Three different style shotguns for personal defense purposes
Report & Photos
by Scott Smith
Over the last few years the venerable shotgun has fallen out of favor for those new fangled AR-style firearms. While ARs are really cool and, yes, I do own a few, they have limitations. ARs are expensive, can only be loaded with one type of ammunition, ball ammunition be it hollowpoint, full metal jacket or new frangible rounds. While ARs shoot all of these rounds accurately and are deadly with them, they are not suitable for all applications.
The weapon that has survived decades and protected stage coaches to the gold at Ft Knox is the venerable shotgun. They have not really changed much from the Wild West to present day. Side-by-side shotguns still extract or eject two rounds when you release the barrel lock, the same with over-under guns, while pumps and semi-automatics shuck shells out of the ejection port via gas or pump operation.
The difference between the shotguns of the cowboys and those designed by John Browning is the quality of the steel and the tighter tolerances of modern CNC/CAD machining. Modern working shotguns have high visibility sights be they fiber optic, winged posts or even tritium sights for use in low light. One other area that has changed is the durability of the finishes; using modern bake-on, corrosion-resistant finishes versus cold bluing of bygone days.
Another area that hasn’t changed with shotguns is the variety of ammunition. You can find slugs, large bore buckshot, birdshot of all sizes, or bean-bag rounds, to name a few. This variety of available ammunition means you can tailor your shotgun to fit your specific needs.
I did mention side-by-side and over-under shotguns for self defense at the beginning of this piece. Sitting here I can imagine the looks that using a double-barrel of either type for self defense would generate. Let me say I am not talking about your favorite Parker or Browning; there are side-by-sides and over-under models mission-built for home protection.
Stoeger (901 Eighth St., Dept GWK, Pocomoke, MD 21851; phone: 301-283-6981; online; stoegerindustries.com) was one of the first companies to promote and design a side-by-side for self defense. The shotgun was dubbed the Double Defense. This shotgun is available in 12- or 20-gauge and retails for $479. I am sure you will find it for less at a dealer near you.
What makes the Double Defense (DD) a tactical shotgun? First off, Stoeger installs two Picatinny rails, just forward of the receiver between the barrels to allow you to mount a red dot, and the other rail under the barrels forward of the forearm to mount a white light. Second, the improved cylinder barrels are ported to reduce muzzle rise, and, yes, it does work. Last, Stoeger installs a green fiber optic sight which is easy to find under all but the blackest of conditions, and it makes for an accurate sight too.
Further enhancing the DD is its size. The overall length of 36˚ inches is easy to operate in the tightest of spaces, yet it gives you 21-inch barrels, so you do not sacrifice muzzle velocity or accuracy.
One feature that might seem unimportant is that the stock and forearm are of wood. This means you can easily cut the 14˚-inch stock to fit those with a smaller stature. Properly fitting a shotgun makes it more pleasurable to shoot and will reduce flinching.
My test shotgun was chambered in 12 gauge; the bore size that I have shot since I was a kid. I fired a mix of birdshot, buckshot and slugs through the DD. At distances under 10 yards the No. 6 birdshot held a tight enough pattern; it covered an IDPA target. This might sound like a poor pattern, but it will make a bad guy reconsider his actions. While it may not be as manly as slugs or buckshot, it will not over-penetrate interior walls of a house. When I used nine pellet “00” buckshot at 15 yards all of the pellets stayed in the area of the “down one,” or approximately 12 inches. After 15 yards, pellets started to stray off the target. If you prefer slugs, accuracy was good at 50 yards. The DD would hit the “0” ring of the target all day long and did it with a variety of slug brands and types.
If you are not a side-by-side fan, how about an over-under self-defense shotgun? The Maverick division of Mossberg (7 Grasso Ave., Dept GWK, North Haven, CT 06473; phone: 203-230-5300; online: mossberg.com) has introduced the HS12. Thanks to being manufactured in Turkey by Khan, this shotgun will not break the bank; the fixed improved cylinder model is $413, while the choked version will set you back $426. This is true value pricing for a quality firearm.
While the HS12 is the same size as the Double Defense, it has a different feel. The balance of the shotgun is slightly differentnot bad, just different. It has been my experience that shooters of the over-under will tell you they balance better than side-by-sides and vice versa. I like the feel of both so I will allow the reader to choose which one fits you the best.
My experience with the HS12 was most positive. I liked the angle of the stock. Out of the box it felt like Mossberg/Maverick fit this gun to me like a glove. You will find the upper Picatinny rail has a “U trough” which acts like a partial ghost ring sight for the fiber optic front sight; this makes this shotgun very accurate with slugs. The lower, forward-mounted rail on my HS12 has been removed in future shotgun production. Thanks to our government and the scoring points the ATF uses for importation approval of firearms, an “assault” Picatinny rail is a no-no.
One feature of the HS12 that gives the user some choices is the safety. The safety acts as a barrel selector as well. It gives you the choice of firing the top or bottom barrel first. Unlike the Double Defense, this is a manual safety that you must set after loading.
You will find the HS12 is well made, thanks to the modern CNC machining used in the Khan factory. Tolerances of this shotgun and its longer sibling, the Hunter, are as tight as those of other much more expensive European shotguns. The black chromium finish is durable, scratch resistant, “tactical” and it looks good. The polymer stock and forearm help keep this shotgun’s weight at a trim six pounds four ounces. This makes it a fast, easy-to-maneuver shotgun.
At the range I found the HS12 to be fun and easy to shoot. Accuracy was excellent, thanks to the rail front sight set-up. The semi-ghost ring sight allowed me to shoot cloverleaf six shot groups at 50 yards using a variety of rifled slugs.
