The Best Tactical Shotguns
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Picking the ideal tactical shotgun doesn’t have to be hard if you follow a few simple steps to cut through the bluster and propaganda to find something that really works.
In This Article
Tactical Shotgun Comparison
Below is my list of the best tactical shotguns for home defense for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, reliability, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of shotguns.
Tactical Shotgun Reviews
1. Black Aces Tactical SMax (Best Value)
Black Aces are a newer entry into the firearms game and their recent entry into the tactical game – the Tactical Pro SMax really checks all the boxes.
Offering rugged simplicity that borrows from almost every combat or tactical shotgun on the market today but delivers all the reliability and performance with a price that’s hard to beat.
The Pro Series SMax model, is available with black or woodgrain walnut furniture, sporting an 18.5-inch barrel length, and a corresponding 6-shot capacity. One bonus about the SMax is that the wood furniture gives it a little more weight than synthetics, keeping the 12GA recoil under control. It also packed both a shoulder and birds head pistol grip in the same box — a bonus if you’re into pistol grips — and adding to its home defense capability.
Sure, Black Aces isn’t a household name, but if it isn’t broke…
2. Benelli M4 (Premium Option)
Benelli’s M-series shotguns hail back to the mid-1980s and evolved from the vaunted HK512 FABARM. From the inertia-driven M1 (Super 90) to the Benelli M2 and M3 evolutions, today’s Benelli M4 is for many the gold-standard for semi-auto shotguns of any stripe.
Having come out in extensive testing by the US Marine Corps in the Joint Service Combat Shotgun program to become the M1014 in military parlance, the piston-driven gas-operated M4 proved itself durable enough to survive hard use, which is quite the accomplishment for any semi-automatic shotgun.
Today, these guns are used around the world by commandos and special response units, and with good reason. On the downside, they can be a little tricky to figure out– something that can be fixed through proper training– and have a problem cycling low-powered less-lethal loads, a common issue with autoloading shotguns which use a gas operated system.
Current production models on the commercial market run 18.5-inch barrels, come standard with ghost ring sights, a durable synthetic stock, and offer a 5+1 capacity, which can be extended when paired with a longer barrel. If you like the performance of the M4 but are looking for a semi-auto that’s a little lighter weight, consider the Benelli M2.
Those who know, know.
3. Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun
With a low-profile receiver based on the storied Italian gunmaker’s A400 series semi-auto shotgun action, the Beretta 1301 Tactical is both fast– billed by the company as the fastest on the market– and soft-recoiling. Like the Benelli M4, it is a modern gas-operated shotgun that utilizes a clean-shooting piston for reliability.
One downside on the 1301 is that it is just currently offered in a single model, with an 18.5-inch barrel and 4+1 capacity, although it does come standard with ghost ring sights and supersized surface controls that can really help in demanding field conditions.
4. FN SLP MK I Tactical Shotgun
Introduced in 2008 the FN Self-Loading Police shotgun was billed at its debut as the world’s fastest cycling tactical shotgun.
Like the Beretta 1301 and the Benelli M4, the FLP uses an aluminum receiver to cut down on weight as well as a piston-driven gas system.
While the gun is a sleeper as FN hasn’t done a great job in letting the public know it exists, make no mistake, it is an exceptional 12 gauge that has been showing up increasingly in 3-gun practical/tactical shoots. Importantly, the standard 22-inch barrel format SLP MK I comes standard with an extended 8+1 capacity which is downsized to 6+1 on the 18-inch models. for home defense applications.
For those who are looking for a pistol grip tactical shotgun, the FN SLP Tactical model is the ticket.
5. Mossberg Maverick 88
You’ll find Mossberg shotguns on any list trying to define the best tactical shotgun for a reason – they’re proven products backed by the military and LE forces around the globe.
The Maverick 88 while not the mil-spec behemoth the Mossberg 500 is (it has a thinner barrel wall, no heat shroud, and uses a lot of polymer parts, which helps keep the cost down) this pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun is incredibly easy to use and has an accessory pool many of the other scatterguns on this list would envy. In terms of a budget shotgun for home defense, the Mossberg Maverick 88 is hard to beat. For an even more paired-down version check out the Mossberg Maverick 88 Security.
Plus it can be found for about half the price of a Mossberg 500.
6. Mossberg 590A1 Tactical
Taking the company’s super successful Model 500 series action and beefing it up to make it gorilla-proof, the Mossberg 590A1 is the shotgun equivalent of a dump truck.
