Shotgun Advice

A couple days ago, Jarhead Survivor forwarded me an email from a reader which asked some advice about shotguns. I started to reply to him, but then realized it was a pretty common (and excellent!) question that many readers might be able to benefit from. I’m going to omit his name, but if he wants to chime in, he’s more than welcome! Here’s the question:

“I’m looking for some advice on shotgun barrels. I’m looking for a short 18-20 inch or so that will pattern shot tight and that I can use slugs in. 

I’m a gun novice and appreciate your input. Is it realistic to expect a range of 75 yards with slugs? Obviously in competent hands.

Should I go with a rifled slug barrel? Can I still shoot shot through a rifled barrel?”

Like I said, great set of questions. Shotguns are easily the most versatile weapons systems out there, and the best choice, in my opinion, if you can only have one SHTF gun. However, there is a bit of compromise involved if you want to have a short barrel that patterns shot tightly; but there are ways to get what you want with a minimum of hassle.


Winchester 1-oz. slug cutaway

First, let’s tackle the question of slugs. Yes, it it is absolutely realistic to expect a range of 75 yards with slugs. 100 yards isn’t out of the question either, really. You have two things working against you: the gawd-awful trajectory of the heavy 1-0z slugs (assuming we’re using a 12-ga and non-saboted slugs) and the lack of precision sighting equipment on a standard bead-sighted shotgun barrel. Let’s tackle the trajectory first. A traditional 12 gauge 2 3/4″ 1-ounce slug is a serious tool, projecting a huge hunk of lead at 1600 feet per second (fps) or so. But that lead slug has the aerodynamics of a brick, and loses velocity and energy quickly, meaning it will drop very, very quickly. The Winchester Super-X slug’s trajectory (according to their website) drops about 2″ at 75 yards, and 6″ at 100 yards. So that means that if you’re holding on the neck/collarbone area of a humanoid silhouette target at 100 yards, the slug will drop into the heart region. So you have to take this into account. My own experience through practical shotgun courses has taught me that a hold in that collarbone region will keep the slugs in the vital areas out to a good distance….but beyond 100-125 yards, it’s really hard to hit with.


Remington 870 Ghost Ring sights


Speaking of hard to hit with, the standard bead sight on a shotgun will cover a good portion of a humanoid target at 75 yards, making a precision hit a matter of guesswork and luck. We can combat this with the addition of better sights. I prefer the aperture, or “Ghost Ring” sight on shotguns. They are generally overbuilt to handle the stout recoil of a 12-gauge, and offer far superior sight alignment than just a standard bead. They do improve your shooting, too: I put a set of standard Mossberg Ghost Ring sights on a Mossberg 590 I built, and I could reliably put 5 slugs in the head of a B27 silhouette target at 80 yards, time after time with a snooth-bore barrel. They usually do require silver-soldering a front sight base on your barrel and possible drilling and tapping to the receiver of the shotgun, so a gunsmith install is whole-heartedly recommended. You can also mount any manner of optics to your shotgun, from red dots to standard scopes, and that will help heaps, but I prefer my shotguns to be no-frills…plus adding MORE weight to something as heavy as a fully-loaded shotgun really isn’t my idea of a yummy cup of tea.


Onto the second part of his email, which concerns tight shot patterning. You can have your cake and eat it too here, but it may be a bit different that what you’re thinking. I would DEFINITELY steer clear of a fully-rifled barrel unless you’re going to shoot slugs 100% of the time. I built a Mossberg 535 slug gun into a close-quarters tactical shotgun for a friend, and when we shot it, the shot pattern was HUGE. Like 10 feet wide at 30 yards huge. I believe (this is my conjecture, by the way, no actual science) that the spin of the barrel rifling imparted a spin to the shot as it traveled down the bore. Then, centrifugal force created by that spin just opened up the shot pattern to really un-useful sizes. Believe me when I say it was ridiculous!


If I wanted to shoot buckshot tightly and only have one barrel, I would do one of two things: either get a slug barrel (or a turkey barrel sometimes works too; it may have rifle sights built in as a bonus) that’s a smoothbore, BUT it has interchangeable chokes. This way, you could keep a, say, modified choke in there for a tighter pattern, or even put an extra-full choke in for turkey hunting, but if you were shooting slugs, you could install a rifled choke or an improved cylinder choke. Carlson’s makes such a barrel for a Remington 870 and others. If you’re rocking a non-repeating, single-shot shotgun such as the NEF Handi-rifle, or T/C Encore, their respective manufacturers makes such barrels.