When I used various birdshot payloads, I found they had tight groups at seven yards, but at 10 yards the pattern was breaking down. Switching to buckshot the HS12 kept various nine-pellet loads inside the “down 1” area of an IDPA target. At 20 yards on average one pellet was off the target with the other eight widely dispersed. Bear in mind my version of the HS12 has fixed improved cylinder tubes; I am certain the HS12 with interchangeable chokes will give you much tighter shot patterns.
Overall I like the HS12. It is handy to get in and out of tight quarters; it is lightweight, accurate, and priced not to break the bank. The HS12 fit a number of shooters and they all liked the idea of the “tactical” over/under, because it had a “cool factor.”
The one thing that both of these shotguns lack is sling studs. This is not surprising because forearms of side-by-sides and over-under shotguns “clip” into the barrel and a sling might pull the forearm off. Since these are designed for home defense that might not be a big issue; you most likely are not going to hump these shotguns all over.
If you are not a fan of old school side-by-sides or over-under shotguns, maybe the ultra modern Mossberg 930 Blackwater shotgun is more your style. This $807-priced product is the epitome of a modern fighting shotgun. From the Picatinny rail and XS Ghost Ring Sights to the extended charging handle, the 930 SPX Blackwater brings the operator a true fighting shotgun.
The base SPX model has an extended magazine tube which holds seven rounds of 2∫-inch shells. There is an extended charging handle and bolt release button to facilitate faster reloads. Left-handed shooters will appreciate the safety being mounted on the top center of the receiver; there is no need to change parts to make the 930 easy to operate.
The most noticeable difference between the base SPX and Blackwater model is the stock. Mossberg installs a straight stock on the SPX, while the Blackwater version has a Choate pistol grip stock. Many shooters favor the pistol grip for better recoil management. I find the pistol grip makes it easier to keep a shotgun in the fight during training because it allows you to roll and quickly maneuver the gun. One drawback to the pistol grip on a Mossberg is you have to alter your grip to activate the safety.
What you can’t see while looking at the 930, either in a magazine or while handling it at the local gun shop, is how pleasant and reliable it is to shoot. The gas operating system markedly reduces recoil and muzzle rise. Generally one drawback to gas operated semi-automatic shotguns is they won’t run “light” loads. Reduced recoil tactical loads can be the worst offenders and the ones I tested the 930 Blackwater with never made it flinch; it even ran on generic, big box store birdshot loads. The 930 is reliable enough that Jerry Miculek is shooting the 930 in Three Gun Competition.
How does the 930 Blackwater actually perform would be the next question. The short answer is flawlessly. Knowing how fussy gas shotguns can be, I ran a wide range of payloads through this beast. It simply ran and ran, in nearly 200 rounds of bird shot, slugs and buckshot the Mossberg 930 did not have one malfunction.
The XS Sights made the 930 near rifle accurate. I was able to hit the “A” of IPSC/IDPA targets at 100 yards with standard loaded Foster slugs. Using reduced recoil slugs, performance suffered at distance, thanks to the reduced velocity. At 50 yards, using the 930’s sights I could keep eight slugs in an IPSC/IDPA upper A/B zone all day long.
When using various loads of buckshot, I found that pellets started to stray at distances past 15 yards. Shotguns with an improved cylinder choke start to show marked breakdown of the pattern at distances over 15 yards. If you use birdshot for self-defense, pellets will start leaving the target area at distances over seven or eight yards.
Overall I found the 930 Blackwater SPX to be a fine shotgun. It handles well, is accurate, easy to operate and reliable. The only drawbacks I found with it were the lack of sling studs and the pistol grip. A long gun needs to have a sling attached, if you are going to use it for duty or competition. With the top mounted safety, I prefer a straight pistol grip making it easier to operate the safety. I would also like to see a method to attach a small piece of rail between the barrel and magazine tube to attach a light.
During the testing of these three shotguns I used ammunition from Brenneke (PO Box 1481, Dept GWK, Clinton, IA 52733; phone: 800-753-9733; online: brennekeusa.com), Federal Ammunition (900 Ehlen Drive, Dept GWK, Anoka, MN 55303; phone: 800-831-0850; online: federalpremium.com), and Remington (870 Remington Drive, Dept GWK, Madison, NC 27025; phone: 800-243-9700; online: Remington.com). I chose these brands because they were readily available and Federal or Remington are popular law enforcement loads. For those not familiar with Brenneke, this company manufactures only slugs and they make some of the most accurate slugs I have shot in a wide variety of shotguns.
Because shotguns have a very limited ammunition capacity you need to have a way to carry extra ammunition. The Uncle Mike’s Division of Bushnell (9200 Cody, Dept GWK, Overland Park, KS 66214; phone: 800-361-5702; online: unclemikes.com) offers a Flap Style Buttstock carrier which carries five additional shells. Another option is from the Eagle Industries Division of ATK (1000 Biltmore Dr., Dept GWK, Fenton, MO 63026; phone: 888-343-7547; online: eagleindustries.com) which holds five shells in loops and gives you a zipper pouch to hold additional rounds. What sets this ammunition carrier apart from others is the padded cheek piece on the other side; it makes shooting the heaviest loads comfortable. These two carriers ensure you can stay in the fight with your shotgun.
Because of the versatility of a shotgun, don’t overlook them for self- and home-defense. The ammunition options allow you to tailor the payload to reduce the chances of over-penetration or to allow you to engage a target accurately at reasonable distances. Rifles and handguns don’t give you that option. Shotguns also come in a number of gauges and sizes to better fit the end user; don’t think you must use nothing but a 12-gauge.
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