. Doing some back of the napkin math would say that a typical 15-round pistol magazine equates to enough “work capacity” for 3-5 bad guys (assuming 3-5 shots each). With a 30-round magazine for a rifle, we’re basically doubling that.

On the other hand, a single shell of 00 buck carries 8-9 pellets, each nearly the size of a 9mm bullet, and launches them at a higher velocity than a handgun. Assuming you’re doing your part with proper aiming, that means you don’t necessarily need more than one shell per bad guy. Therefore, a single tube of 5-8 shot shells has about the same “work capacity” as a rifle, and certainly more than a standard handgun.

Setting buckshot aside, slugs are devastating. A full ounce of lead offers a ton of oomph and penetration.

A Storied History

Perhaps the first indicator of the shotguns combat prowess was the M1917 Trench Gun of World War I. As part of an American strategy to limit enemy use of trenches and compel open ground warfare, the United States was the only nation of the war to introduce shotguns into battle. It’s effect was devastating, especially in the narrow trenches of the war. In fact, Germany protested the trench gun as a brutal violation of the laws of war.

The shotgun saw continued use in WWII, particularly in the Pacific Theater, as a tool to clear bunkers and fighting in the jungle. The same applied to Vietnam.

For decades, the picture of law enforcement in the US was a revolver on the hip and a pump action shotgun on standby. I’ve read through many accounts of law enforcement veterans who still believe in the effectiveness of the shotgun for police work.

The trickiest part has always been ammunition management.

If You Aren’t Shooting, You’re Loading

Despite the fantastic work capacity of the shotgun, it still has a limited number of shells. In an era where every other combat weapon carries 15-20 rounds of 9mm or 30+ rounds of 5.56, and panic-induced rapid trigger pulling is a thing, 8 shells can go by very quickly.

Luckily, tube-fed shotguns have somewhat of a remedy in that you can feed them in between shots. From my observation, this is the skill that sets truly great shotgunners apart. There’s an art to quickly stuffing the tube back to capacity, especially if you’re on the move.

So, with that said, the most important factor in successfully running a shotgun is how well you can keep it fed. I suspect that this is the number one reason that shotguns fell out of favor.


My Tipping Point

What started with Justin’s article ended with a conversation between Doc Larson (of One Shepherd), Less Winner (of Pegasus Tests), and Brent0331. I posed a question about the ideal combination of weapons for a civilian team in Scenario-X to have. Everyone had a variations on a similar theme, but what stood out to me was when Les mentioned a 12 gauge shotgun.

He brought it up not only for it’s effectiveness as a hunting tool in Scenario-X, but also it’s prowess as a combat weapon when used correctly. Doc Larsen also chimed in on that topic, and mentioned that shotguns could make a great option for a team leader. Since the shotgun has a much more limited range than rifles, the team leader would be more or less forced to focus on doing team leader things and directing the firefight rather than participating in it like everyone else. Then, if the fight got close enough, he had the combat power of the shotgun at the ready.

Am I saying that this latter scenario is ideal? No, not at all. But it was enough to push me over the edge and commit to learning the ins and outs of the shotgun.

Decisions, Decisions: Picking a Project Gun

So that was the set up. Now let’s turn to the actual choice. By this point, the only shotguns I had any significant exposure to were a Mossberg 590A1 and a Remington 870. The former belonged to a friend in college and I shot it a few times. The latter was a loaner during an outlaw three gun match. I’ve handled a few in stores since then, but never on the range.

With everything that happened to Remington, I figured they were out until their reputation is solid again. The Mossberg 590A1 was an obvious front runner, but I decided to keep my options open and explore what the market had available.

That led to the first decision: pump action or semi auto?

Pump Action

My first inclination was pump guns. They cost far less, you can feed them just about anything, and they don’t have a whole lot that can go wrong with them. Not to mention that they have that classic “ka-chunk” sound as you rack’em. There’s just something fun about running a pump action shotgun.

In that realm, my two options came down to the Mossberg 590A1 and the Benelli SuperNova Tactical. The stalwart Mossberg is a known quantity with lots of aftermarket support. The Benelli has a stellar reputation in the 3-gun world, and has seen combat service with European nations.

This choice was really a wash, because every time I ran the pro/con, they came out even. The Benelli has a super slick action, can load up to 3.5″ shells, and has a very nifty magazine disconnect button so that you could single load a specific shell. But it also suffers poor aftermarket support and has an obnoxiously long length of pull.


Semi Auto

While agonizing over this decision, I considered the semi-auto shotgun realm. Obviously, autoloaders have a huge advantage as far as speed goes. But they may also be more maintenance intensive, sensitive to what you feed them, and simply have more that can go wrong.

There’s been a ton of noise in that space over the last few years. Seemingly everyone has gone nuts for the Beretta 1301 Tactical, which was outside of my price range. Likewise, the Benelli M4 was out of reach.

