Folks who want the most effective firearm for use in a home-defense situation may not like handguns for their relative lack of stopping power, and they may pass on rifles because of concerns about overpenetration through various building materials or capacity limitations mandated by where they live. What about the shotgun? Few instruments delivery energy at close range like a 12-bore cartridge, and a 20 gauge is no slouch either. Also, shotguns are capable of firing projectiles containing birdshot up through 36-caliber buckshot and slugs suitable even for bears. An experienced shotgunner can even change out the loads on the fly, as the situation demands. Yep, shotguns have limitations, too. Recoil can be substantial. And, compared to a pistol, a shotgun can be more difficult to work with in tight places, and they run out of ammo in a hurry. A wise admonition regarding the use of a scattergun is that if “you ain’t shooting it, you need to be feeding it.”
We found three samples of 12-gauge pump shotguns that we felt minimize the smoothbores’ shortcomings while maximizing their utility in home defense. The first is a Mossberg 590 No. 50674, $568. The second is Tokarev’s TX3 12HD, $250, imported by SDS Imports of Knoxville, Tennessee. We had the chance to look at this one at the 2022 SHOT Show. Check out our video of that on the Gun Tests YouTube page. Last is a more experienced Remington 870 Tactical. The Remington Firearms Company that made this shotgun about 10 years ago is no more. The firearms portion of the company sold at auction, and a new entity has the rights to produce it under the Remington name. This new corporation is back up and producing select versions of the Remington 870, but we could not find the style that we wanted, so we used one out of our collection. We found 870 Tactical shotguns like ours selling for about $500 on GunBroker.com, so they are widely available. Of course, we have made a couple of modifications we’ll document so you can assess which modifications would make a difference to you.
All testing was done at American Shooting Centers in Houston. We used Remington 3-inch 00 buckshot shells, Winchester 2.75-inch No. 4 buckshot shells, and a variety of 7½ birdshot shells, including Winchester AA loads. We tested for function with all loads and patterned the buckshot at 3 and 7 yards to check for choke efficiency.
A few of our general impressions include the following: The shotguns hit what we pointed them at and went bang when we told them to, making all three viable options based on the most important factor, reliability. Dispersion of the shot patterns was as expected, averaging 2 to 3 inches at 3 yards and 5 to 6 inches at 7 yards for the No. 4 buckshot loads. Also, we noted that 2.75-inch 00 buckshot loads have 12 pellets, and in our test, they shoot much tighter patterns than their magnum brothers and the 15-pellet load. Of course, energy was greater for the magnum loads — too much for us. Our times in shooting drills were slower and the magnum patterns were larger. We’ll stick with the standard buckshot loads. We also found that on the shotguns themselves, we liked a shorter length of pull (LOP), or at least the option to shorten the length of pull. Accordingly, we thought the Mossberg’s LOP, at over 14 inches, was one of the factors that slowed us down a bit when shooting the timed drills. Of course, we have other criticisms of and compliments for each gun below.
Gun Tests Grade: B-
The Remington 870 was first introduced in 1950 to wide acclaim. In the 70-some-odd years since then, Remington managed to sell more than 11 million copies. In the firearms world, we call that a home run. Before Remington’s corporate demise, the company’s personnel made a bewildering number of versions, including the beautiful Wingmaster and the rugged 870 Police model. Chamberings have included 12, 20, 16, and 28 gauges and .410 bore. Barrel lengths have varied between 18.5 inches all the way to 28 inches, depending on the intended usage.
|Overall Length||38.5 in.|
|Barrel||18.5 in. long, matte-black steel, removable Remchokes|
|Overall Height||7.9 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||8.0 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded (#4 Buck, 7 rounds)||8.8 lbs.|
|Sight Radius||21.1 in.|
|Action Finish||Matte-black steel|
|Stock||Magpul SGA, adjustable|
|Stock Drop at Comb||1.0 in.|
|Stock Drop at Heel||1.5 in.|
|Stock Buttplate||Soft Rubber|
|Stock Length of Pull||13.25 to 14.5 in. using spacers|
|Trigger Pull Weight||2.8 lbs.|
|Safety||Crossbolt behind trigger|
In our quest for a good home-defense shotgun about 10 years ago, we ordered a Remington Model 870 Tactical, and it has served us well. This model had several options we really wanted. We liked the barrel length at 18.5 inches, just long enough to be unquestionably legal. The business end of the barrel was threaded for Rem Chokes — more about that later. The standard four-round magazine tube had a two-round extension, leaving it with a six-round capacity and a mag tube almost exactly as long as the barrel. A tactical extended choke came with the barrel. Because the diameter of the choke was Cylinder bore, it was a good configuration to shoot a slug as well as shot shells. The end of the choke protruded almost 2 inches past the muzzle, was ported, and had a saw-tooth leading edge — a very good feature for breaching doors or other tasks.
