A Benelli M4 Tactical Semi-auto Shotgun with a Zeiss red dot sight.

“Don’t get stuck on stupid.” That’s what Gen. Russel L. Honoré said back on Sept. 20, 2005 to a reporter during a press conference regarding Hurricane Rita. The comment, made in reference to a question about the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, made national headlines and became the title of Honoré‘s book several years later.

With that one press conference the no-nonsense general, who spearheaded the Katrina response, introduced a phrase into the American lexicon. He also made a lot of us who are sick of foolish reporters laugh out loud.

When it comes to defensive shotguns though, it seems a lot of shooters are, indeed, “stuck on stupid.”

Case in point, what rational reason explains why a pump action shotgun is still the most popular choice for tactical use?

Remington Model 870 TAC Desert Recon
Left: Brendan Burns loading the Remington Model 870 TAC Desert Recon, Shell Holder Stock.
Right: Pattern with 00 buckshot at 15 yards. Remington Model 870 TAC Desert Recon, Shell Holder Stock. Bryce M. Towsley

We left the revolver behind decades ago as a fighting handgun, and now, semi-auto handguns predominate in all tactical realms, from law enforcement to concealed carry.

When is the last time you saw a SWAT Team member kicking in a door while holding a bolt action rifle? Again, semi-auto rifles are the overwhelming choice for anybody expecting trouble.

But when it comes to our shotguns, we stubbornly cling to 19th century technology.

Why? Who knows? I have never heard a logical argument that favors the pump action. I have, however, heard a bunch of “stuck on stupid” reasons:

“Because the bad guy will hear you rack the action and it will scare him so much he will wet his pants and give up.”

Jessica Brooks shooting a Mossberg shotgun
Jessica Brooks, from Barnes Bullets finishes shooting a Mossberg shotgun at steel plates. Bryce M. Towsley

Have you ever considered that perhaps you are watching too much television? This is bad tactics on multiple levels.

Racking the shotgun gives the bad guy an audible indication of your location and he just might send swarm of hot, angry bullets to collide with your body.

Racking a pump shotgun alerts the bad guys that you are armed, which I suspect might make them more cautious and faster on their own trigger when you encounter them. It also tells me that you didn’t have a round in the chamber before your problems started. Now your shotgun is down one shell from full capacity

Depending on a noise for self-defense is stuck on stupid. Bad tactics all the way around.

“Reliability. Those autoloaders jam all the time.”

bryce towsley with Benelli M2
Bryce M. Towsley shooting his Benelli M2, 3-gun shotgun in the 2011 Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun match in Arizona. Shotgun. Note that the first shell has barely cleared the gun while the new one is almost into battery. In a shotgun nothing is faster than a semi-auto. Bryce M. Towsley


Have you actually shot one recently?

I put thousands of rounds through mine every year and I honestly can’t remember the last time one jammed.

That’s the same argument that the wheel gun guys used against semi-auto handguns back in the day. The claim had some merit at one time, but technology has evolved and semi-auto handguns, and the factory ammo they use, are now very reliable.

Bryce M Towsley shooting from stand
The author shooting from an elevated platform during a 3-Gun match. Bryce M. Towsley

The same can be said for semi-auto shotguns. The operating systems in today’s shotguns are incredibly reliable. That’s not to say every semi-auto on the market is quality and reliable, of course—some are junk. Just as there are some junk autoloading handguns. But, the best semi-autos are just as, or more reliable, than the best pump action shotgun.

Related: Remington Introduces Compact V3 Shotgun

Take a look at the guns being used in 3-Gun competition and tactical shotgun matches. If a shotgun stands up to serious action shooting competition, you can be sure it’s tough and reliable enough for defensive use too. These competitions are designed to simulate battle and if pumps were better, they wouldn’t need their own, separate division to be competitive.

No sport in the history of the world stresses a shotgun more than 3-Gun, and those with inferior capabilities are very quickly left behind, shattered, broken and sobbing with shame along the muddy road of progress.

Mossberg 930 Tactical - 8 Shot SPX
This is the Mossberg 930 Tactical SPX semi-auto shotgun with an eight round mag tube. It retails for just over $1,000. The plane jane 930, a proven semi-auto platform, has an MSRP of $612 and a street price of even less. Mossberg

In fact, I will argue that semi-autos are more reliable than a pump action shotgun because the pump relies on human interaction to operate. I have seen some of the best pump gun shooters in the world short-stroke their shotguns under stress. It can happen to anyone.

The action in a semi-auto is mechanical and not subject to stress like the human mind and body. It continues to work regardless of the situation.

I love pump shotguns and train with them often, yet I have short stroked them many times. (I never said pumps were a bad idea, just that there are better options.) A semi-auto is not dependent on the operator working the action correctly and so the gun overall is subject to fewer potential user errors.