Taking a step down from there, I set my sights on a Benelli M2 field with a 21″ barrel and a Mossberg 940. Both of these have solid reputations, yet didn’t cost nearly as much as the class leaders. The Benelli has been around the 3-gun circuit forever, and is well-respected. The only drawback I had against it was it’s inertia-driven recoil system was apparently sensitive to hanging too much “stuff” on the gun. Not knowing what I don’t know, I didn’t want to tempt fate.

And the Winner Is…

Just as I was ready to plop down my credit card and FFL info for the Benelli M2, I found a great deal on a like-new 21″ Beretta 1301 Comp model. It was essentially the same price as a new Benelli M2, so I couldn’t pass it up.

I went with a 21″ barrel to be a compromise between a more “tactical” 18.5″ length and the field-focused 24″ length. It lets me put a slightly longer tube extension than an 18.5″ barrel would, as well.

I picked up the Beretta in January 2023, and as far as I can tell it looks like it’s never been shot. I’ve been thinking through what I’m going to do with it since then. However, I quickly learned that there’s a few wrenches in the works. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Beretta 1301 comp models are slightly different than the 1301 Tactical models. While they both use the same reliable gas system, the Comp models have a slightly longer receiver, the same as a Beretta A400. This allowed opening of the feed port and more space for double and quad loading shells.

The 1301 Tactical has a shorter A300-sized receiver.

This makes a difference because nearly all of the well known optic mounting systems available for the Beretta 1301 are for the shorter Tactical receiver. The Comp model is left out in the cold a bit when it comes to aftermarket support. The M2 would not have that issue, nor would the shorter 1301 Tactical.

So What Would I Do Today?

Not long after I brought home the Beretta 1301 Comp, there was Shot Show 2023. Beretta unveiled the A300 Ultima Patrol shotgun, and it frankly looks about perfect. I love the handguard for it, and I hope a similar one makes its way to the 1301 world (they aren’t compatible due to different gas systems). It’s also less than $1000, which is huge given that prices on the 1301 have gone up in the last several years.

Were I to go the pump action route, maybe for a second shotgun, I’m leaning heavily towards the handsome looks of the Mossberg 590A1 Retrograde and it’s wood furniture.

Next Steps

With the 1301 Comp in the safe, we can begin Project Warhammer. My role for this shotgun is primarily defensive, with a nod to hunting and competition. I plan to mount a mini red dot, elastic side saddle shell carriers, an extension tube, and update the furniture. We’ll see how it evolves over time.

I also plan to take some training with it. Green Ops offers a shotgun course local to me, and I can’t think of a better way to get a solid introduction into running this thing.

Stay tuned as the gun evolves from here!

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Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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24 Comments
Oldest First
Newest First
Tony
Tony
Guest

Not really the main point of the article, but something you said made me curious: With which nations has the Benelli SuperNova Tactical seen combat service?

Paul
Paul
Guest

About time Matt! I’m somewhat surprised you’ve needed a ‘trend’ to finally add the mighty scattergun to your arsenal. The third firearm I ever purchased with my own money was a Remington 870 express in 12ga. I’m going to easily say I have more rounds through that pipe than any other firearm I own except my very first handgun. I hunt with it, shot a hundred rounds of trap and skeet with it (yes – skeet with a pump), sporting clays a couple dozen times and I bought an 18 inch Remington barrel for defense use which I’ve pushed a… Read more »

Paul
Paul
Guest
Replying to  Matt

The versatility of the shotgun makes it a really effective weapon that, IMO, overcomes it’s ’round count’ capacity shortcomings. Sorry I went so ‘long’ but there is a lot to say and understand to maximize a shotgun’s capability. I’m far from having any of my ‘defense dedicated’ scatterguns dialed in with shotshell type and distance patterning but that’s the fun of it! Close range work or CQB is where the shotgun really shines – it’s a powerful weapon.

Steve
Steve
Guest
Replying to  Paul

Benelli Armi (firearms) is owned by Beretta.

Benelli motorcycles is owned by Geely (Chinese vehicle manufacturer)

Jonny
Jonny
Guest

Looking forward to the series! I can recommend Esstac shotgun cards and if you need iron/trijicon/glow sights, pretty sure XS is a good place to take a look at. Would be interested to see if and how you end up configuring support gear like pouches, bandoliers, and rigs for running a shotgun in class. Plenty of utility for a shotgun in scenario X, or in any survival scenario. And even if it’s not your primary, at least you know how to run one, and that adds to your overall skill set as a student of the gun. I did watch… Read more »

Paul
Paul
Guest
Replying to  Matt

I already have a hard plastic 5rnd ‘side saddle’ mounted on one of my Mossberg shotguns and it works well. I just checked out the Esstac cards as what Matt said about it fitting in an AR15 mag pouch caught my attention. Instead of attaching the loops(?) panel to the side of the shotgun receiver I was thinking of having a loop panel on a vest or a belt section. You could just pull a Esstac card out of the mag pouch and slap it on the loops panel to access. The ‘tube stack loaders’ the 3-gun crowd uses is… Read more »