Durable, easy to maintain, and hard to kill, it passed the Army’s Mil-Spec 3443E test, which required trial guns to digest 3,000 rounds of full-power buckshot without fail.
While, due to their heavy walls and use of a metal trigger guard rather than the much more commonly used plastic ones, they are a bit more expensive than comparable Mossberg 500 security and home defense shotguns, the M590A1 is much more affordable than a quality semi-auto tactical gun.
Sporting a parkerized finish rather than more commercial blued finishes, they are not pretty, but they are pretty effective.
7. Remington 870 Tactical
With more than 12 million made over the years, Remington says their Model 870 is the most prolific shotgun in history, and for many the best pump action shotgun of all time.
Of course, the bulk of those made was for the hunting and sporting markets, but it is safe to say there are probably a million or more 870 Police Magnum or equivalent 870P and 870 MCS models floating around – these guns have been a staple in both military and law enforcement use for generations.
Intended to meet tough demands, they typically utilize a more rugged all-metal trigger group, fewer MIM parts, and were produced with an extensive QC process.
The only problem is that these guns are often just sold through government channels but a good substitute more commonly available on the commercial market is the 870 Express Tactical, which includes a 6+1 round capacity, comes in at 38.5 inches in overall length and weighs 7.5 pounds.
Want more on the 870? Check out our hands-on review.
What to Look for in a Quality Tactical Shotgun
While the muzzle-stuffer double barrels of the 19th Century along with the 20th Century’s reciprocating barrel autoloaders and single-bar pumps had their moment in the sun, today their technology is dated and, while it can work in a pinch, should you need a self defense shotgun to bet your life or the life of those in your home on, you want to be on the cutting edge of lessons learned from past designs.
At the same time, you want to know that it is a proven design that has been in the trenches, so to speak, and come back the better for it. High capacity, a Picatinny rail, and the best front sight in the world won’t mean a thing without reliability you can count on. Here are some guidelines to look for:
1. Name recognition
Now don’t get us wrong, this is not an issue of gun snobbery or being down on “the poors.” This is basic home defense weapon logic. Established shotgun makers that have been around for decades build upon designs they already have on the shelf to make a progressively better product.
If a company has made millions of firearms, no matter how well-built, they have had the benefit of seeing hundreds of those come back into the factory for warranty and repair work. This byproduct is priceless for R&D – as in-house engineers take that direct feedback and use it to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, so it doesn’t keep happening in critical self-defense situations (or any, for that matter.).
R&D investment & feedback
If a fix is big enough, it can revolutionize the process and lead to entirely new models. This is what makes companies like Beretta, Benelli, FN, Mossberg, Remington, Saiga, and Winchester something to seek out rather than choose a no-name clone of one of their shotguns made in China, Turkey or elsewhere that has just been reverse-engineered.
The cloners do not sink money into research and development. Instead, they look at a great gun, with patents often just out of copyright, and crank out a reasonable facsimile – with price in mind rather than quality – so they can be competitive with the original shotgun’s improved descendants hoping people will say it is “just as good.”
For example, overseas-made copies of the Remington 870 often use an old-style shell carrier that is prone to jams via short stroking. Meanwhile, responding to such complaints, Remington updated their carriers way back in 1984 to eliminate the issue.
2. Magazine capacity
Since the days of the old Winchester ’97 trench guns, the benchmark of a tactical shotgun has been at a tubular magazine capable of holding at least five shells as well as one in the chamber.
Guns with a shorter capacity, typically seen as only two- or three shells deep, are usually marketed for field purposes such as in upland bird or deer hunting.
While they often utilize a version of the action as the same company’s other offerings marketed to home defense or LE use, and their magazine tubes can be modified with aftermarket kits, the investment in time, money and effort to do this begs the question of why not opt for the tactical shotgun right off the bat.
More pow with no additional length
Many of today’s better offerings, such as the Mossberg 590, tend to come with a 7+1 or 8+1 capacity without adding length to the gun. For those who prefer a quicker reload or extended capacity, several reputable companies market proven shotgun designs that incorporate detachable box magazines.
Keep in mind, however, that some of the longer mags can be unwieldy to use in practice, which in turn requires more training to master efficiently.
3. Reliably built for hard use
This goes hand in hand with a company’s reputation. For instance, the two most popular shotguns in regular police and military use– the Mossberg 500 series and the Remington 870 series– have both been around for over 60 years (and are included in our guide to the best pump shotgunsand are logical candidates for shotgun suppressors if that’s your thing).
