Home-Defense Shotguns: We Compare Three Pump Actions
All based on the proven Remington 870 pattern, we tested an Advantage Tactical upgrade, an Express Tactical unit, and an IAC Hawk 982. All will do the job, but the Hawk is a Best Buy.
The shotgun is seen by many as the best choice for personal defense and especially home defense. The most powerful portable shoulder-fired weapon used for self preservation, the 12-gauge shotgun offers a multiple-projectile load that has been proven effective in close-quarters defense. With slug loads, it is even suitable for defense against large, dangerous animals. In rural defense, there are plenty of deadly predators in the country, feral dogs, mountain lions, and other dangerous animals that only an aggressive counterattack will stop. But without proper firearm and load selection, as well as training, the shotgun will be underutilized. More than one citizen has defended himself with the shotgun, and common sense tells us that we should have one in the home.
In this test, the shotguns we chose are among the best in their price range. The choices range from a pedestrian bead-sighted model to a tactical model with an AR-15 type stock. While self-loaders rule the day at 3 Gun competitions and are very reliable, a dirty pump will work when a dirty automatic will not. We have seen self-loaders malfunction during our test programs, and we know the pump-action shotgun is relatively easy to master, as long as you get quality training so you’re confident in your skills and sure in your manipulation.
With this in mind, we chose three likely shotguns for home defense. The top end of the budget was $450, but we would prefer to spend less to get a good pump-action gun, if we could. We fired them with practice loads, home defense loads, good loads suitable for pest and predators, and slugs suitable for defense against large animals. We used five different loads for testing these shotguns. We tried to find the most economical offerings in bulk. This included the Fiocchi 12HV75 birdshot ($97 for 250 shotshells from CheaperThanDirt.com) Fiocchi 1-ounce Aero slugs ($8.10/10 from VenturaMunitions.com), Hornady 86240 Critical Defense 00 buckshot loads ($11.08/10 from CheaperThanDirt.com), Hornady’s Varmint Express, a load using 24 pellets at 1350 fps ($16/10 from Gandermountain.com), and Winchester 3-inch 12-gauge 00 buckshot loads (No. XB12300VB, $17/15 from CheaperThanDirt.com) This selection covered the likely uses for personal defense, predators, and even large animals. Each shotgun was fired with 50 birdshot shells, 10 of each of the buckshot loads, and 10 Fiocchi slugs, for a total of at least 90 shells per gun. This is punishing work and was not accomplished in a single range session. We fired mainly the light-kicking birdshot to learn how to function the guns quickly and determine their smoothness and ergonomics.
Here are the results.
Remington 870 Police Shotgun Modified with Adaptive Tactical Forend and M4-Type Stock, $420
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
This is one man’s idea of an all-round shotgun. Years of familiarity and trust are built into the package. With the Adaptive Tactical M4 stock, he now has a shotgun that handles in a similar fashion to his Colt M4 rifle. We liked the package overall. This is the kind of lightly modified shotgun in use in the thousands across the country. The shotgun was rated down, however, in comparison to the magazine capacity and sighting equipment of the other shotguns. This is a good shotgun but it simply isn’t all it could be.
|ACTION TYPE||Pump; 3-in. chamber|
|OVERALL LENGTH||35.8 to 39 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||8 lbs.|
|BARREL||18 in. long; steel|
|BUTTSTOCK||Adaptive Tactical M4 type|
|BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL||11.25 to 14.5 in.|
|FOREARM||Adaptive Tactical w/ Light Rail|
|FOREARM LENGTH||9.4 in.|
|REAR SIGHT||Rifle type|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||7.5 lbs.|
We arrived at the package price for this gun by taking a reasonable acquisition cost for an average used 870 Police model shotgun ($300) and adding to it the cost of the Adaptive Tactical Forend and M4-type stock, $120. One of our testers upgraded the Riot gun with the Adaptive Tactical stock and forend set. The EX Performance Adjustable Stock with pistol grip features an easy-to-reach rapid-adjust lever for custom length of pull, and includes an integrated QD swivel attachment and molded in non-rust standard sling swivel attachment. A non-slip vented rubber recoil pad, oversized extra strength adjustment pin, and sleek industrial design complete the buttstock’s specifications.
The EX Performance Forend features a 2-inch Picatinny rail concealed under the nose cap. Uncovered, it’s ideal for attaching tactical accessories like lasers or lights. The EX Performance stock set is also available for the Mossberg 500 & 88, 590 series shotguns. A drop-in replacement AR Rear Stock (RAS) is also available for AR-15/M4 carbines or other shotguns/rifles utilizing Mil-Spec sized extension tubes.
After many years of teaching the shotgun and carbine, our rater elected to add this AR stock to his personal long-serving 870 to provide a common feel between rifle and shotgun and also for ease of carry in the truck. So, we are rating both the shotgun’s application and the parts. The parts are not plastic, but instead are made of high-impact polymer and have a solid feel. We fitted an inexpensive NC3 light for evaluation.
