Pump Shotguns Buyer’s Guide [2021]

Whenever one mentions a gun for home defense, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the shotgun. Whether because of its relative cost-effectiveness or because of the storied weapon, getting one requires a good deal of careful consideration. Here are some things to consider when purchasing a pump shotgun, in addition to some of our favorite options out there.

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The Ins and Outs of the Pump Action Shotgun

Before you decide to invest in a pump action shotgun, there are a few things that you should take into consideration. Not all pump action shotguns are made the same, and even those produced by the same manufacturer can have variances in each product model. Knowing what to look for when choosing a pump shotgun for home defense or hunting will certainly eliminate any potential problems.

The Caliber

Shotgun calibers are called gauges (not always, see below). This is rather important to any potential gun owner, as the gauge of a shotgun affects its recoil and weight. The lower the shotgun’s gauge (as you may know, lower gauges are larger in diameter), the more powerful its kick. The most common types that are available today are the 10, 12, 16, and 20. There is also the 28 gauge, another type measured in inches known as the .410, the smallest caliber of the group which is technically a 67 gauge model.

This numbering system relates to the type of ammunition that the shotgun uses. This refers to the number of lead balls that each cartridge has. The smaller the number, the larger the lead ball, but the larger gun may compensate for some of the recoil (not even close to enough). An overview of the two most common gauges is given below.

  • 12 gauge – one of the most common shotgun varieties around, the 12 gauge offers a great deal of stopping power while cutting down on the recoil that the 10 gauge has. The ammunition for this shotgun is also rather affordable, as the large scale of its manufacture has a tendency to drive prices down
  • 20 gauge – considered as the best beginner shotgun, the 20 gauge is the most common of the lighter models available. Perfect for those that can’t handle the kick of the 12 gauge but would rather not deal with the rather uncommon 16 gauge. The majority of gun stores will have a wide selection of both the 12 and 20 gauge available

Smooth Bore vs. Rifled Barrel

A gun’s rifling is the spiral grooves located in the inside portion of the barrel. It’s meant to improve the accuracy of the bullets and is often found in pistols and carbines in addition to, of course, rifles. There are also shotguns that have rifled barrels, but these types are designed to fire slugs instead of shotshells. Slugs are single pieces of metal as opposed to the multiple lead balls of shotshells.

Slugs travel farther and retain more of their accuracy than shots, but the latter offer a larger effective area at shorter ranges. You can still use shot ammo on rifled barrels, but your accuracy will suffer as a result.

Barrel Length

Unless you’re competing on a professional level, the length of a shotgun’s barrel isn’t going to affect its performance. What it does affect is the way you handle the gun itself. This is something to consider as one of the downsides of using a shotgun for home defense in comparison to a pistol is that it can be unwieldy in closed quarters. It’s hard to maneuver in tight spaces with a long barrel, but if you’re using it for hunting or range shooting the barrel length will only add negligible velocity.

The Stock

Unless you want a painful experience whenever you fire your shotgun, finding a stock that fits comfortably when you aim is very important. The stock is the part of the gun that you grip on and rests onto your shoulders to control the recoil. There really isn’t a best kind of stock that will fit everyone. Each gun owner will prefer a different stock that they’re comfortable with. To find what type is good for you, proceed to the next advice.

Trying the Shotgun Out

Unless you’ve had previous training on other types of long guns, using a shotgun will be an unfamiliar experience, even for trained pistol users. The recoil is different, the aiming isn’t the same, and the general handling can be a little strange to those familiar only with small arms. The best way to know if you’ve found the best pump action shotgun for your needs is to test it out before buying.

It may meet all of the best requirements for the criteria given above, but if you can’t use it effectively then what’s the point? Some gun stores have ranges where you can test fire weapons before purchasing them, and those who don’t are usually connected with gun ranges that offer the same services. Take a few practice shots if you can, and don’t be afraid to ask either the gun store or range owners their opinions on a particular model. Knowing their point of view can be invaluable when trying to find the best all-around shotgun for your needs.

Best Pump Shotguns

We’ve reviewed several popular shotgun models to determine which one can be considered as the best shotgun for the price it’s given. While this still doesn’t beat giving them a test run yourself, you can at least go to the shop with an idea of what to look for.

The Remington 870 Hardwood Home Defense

The Remington 870 series has the distinction of being the best selling shotgun in history. This is a testament to its rugged construction and reliability. Because of the popularity of the 870 series, the wide range of available accessories, both factory-made and aftermarket, are sure to satisfy those that would want to modify the shotgun to suit their needs.

