The Best Pump Action Shotguns
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Let there be little doubt — the 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is probably the most recognizable firearm on the planet — both in terms of how it looks and that unforgettable sound of racking the slide.
We love pump-action shotguns and decided it was high time to pull together a Best Of list for this classic firearm.
To find the best pump shotguns, we worked with an expert trap shooter as well as a known Pacific Northwest hunting guide, who spent over 10 hours field-testing 15 different pump shotguns in a variety of situations and ranges.
After testing this collection in the mountains and forests of Eastern Oregon, then on 3 different indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, our experts broke down the best performing pump shotguns by specific use case (and provided a few general recommendations) which offered the best mix of performance, functionality, and price.
With this guide, you’ll be able to find the right shotgun and avoid overpaying for features you don’t need.
In This Article
Pump Shotgun Comparison
Below is my pump-action shotgun comparison for 2022. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of pump shotguns.
Best Home Defense
What you want in a pump shotgun
1. Widespread Adoption
Start your search with scatterguns that have seen extensive use. This can rule out recent innovations and new producers, but the history and R&D of well-established firearms tends to eliminate surprises.
If you see a shotgun being used by LEOs, the military, and half your shooting club, that’s a measurement of its sensibility, which tees up the next requirement.
2. A Reputation for Dependability
Any new brand or product — almost without exception– experiences teething pains before maturing, and firearms are no different. We have tested and evaluated sample loads of firearms and it’s fairly common to run into functional issues, control oddities, or ergonomic challenges. Sure, someone may swear by their latest & greatest shotty, but that single anecdote is simply insufficient in my book.
A proven legacy of widely known and used firearms should be your starting point — and serves the basis for our recommendations.
3. Easy to Use & Maintain
A shotgun that’s easy to operate is a useful shotgun. Oddball features and functionality are rarely desirable — especially if you intend to use your shotgun in the event of stressful situations. Performance corresponds to training, and the more involved something is, the more training you’ll need to achieve proficiency.
Plus, if you can’t get to the range as often as you’d like, simple is always better.
Of course, reliability is critical in a survival or self defense situation, so consider the maintenance requirements. There’s no such thing as a weather-proof firearm, so make sure you can service your shotgun in the event of exposure to inclement weather such as rain or snow, or should you find yourself wading through salt water with your shotty. Things like toolless disassembly make this whole process that much easier and promote both regular maintenance and field servicing.
An additional upside of simpler systems that are easy o maintain is they have fewer parts to fail, helping with the aforementioned dependability. Of course, every system will wear out in time, so…
4. Parts Availability
As I like to tell my wife, a non-functioning firearm is just an expensive paper weight. The list of defunct firearms manufacturers (or brands that have been sold off, parted out, or rehashed **cough cough** Remington) is long, and when a manufacturer ceases production, so goes your source for parts. You will, however, have a new source of headaches when in need of replacement parts.
Well-worn systems give you a reliable sense of which parts are likely to fail — so you can have a few on hand before that eventuality. Plus, with proven platforms that parts list is likely to be very short indeed.
5. Accessory Accomodation
Simple accessories add a surprising amount of flexibility to any firearm, often rendering many rudimentary challenges obsolete by way of easy solutions.
Take, for example, the basic sling.
When on the move, you’re basically operating one-handed without a means of supporting your firearm with your body. A set of QD sling-swivel mounts and a two-point sling eliminate this problem. Interchangeable choke tubes, Picatinny rails, or a mounted shell carrier may be high on your list.
Keeping with well-established firearms essential assures the availability of these kinds of accessories — often with many different varieties and configurations to choose from.
12-Gauge Pump Shotgun Reviews
1. Remington 870 (Best Overall)
The Remington 870 has stood the test of time – both in terms of battle-tested reliability, and that standard stock & pump configuration. These are attributes that make the 870 incredibly familiar to firearms enthusiasts and confidence-inspiring.
Solid build & capacity
The Remington 870 hits the capacity sweet spot with 6+1, and when paired with that 18-inch barrel you get the perfect size for close-quarters effectiveness & flexibility.
The 870 is one of the most popular shotguns on the market, so in addition to a huge number of configuration options you’ll also find a tremendous number of accessories, so you can extend the shotgun’s functionality well beyond bone stock.
What we liked:
Upgradeable and configurable
Huge accessory selection
What we didn’t:
Requires some upgrades to reach its full potential
Given that the 870 comes with a front rifle sight, a logical additional addition would be to add an adjustable rear sight.
