If you are in a situation in which the firearm need not be concealed, such as on a big boat, in a home, or if the piece is carried behind the truck seat, you should use a long gun instead of a handgun. For home defense, a single-barrel shotgun, a double barrel, or a self-loader are all viable, providing the user is familiar with each. But for most of us, the humble slide-action shotgun is the best choice. Simple to use and reliable with a variety of shells, the pump-action shotgun has a long history of efficiency. A sporting shotgun is useful and has been used many times in home defense. But for dedicated personal-defense duty, the 28-inch-barrel bird gun is a bit long. An 18- to 22-inch barrel is faster handling in close quarters. And though the single-shot design is a viable home defender against one burglar or intruder, the pump action, when properly designed and used, may move up a niche to the combat shotgun designation. No, the humble pump isnt a SPAS 12, but it is a very good defensive weapon, with some qualifications.
You could fertilize a pasture with half-truths concerning the shotgun. Although the shotgun is a great defensive firearm and is effective in trained hands, it is not a problem solver that will work in untrained hands – far from it. But for self defense, we are willing to admit that a cheap shotgun usually works better than a cheap rifle or cheap handgun. But weve got to agree the shotgun cannot cover a house with shot – there isnt enough payload, so you must aim the shotgun just as carefully as a rifle at personal-defense ranges. And not having the power of a crane, they cannot knock a felon off his feet. You can miss, and you will miss, if you have not practiced enough to become used to the recoil of a shotgun.
The difference in sporting performance and personal defense is profound. A sporting shotgun must deliver a few pellets to drop a bird, rabbit, or squirrel, or even a large goose. In personal defense, we wish to hit with the whole payload. Though an argument may be made for the smaller gauges and the larger 10 gauge as well, we feel that the 12 gauge chambering is an ideal choice, in part because more readily available loads in 12 gauge. And because we want to save Gun Tests readers money wherever possible, we wanted to focus on scatterguns that we could buy for less than $300. Guns in this price range do not incorporate a light rail or a means of mounting a red dot scope.
So with a tight budget in mind, we put on our Bargain Hunter hats and chose two shotguns to test due to their similarity in price, location of the safety, and other features. The question was, for the money, should you choose a name-brand used shotgun or a modern economy shotgun? To answer that question, we bought a used 12-gauge Winchester 1300 Slug Gun for $250 and pitted it against a Rock Island Armory M5 Matte Nickel Shotgun #51329, $242.
Winchester 1300 Slug Gun12 Gauge, $250 Used
The Winchester 1300 action is the basis for a number of formidable shotguns. The FNH tactical shotguns use the proven Winchester 1300 action. The bolt design makes for a very strong shotgun, and the extractor in particular is a robust design. The tubular magazine holds four shells. One variant we thought was interesting features rifle sights and a 22-inch rifled barrel. This is a popular hunting variant in areas where rifles are prohibited. The Winchester 1300 is nicknamed the Speed Pump for its smooth and short action. The controls were easily within reach and the safety, located in front of the trigger guard, was positive but not difficult to operate.
We were split on the location of the safety. The Remington 870 is behind the trigger guard, and most of our cop raters were more familiar with this design. When operating the Winchester, you take the safety off and then move quickly to the trigger. With the Remington type, you hit the safety and move forward. Technically, the Winchester type may be superior – the Rock Island gun uses the same safety location – but those with short trigger fingers may find the forward safety a stretch. Still, when the shotgun is kept at home ready in the recommended mode, chamber empty with the magazine loaded, the location of the safety doesnt mean as much. Both have plastic trigger housings.
The stock design of the 1300 makes for a comfortable shotgun in general handling. The shotgun was passed among the raters and a total of 50 12-gauge Fiocchi field loads, using 7 birdshot, were fired in the early evaluation. The raters felt the shotgun was smooth in operation and there were no malfunctions of any type. The rifle sights were used to center the loads on the target at 7 and 10 yards. The sight regulation was fine for the loads used. Next we moved to firing 20 rounds each of 12-gauge buckshot and 12-gauge slugs. The loads used were Fiocchi 12-gauge buckshot and Fiocchi Aero slugs. Recoil increased, but the shotgun remained comfortable to fire and use, and there were no malfunctions of any type. The pump action was positive in operation. We were able to perform head shots with the slug loads at 15 yards. The point of aim and the point of impact were close enough, with the slugs impacting about 3 inches above the point of aim. We did not adjust the sights.
The Winchester 1300 seemed a great bargain until we patterned the buckshot. We have heard that rifled barrels do not always perform well with buckshot. The Winchester proved this in spades. Patterns at 7 yards were up to twice the size of the M5. The shot sometimes struck to the left of the point of aim, which we felt was due to barrel twist. We tried a handful of Federal, Hornady, and Winchester loads to broaden the test, and came up with the same result. Up to 7 yards, the pattern was acceptable for home defense if 12 inches is acceptable. The rifled barrel really put a different spin on things. What we had was a bargain slug gun, but not the most versatile all-round defense gun. A big plus, according to the raters, was the slug guns ability to mount optics. Intended to allow mounting a hunting scope, the 1300 could be fitted with mounts for a red dot for combat use.