The stock is solid, and without rattles, and is easily adjusted. Being able to shorten it does help when storing the Remington in the home or when using it as a truck gun. We really like the vented recoil pad, something you do not need with the M4 rifle, but which you do need with the hard-kicking 12 gauge. We liked the parts, and if we were rating the shotgun parts alone, they would get an A. These parts added a half pound to the base Remington 870 Riot gun, making it the heaviest in the test. As might be expected, it also kicked the least, and felt recoil was mitigated by the vented recoil pad.
The Remington with Adaptive Tactical hardware fared well, but individual perception can change the assessment, so let us tell you where we started.
As an example, shooters mostly using the AR-15 liked the set up better than those using traditional shotguns for bird hunting. To each chore the proper tool. We liked the stock very much, and the forend with its mounted combat light makes a lot of sense. With a Blackhawk sling added, this is a neat tactical set up.
The primary differences among the shotguns were the sights. The slide action, trigger action, push-button safety, sliding bolt lock, and loading sequence are all the same in the three shotguns. But the shotguns featured fixed rifle-type sights, a simple bead, and Ghost Ring sights. This shotgun was the first tested, and it featured rifle sights common to riot guns. These sights are not as fast as the bead or Ghost Ring sights for rapid combat work. We fired the buckshot at individual targets at 7, 10, and 16 yards. The densest pattern was with Hornady #4 buckshot, producing a 7x9-inch group at 16 yards. The others gave a 9x12 to 9x15-inch pattern. The hardest-kicking load was the Winchester 3-inch 00 buckshot load. The Winchester gave a large pattern, but there are 15 balls. Felt recoil was the least of the shotguns tested, although by a small margin; the shotgun was also heavier with the Adaptive Tactical stock. Before firing the shotgun for accuracy with slugs, we noted that the trigger was heavy at 7.5 pounds, common for older riot guns.
Firing the Fiocchi slugs at 15 yards, two were in a single ragged hole, touching, which we repeated with the Hawk 982. The slugs were on the point of aim because the owner had previously sighted the shotgun in. The third shell in the three-round group was less than an inch away. The owner reports 4-inch 50-yard groups.
Our Team Said: This set-up is a good one, and we feel that the Adaptive Tactical stock and forend are good features. But note it is for the shooter who wants to aim every shot rather than point the shotgun. We rated the package down a full grade based on the sights, which weren’t as good as the Ghost Ring set on another shotgun. Also, this unit only has a four-round magazine capacity, and it sports a heavy trigger. It will certainly do the job, but we think another selections offers more value for the money.
Remington Express Tactical 12-Gauge Pump Action, $346
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
The Remington 870 Express Tactical is an affordable shotgun with the advantages of Remington’s limited lifetime warranty and proven quality. We liked the magazine capacity, and we will take the muzzle brake, even if we could not discern its effectiveness. The shortcoming is the simple bead front sight, which limits slug accuracy past 10 yards. Conversely, as a shotgun to be used only with buckshot and only in the home, the bead front sight is a good choice.
|ACTION TYPE||Pump, 3-in. chamber|
|OVERALL LENGTH||40 in.; 38 in. w/o screw-in Tactical Brake|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||7.5 lbs.|
|BARREL||18 in.; steel|
|BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL||13.8 in.|
|FOREARM LENGTH||6.75 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||4.5 lbs.|
This shotgun, purchased at retail from Impactguns.com, is something of a hybrid with the standard Express Tactical (No. 25077) economy-line synthetic stock, but a tactical muzzle brake. A set of Ghost Ring sights and the muzzle brake add more than $150 retail to the Remington, per our research. In keeping with the budget theme, we selected a proven action at a fair price. This Remington features a bead front sight. Controls and action are the same as the other shotguns. The matte finish is evenly applied. The forend is the skinniest of the three, but worked fine in all of our testing. The trigger action is the nicest of the three shotguns tested at 4.5 pounds. The raters agreed that the simple front bead was plenty fast on target during rapid-fire combat shooting at 7, 10, and 16 yards. At useful buckshot range, the bead gave good results. The pattern was centered, just as the other Adaptive Tactical–equipped Remington had been. The muzzle brake may have helped with recoil, but we feel that the extra weight of the previous shotgun helped more.
The Express Tactical gave good results, with nothing to complain about. Patterns were the same as the other Remington 870. The muzzle brake did not affect either patterning or recoil very much. The jagged edge, intended to allow offset when using special munitions in door breaching, is a good touch but not one we have a mission for. The removable choke tube, however, is an advantage for those who may wish to turn the shotgun to area defense. Even for personal defense in the home, some of us would prefer a tight pattern. When moving to the Fiocchi slugs, the results were interesting. Perhaps the light trigger gave an advantage, but at 15 yards, the same excellent results were had, with two slugs in one ragged hole. Not quite the same group as the others, but for practical purposes, the bead-sighted gun is good to go with slugs at 15 yards. The slugs also struck to the point of aim.