Paired with an integrated flashlight, adjustable stock, and sling – the 870 will have reduced recoil and make an easy-to-use pump shotgun for home defense or range time.
Interchangeable barrel system
Our experts pointed to the fact you can switch out any 870 barrel without modification as well, which gives the 870 a modular feel much like the AR platform.
One of the things our experts pointed to with the 870 is the safety position – it’s near the trigger – which is a familiar position (vs a Mossberg which places the safety on top of the receiver) and makes the shotgun very user-friendly.
If you want more on the 870 check out our hands-on review.
2. Mossberg 590 (Best Home Defense Option)
One of the most battle-proven pump-action shotguns available today (matched only by the Remington 870) the Mossberg 590 is reliable, upgradable, and an all-around performer.
Used by law enforcement pros around the globe
The legendary 500 series has been around the globe in combat and tactical scenarios since its introduction in the 1960s, and you’ll see everyone from law enforcement, SWAT, and military personnel sporting a 590 series Mossberg when the situation calls for it.
There’s no second-guessing the more than 60 years of history behind this firearm – but should you get behind one as well?
Multiple build options
This 590 comes with a standard black synthetic stock and with a little over 14-1/2” length of pull, might be a little long for some users. Compared with the 870’s 13” pull, racking the 590 can be a little more involved.
That said, it’s two action bars make for consistent performance and a satisfying “get of our my house or else” sound.
Due to the popularity of the Mossberg 590 there are a great number of stock options and accessories, so you should be able to customize the shotgun to fit your size and preferences – be it a pistol grip, M4-style, or anything in between.
Easy-to-use factory sights
The ghost ring sights are clear and clean – even if they’re a little unusual for a shotgun. Our test unit had adjustable and easy to use front gold-bead and oversized rear sight – which was dialed in enough that we consistently hit steel at 20-25 yards.
Overall we feel the Mossberg 590 is a fantastic tactical shotgun option that can be customized to nearly any specification.
- Mossberg quality
- Ultra reliable
- Slightly longer pull than other options
- Top-mounted safety different from other styles
3. Mossberg Mav88 (Budget Option)
Mossberg shotguns are on this list more than once for a reason – they’re high-quality products. The Maverick 88 is a lot like our home defense recommendation, the Mossberg 500, but can be found for about half the price.
Similar features as the 500
The amazing part is even with the lower price point you get a lot of the features of the 500 – with the single major difference being the placement of the safety, which is a cross-bolt safety near the trigger (vs the top-mounted safety on the 500).
For anyone on a budget the 88 will give you a good range of applications – ranging, home defense, & plinking, but really benefits from a few basic upgrades (not unlike any shotgun, really.)
Deep accessory pool
Another great feature of the 88 is most accessories that work on the 500 (and there are plenty) also work on the 88 – so you’re saving money and getting access to a huge array of upgrades.
- Mossberg Quality
- Not as durable as other options
4. Benelli M4 (Premium Option)
Who doesn’t love the Benelli M4? They’re beautiful, incredibly well-engineered, and offer you multiple fire modes – both pump-action and semi-auto. This combination gives you the speed of semi-auto firing and the reliability of pump-action if you’re shooting unique loads.
Simple transition from pump to semi
The transition from pump to semi-auto with a simple twist and you’ll have one of the fastest cycling semi-auto shotguns available.
Front and rear sights included
The Benelli has both front and rear sights so it’s built for quick target acquisition and offers all the combat-ready bells and whistles (like the oversized charging handle, ghost ring sights, and that sexy pistol grip).
Coupling all that with the legendary Benelli build quality makes the M4 the kind of firearm you buy once and treasure forever.
- Multiple fire modes
- Unbelievably well-engineered
- Beautiful firearm
- May be more than most need
5. Winchester SXP (Youth Option)
Often when we’re at the range, we see younger shotgunners shooting trap practice for a school or competitive team sporting shotguns that simply don’t fit their size. Kids just learning how to shoot (10 or under) with guns that are hard to balance or have too much kick.
Shorter pull & easier to balance for kids
Starting kids on shooting when they’re young – in third or fourth grade – means ensuring they can effectively use the firearm – and that often means a youth pump-action shotgun that’s sized right for their frame, offers a shorter pull, and light enough to balance without straining.