Both are remarkably similar in layout, being bottom-loading and side-ejecting fed via a pump-action running on dual-action bars from an under-barrel tubular magazine.
Sounds simple, right? The thing is, don’t confuse the basic models of these guns for those intended for hard use in demanding environments.
4. Durable materials
A tactical shotgun often incorporates more durable materials, substituting steel for aluminum and plastic components seen in sporting guns from the same maker.
Maverick 88While both have a 500-style action, the 590A1 is built to MilSpec standards with a heavy-walled barrel and parkerized finish along with a metal trigger and cross bolt safety button as it is designed for military end-users.
Not to throw stones at the Maverick, which is still a decent self-defense shotgun and affordably priced but it has a thinner barrel, lots of polymer, and a synthetic stock to help keep those prices down.
You can do the same comparison with a Remington 870 Express and an 870P/Police Magnum.
The true milestone of a combat or tactical shotgun’s recognition of excellence comes from looking at who uses it.
Now I am not talking about the full-throated endorsement of a particular shotgun by random YouTube personalities, exhibition shooters and gaming girls, or in a gun’s appearance in a video game franchise, TV show, or big-budget action film.
Instead, I mean looking at who is paying to use the gun, rather than those who are being paid to be seen using the gun.
Respectable military and LE end-users will vet their arms to make sure they, first, meet their standards and then meet their budget.
This usually means grueling field testing, trials, and evaluation periods conducted by an array of highly qualified subject matter experts often with decades of first-hand experience.
The adoption by those agencies and services after such T&E is the quiet endorsement that matters.
Why a Tactical Shotgun
- Home Defense. The obvious use for a tactical shotgun is for close-quarters, high-pressure applications such as military, police, and home-defense work. With some training and practice, tactical shotguns can be some of the best defensive or offensive tools at short to medium ranges. In a day where folks are obsessed with their ARs and handguns for defensive purposes, a good tactical shotgun with ghost ring sights or red dot sight in properly trained hands will make for the best home defense shotgun, in no small part because you can load them with a variety of loads and shot to accomplish what you need. Selecting a tactical shotgun for home defense can be an excellent choice.
- Sporting. The versatility these shotguns offer means your tactical shotgun can also be pressed into many sporting roles typically reserved for a double barrel or over/under. For example, a tactical pump-action shotgun can also be used as a more than good deer gun when loaded with buckshot or slugs. Similarly, a semi-automatic tactical shotgun would be a more than adequate bird hunting shotgun when loaded with birdshot. Calling a shotgun a “tactical” one is as much a marketing designation or an indication that it’ll probably come with a pistol grip and rails as opposed to a single set of features, so a tactical shotgun is just as flexible as shotguns under any other label.
Types of Tactical Shotguns
Here, we’ll divide up tactical shotguns into two types based on their actions, giving the pros, cons, and best uses of both types.
Many tactical shotguns are pump action, due to the proven nature of the operating system. This means that they feed from a magazine tube below the barrel, and to load a round into the chamber, you have to work the slide manually. There are two major pros to this. First and foremost, this is a highly reliable way to ensure that a firearm loads: the primary moving part here is your hand, and as long as that’s operable and you have ammunition, you’ll be able to stay in the fight. Second, pump actions do not rely on recoil to cycle the action and thus can use nearly any ammunition that you can manage to put down the magazine tube.
The big con with pump-action tactical shotguns is speed. Especially for folks without thousands of rounds downrange, it’s hard to get multiple shots out of the gun and on target quickly. Despite being a little slower than semi-automatics, we love a pump shotgun as a tactical choice because they are so reliable.
Second, a growing number of tactical shotguns are semi-automatic, which means that you do not need to cycle the action yourself to load the next round. There are some significant benefits to this. First and foremost is speed: a semi-automatic shotgun will almost always be faster than a pump-action one in terms of sheer rate of fire. Second, using semi-automatic shotguns with one hand is possible, assuming you can tame the recoil.
With that speed does come some sacrifice in reliability. Although many shotguns are getting better over the years because semi-automatics rely on recoil or gasses to cycle the action and load another round, lower-powered ammunition such as birdshot or mini-shells might cause failures to eject and feed. With that said, we think that a semi-automatic shotgun with buckshot or slugs is one of the premier defensive tools available, be it a bullpup shotgun or standard configuration.