Our Team Said: The Winchester 1300 in good used condition is a good buy for personal defense, but avoid the rifle barrel. On our test gun, the action was smooth, and it came with rifle sights, a big plus in personal defense. Interestingly, a Model 1300 Marine model was also on the used rack with an asking price of $600, which we felt was too steep unless you were going to store it on the yacht. Compared to the nickel-finished Rock Island, the used Marine model was expensive. The guy at the pawn shop cut a little on the Winchester 1300, from $275 to $250, and this one is a keeper. But it was rated down because, with buckshot, the Winchester wasnt a good performer. With foresight, we may have chosen another shotgun, but that is our fault, not the guns.
Rock Island Armory M5 Matte Nickel Pump Shotgun #51329 3-in. 12 Gauge, $242
The M5 was purchased new at a retail outlet. There was a little debate concerning the lineage of the M5. It featured a bolt similar to the Mossberg 500, and the bolt was jeweled in a similar fashion. Another rater felt that the M5 is more of a clone of the respected High Standard Flite King. It doesnt really matter because spare parts for either are not likely to fit this Philippine-produced clone, but the debate was interesting. The matte-nickel finish didnt cause glare as a polished stainless surface would. The M5 might be useful for marine duty, but we did not thoroughly test the finish.
The M5 featured a 20-inch barrel with open choke and a heat shield. The heat shield is a good idea on a combat gun. You will probably not fire a lot of shells in a defensive situation unless the Zombies come out, but if you practice, the heat shield helps in rapid fire. The M5 was noticeably cooler to the touch than the Winchester after firing 50 Fiocchi birdshot shells in relay.
The M5 also featured a Speed Feed stock that holds two shells at the ready, a good idea for a defensive shotgun that keeps five shells in the magazine. We thought the Speed Feed design was positive in operation, and the shells were easily thumbed into the slot. They were just as easily thumbed out. A good idea would be to keep slugs in the stock to back up buckshot.
Both shotguns have the same type of safety, a cross bolt, and plastic trigger housings. The M5 had only a bead front sight, not rifle sights, and it had no provision for mounting optics. Before you rush to fit a ghost ring to the M5, consider how brilliantly fast a front bead can be for accurate close-quarters aiming. We found the M5 to be very fast on target, despite coming in at almost a pound heavier than the Winchester.
When running the first shells through the M5, function was perfect, with no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. The dual action bars worked as designed. We debated whether the M5 was actually as smooth as the Model 1300, and could not come to a conclusion. Some had the impression the Winchester was smoother, but they kept handling both shotguns to determine if it was a significant difference. Whether the Winchester was smoother by design or years of use is hard to qualify, but in the end we agreed the Winchester was smoother by a margin.
The trigger action of the M5 was heavier than the Winchester, 7.8 pounds versus 6.8 pounds. In a handgun or rifle, that would be a big difference. In the shotgun, we just didnt feel that big a difference. Quality of the triggers seems equal, with the M5 heavier.
We fired the M5 with both buckshot and slugs. Recoil was manageable, as expected. The shotgun seemed stock heavy, but handled quickly. The pattern hit about 4 inches high on the target at 7, 10, and 15 yards. However, the shot was tightly clustered, just as you need in a combat shotgun. Firing slugs was interesting. Although we were using only the bead and did not have the advantage of rifle sights, the M5 put the slugs on target and about a half-inch high at 15 yards. Put the bead on the target and you have a hit. Frankly, we were surprised at the overall performance of the basic sighting system.
One of our raters is a fan of the Fiocchi Aero slug and went the extra mile by testing the shotguns with five rounds each at 25-yard silhouettes. He found little practical difference, although the Winchester seemed to group a little tighter in the offhand test. The Winchester 1300 with rifle sights performed as expected, and the M5 surprised us.
The combat-type forend of the M5 did not cover the action when fully operated as the Winchester did, which is important if you have a feedway jam.
Our shooters all noted how stiff the safety was, finally releasing after bending the finger with effort. One of our female raters resorted to using her thumb to operate the safety. It wasnt because she feared breaking a nail using her trigger finger; she could not quite get the safety pressed in with the forefinger. The safety did not lighten up appreciably with regular use. We had to soak the safety in Break Free and work it 100 times to get it loosened up.
The longer we looked at the M5, the more we wanted to pause before recommending the shotgun. The M5 does not use the typical nut on the end of the magazine tube for barrel removal, so tools are required for disassembly. We did not like that feature.
We ran a handful of shells from Federal, Hornady, and Winchester through the guns as a final test. During this function run, the M5 suffered a double feed with Winchester high-brass buckshot. It was easily cleared by pressing the lower shell back into the magazine, a move helped by the skeletonized shell carrier. Still, it was a malfunction.
Our Team Said: The M5 is an adequate shotgun for personal defense. It was not as accurate with slugs as the 1300, but it was plenty accurate to 15 yards, well within normal defense range against man or beast. The heat shield and Speed Feed stock are good features. The M5 handled well and was fast on target. The action was smooth. The finish, while not extensively tested at this point, seemed durable and rust resistant. We could see no wear marks or rub marks. Markdowns occurred because we did not like the M5s disassembly and we had an unexplained double feed toward the end. Just the same, the malfunction rate was less than 1%.
Written and photographed by R.K. Campbell, usingevaluations from Gun Tests team testers. GT