A shotgun is a long arm roughly the size and weight of a rifle, but unlike the rifle (which shoots one projectile at a time), a shotgun fires variously-sized “shot” in a pattern that spreads the further it flies. Combat shotguns are meant for powerful blasts in closer range combat, or CQB. Another key difference from its cousin, the rifle, is that the shotgun’s barrel typically isn’t rifled; the inside of the barrel is smooth (also known as a smoothbore.) The shotgun can fire either a load of larger, ball bearing-sized pellets called buckshot, a load of smaller pellets called birdshot, or a solid hunk of lead called a slug. There are many different kinds of shotgun actions, but pump action is by far the most popular in the United States. However, there are also single-barreled break action, double-barreled break action (both over-under and side-by-side varieties), bolt-action, lever-action, and semi-automatic versions that one might encounter as well.

The most common shotgun gauges are 10, 12, 16, 20, 28, and 410. The smaller the gauge, the larger the diameter of the bore. 12 and 20 gauges are the most common – especially within the United States – and are both exceptionally powerful. It is also a good budget-minded choice. At stores like walmart, a 100-round case of 12 or 20 gauge ammunition can be purchased for around $20, and these cases are quite abundant. The same cannot be said for the other gauges, though lead bird shot is typically the least expensive.

Shotguns rarely have a large magazine capacity so reloading is frequent and usually slow. They are also louder than a .22, more recoil than some medium range rifle rounds such as 5.56×45, making them somewhat intimidating for beginners to fire.

Break-action shotguns

Break action shotgun
Break action shotgun

Popularized by Mad Max and Western movies, break-action shotguns have hinged barrels, and are reloaded by opening the hinge and exposing the breech, allowing for used shells to be manually removed, or ejected out by a spring and unfired shells to be inserted. Break-action shotguns usually hold one or two rounds, corresponding with the number of barrels that are on the gun. These are arguably the simplest type of modern firearm design, and are likely to be fairly easy to find and are easily attained due to their relatively low cost. Break-action shotguns are simple and sturdy, but their low capacity of one or two shells and the lengthy process of reloading – though reloading can be exp ed with training and practice- Break-action shotguns are usually as long as most full length rifles, making them excellent for medium range hunting, but this trait also makes them difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Shotguns (particularly break-action shotguns) are sometimes modified by shortening the barrel and/or removing the stock, making the weapon significantly lighter and more compact, at the price of a shorter effective range and poorer accuracy. Such a shotgun is said to be “sawed-off”, and if shortened below a certain point, the legal term is “short-barreled shotgun” or SBS. In the US, this limit is 18″ of barel, and 26″ in overall length. Due to the percieved popularity of such weapons with criminals in the past, this style of shotgun is either illegal or highly restricted in most jurisdictions.

Most break-action shotguns have their two barrels laid out side-by-side, but some have the two barrels one above the other. This is called an “over and under” shotgun, but occasionally referred to as an “over-under” or “O/U” shotgun. These are very popular with sports shotgunners because they are very well-balanced, though professional shooters usually have the shotgun carefully fitted to them. “Over-under” shotguns can be very expensive – Browning and Beretta O/U can exceed $2000 USD.

A break action shotgun is a good choice as they are powerful, simple to operate and require little maintenance. However, the trade-off is the relatively low shell capacity, at one or two shotgun shells. A break action is not exactly the best choice, but not a bad one either; it beats throwing rocks any day of the week. If you find one, take it until you find a better weapon.

Bolt-Action Shotguns

Mossberg 695 12 Gauge Bolt Action Shotgun
Mossberg 695 12 Gauge Bolt Action Shotgun

These shotguns work the same as bolt action rifles, they are just shotguns. They are usually found in .410 caliber, but they can be had in 20 and 12 guage as well. They are very reliable guns that can be just as accurate as you are! If you have to choose one of these for the zombie apocalypse don’t fret it will be a great tool that you will be able to learn quickly and easily.

A viable option for those who live in states (or countries) that don’t allow pump-action or semi-automatic shotguns. Many of these shotguns are cheaper than their pump, or even break-action counterparts. If this is going to be your choice for the zombie apocalyse you have made a good one, but unless you have magazines that are higher than 2 or 3 rounds, please for your own sake find a higher capacity firearm.

Lever-Action Shotguns

Winchester Model 1887 lever-action shotgun
Winchester Model 1887 lever-action shotgun

Lever-action shotguns operate on the same principle as their lever-action rifle. The operation of the weapon is performed by the “lever” that also constitutes the trigger guard. While they are not nearly as common in North America or Europe as break-action or pump-action shotguns, they have replaced pump-actions as the home defense shotgun of choice in Australia due to the gun laws there, which prohibit the vast majority of Australia’s licensed firearm owners from legally owning pump-action shotguns and any semi-automatic long arms. In North America, the popularity of “lever-action” shotguns is beginning to rise because of cowboy-action shoots.

Lever-Action shotguns are very similar to pump-action shotguns, in that a tube underneath the barrel holds the shells, and the lever operates the bolt, which when operated performs several tasks in conjunction. When opened, the bolt moves back in the receiver, the extractor of the bolt removes the shell inside of the chamber (unload), cocks the trigger and hammer, and strips an unfired shell out of the magazine tube, staging it to be loaded into the chamber. When the lever is lifted, closing it, the bolt slides forward, locking this unfired cartridge into the chamber, making the shotgun ready to fire. If the shooter squeezes the trigger, the hammer falls, firing the shotgun, and unlocks the action so that the cycle can be repeated. A Winchester Model 1887 in 12 guage holds 5 shells in the magazine tube, though this depends largely on what gauge the shotgun is chambered for – .410 shotguns may occasionally hold more.

