May 2009

Home-Defense 12-Gauge Pumps: Ithaca, Remington, Mossberg

Our team said the Model 37 Defense Gun is a better self-protection option than the hard-kicking Remington 870 Tac-2 FS and Mossberg’s “sloppy” adjustable-stock 590A1.

Perhaps due to the "Obama-effect"—wherein the fear of future gun bans is driving sales—the home-defense/tactical class of self-defense shotguns is booming like never before. But we must recognize that other factors figure into the segment’s sales rise as well, not the least of which is that a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is an effective close-quarters weapon.

To wit: The M97 version of John Browning’s Winchester 1897 shotgun was the original "trench-sweeper." Widely considered the first truly successful pump shotgun, the M97 was fitted with a heat shield and the M1917 16-inch bayonet for combat duty. The highly effective use of the shotgun by United States forces in WWI had a dramatic effect on the morale of front-line German troops. As a result, on September 19 of 1918, the German government issued a diplomatic protest against the American use of shotguns, alleging that the law of war prohibited the shotgun. The 5+1 capacity M97 and OO buckshot defined the fast-handling, reliable close-quarters shotgun for about 30 years, the platform of the high-capacity pump persisting through to present day.

The reason to consider a shotgun for personal defense is what many combat studies have shown: the hit probability of a shotgun is roughly twice that of a rifle. For home defense, the shotgun is a quicker stopper than a handgun due to its being able to produce more wound trauma with multiple wound paths. It is considered easier to use in a high-stress situation, and minimizes wall penetration compared to some handgun ammunition. It is also economical to practice with.

Number 1 Buckshot is 30 caliber; it is the superior choice as defined by the International Wound Ballistics Association: "Number 1 buck is the smallest diameter shot that reliably and consistently penetrates more than 12 inches of standard ordnance gelatin when fired at typical shotgun engagement distances. A standard 2¾-inch 12-gauge shotshell contains 16 pellets of #1 buck. The total combined cross sectional area of the 16 pellets is 1.13 square inches. Compared to the total combined cross sectional area of the nine pellets in a standard #00 (double-aught) buck shotshell (0.77 square inches), the # 1 buck shotshell has the capacity to produce over 30 percent more potentially effective wound trauma. In all shotshell loads, number 1 buckshot produces more effective wound trauma than either #00 or #000 buck. Also, #1 buck is less likely to over-penetrate and exit an attacker’s body." (For further reading, consult Dr. Martin Fackler and Duncan MacPherson’s works on bullet penetration and wounding ballistics.)

This match-up includes the Ithaca Model 37 Defense Gun ($469), very close to the M37 "Trench Gun" that saw action in WWII and in Vietnam; the Remington Model 870 Tac-2 FS ($692), and the Mossberg 590A1 w/Black Aluminum Adjustable Stock ($693). The Mossberg 590A1 in various configurations is currently an active service shotgun for the U.S. Military. Here’s what our test team thought about the trio:

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