Our Team Said: The Remington Express Tactical stock is slightly thicker than the Model 982, but not enough to make a difference in handling that we could discern. The recoil pad is solid, versus the vented pads of the other shotguns. The six-round magazine is another advantage we really like. But we rated the shotgun down a half grade based on the single bead sight, which would limit application at longer range.
IAC Hawk 982 12-Gauge Pump Action, $233
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (Best Buy)
The Hawk 982 is the least-expensive shotgun tested and among the least-expensive 12-gauge pumps we have tested. The Hawk never malfunctioned, never short cycled, and gave good results. The pattern with buckshot was slightly tighter than the other shotguns. The primary advantage discovered in firing was the excellent aperture sights. The Hawk is a Best Buy.
|ACTION TYPE||Pump; 3-in. chamber|
|OVERALL LENGTH||38.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||7.5 lbs.|
|BARREL||18.5 in.; steel; matte black finish|
|RECEIVER||Steel; matte black finish|
|BUTTSTOCK||Black polymer w/ rugger recoil pad|
|BUTTSTOCK LENGTH OF PULL||13.8 in.|
|FOREARM LENGTH||9 in.|
|REAR SIGHT||Ghost Ring aperture|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||6 lbs.|
This was our price for the gun from CheaperThanDirt.com. The IAC Hawk is nearly identical to the other shotguns. The slide action, safety, bolt release, and trigger are the same in appearance and function. The Hawk 982 is a direct copy of the Remington 870 made in China. The beginnings of this business date to 1960, when the original retail gun shop, know as Ivanhoe Sports Center, was located in Watertown, Massachusetts. It remained open for 25 years. A wholesale division was formed in 1974, and today is known as Interstate Arms Corp., a distributor supplying retail gun shops nationwide with firearms and accessories. IAC Imports is a division of Interstate Arms Corp. that imports reproductions of classic firearms.
The 982 comes off well. The fit and finish are good. The blueing is attractive and evenly applied. The trigger action breaks at a clean 6 pounds, midway between the trigger-pull weight of the other shotguns. The Hawk features a 5-round magazine, also midway between the 4- and 6-shell capacity of the other shotguns. The Hawk features synthetic furniture. The stock is slightly thinner than the Remington Express Tactical, but we could detect no advantage in either. The Hawk features a vented recoil pad, which we liked better than the Express Tactical shotgun’s solid recoil pad. Recoil, however, was in the same category, we thought, with only the Adaptive Tactical–equipped shotgun showing an advantage in recoil control.
We liked the sweeping design of the forend on the Hawk better than the Remington Express. The hand isn’t going to slip off the rear of this forend. The barrel is 18.5 inches versus 18 inches for the other shotguns. The real advantage of the Hawk 982, especially in this price range, was the aperture, or Ghost Ring, sights. This sight is adjustable and features solid wings to protect from falls. (Self-defense guns get beat up.) The front post is well suited to all-round use with buckshot or slugs. The action is smooth and free from binding. The only difference we could find in the Hawk and the Remington action is that the shell carrier of the Hawk does not have the small cut out in the carrier, which was designed to limit short cycles. In any case, there were no malfunctions of any of the shotguns used in this test. During the firing test, the Hawk 982 shotgun handled well. The 870 design moves quickly, and the stock design lends itself to fast handling. The 982 did not disappoint in this regard.
The Ghost Ring sight naturally centers the front post to the eye. In addressing targets at 7, 10, and 16 yards, the Hawk gave excellent results. When firing at close range with buckshot, one shotgun was about as good as the other; however, the Ghost Ring gave an advantage in speed, we thought.
The buckshot patterns were slightly tighter with the Hawk, which may have been an individual product of this shotgun, but were an inch or so tighter overall. When firing the shotguns with slugs, we had begun by firing two for practice to establish the point of impact and point-of-aim correlation. Then we fired three standing for a group, taking our time. One of the raters suggested firing five of the Fiocchi Aero slugs as quickly as possible for a group at 15 yards. We did so and found the rifle-sighted Remington was slower than the Hawk and less accurate, and the bead-sighted shotgun was even less accurate in rapid fire. The Hawk 982, however, placed the five slugs in a tight group, even when fired quickly. We think the Ghost Ring sight is a big advantage as a result. The slugs hit about 3 inches below the point of aim, but the shotgun sights had not been adjusted.
Our Team Said: We were impressed with the IAC Hawk 982. The shotgun performed flawlessly with good reliability. It handled quickly, and the recoil pad design was praised by all raters. The Ghost Ring sights are ideal for personal defense. The rear sight may be removed if you wish to mount a red dot sight. Function and tactical ability with the IAC Hawk 982 were excellent for the money. The Hawk 982 is a Best Buy.
Written and photographed by R.K. Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.