“The competition shooter uses a semi-auto because they will never be required to transition from buckshot to slugs in the middle of an engagement like you may have to in a tactical situation.”

tactical shotgun competition
3-Gun and tactical shotgun competitions are hard on guns, only the best survive the tough conditions and that thousands of rounds. Bryce M. Towsley

Wanna bet?

Stages that require ammo change on the clock are pretty common. Switching from one load to another in the “heat of battle” is something Tactical Shotgun and 3-Gun competition shooters do all the time.

It’s no more difficult to switch to a slug or buckshot when using a semi-auto than it is with a pump. With practice, it’s just as fast, if not faster with the semi-auto.

And in a self defense situation, you won’t be changing ammo types—well, let’s say it’s highly unlikely that the need would occur.

“You need to be able to load single rounds if the gun runs dry.”

Remington Versamax
Top: When it comes to fighting shotguns, the semi-auto is the clear choice for a modern shooter.
Bottom: The Remington Versamax is a good choice for 3-gun competition or defense. It keeps running when hot and dirty and can digest a wide range of ammo. Semi-Autos can handles a wide range of ammo and still function reliably. Bryce M. Towsley

I shot a pump action shotgun in Cowboy Action Shooting competition for years and almost all I did was load single shots. I worked with a timer a lot when practicing. When I started shooting 3-Gun I also worked with a timer on loading a single round after the gun runs dry.

Both are fast, but the semi-auto is always faster. Simply because there is less for the shooter to do to make the gun hot again.

“Speed of fire?”

Nathan Towsley shooting Remington 870
Nathan Towsley shooting the “Pimped Out “Remington 870. Bryce M. Towsley

Semi-autos again have the advantage here. Many of the big 3-Gun and Tactical Shotgun matches will run a side match in which everybody competes head to head and winner takes all. Usually the side match uses multiple targets which are all shot from one position.

Nobody has to run or jump or reload the shotgun on the clock, so, it’s not about physical fitness, or hand coordination, or loading technique—it comes down to how fast you can shoot a shotgun and hit the targets. When you think about it, those are pretty much the same things that are important in a defensive shooting situation.

It’s not a shooter issue either. These side matches pit the best pump gun shooters in the world against the best semi-auto shooters in the world head-to-head.

Semi-autos always win. Always.

Pumps can come close, but they don’t win . . . ever.

“Versatility. Pump guns can shoot any ammo.”

Screw in chokes
Screw in chokes offer several options in a fighting gun. Bryce M. Towsley

So can many modern semi-autos. Well, almost any ammo. I suppose if you look hard enough you can find some ammo a given semi-auto won’t run. Some ultra-light target loads will not function in some of the guns.

Is that what you use for defense? A 7/8 ounce, reduced velocity, low-recoil shotshell? If so, you have bigger problems to deal with.

A modern semi-auto like a Benelli or a Remington VersaMax will function reliably with any and all quality defensive buckshot or slug loads as well as the vast majority of target loads that you may select for practice.

Remington V3 TAC-13.
The new V3 TAC-13 from Remington, which is built on its V3 Field Sport model line, cycles anything you feed it. Remington

If you want proof, take a look at this range test of the new semi-auto Remington TAC-13, which is built on their V3 gas shotgun action, and see how it functions using a wide range of ammo. From target loads to heavy buck shot loads, there isn’t a hiccup, and this gun doesn’t even have a shoulder stock.

“Semi-auto shotguns are too expensive.”

Winchester 1897 and Benelli M4 Tactical Semi-auto Shotgun
Top: The Winchester 1897 is an early pump action shotgun and it paved the way for today’s tactical shotguns. I shot this one in CAS competition for years, almost always loading it single shot.
Bottom: The Benelli M4 Tactical Semi-auto Shotgun with a Zeiss red dot sight. Bryce M. Towsley

Says the guy with a $3,000 custom pistol.

But, ok, I’ll give you that one. If you can’t afford a good semi-auto, buy a pump—they are certainly cheaper. In my opinion, you will not have the best fighting shotgun available, but you will have the best fighting shotgun you can afford.

I refer you back to my days racing motorcycles and the saying we had regarding helmets. (Remember, it was many inflation-filled years ago.)

“If you have a $10 head, then buy a $10 helmet.”

The implication being that if you value your head and its contents; you should buy the best helmet you can find, not the cheapest.

I would say the same applies to fighting shotguns. If you value your life, doesn’t it make sense to buy the best fighting shotgun you can find, regardless of the price, if you’ve chosen that to be your primary line of self defense?

Or, I suppose, you can just stay stuck on stupid.