T. P.
T. P.
Guest
Replying to  Paul

Loading sticks do look fast and efficient, but you have to run your gun almost dry to get all the rounds out of one. Great for competition, when you can plan stages around your reloads, but not great for combat, when you might need to fire several shots – and you have to reload after shooting once. Best to keep a combat shotgun topped off as you fire it (shoot two, load two), in which case the loading sticks will only be extra weight and very rarely be used. Loading shells off your chest rig can be done, but it… Read more »

Jeff in MS
Guest

“the general feeling around gun culture between 2010 and 2020 was that rifles just did a better job at everything you would use a shotgun for, except for breaching doors.”

Oh, how blind are those who would not see.

Michael G
Guest

Look forward to hearing what your thoughts are after taking a shotgun training course.

Richard
Richard
Guest

Very cool article and as usual, we really appreciate your content. I recently went the same path and ended up with a 590A1 and Benelli M4 with the new larger controls. The Langdon Tactical 1301 is also smiling at me, so we’ll see.

T. P.
T. P.
Guest

1301 Comp is a good option. I similarly found a great deal on one in January ’23 and dove down the accessory rabbit hole. A lot of stuff is only compatible with the Tactical, as you have found. Some is good for both, or specific to the Comp. Look at Farrowtech for the red dot mount, it’s compatible with Comp. I like the Holosun 507k x2 in green – the circle reticle is perfect for aiming shots quickly and reminds that you’re not using a rifle. Plus, solar backup. Nordic +3 magazine extension sits flush with Briley extended choke tubes… Read more »

Doug
Doug
Guest

Since you mentioned some all-around capabilities and red-dot, consider the Burris SpeedBead mount. It is available for the A400 action, and works quite well. I run that on my A400, with a shorter 1301 barrel for home defense/3-gun, as well as my 28″ barrel for upland game. Not quite the perfect all-around gun, but pretty close.

Bold
Bold
Guest

FWIW: In WW2 and during the Cold War, German squad and platoon leaders were equipped with submachine guns for the same reasons mentioned here for the shotgun. In most situations, they would concentrate on leading their men, but during close range engagements, having a weapon with a lot of firepower in the hands of a very experienced man would often make a difference. When the G36 replaced the G3, many units switched to having the squad and platoon leaders carry a G36, but in some units these NCOs now carry the MP7 in continuation of the thinking outlined above. So… Read more »

Pieter
Member
Replying to  Bold

In the age of every rifleman having an optic, Im not sure Id want to be the one guy with the distinctly different weapon. Dont get me wrong I like shotguns, and Im all about a shotgun being available; but shotguns make a distinct sound different from rifles that draws attention Maybe thats a good thing, maybe not. The only guy with a shotgun is like the only guy with a radio antenna or the only guy with a different headgear. They attract attention. I suspect though, in your Scenario X, there may be lots of guys with shotguns because… Read more »

Pieter
Member
Replying to  Matt

I certainly “get” the bring what you got issue. In that case a shotgun is way better that a sharp stick and a harsh voice. There are roles for shotguns in combat and civil defense. Shotguns are intimidating to the uninitiated and to professionals alike, especially when properly deployed.
A shotgun is an excellent breaching tool and its great up close and personal; but its greatness in close quarters is diminished with range. Used properly theres nothing better.

Best

Pieter
Pieter
Guest

Matt, I concur the shotgun is and under appreciated weapon. It fits someplace between the pistol and rifle, about on the same rung as as a SMG but definitely a sidestep between them. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t mention the Remington 870. It has more aftermarket support that any of the models you spoke about and has been used by a metric tonne of PDs as well as the military. The ones you mentioned are are certainly good options. My one issue is the Red Dot. I know they are all the rage with the gun games types but… Read more »

Bold
Bold
Guest
Replying to  Pieter

The Red Dot is also useful for speed and ease of target acquisition, not just for precision. At least for “traditional” shooting positions, if you see the dot at all, that is an indication you are on target already and can pull the trigger without further refining your aim. FWIW, there is a shotgun competition here in Germany where you have to start in the “open” category if you use a red dot sight or a semi-auto shotgun (or both). So this particular shooting association views a red dot sight and semi-auto as the same level of speed advantage and… Read more »

Hammer
Hammer
Guest

Matt – I’m sure you’re swamped with projects and other content, but I’d love to see an update on Project Warhammer at some point. It’s a topic I’m coming back around to, and increasingly interested in. There are definitely applications where I have a preference for a SG over something like a carbine, and I’m putting regular practice & training with a SG on my priority list for the coming year. Thanks in advance.

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