Pump-Action Shotguns

870MCS pump-action shotgun
870MCS pump-action shotgun

Pump-action shotguns have a single barrel, which is mounted above a tube magazine, into which shells are inserted. New shells are chambered by pulling the pump forearm attached to the tube magazine toward the user, then pushing it back into place to chamber the cartridge. This action simultaneously projects the most recently fired shell out of the ejection port. Pump-action shotguns can be considered the most common type of shotgun. They are often used by civilians for hunting, skeet shooting and home defense and can be fired as fast as the user can pump the slide and pull the trigger. Reloading is a fairly slow process, but has the advantage of retaining fire ability, that is, a pump action shotgun may be fired and loaded at about the same time.

Some strange custom models, such as the “Remington 1740”, have two barrels and one stock. These are heavy, and more unwieldy than their single-barreled counterparts. If you do find one of these, and have nothing else, take it, until you find a single-barrel pump or something more user friendly than a 15+ pound beast of a gun. Older shotguns, such as the Winchester 1897 or even older ithica model 37’s, are capable of “Slam-Fire”, A technique which allows the user to hold his/her trigger-finger down and pump-to-fire the gun, without ever having to take their finger off of the trigger.

A common shotgun is the Remington 870. It is reliable, available, inexpensive and popular. This allows availability of service and modifications.

The Mossberg 500 is another common shotgun. Its use of an aluminum reciever cuts wieght withought sacrificing durability, can be had for about $300-$350 USD. A common modification is the “590” upgrade, which entails swapping the barrel and magazine tube for those of the mossberg 590. The barrel is uncontoured, allowing for better heat management, adds little wieght- enough to help with recoil, but not a bothersome amount, allows for more complete maintainence, and magazine extentions, and even a bayonet.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

M1014 semi-automatic shotgun
M1014 semi-automatic shotgun

Semi-automatic shotguns, like semi-automatic rifles, fire a single shell each time the trigger is pulled, they then automatically eject the spent cartridge, chamber a fresh cartridge from the magazine, and are immediately ready to fire another shot. Besides this difference in operation, many semi-automatic shotguns are very similar to pump-action shotguns, with a single barrel and a tube magazine. Some of these shotguns can be operated both in semi-automatic and pump-action. The Franchi SPAS-12 and Benelli M3 Super 90 are both examples of semi-automatic shotguns with a conventional layout, and the former can also be operated as a pump-action shotgun. Other semi-automatic shotguns, such as the Saiga-12, have a layout more like that of a rifle, and use detachable box magazines. Still others, such as the Korean USAS-12, use other methods, such as drum magazines. The “Saiga-12” is becoming more popular with civilian gun owners, because of its increasing reliability and function straight from the factory.

Automatic Shotguns

Saiga 12 Automatic Shotgun
Saiga 12 Automatic Shotgun

Automatic Shotguns continuously fire while the trigger is held, unleashing a devastating (but ultimately, excessive and impractical) flurry of fire. One such example of an automatic shotgun is the AA-12. They are extremely rare. These firearms can fire fully submerged in water and require less cleaning and maintenance than semi-auto shotguns. The “AA-12” variant of automatic shotgun has many shock-absorbing springs; the recoil is less than that of a regular 12-gauge shotgun. These can be fired one handed if needed. If you do find one of these rare firearms take it. It may be excessively easier to fire than any of the above mentioned. Another, even rarer automatic shotgun is the MK3A1. However, this is a mere prototype with only a handful in current existence. It is well worth getting your hands on, and is a tier more accurate than the AA-12 and the weight makes recoil nearly non-existent, and if one finds it by chance, they need not be experienced, though basic firearm training would help. The AA-12’s advantages over the MK3A1 is particularly the ability to become semi-automatic, in which case the recoil is the lightest ever chambered for a firearm firing 12-gauge shells. Perhaps the most effective automatic shotgun is the Korean USAS-12, or ideally, the USAS-20. These variants use standard rounds, but the extreme weight of them diminishes recoil to the point of non-existence. Heavyset or not, the sheer weight makes mobility a challenge, and the rate of fire in any automatic shotgun will leave you out of ammo in only a second or two.

Effectiveness against zombies  

Although glamourized as perfect zombie killing firearms, the reality is shotguns are often sub-par to rifles. Their effective range is very short with buckshot and moderate with slugs. The recoil on most shotguns can be substantial, and can be quite painful to unskilled shooters.

However, a shotgun’s main perk is its undeniable stopping power and unrivaled versatility. With the correct ammunition loaded and a trained/experienced shooter the shotgun can potentially became highly effective in dispatching zombies. Due to most buckshot being composed of anywhere from 8 to 20 pellets per shot, it can give the shooter a much higher chance of killing zombie at close range. The fact that it can be loaded to hunt birds to elk, and everything in between, and that it can be loaded with specialty shells, makes it the Swiss Army Knife of firearms.

An honerable mention are cutshells, if you need some extra range with your shotgun you can take a regular birdshot shottshell and do this. As seen in the video above.

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