ASAA   Europe



As experienced with virtually every other kind of weapon-system, the so-called "combat" shotgun, too, is the subject of heated debate as to which type -- gas or recoil operated self-loader or slide-action (pump) is the "best." Indeed, for as long as I can remember, gunshop arguments over this topic range far and wide, with surprising intensity.

For example, slide-action proponents claim vehemently that their favorite is just as fast as an auto-loader and more functionally reliable. On the other hand, auto-loader fans discount this claim entirely, stating that auto-loaders recoil less, are easier to operate, making them a far better choice. And the argument doesn't stop there -- it also includes which kind of choke, open or closed, is best, and whether or not rifle sights and extended magazines are actually helpful.

Yes, the arguments go on and on. Yet, I know of no scientific attempt at actually determining if one design is, in fact, better or if sights, magazines and chokes really make much difference -- quite the reverse! Almost always, the emotional intensity of the debate quickly reaches the point where little objectivity remains, thus preventing anything of any value from being learned.

So, in an effort to settle the issue for once and for all, I consulted with CTASAA Senior Instructors Greg Nordyke and Dale Fricke. A number of conferences on the subject resulted in the creation of a comprehensive evaluation program that would disclose the truth -- factually, scientifically and definitively.

First, to insure a realistic analysis, the following eight tests were agreed upon to simulate the typical situations in which the shotgun is used. In addition to providing the means by which to determine if a particular action-type was indeed superior, they also provided the opportunity to determine whether or not and if so, to what degree, rifle sights, choking, muzzle brakes, pistol grips, extended magazines, et al. influenced shooter/weapon performance.

  • TEST 1 - Buckshot -- Single Targets X 5 at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages five single targets at each range listed.
    TEST 2 - Slugs -- Single Targets X 5 at 50, 75 & 100 meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages five single targets at each range listed.
  • TEST 3 - Buckshot -- Multiple Targets (5) at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters. Weapon presented from "Low Ready." Shooter engages all five targets at each range listed.
  • TEST 4 - Buckshot & Slugs -- Multiple Targets (5) at 7, 10, 15, 25, 50, 75 & 100 meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages all five targets at each range listed. Buckshot is used at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters; while at 50, 75 & 100 meters, he will utilize slugs.
  • TEST 5 - TACTICAL -- Multiple Targets (5) at from 7 to 50 meters. Weapon presented from "Rhodesian Ready." Shooter engages five targets at various ranges and angles, shooting until they're all down. He starts with buckshot in the weapon and is free to change to slugs at any time he wishes.
  • TEST 6 - Buckshot -- Partially Obscured Targets (2 left , 2 right) at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters. Weapon presented from "Low Ready." Shooter engages target that is 40% obscured, leaning out to the left and right from behind projectile-resistant "cover." He engages the target twice from the right and left side at each range specified.
  • TEST 7 - Buckshot -- Small Targets (2) at 7, 10, 15 & 25 meters. Weapon presented from "Low Ready." Head and 3-inches of shoulder-line of silhouette are visible above projectile-resistant "cover." Shooter engages target twice at each range listed.
  • TEST 8 - Buckshot -- Hostage Situations (2 left & 2 right) at 7, 10 & 15 meters. Weapon presented from "Low Ready." 2/3 of head of hostage-holder is visible from behind left and right side of hostage's head and body. Shooter engages twice each side at each range specified. A 3-second (Elapsed Time/Points Per Second)1-shot added on (Points Per Round Expended) penalty is assessed for each instance in which the hostage is struck. So-called "holdoff" is authorized if shooter wishes to utilize it.

Second, we decided that knockdown steel silhouette targets, rather than the paper variety, would be appropriate. These were 18x30 inches, with a 6x6-inch head, and constructed of 1/2-inch T-1 armor plate. Administrative convenience aside (taping the many holes in paper silhouettes and excessive target destruction are not necessary to determine the answers we sought), such targets are reactive, behaving much like people when hit.

For example, a peripheral hit can cause the silhouette to turn, rather than fall. A low hit, though usually still decisive with a shotgun, obviously isn't ideal, and causes the silhouette to fall more slowly than if struck centered. These were placed on a wooden base and spaced one-meter apart, center to center. Timing would be done electronically, beginning with the start signal and ending when the target(s) struck the ground.

Third, we addressed the matter of who the test participants would be. No one seems to contest the fact that at least reasonable shooter skill levels are a "given" in the argument. This being the case, we decided to use three highly skilled shooters and two who had only basic training with the weapon. To this end, Shooters A, B & C were ASAA 4-Weapon COMBAT MASTER- qualified, while Shooters D & E were Distinguished Graduates of the ASAA Basic Combat Shotgun Course.

Fourth, each participant handled and fired each of the test weapons extensively and was given a choice of which one they wished to use. Their selections are listed in the "Administrative Data" section that accompanies this text. To represent the self-loader, a Benelli Super 90 (recoil-operated) and SKB XL-100 (gas-operated) were selected. Curiously, although one was available, no one chose the Remington M-1100. However, the SKB XL-100 is essentially an improved version of the M-1100 design and was chosen by "Shooter B" because of its better "feel."

The venerable Remington M-870 ("Shooter E") and newly offered Mossberg M-590 ("Shooter D") were chosen to represent the slide-action. And, to see if such things really made any difference, a third slide-action, a Mossberg M-500, equipped with a custom-choked, muzzle-braked VANG (VANG COMP SYSTEMS, Inc., 5970 Daley St., Goleta, CA 93117, 805-964-7956) barrel, was used by "Shooter C."

