Why Semi-Autos Are the Best Tactical Shotguns
Autoloading rifles and handguns are the tactical norm, so why do we cling to 19th century tech when it comes to shotguns?
“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?
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.