Combat shotguns are generally used with either buckshot or slugs. First and foremost of the determining factors involved in the use of such a weapon is to guarantee that the arm shoots these two types of loads to the weapon’s sights. This single factor will determine the success of the use of the firearm in the field, way above the selection of any type of action, be it autoloader or pump. It is not generally necessary that the weapon have adjustable sights, or even rifle-type sights, but that whatever type sights it has permit the shooter to hit what he’s looking at.
Besides the usual police-type loads of buckshot and slugs, another load is sometimes valuable, particularly for the homeowner, and that is ordinary shot loads. A charge of No. 7 1/2 or No. 8 shot, or even smaller, can prevent excess penetration in a home-defense situation, and for close ranges should prove to be as effective as either of the other types. A shotgun pattern at under 5 yards is very small and dense, and shot size makes little difference in effectiveness.
We won’t go into the many arguments flying around out there about which is better, pump or autoloader, except to say that the pump gun generally requires the use of both hands (not always) and the autoloader can be easily fired with the use of only one. A bigger difference in the field use of these combat shotguns, where speed is a huge factor, is how quickly the safety can be taken off. Independent tests have shown the slide-type safety, as on Mossberg and some Browning shotguns, gives the fastest time to first shot, over the trigger-guard button found on most other shotguns. Still, the skilled operator can overcome many obstacles that might slow down the operator who has only basic training in the use of the weapon. We are reminded of the answer given the young musician who was lost, wandering the streets with his violin, who finally asked someone how to get to Carnegie Hall. The answer he received is just as appropriate to the novice shooter who wants to become better: Practice, practice, practice.
For this evaluation we acquired two pump shotguns breathed on by two of the finest combat-shotgun-building firms in the world, The Robar Companies and Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies. Both guns were built around Remington 12-gauge 870 pump-action shotguns, and both were as serious a combat shotgun as each firm could build. The Robar unit was the Combat Elite gun, and Wilson’s gun was the humbly named Standard Model. Both guns were basic matte-black, with short black polymer stocks, short barrels and extended seven-shot magazines. Each had aperture rear adjustable sights and front posts. Both companies had replaced the pins holding the trigger mechanism into the action with cross bolts. The Wilson came with a flashlight and sling attached, and the front sight had a night-sight insert. Here’s what we found in more detail:
Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies’ Standard Model
Our recommendation: Buy it. The Wilson Standard shotgun, $1,010 complete, will do everything you’d ever want a fighting shotgun to do, even though it lacks the overall finesse, the neat stuff, and classy look and feel of the Robar Elite.
The price above includes a new shotgun, but if you want to send yours, Wilson will work it into this package for $715. The cost includes a plain non-ribbed barrel of 18-inch length and cylinder choke (no insert), fully adjustable rear sight and night-sighted post front, seven-round capacity, and your choice of four- or six-shot Side Saddle shell carrier. It also includes a powerful Sure-Fire flashlight built into the forend, a non-binding magazine follower, stiffer magazine spring, Armor-Tuff finish, swivels and a “tactical” sling.
The dull-green Armor-Tuff finish contrasted nicely with the flat-black finishes of the forend and buttstock. The pistol grip had small areas of checkering that worked well but could have been larger. There were visible and tactile parting marks on the top and bottom of the buttstock. The forend had neither checkering nor finger grooves, and only a small longitudinal groove near its top on both sides that gave little purchase for the fingers.
The Wilson gun had a distinct muzzle-heavy feel to the gun that we didn’t much like. This was the result of the flashlight incorporated into the forend. At first we couldn’t figure out how to turn it on, but quickly discovered the switch was about as handy and swift as thought. The right side of the forend had a rubberized portion near its front that fell under the index finger of the left hand as it grasped the forend. For lefties, it falls under the thumb. Light pressure on the rubber surface turned the light on. The light beam was fairly well centered in the sights, and the light showed the sights up against whatever was in the center of the beam. We tried this outdoors on a pitch-dark night, and the narrow and very bright beam showed us small objects clearly, well past 100 yards.
With the light off, it was easy to see the location of the front blade to give an indication of where the gun was looking before the light was engaged. This front glowing bead, however, was very bright. We note that some SpecOps units, notably the SEALs, are on record as not liking glowing sights because they can give away their presence. However, for operations short of war this night-sight setup makes some good sense, as does the flashlight. The fact that most gunfights take place in reduced light or at night helps make our point. However, the light did nothing for the balance of the gun and added significantly to its weight. We found another problem with it at the range, which we’ll tell you about shortly.