Remington 870 Hardwood Home Defense Pump Shotgun

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The Hardwood Home Defense model of the Remington 870 offers an extended magazine tube that allows the gun to be loaded with up to seven rounds, with six shells in the magazine and one loaded in the chamber. The 870 Hardwood Home Defense also comes with interchangeable barrels right off the bat, giving owners the option to choose what types they can use without having to modify the other parts of the shotgun substantially.

A few nitpicks though would be the rear-mounted safety button which can be awkward to use when you want to quickly engage or disengage the lock on the fly. There is also the checkering located both on the stock and the loader, or the pump, which isn’t standard.

Pros

  • Proven reliability
  • Large selection of accessories
  • Extended magazine tube
  • Interchangeable barrels

Cons

  • Rear-mounted safety can be awkward
  • Checkering on stock and loader may not offer enough grip.

Mossberg Maverick 88 All Purpose

If you’re in the market for an affordable shotgun, then the Mossberg Maverick 88 All Purpose may be the best budget shotgun on the market. Considered an affordable version of the Mossberg 500, the 88 All Purpose has made a name for itself in terms of affordability and reliability. Well-constructed and very robust, this shotgun certainly holds its own even against more expensive models.

Mossberg Maverick 88 All Purpose Black 12 Gauge 3in Pump Shotgun - 28in

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The 88 All Purpose is also quite easy to maintain, as disassembly can be easily done without much fuss. All you need is a small screwdriver or punch to push out a pin and the rest is a matter of sliding parts out.

The Mossberg Maverick 88 All Purpose is also rather lightweight when compared to other popular shotgun models like the Remington or the Benelli. This makes it suitable not only for home defense purposes but also for outdoor activities.

What should be taken note of, however, is that the finish can rust easily if not maintained as soon as possible. The shotgun should be hand-oiled right away to prevent corrosion. Also, for those that want to modify their guns, the Mossberg 88 doesn’t come with pre-drilled holes for installing sights, though that is only a slight nitpick.

Pros

  • Relatively affordable
  • Very durable
  • Easy to disassemble and maintain
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • The finish may rust easily
  • No pre-drilled holes for optics or additional sights

Mossberg 590a1 Tactical Pump Shotgun

Made with the armed forces in mind, the Mossberg 590a1 Tactical Pump Shotgun was designed to meet the rigorous standards of military use. The thicker-walled barrel of these shotguns makes them more robust and able to withstand punishing conditions.

Mossberg 590A1 Tactical Pump Shotgun

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The tang or front-mounted safety makes it easier for users to engage or disengage it if needed. The ghost ring sights provided by the tactical models allows for easier aiming. A good number of the 590a1 series can also hold up to nine shells, with eight loaded in the magazine and one in the chamber.

A few downsides though are that the disassembly procedure can be a bit complicated, but not overly difficult. Also, as it comes with a thicker barrel, it’s heavier than most other shotgun models.

Pros

  • Thicker-walled barrel
  • Tang-mounted safety
  • Ghost Ring Sights
  • Some models support up to 9 shells

Cons

  • Disassembly can be a bit complicated
  • Heavier barrel

Benelli Nova Tactical Pump Action Shotgun

When it comes to shotguns, Benelli is a name that stands out as one of the more exclusive brands. With the Benelli Nova Tactical Pump Action series, however, it’s relatively affordable while still providing the quality that Benelli is known for.

Benelli Nova Tactical Pump Action Shotgun

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The Tactical model of the Nova comes with Ghost Sights as a standard, which along with its ergonomically designed stock and grip make this shotgun impressive to look at. The shotgun comes with a polymer coating that covers the entire barrel and stock, making it more resistant to the effects of weathering.

One of the few downsides to the Nova Tactical is that the standard model only comes with a six-shell capacity; however, this can be alleviated by installing an extended magazine barrel. Also, the model itself doesn’t come with a lot of sighting options and needs to be physically modified to install different sights (or you’re limited to the ones that come with mounts for this shotgun).

Pros

  • Ghost ring sights as standard
  • Affordable, especially for a Benelli
  • Ergonomically designed grip and stock
  • Weatherproof coating

Cons

  • Not a lot of sight options

The Verdict

With all the shotgun models as shown, our clear winner would be the Nova Tactical Pump Action Shotgun. With its standard Ghost sights and ergonomic design, it’s clearly one of the best all-around shotguns available.

Although a 12 gauge, meaning it has a bit of a kick, the grip and stock design allows for more control, reducing the amount of recoil. The lower shell capacity can be a drawback, but it can be alleviated by the quick installation of an extended magazine. All of its features, not to mention that despite its price it’s still a Benelli, make it one of the better choices on the market.

If you’ve got a higher budget, and want to look at one of the shotguns I use, take a look at the Benelli M4 Tactical Semi-Auto shotgun.

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