Looking for The Most Versatile Firearm? Buy a Shotgun!


There’s not much of an argument when you compare the versatility of a shotgun to any other firearm. As a home defense weapon, shotguns are reliable and effectively intimidating. From big game to small game (including upland hunting) you can find a shotgun capable of getting the job done. As a survival gun.. shotguns can cover all the bases in the most adverse conditions.

The choices of gauges, action types, barrel lengths and stock configurations are almost endless. Choices for action types include pump action, semi auto, single or double barrel, and even lever action. When discussing gauge selections, the 12 gauge is by far the most common today, with the 20 gauge being a close second. Others like the 16 gauge, seem to have lost its popularity among modern day shotgunners. Another, the 28 gauge, has gained much popularity by upland bird hunters. The 10 gauge is a rarity in today’s times. Then there is the 410, which is correctly designated as .410 bore (slug diameter of the .410) rather than gauge. Most folks are now aware the Taurus Judge and the Smith & Wesson Governor both will fire a .410 shot shell in a revolver handgun, a viable self defense option.

Most Versatile Firearm
A wide variety of shotgun choices today, Photo by Josh Gillum

Of the above gauges mentioned, 10 gauge is the largest, then 12, 16, 20, 28, and .410 in descending order based on the amount of shot or the weight of and individual slug (projectile) the hull/shell contains. On average shell lengths are 2 ½ to 3 inches in length.

Below are some of the uses that make a shotgun so versatile today:


Shotguns have been used for hunting purposes for hundreds of years. And for good reason.

While upland hunting is likely the most popular use for a shotgun, there are several other pursuits that would call for using a shotgun. For instance, load some buckshot and you now have a viable option for critters like coyotes, fox and wild hogs. Deer hunters have long used a shotgun paired with rifled slugs. Slugs are completely capable of taking larger game, including bear and even elk.

Most Versatile Firearm
Wide selection of ammunition types and gauges

Defensive use

Everyone has their own ideas as to what will work best for them in a self-defense shotgun. Because I carried and used one extensively during my career in law enforcement and for more years than I care to remember in a hunting capacity, the pump action in 12 gauge has to be my top pick. A primary reason for me, is the pump action being fairly simple and rugged, making it generally reliable and easy to use.  As I mentioned earlier, 12 gauge ammunition is the most readily available of all the gauges listed – a critical consideration when making a ‘one-gun-does-all’ selection.

As to the shotgun make and model, I like the Remington Model 870, Mossberg 500, Winchester Defender, and Ithaca Model 37. There have been several variations of these, but this list comprises most. Overall, I have utilized the Remington 870 more than any other, to include extensive application in law enforcement.

Most Versatile Firearm
Mossberg 500A & Remington 870 showing sling, ammo sources and forend light

If you are considering a shotgun exclusively for home defense, the simplicity of a side-by-side double barrel may also be worth a look. Stoger, Cimarron, and CZ all make a version of the short barreled “coach gun,” that can be ideal for quick home defense. And, there’s the added charm of owning a model whose very type is named after its historical use as a security tool in the wild west of days gone by.

Also readily available today, are pistol grip style shotguns. Here, I’m speaking of a hand grip only, with no shoulder stock. The newest on the market; Mossberg Shockwave and the Remington Tac-14 both come in a 14-inch barrel and are considered shotgun pistols, therefore sidestepping NFA (National Firearms Act) requirements. The Mossberg 500 series also has a true pistol grip shotgun, offered in both 12 and 20 gauges.

As you might imagine, there are a myriad of other add-ons for a shotgun, like ammo carriers, a variety of sights, lasers and slings. My philosophy is to keep it simple and usable based on your needs. I like a ghost ring sight or just a plain old front sight bead, even for a defensive shotgun. However, there is a following for the use of red dot style sights for defensive shotguns. Red dots have gained much popularity in both the carbine and handgun world, why not shotgun–if it fits your needs. I also like a simple sling and ammo carrier on the buttstock or the receiver. Essentially that is as far as I would go for add-ons.

Most Versatile Firearm
Ghost ring sight on a Remington 870


It goes without saying that the shotgun has to be a top contender for an all-around survival gun.

Consider the following: with the right selection of ammo, I can take winged game, small game, big game, defend myself and home from all manner of unwelcome visitors, breech a door, launch tear gas (within legalities of course) and create a high level of anxiety in anyone determined to do harm to me or mine. Another critical attribute is the durability of a good shotgun, generally very weather and harsh condition resistant – a good quality for any survival gun!

Other scattergun attributes include the ability to switch out barrels and chokes with ease, and the addition or deletion of any tactical option with ease. Concerns surrounding the shotgun for some folks may be weight, recoil and length. But in today’s world there are enough variations to fit most any person’s needs and abilities.

My personal pick for one shotgun to do it all is a Remington 870 pump action (Mossberg 500 being a close second), 18 inch barrel, 3 inch chamber, extended magazine tube, interchangeable chokes with a ghost ring style iron sight system. I also like a butt stock ammo carrier and a two point sling. A side rail or comparable attachment point for a light would be a nice option too. I can live without a red dot or other optic system.

Most Versatile Firearm
Pair of Mossberg 500s including a pistol grip model

In today’s world of carbines and high capacity magazines, the shotgun has been often overlooked. Even many police agencies have eliminated it from their armory.. a big mistake in my opinion.

Looking for the most versatile firearms system? Look no further than a good shotgun!

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