The trigger guard’s crossbolts were screwdriver-slotted, well blued, but stuck out like sore thumbs on the right side of the action. The left side of the action sported a four-shot cartridge holder by TacStar, secured to the action with four screws. This holder also obscured the serial number, if that matters to you. (The Robar gun had the serial number on the opposite side of the frame.) The trigger guard was finished in black matte. It retained the Remington safety-locking system that permits the owner of the gun to insert an odd-shaped key into the left side of the safety and lock it, thus preventing unauthorized personnel from using the gun. We wonder if this belongs on a serious-use firearm that might be needed at a second’s notice. Someone might lock the safety without the user’s knowledge, rendering the gun useless when it is most needed.
The rear sight was a durable-looking aperture on a ratchet-cut base. Elevation and windage were controlled by one Allen-head screw. Once set, elevation was sure to hold against any outside duress because of the grooved base. We suspect the all-steel sight was strong enough to withstand significant bumps, even dropping, without damage, but we’d like to have seen protective ears. The Robar gun had them. The Wilson’s front sight appeared to be affixed to the unribbed barrel by means of a roll pin, but may have been sweated as well. Both front and rear sights were nicely made of steel, sturdy, visible, and secure. We noted that with the sling removed from the gun, both sling swivels rattled badly, and would have to be either removed from the shotgun or taped against unwanted noise. There was a sling-swivel stud under the buttstock if a bottom-mounted sling is preferred, and a matching bottom-mounted front mount is available for the magazine extension. That tactical sling requires a manual of its own, but one was not in the package.
The action was a distinct notch above normal Remington 870 slickness in operation, but a pale shade of the perfection of the Robar action, more of which later. Loading and feeding operations of the Wilson shotgun were flawless, and we found the shot pattern closely matched the sights at reasonable ranges. The trigger pull was better than Remington norm, and broke at 4.5 pounds with a little creep. The recoil pad was a “SpeedFeed,” black and firm, and angled to keep the gun on the shoulder during rapid-fire shooting. It could have been a whole lot softer, and could have been a better fit to the stock. With a pull length of 12.8 inches, the right thumb made painful contact with the face with each shot unless the thumb was held along the right side of the stock.
Rapid-fire Testing: The Wilson gun worked perfectly, but our shooters found it to be a painful gun to shoot, in spite of its greater weight, than the Robar gun. The flashlight holder banged the front (left) hand, and the slick surface of the forend didn’t permit a secure enough grasp to stop that. The stock pull measured the same as that of the Robar gun, but we could shoot the Robar Elite with the thumb wrapped around the stock and not hit ourselves in the nose or mouth. The Elite was a dream in rapid fire with even the hottest loads, but the Wilson gun hurt our face and forward hand with each shot. The angle of the Wilson’s buttpad was angled more than that of the Elite, and the hand grasping the wrist was in contact with our main shooter’s nose before he pulled the trigger. Nothing we tried reduced the banging of the flashlight holder into our forward hand.
In spite of the pain, there were no problems with the functioning of the Wilson gun. It fed, fired, and ejected everything we threw into it. Slugs hit dead center at 25 yards, and gave more-than-acceptable accuracy. We were able to hit multiple targets easily and quickly, but not as quickly or as painlessly as with the Robar Elite. Also, the too-firm recoil pad made its presence known by the end of our shooting session.
Our recommendation: Not a man who tried them both picked the Wilson over the Robar for slick and fast handling. That, of course, is where the extra $500 comes in, for the Elite’s cost is $1,200 plus your shotgun. If you want the Ferrari of combat pump shotguns, you want the Robar Elite. One of our shooters who generally hates pump guns told us the Elite was the first of the type he actually wanted to own. We loved it. Buy it.
The Robar Elite balanced extremely well, and felt more like an upland shotgun than a gunfighting weapon. It looked like a million bucks with its gorgeous non-reflective surface, and the action was a dream. The finish was Robar’s Roguard matte black on all the external metal, and the company’s NP3 on all the internals. NP3 is electroless nickel associated with Teflon, and greatly adds to the slickness of the action as well as providing unparalleled corrosion resistance, as does Roguard. The folks at Robar told us their old finish was similar to what Wilson now uses, and the new Robar proprietary finishes would withstand even more nasty stuff than the old ones would. We suspect most owners of these guns won’t generally drag them through the mud, but salt-water environs are really hard on firearms no matter how much care one takes, so in tough surroundings, having the best finish available makes the most sense.
The gripping surfaces of the stock were thoroughly sticky to our hands, even when wet. The forend had deep finger grooves, and it and the pistol grip were coated with a gritty substance that felt a lot like Robar’s excellent metal stippling. This sticky surface gave us perfect control of the shotgun. The safety had a large head, and thankfully didn’t have the Remington locking system. The trigger guard was held to the receiver with two rounded Allen-head screws that were much less of an annoyance visually and tactically than the Wilson system. The entire gun appeared to be a harmonious blend of well-thought-out parts that were made for each other, rather than the Wilson’s appearance of lots of good parts gathered together onto one base.