It’s worth noting that we’re painting with big brushstrokes here, and there are departures from these two types. For instance, the SPAS-12 can be fired either as a pump-action or semi-automatic: we’d classify it as a semi-automatic with the ability to be used as a pump-action in an emergency, and most shotguns are one type or the other.
Tactical Shotgun Pricing
- Under $500. For less than $500, it is sometimes possible to get an excellent tactical shotgun. For instance, one of our writers managed to snag a Mossberg 590A1 for about $450, new in box, but sold as “used” because the guy who had bought it thought it was 20 gauge instead of 12, and thus sold it back to the store. These gun deals are rare but can be found, and in this range, you’ll be looking at mostly pump shotguns.
- $500-$1,000. For around $1,000, you’ll be able to find most types of pump shotguns, and the semi-automatic models from some manufacturers: all of them will likely come kitted out with quality furniture but are unlikely to come with optics or any accessories. You can even find proven bullpup designs in this range like the Kel Tec KSG — one of our favorite bullpups.
- $2,000 & Above. At the $2,000 mark, you’ll be buying whatever you like in the shotgun market, and might be able to find the venerated Benelli M4 all set up and ready to go for whatever tactical purposes you have in mind. At this price range, you may also be able to get pre-set-up shotguns that come with premium furniture and an optic, depending on what dealers are willing to put together as bundles.
History of Tactical Shotguns
Shotguns have been around as far back as the early muzzle loading “handgonnes” of the 12th Century, which were essentially small portable cannons stuffed with assorted projectiles intended to fill a pattern downrange with a variety of flung shot.
Enter firelock, flintlock, and precussion muskets
Later developments in firearm technology brought firelock, mechanical lock, flintlock, and percussion-fired muskets that, like the handgonne of old, could be filled with a handful of lead shot of various sizes.
Make no mistake, while these long arms could be used as fowling pieces to put meat on the table, they were also used widely in both personal defense and warfare, filled with “buck and ball” loads that saw combat in the Revolutionary War and Civil War.
By the 1870s, dedicated breechloading shotguns with loaded paper- or brass-hulled shells were on the market and still used for security and law enforcement, with many an Old Western sheriff carrying one in their gun rack.
The Winchester 1897 breaks all the rules
Fast forward to 1899 and the early John Browning-developed pump-action shotgun of the day, the Winchester 1897, became the first modern combat shotgun used by the U.S. military in an effort to stem brutal attacks from rebels in the Philippines.
Since then– despite the advent of tanks, the guided missile and laser dazzlers– American fighting men have continued to use increasingly advanced shotguns to augment their arsenal.
Likewise, law enforcement today has access to tasers, chemical sprays, acoustic disruptors, and the like– but more often than not a good tactical shotgun is readily available. The more things change, right?
How we selected these products
As much as I would love to put every tactical shotgun to the test there are times when certain products or categories are a real challenge — be it availability, cost, or simply a lack of resources — we can get stymied going hands-on with all the potential candidates. Rather than present a never-ending list of all the tactical shotguns on the planet, we selected those which we felt best represent the price points laid out above — giving you a solid representational list to serve as a jumping-off point for your own research (you are going to do you own research, right?)
To avoid disappointment or steering you in the wrong direction, we bolster our own experience with conversations with experts, comb through reviews on retailer sites & sales data, review industry publications, other blogs, and otherwise surface the best information available.
We aim for all thriller, no filler, as they say.
Wrapping it up
Each of these tactical shotguns offers gun owners a variety of different combat-ready features – our top picks are as follows:
- Black Aces Tactical Pro
- Benelli M4 Tactical
- Fastest Firing: Beretta 1301 Tactical
- FN SLP MK I Tactical
- Classic Option: Mossberg Mav 88
- Mossberg 590 Tactical
- Remington 870P 12 GA
Each of these shotguns met the requirements of the role they were designed for and met the criteria for any firearm we’d recommend:
- Stable shooting platform
- Comfortable to use
- Purposeful, quality design
There are quite a few options out in this category, but we hope this article steers you in the right direction. If you have any questions or feedback please drop us a line. If you’re in the market for a firearm you might want to take a look at our guides to Handguns for Beginners, gun safes, holsters, and the best places to buy guns or ammo online.
- Springfield Museum, Remington 870 Police
- Synchronizor, Much Ado About Shell Carriers