The other way I would go, and it’s probably THE way I would choose if I had a few bucks, would be to get in touch with Vang Comp. ( They have a proprietary way of back-boring the forcing cone and barrel that drastically reduces shot deformation and bunching to increase consistency and accuracy, as well as making a much tighter pattern for longer shots with buckshot. I’ve read articles that say that a Vang Comp barrel with reduce the shot pattern by as much as 1/2…and that’s pretty substantial, folks. A normal 12-ga with an improved cylinder choke will GENERALLY shoot 1″ for every yard, meaning that at 25 yards, you have a two-foot diameter pattern. A Vang Comp can bring that down substantially, and it will shoot slugs very well to boot. However, you’re looking at around a $200 bill…IF you supply the barrel.


Hopefully this helps. There are probably other ways other readers would go about this problem; anyone wanna chime in? Sound off in the comments!


Stay safe!


6 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. March 3, 2014, 8:40 am

    Some very good advice above – thank you Road Warrier.

    If you are on the cheap, Hunter’s Specialties used to sell a turkey hunting aperture hi-viz filament sight system named UNDERTAKER that works pretty well with ventilated ribbed barrels. You might search for this one if the budget is tight. I think Tru-Glo markets a similar sight, but am not certain of that.

    I installed one on my HD shotgun and it really works well, much better than the plain bead sight, especially at night or darker surroundings. I haven’t shot it with slugs though. I do have a turkey hunting Rem choke (Extra Full) on the barrel.

    I can highly recommend the Federal Flight Control buckshot – they do pattern more tightly than other loads I’ve tried in my gun. Test in yours to see if you get similar results in your shotguns. I tried them after my brother killed a feral hog at 35 yards with them and was impressed that so many pellets (limited in buckshot loads) hit the animal.

    I hope this helps.

  • Chuck Findlay March 3, 2014, 3:14 pm

    Good advice in the article. The only thing I would add is to buy LOT’S of ammo. while the present ammo shortage is causing problems for rifle and handgun ammo. I still continue to see lots of shotgun ammo in stores. But the next manufactured ammo shortage may include shotgun ammo, try to be ahead of it bu buying it now.

    • Steve March 4, 2014, 2:04 am

      What does one have to lose buy buying more shotgun ammo? It is a near certainty that the price will not go down materially. If all that goes wrong with this country is inflation, which is allm0st certain, the shells will be a great hedge against inflation.

      Shotguns and their shells are not on the first list for confiscation, either. Ask Joe Biden if you don’t believe me.

      At a minimum, they are a great hedge against inflation. If things get worse they may appreciate in real terms. If the world goes totally bat poop crazy, they will really appreciate in value.

      Buy now, whenever you see a good price.

  • Steve suffering in NJ March 3, 2014, 4:25 pm

    Thanks much RW. Appreciate the detail.

  • JSW March 4, 2014, 11:40 am

    One aspect of shotgun barrels you’ve got to consider is steel shot.
    Why the concern for steel shot? Because it requires a ‘loose’ choke. Shooting steel through a full choke is asking for trouble. True, nothing may happen the first few times, but repeated use will deteriorate the barrel, eventually causing splitting at the muzzle. The reason being that steel does not deform to conform to the barrel as lead does.
    If you want a shotgun to handle both slugs and shot, stick with a smoothbore modified choke. You’ll not lose much in the range aspect and won’t have to concern yourself with switching loads from deer to duck/goose/turkey on the same outting- which will be a serious possibility in a SHTF situation.
    Steel is one of the reasons full choke shottys are difficult to find new.

  • M Johnston March 5, 2014, 4:03 pm

    All good advice. As an old fart who enjoys recoil less every year I opted for a twenty gauge a few years back. The twelve’s all found good homes with my sons.
    My all purpose scattergun is a Stoeger coach gun with 20″ barrels. It’ll do just fine as a home defense or hunting weapon and will handle any 20 gauge ammo on the market without a hiccup.
    If I could only have one gun in a SHTF situation it’d be a good twenty two rifle. Only because a 500 rd. brick of ammo takes up about the same amount of space as a 25 rd. box of shotgun shells.


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