The Robar Elite had lots of touches inside that were not apparent to a casual glance. These included a Robar-choked barrel (no insert), modified forcing cone, and a Choate follower added to the Robar-made magazine extension. The little touches continued outside with perfect fitting of both front and rear sling studs (no rattling with sling removed), the Robar-made front stud mount, and the “Robar Elite” mark under the ejection port. The trigger pull was extremely good. With barely discernible creep it broke at 3.0 pounds. That turned out to be very helpful to accuracy in rapid-fire shooting.
The rear sight was a ghost-ring aperture, adjustable for windage and elevation. It was well protected by a large steel ear on each side. The vent-rib barrel ended at 18 inches in a large and beautifully made (by Robar) front post sight on an integral, serrated, glare-free ramp. If you want a night-sight insert, that is one of many options for this gun, as is a flashlight mount. When Robar staffers install the flashlight mount, they put their sticky stuff on the forend, which would eliminate the problems we had with the Wilson gun. The buttstock was high-quality composite polymer with a Pachmayr Decelerator pad expertly fitted and properly rounded for fast action. The finish was Polymax, which is a pebble-like gray surface. The left side of the action was covered by a six-shot TacStar Industries’ Side Saddle magazine held to the action with six screws, and as stated above, the serial number was visible on the right side of the action.
Like the Wilson gun, the Robar had no sharp edges anywhere. The Robar Elite was even better in this respect, if possible, than the Wilson gun. The Elite had no sharp edges on the outside of the gun, inside the ejection and loading ports, all over the barrel and forend parts, or even the muzzle edges. The rear edge of the front sight was sharp, as it needed to be. You could run your hand inside or outside the gun anywhere and not feel an edge, much less get cut by it. Don’t try that with a standard Remington 870! The knurled surface of the extended magazine was just sticky enough to permit its being taken apart.
Although the added weight of a flashlight on the Wilson Combat shotgun helped keep the muzzle down slightly, we found recoil on the Robar Elite to be far easier to handle than that of the Wilson. Go figure, but that’s the truth. Our shooters fired both guns as rapidly as possible, and the recoil of the Robar Elite was very pleasant. Nothing hurt. Recoil recovery was fast, and the gun was on the next target as soon as the action slammed shut on the next round. The Elite had a Pachmayr Decelerator pad, and the angle it made with the stock was such that the shotgun was fully controllable. It could be fired faster than the Wilson with just as good control.
Neither gun seemed to have a pattern advantage at 25 yards with bird-hunting loads, both giving very open patterns. The proof was in the slug results. The Robar shot exactly to its sights with slugs, as did the Wilson. Accuracy was equal for the two guns, and both made slug groups of less than 2 inches at 25 yards with little effort on our part. We didn’t try buckshot, but extensive slug testing told us these were very usable guns. The close-range tests with bird shot told us the guns both centered their patterns under the sights. That goes a long way toward success with this type of weapon.
Many shooters will want that flashlight on the Robar Elite, and it’s yours for the asking (with a sticky grip), along with many other options. Both makers will build guns to accommodate the discriminating shooter who knows what he wants. Robar has several other packages, the least expensive being the Thunder Ranch unit, which at $700 is right at the cost of the Wilson Combat Scattergun Technologies gun tested above. Their catalog is gorgeous and belongs on your shelf.
Gun Tests Recommends
After a day at the range shooting this brace of fine 12-gauge fighting shotguns with heavy slug loads, and alternating that with the firing of several hundred rounds of .45 ACP through several 1911-type pistols, one becomes very much aware of their vast difference in power. The .45 ACP pales to insignificance. Factor that into your defense purchases accordingly.
Wilson Combat Scattergun Technologies Standard, $1,010. We really liked the usefulness of the flashlight mounted on the shotgun. It was ideal for a nighttime search or confrontation, and you may or may not have that need. We really didn’t like the slippery surface of the Wilson flashlight-holding forend. It needed more traction for our fingers.
All in all, we believe the Wilson to be well worth its cost, which was a lot less than that of the Robar. You’ll save about $500 over the Elite, and you’ll get a nifty sling and powerful flashlight for your dough. For that cost difference you can have some sticky stuff put onto the forend and buy a heck of a lot of ammo. If you can live without the Ferrari of combat shotguns, Buy It.
Robar Elite, $1,200 plus your shotgun. Buy It. The action of the Elite was so slick that it was very easy to cycle the gun one-handed. More to the point, follow-up shots were in the chamber before we could get the gun back on target. We liked the ghost-ring sight and found we could acquire the target very quickly with it. There was not a lot of difference between the Wilson and Robar rear sights as seen by the eye, both giving a fast sight picture, but the Robar gun’s excellent balance made us greatly favor it for fastest hits.