Yet another cry for help choosing the perfect shotgun


Heywood Case
March 12, 2006, 11:34 PM
I am planning to buy a shotgun soon (my first) and have been enjoying the process of reading the archives, hanging out at the local gun shop, and pondering what will work best for me. I understand there is only so much that can be said about the various choices and most of it has already been discussed, but any suggestions would be most appreciated.

What is it going to be used for?

The primary purpose is home/camp defense. I love my revolver but if it ever had to be used at home there is too much risk to my neighbors. I live in an apartment building, and there is a direct line from the bedroom through a front window, to the next building about 40 yards away. On each side the walls are thinner. The secondary purpose is as a short range centerfire rifle. I've wanted one for a while, just because (I already have a .22 rifle). Space is limited, so it would be nice to have one gun serve both purposes. 50 - 100 yards is far enough, so probably no need for a rifled barrel. Third, after having read Dave McCracken's 101 series and many other discussions here, it seems like developing general skill with a shotgun (i.e., hitting small moving targets) is a thing worth doing for its own sake. In any event if you are going to have a shotgun for defensive purposes there is obviously a need for a great deal of practice, and that practice ought to include moving targets.

Other considerations

I've no expectations of hunting anything in the short term, but it's something I'd like to learn more about. I like to visit fairly remote backcountry areas, so portability is a good thing. Given the complexities of life, which are many, I prefer simplicity and versatility over perfection for specialized purposes. All other things equal, it would be nice if my girlfriend (like me, she has experience with handguns but not with shotguns) could also use the gun. I'm 5'9, 200 lbs, she's about 5'4", 150 lbs. Most likely she'll be more sensitive to recoil. Cost is important, probably no more than $500 is possible and it would be nice to spend less than that. There's a nearby range that has a 20" minimum barrel length, it would be nice to be able to go there.

What I'm looking at

The Remington 870 with the 21" turkey barrel seems like the "do everything" gun that gets mentioned most often. Obviously not as good as the longer barrel for things flying through the air, and who knows how well those clamp-on sights would work if I can't shoot slugs well with the bead. But people who have them seem to like them.

Remington 870 express, youth model (1" shorter stock, 20 gauge, 21" barrel). Shorter overall, easier to handle, maybe not much less recoil than the 12 gauge. Shorter maximum effective range with slugs, but certainly enough to meet my needs. Maybe easier for my girlfriend, although she thought the adult version felt pretty good in the store.

Remington 870 combo, with 28" field barrel and 20" improved cylinder barrel with rifle sights. This really seems good, except for the complication of changing barrels. That's not such a big deal, but I really like the idea of getting good with just one configuration. You can always buy more barrels later on. Costs more, but hardly excessive. Some like the rifle sights, some don't.

Remington 870 with either the short 18.5" barrel or the standard 28" or 26" barrel. Obvious tradeoffs, but either would be adequate for the primary use (no creeping around from room to room for me, thank you very much) and you can always get another barrel later on.

Mossberg 500 combo, with 28" field barrel and 18.5" HD barrel. I can't say I'm thrilled about the appearance of the Mossberg, but the price is right and I'm sure it would be good enough. Maybe less good for slugs, but with the lower price I could pick up another barrel easy enough.

The plan

Aside from this query, I'm planning to go with my girlfriend back to the local shop (owners are friendly and love to show what they have and discuss options) and just see what feels best. A nearby indoor range has a shotgun or 2 for rent, so I hope to do that as well. You can ony get so much from shooting at a stationary target indoors, but maybe it will help in figuring out what fits or what doesn't fit. Right now I'm leaning towards the 870 with the 21" turkey barrel, but the youth model 870 in 20 gauge is most intriguing. I could almost see being more comfortable with the shorter stock, and the lighter weight of the 20 gauge is attractive to me. Of course I'll also be looking for the Brister book some have recommended, and most important of all will be to find someone in the area to learn from (just south of San Francisco). Know any good instructors in the Bay Area?

