January 2014

Pump-Action and Self-Loading Shotguns for Home Defense

In this shoot out, we pick up a pair of bargain shotguns from the used rack and try to decide between a traditional pump shotgun such as the Remington 870P or a self-loader from TriStar.

The 12-gauge shotgun is often seen as the ne plus ultra of problem solvers. Though many argue over handgun calibers, it seems that the efficiency of the 12 gauge is too great to argue against. The shotgun is not just a firearm, it is a system that will use light shot, buckshot, and solid slugs. The question for our raters was, should we purchase a pump or a self-loader for home defense? There are many factors to consider. The adage that a clean self-loader is as reliable as a dirty pump action may hold some truth. If you like low-recoil shotgun shells, the self-loader is not the best bet, although it isnít impossible to use light loads for practice.

In this Bargain Hunter match up, we wanted to find a used semi-auto shotgun ó not a high-end SPAS or Benelli ó but an inexpensive automatic shotgun any of us could afford, and then match it against the proven Remington 870. Things got interesting.

Our primary rater is a long-time trainer with experience on both types of actions. He wrote much of several editions of The Gun Digest Book of Assault Weapons. Among these works are chapters on using the shotgun and special drills for self-loading shotguns. Recently, this rater noted a common thread among police trainers ó few agencies train with the shotgun even once a year. Thatís a sobering thought, because according to the FBI, most officers who are killed on duty have 14 hours of training and less than 4 hours of annual firearms training. Many of us meet the 4 hours of training standard every month with the handgun. Active-duty trainers report that those officers issued the shotgun sometimes forget to rack the action after firing the first shot. The officers are used to self-loading rifles and self-loading pistols, so the manually operated shotgun seems odd to them. The pump shotgun is a problem solver only if the user is skilled in its use. If the user isnít skilled, the piece isnít very effective. The pumpís main virtue compared to other systems is affordability. The Remington isnít exactly cheap, but a new 870 Police Magnum costs much less than an AR-15 rifle.

First, we found several used shotguns, two of which were Remington 870s that we purchased for $200 each. (One would have sufficed, but they were hard to turn down.) One was an 18.5-inch barrel Magnum-receiver version and the other was a 20-inch-barrel Magnum. Both had wear, but each appeared to be in excellent mechanical condition. The TriStar Raptor A-TAC Home Defense No. 20120 12 Gauge is a Turkish shotgun configured with a pistol grip stock and AR-15Ėtype sights. This shotgun is often seen at Cheaper Than Dirt and other outlets for about $330, although a rater reported finding the piece on sale for $280. We paid $300 for a used A-TAC, and we got only one choke tube. We cannot complain, but probably should have waited and purchased a new shotgun to take advantage of TriStarís five-year warranty.

First things first. We do not recommend keeping any shotgun or rifle chamber loaded in the home. Few have a positive firing-pin block or drop safety. The shotgun should never be chambered before action is imminent, in our view. That brings us to the part of the test that was conducted by dry-firing the shotguns with dummy shells.

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