One of our tester’s primary use for this shotgun was home defense, so he set his version up differently than the local S.W.A.T. team might. Contrary to what you see in the movies, shotguns need to be aimed and are capable of surprising accuracy. With Cylinder bore chokes, patterns normally spread about 1 inch per yard of travel. This would make shot coverage a maximum of 3 to 4 inches when fired across most standard-size rooms. Our tester wanted more control than that and swapped the Cylinder choke for a Full choke tube ($35), an advantage of having removable chokes in the Tactical model.
Because he wanted to be able to aim, he also needed adequate sights. The 870 Tactical came with the customary bead on top of the muzzle, so he ordered an XS Sights package that included a Picatinny rail, ghost-ring rear sight, front sight with tritium insert, and a barrel band. A similar set is currently available from MidwayUSA.com for $199. (Other upgrades listed below are also in current dollars and are available from Midway, unless otherwise noted.) The drilled-and-tapped Tactical receiver was another reason he ordered that particular model 870. The front-bead sight on the original firearm created a few problems. Eventually, he summoned sufficient courage and, using a flat file, removed the original bead and the pad of metal on which it rested. The wings surrounding the front sight and a bit of cold blue covered any cosmetic issues.
He had two more mods yet to make. First, he added a side-saddle ammo carrier by Scattergun Technologies, $32. The second addressed comfort. The Tactical’s short bead sight forced the shooter’s face down low on the polymer stock that originally came on the 870. That and the old-fashioned shape, with the comb higher in the front than the rear, did a job on the shooter’s cheek when firing higher-power ammo, such as buckshot and slugs. To solve this, our tester substituted a Magpul SGA adjustable stock, $109. This particular stock uses a negative comb, which let him get a great cheek weld and also moved recoil away from the face. He also added a GG&G sling mount for a single-point sling that installs between the receiver and the stock ($15.45, GGGaz.com). If you’ve been running a calculator, that makes about $400 in parts alone to get it where he wanted, leaving the total cost (with TT&L) pushing $1000.
With the shotgun so equipped, our shooters went to work. Controls on the 870 are intuitive and easy to reach. It uses a cross-bolt safety located immediately to the rear of the trigger guard. Pushing with the index finger from right to left disengages the safety and exposes a red band on the safety button that acts as a visual indicator when the shotgun is ready to fire. Pushing from left to right puts the shotgun on Safe. The shooter is still strongly advised to remember Rule #3: Keep your finger out of the trigger guard until it is time to shoot, and you have decided to shoot.
The finish appears to be a glass-beaded black matte on all metal parts, including the steel receiver. The fore end has transverse grooves that provide sufficient purchase for enthusiastic operation. The wrist on the Magpul stock angles down a bit, keeping the shooting thumb from popping the shooter in the face during recoil. All polymer parts were matte black as well. The buttstock offers a slot for sling attachment. The barrel band we used to secure the mag tube to the barrel also provides a base that can be used for a sling swivel. We used a single-point sling because we wanted to be able to detach the sling quickly, if needed, using the attached bayonet clip.
One of the features of the 870 we like is the way the shell-stop works for rounds being fed from the magazine. The shell stop of an 870 releases a shell from the mag tube very early in the cycle as the pump handle/bolt is being worked. Movement on the fore end can be quickly stopped, allowing the shooter to reach in with his strong-side thumb and push the recently released shell back into the mag tube. The shooter then completes the rearward movement of the fore end, ejecting the shell in the chamber and making the action available to load some different type of round without having to change what is loaded in the magazine. That can come in very handy.
Our tester, an instructor, likes the Remington 870 Tactical as modified, and he has taught with it many times over the last 10 years. It has proven to be accurate and reliable as long as he uses quality ammo. Low-brass inexpensive bird loads swell at the case head and lock up the action, making it difficult to cycle.
The 870 was the fastest of the shotguns we tested. We were able to move it easily and transition quickly to the second target. We like the Magpul fore end and feel that it gives us plenty of grip adhesion without being abrasive. A couple of inexpensive dove loads left us with rounds that did not want to extract. The simple solution is to depress the bolt release, then, while standing to the side and making sure to point the muzzle straight up and not at you, slam the butt down on the ground. The empty casing should eject.