Most likely any of these options would work out just fine, so it feels a little silly to be spending so much time worrying about the details. But it's fun, so I beg your indulgence. Thanks very much for any suggestions, and thanks for all the great information already posted here.


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Fred Fuller
March 13, 2006, 12:03 AM
Your analysis seems quite sound so far, and your budget should be ample to obtain perfectly satisfactory hardware.

For people with the physical ability to handle a bit of extra weight in the gun, the 12 ga. with reduced recoil loads will often prove to be a softer recoiling gun than a lighter weight 20 ga. with magnum loads of slugs or buckshot- which is all you are likely to find for the 20. The variety of available ammo in 12 ga. is far, far larger than the selection in 20 ga., and IMO that is a significant advantage for the larger bore. My suggestion is to have the stock shortened on the 12 ga. gun to fit your SO (easier done with wood firniture, BTW) if in fact the stock fit is more satisfactory on the 20 ga. youth model. Note that it is easier for a person to shoot a stock that is a bit too short than one that is too long. Also, don't overlook having a premium recoil pad fitted if one is not already attached- the Remington R3 or the LimbSaver are really worth having.

Best thing to do is to try various makes, models, action types (don't completely rule out semiautos) and gauges, then see what adds up to be the best choice for your particular set of shooters and circumstances. And don't worry about finding perfect, 'good enough' is a gracious plenty 8^).

Best of luck with the process,


March 13, 2006, 12:22 AM
Go to the CDNN website and buy the FN Tactical Police Shotgun for $269.

March 13, 2006, 12:33 AM
Agree with Lee.

One can choose thier firearms - they cannot their neighbors

I recommend instruction , and training as well. While patterning your gun, if you can shoot some bldg materials, granted these will not totally replicate materials actually in an apt or house or business...still educational.

Now I learned from next door LEO neighbor, having a party a .40 from a Glock would penetrate the walls of our apt complex going toward the neighbor's apt on the other side of him ( thankfully). His living room butted up to hers and ...she was not home ( thankfully) boy was she pissed to find the busted stuff and holes!

Boy was his Superior pissed. Getting drunk with other LEOs and getting upset with a video game is not a Dept Okay-d time to start shooting duty weapon btw..

A .44mag will not penetrate brick when fired from a bedroom toward front of apt at wifey by a drunk abuser...[I was upstairs neighbor this time...them things are loud].

And a .380 does not come thru your floor in an apt when a wifey is caught with her male secretary and her hubby comes home unexpectedly.

My one "good" neighbor, she too was great with a shotgun. WE had a deal, we shot enough to insure we would hit BG with either the shotguns we kept or CCWs wore at home in the apt...answered doors with CCWs.

"Kinda hard to tip the pizza guy with a 870 in one hand..."
"You snag the pizza, tip, I'll watch six and get the paper towels".

Yeah...CCWs do work better for some stuff. :)

March 13, 2006, 12:42 AM
a 21" barrel would be short enough to maneuver around the house, but if you decided to take up bird hunting (i highly recommend it, it does wonders for your shotgunning skills).

March 13, 2006, 12:40 PM
Hans Vang of Vang Comp can buid you an 18" barrel that will truly do it all. His 18" barrels will literaly put all 9 buckshot pellets into a human silhouette target at 25 yards. They are also plenty accurate with slugs. Plus, if you opt to have it ported, Hans Vang's barrels offer extremely light recoil. As I recall, you can send Vang Comp an old cylinder barrel and they will modify it for a couple hundred bucks, provided you don't get fancy sights.

Dave McCracken
March 13, 2006, 09:43 PM
"Perfect Shotgun" is as slippery a concept as a "Perfect Spouse"....

However, you've done some homework. I suggest you go with a 12 gauge. Contrary to conventional wisdom, 20 gauges kick just as hard.

More important, get the thing fitted to your wife. Install a top quality pad, it's the best accessory ever made for shotguns.

And find a source for light loads like the Winchester and Fiocchi 7/8 oz loads.