All the components of the full-size SXP
We really like the Winchester SXP youth line, and the 20 gauge is a logical choice for your younger shooters. You get all the quality components of the full-size SXP line but the smaller frame means young shooters can get the weight of the gun closer to their body – making for a more stable shot.
Plus the shorter 24” barrel makes balancing the shotgun much easier for kids.
Your kids will be able to focus on maintaining their fundamentals shot-to-shot rather than wrestling to keep the gun in position.
- Smaller frame
- Shorter pull
- Same quality components as SXP line
- Kids will grow out of the youth size at around 12-14 years old
5. GForce GF2P
GForce’s imported line of pump and semi-auto shotguns aren’t as battle-proven as the Rem 870s and Moss 500s of the world (few are), but what they lack in global adoption they make up for with a simple, reliable platform that is a study on value.
The GForce GF2P has an easy to use layout, pairing a 20-inch barrel with a pistol grip, forend Picatinny rail and fiber-optic front sight for a wallet friendly home defense or a truck gun.
The foregrip actuates reliably, and the pump’s diameter felt right in my hand. I could get a solid grip thanks to the slight indent atop it.
There’s ot much to speak of in terms of tactile texture on the pump though. Aggressive slide work can leave your support hand feeling a little less than planted, but it racked nicely in our testing.
The soft rubber recoil pad was a nice surprise. It uses multiple layers of soft rubber to create aerated spaces that soak up recoil really effectively. It was also soft enough that I could gain a little extra purchase with just a touch of additional shoulder pressure. A really nice touch.
The grip reminded me a little of my DDM4’s grip — it’s ergonomic and thick enough to fill my palm without feeling like I couldn’t get full purchase on it. The rubberized portions also feature a slight stopping that wraps around and encircles the grip, giving your thumb a natural resting place.
The trigger is gritty and pretty inconsistent — I tested it on my trigger scale and it ranged from 7 to 10 lbs from one pull to the next. It improved with a little CLP and I get the sense it could be polished up to get the pull weight down, but one thing to note.
No home defense shotgun would be complete with at least a few inches of Picatinny, and the GF2P incorporates a 3-inch section on the bottom of the forend. This gives you plenty of room for a light or laser combo. I do wish there was some rail atop the shotty for a red dot or another optic, but GForce sells barrel clamps that will solve that problem.
One additional downside — there are no sling mounts (GForce sells these separately), so you’ll either need to be comfortable handling the shotgun in short stints or add the accessory mounts to enable your preferred sling. If you’re interested in how it runs, check out our GF2P review.
- Wallet friendly
- Easy to use and reliable in our testing
- Light weight
- Slick forend
- Limited accessory support
- Gritty trigger
A Word on Gauge & Ammo Selection
Shotguns are incredibly effective for several reasons, but one major factor is versatility. You have a huge number of options when it comes to ammunition and projectiles – making them amazingly effective for anything from pest control to small and big game hunting — but choose wisely when it comes to gauge.
Almost any outdoor store with an FFL will have 12-gauge shotgun shells on the shelf, with 20-gauge another fairly safe option. When pandemics hit or there’s an ammo crush for some reason or another, tip the scales in your favor by sticking with one of these two gauges.
Plus ubiquitous choices are sure to be cheaper — just ask the guy who owns both 5.56 and .300 BLK rifles (which I do). You’ll generally also have a wider selection of loads in 12 and 20 than 16 or 28 gauge.
Your primary loads are birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.
- Birdshot: A load containing small pellets, with the type of load determining the final quantity of pellets. Birdshot tends to give you dense patterns of small impacts and was (like the name implies) intended for bird hunting, trap/clay pigeon shooting, and small game. We do not recommend birdshot if your primary concern is home defense.
- Buckshot: Fewer pellets but larger diameter, generally from No 4 (.24) to Triple Aught “000” (.36). The ball caliber determines the final number pellets in a load, but with double and triple aught you’re looking at 7-9 pellets per load. Buckshot gives you a decent spread per shot but each pellet has much more stopping power than birdshot, making it ideal for hunting and home defense.
- Slugs: 1 oz of solid lead. These will drop even the largest of prey and have devastating effects on impact. They’ll allow for longer shots so are generally reserved for hunting applications. The lack of spread coupled with the focus on range makes them less than ideal for home defense.
Selecting the Right Pump Shotgun
Wrapping it up
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. You can also take a look at our article covering the best tactical shotguns for even more options.
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.