Our Team Said: RemArms.com — the new Remington entity that will be producing 870 shotguns — has an 870 Tactical model, the R81198, with most of our mods. Would it be as good as the older gun? Only time will tell. We found older Express Tactical models for sale at around $400, unmodified, of course. The modified Tactical was the smoothest and fastest of the shotguns tested, perhaps partly because of the way Remington built things back then, and partly because it is 10 years old and use has made this piece a lot slicker to operate. Still, it is somewhat picky about ammo, and it is also the most expensive piece in this group. The others may be better choices.
Range Data: Drill 1Process: Fire one shot from low ready at a 10-inch plate. Distance: 8 yards.
|Shotgun||Average Time (seconds)|
Range Data: Drill 2Process: Fire one shot at each of two 10-inch plates at 8 yards. Plates were 6 feet apart.
|Shotgun||Time to First Shot (seconds)||Split Time (seconds)||Total Time (seconds)|
Shot-Pattern Sizes: Shotshell 1
|Shotshell||2.75 inch, 3 Yards||No. 4 Buckshot, 7 Yards|
|Mossberg||1.52 in.||5.91 in.|
|Remington||2.92 in.||4.41 in.|
|Tokarev||2.05 in.||4.21 in.|
Shot-Pattern Sizes: Shotshell 2
|Shotshell||3 inch Magnum, 3 Yards||No. 00 Buckshot, 7 Yards|
|Mossberg||2.12 in.||4.59 in.|
|Remington||2.35 in.||5.56 in.|
|Tokarev||2.18 in.||4.93 in.|
Value Guide: Self-Defense Shotgun Rankings
|EAA AKKAR Churchill 612 111375 12 Gauge, $320||May. 2022||A||Best Buy. Has a comfortable pistol grip stock. The Akkar Model 612 has the smoothest operation.|
|RIA Meriva Chrome MR25-P101-MC 12 Gauge, $230||May. 2022||B||Reliable. The chrome finish and the ability to mount a combat light are good features. Rough pump action.|
|Legacy Sports Citadel PAX FRPAX1220 12 Gauge, $229||May. 2022||C||A heavy trigger action, difficult disassembly, and -1 round capacity put the PAX at the bottom.|
|Black Aces Tactical Pro Series S Max 12 Gauge, $420||Mar. 2021||A||Best Buy. The lightest shotgun tested. Despite this, recoil was not objectionable.|
|Toros Copolla T4 12 Gauge, $895||Mar. 2021||A||Our Pick. Compared to a Benelli M4 recently tested, the T4 comes out ahead.|
|Panzer Arms BP-12 BP12BSSB 12 Gauge, $650||Mar. 2021||C||A robust design. Overall, this is a shotgun we liked less the more we fired it.|
|Benelli M4 H20 Tactical 11794 12 Gauge, $2000||Feb. 2021||A||Our Pick. The Benelli provided excellent results. It is pricey but very good.|
|Remington V3 Tactical 83441 12 Gauge, $850||Feb. 2021||A||Best Buy. We liked the extended controls, fast handling, and reliability. XS sights are a plus.|
|Beretta 1201FP 12 Gauge, $500||Feb. 2021||B||The 1201FP is fast on target and controllable. Semi-auto inertia action makes for less recoil.|
|Rock Island Armory VR80 12 Gauge, $600||Feb. 2021||B||The VR80 may be great for 3-Gun shooters because it will handle the same as the AR-15.|
|Winchester 1200 Speed Pump 12 Gauge, $225||Oct. 2020||A||Best Buy. The Speed Pump is smooth, reliable, and provided good results.|
|Remington 870 12 Gauge, $275||Oct. 2020||A||A classic home defender well worth it on the used market, at this price.|
|Winchester SXP Marine Defender 12 Gauge, $255||Oct. 2020||B||Has many good points, including the chrome finish on major components. Accepts a red-dot sight.|
|TPS M6 M6-100 22 LR/410 Bore, $487||Jan. 2020||A||The M6 follows in the footsteps of the previous M6 design and does it it better.|
|Rossi Matched Pair 410/22 22 LR/410 Bore, $182||Jan. 2020||A||This Matched Pair 410/22 is lightweight and simple to operate.|
|Savage Model 42 Takedown 22440 22 LR/410 Bore, $425||Jan. 2020||B+||The Model 42 follows Savage’s tradition of combo guns, and this gun has some fine attributes.|
|Mossberg Retrograde Persuader 50429 12 Ga., $384||Sep. 2019||A||The Mossberg 500 Retrograde is a beautifully finished shotgun. There are no shortcomings.|