Your idea of the Turkey Express as a do all mirrors some of my thoughts. A couple choke tubes, sling studs and plenty of ammo complete your equipment list.


Heywood Case
March 14, 2006, 01:15 AM
Many thanks to all for the excellent advice. I am truly grateful. Nothing like coming home from a punishing day at work to find exactly the help I was hoping for. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Sorry, I mis-titled the thread. Of course I'm not looking for the perfect shotgun, just a reasonable choice for a first step.

On the "tactical" suggestions, I think that is something to consider after I get more experience with the basics. But both suggestions look like good ones for that kind of application.

I'll definitely take the advice of Lee and Dave to stick with the 12 gauge and have it properly fitted, with the best recoil pad I can find.

Dave, the turkey express mirrors your thoughts for a very good reason..

sm, training is very much on my mind. Still looking for a recommendation in my area, but I think there are a few good options. Luckily I have good neighbors (let's just say I won't be the only one in the building with a shotgun) but it is good to be reminded that things can go through thin walls in more than one direction.

And no tipping the pizza guy with 870 in hand. Gotta remember that one.

Oh yeah.. Lawson - did you mean the 21" barrel was enough to consider bird hunting (what I thought you meant) or that it is not enough?

Hopefully in a few weeks I'll be jumping in with both feet and will be back with lots of questions. Thanks again for your suggestions, you guys really made my day.


March 14, 2006, 02:00 AM
+1 on Vang comp. For me it wasn't so much a reduction in recoil, as it was an almost complete reduction in muzzle lift. I barely lost my sight picture (however, it was #4 birdshot), but still I was impressed.

March 14, 2006, 06:26 AM
Also consider the Knoxx SpecOps stock for your Remington. I reviewed it here, and there are plenty of other comments about it on this forum (search "Knoxx" or "Specops" for the threads). It adjusts for length, which means you and your GF would be able to adjust the stock instantly for the right length for either one of you to use; and the recoil reduction is substantial. You should be able to afford one within the budget of $500 you mentioned.

March 14, 2006, 07:04 AM
Saiga 12.

Dave McCracken
March 14, 2006, 10:45 AM
I've taken winged game from Quail to Canadas with short barreled 870s. Add in some ground game and a couple dozen deer, it comes to quite a pile of meat.

However, goose loads fired from a 21" barrel in a blind can strain friendships. It helps if they wear ear protection.

On those shots where swinging is called for, a longer barrel helps things keep moving.

Like all compromises, a shorter barrel is not as good for some things as a longer one. But, this is doable.

You'll need some elbow grease, but busting clays and habituating oneself to the "Feel" can get you to a level of expertise a tyro may find hard to believe. After that, perhaps one can go in for more specialized tools.


March 14, 2006, 11:42 AM
My home set-up is a parkerized Wingmaster with 20" RS IC barrel. You certainly don't need rifle sights on a shotgun for HD, but the barrel came with them and the price was right. It doesn't leave home, but its two older brothers, an 870 Wingmaster field gun modified for Trap and an 870TB are clay guns. Shooting clay with the same weapon you use for HD helps to keep motor skills familiar. It isn't necessary to dress it up with lots of bells and whistles, simple is good. The only thing I'd like to add is a weapon light, but I don't want to change out the whole forend. I may look for a mount for the Surefire X200B I bought for my Glock, but the mount alone would probably kill the thought.

March 14, 2006, 11:57 AM
You've gotten some great advice so far. I'll just add that if you are shopping for an 870, don't forget to check the used rack, as they pretty much last forever and there are good deals to be had on used guns (take any money you save and put it towards ammo, training, recoil pad, etc..) Also, try to make sure you get one without the stupid j-lock. It sounds like you've done your homework and have a great plan. Good luck with the purchase.

Heywood Case
March 14, 2006, 09:58 PM
Thanks again for even more good advice.. The Knoxx stock does sound like a good idea, will definitely look into it.

So, in addition to no paying the pizza guy with 870 in hand, I will also rule out shooting geese when others are around. Or I will at least make sure the geese are wearing ear protection :D .


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