Fifth, after an extensive discussion, it was decided that three separate methods of scoring would be utilized:

1. Elapsed Time -- the total time it took the shooter to "solve the problem," e.g. the time it took him to knock down the target(s). The lowest Elapsed Time is the best, and so on. This was done since speed is obviously a critical element in all anti-personnel gunfights.
2. Points Per Second -- The qualitative view. Each silhouette was assigned a point-value of 10.00. Thus, the highest score here shows the best balance of accuracy and speed.

3. Points Per Round Expended -- the quantitative view. Since the weapons used in the test featured varying magazine capacities, we were interested in whether or not the larger magazines would have any advantage.

Sixth, the shooters would start from either the "Rhodesian Ready," in which the weapon is carried with the muzzle diagonally down across the body and butt under the arm, or from "Low Ready," where the gun was shouldered, but with the muzzle held down at 40-45-degrees below horizontal. In both cases, safeties were ON, thus requiring manipulation to the OFF position by the shooter and trigger fingers were kept outside the trigger guard until the command to engage was received.

It didn't take long for the trends to begin emerging. "Shooter C" and his VANG custom-choked, muzzle-braked Mossberg M-500 produced the fastest Elapsed Times and highest Points Per Second scores in TESTs 1, 2 & 3. The victories of Tests 1 & 2 showed that the tang-mounted safety of the Mossberg M-500 is much handier and thus faster to operate and get the weapon into action. The win in TEST 3, which entailed multiple targets, proved that with shooters who know what they're doing, the auto-loader has no real advantage over the slide-action. The slide-action shooter has to work a little harder, but since he's cycling the action while the gun in recoil, little or no time is lost.

Yet, "Shooter C" had a tough time in the 50, 75 and 100 meter stages of TEST 4 and all of TEST 5 because, although his bead-sighted Mossberg shot just slightly above point of aim with buckshot out to an amazing 40 meters, it shot several feet high and slightly to the right with slugs, negatively affecting all three categories of scoring. Conversely, "Shooter A" with the Benelli Super 90 auto-loader found that rifle sights did him little good -- his weapon shot 1 foot low with slugs at 50 meters, 1.5 feet low at 75 and 2 feet low at 100. To overcome this handicap, he held at the shoulders of the silhouettes, taking them down with no loss in time and producing good performances in Elapsed Time, Points Per Second and Points Per Round Expended in TEST 4.

But when he got to TEST 5, he found that his Benelli Super 90 didn't pattern tightly enough to take down the silhouette at 50 meters, thus requiring a change from ammunition from buckshot to slugs to end the problem. Naturally, this took time and required extra shots be fired, which, in turn, negatively affected his scores in all three categories. This problem became recurrent with all shooters except "Shooter D," whose Mossberg M-590 placed enough pellets on the silhouette at 50 meters to knock it down, and give him high honors in Elapsed Time.

Again, due to the fact that the weapon was cycled while in recoil, there proved to be no real difference between slide-action and auto-loader. Also, the problem of how close to point of aim the weapon shot with both buckshot and slugs affected performances more than whether or not it had bead or rifle sights. Not only did it pattern 1.5 feet high at 15 meters with buckshot, "Shooter E's" Remington M-870 shot four feet high and a full three feet to the right with slugs at 100 meters, meaning that he had to aim two feet low and two feet to the right to guarantee a hit. Naturally this didn't help his scores!

On the other hand, "Shooter D's" Mossberg M-590 shot to point of aim with both kinds of ammo, making his job considerably easier. So, without danger of contradiction we can say that this is a highly variable -- and unpredictable -- problem that demands careful examination of the individual weapon involved before its used in the field.

Although it didn't perform as well as "Shooter D's," Mossberg M-590, "Shooter B" with the SKB XL-100 auto-loader, also found that his weapon: (1) could place enough buckshot pellets on the 50 meter silhouette to knock it down on a fairly regular basis, and; (2) shot either to, or so close to, point of aim with both buckshot and slugs that it didn't matter. Naturally, this gave him less to think about under stress and made his job as a shooter much easier.

When we got to TEST 6 (Partially Obscured Targets), TEST 7 (Small Targets) and TEST 8 (Hostage Situations), whether or not the gun had rifle or bead sights mattered little. What did matter is where it printed in relation to point of aim and how tightly it patterned. Especially during TEST 8 (Hostage Situations), where the target was only 6x4 inches and behind a hostage as well, this became patently obvious. Most shooters tried the long-espoused method of "holding off," that is, adjusting their aiming point laterally toward the outside edge of the hostage-holder's head to try and avoid hitting the hostage. Unfortunately, this caused quite a few complete misses but didn't prevent the hostage from being hit 12 times!

In conclusion, is there a "best" combat shotgun? No. I don't think so. However, there are several things that make all the difference, regardless of the weapon or its inherent features:

(1) The shooter must possess skill with his weapon. If not, he's as good as dead, regardless of what kind of piece he chooses or what characteristics it possesses. So, get some professional tactical shotgun training, such as we offer at American Small Arms Academy.
(2) Try to find a shotgun that shoots to point of aim with buckshot out to at least 25 meters and a full 100 meters with slugs. Rifle sights, whether they be an open V-notch or "Ghost Ring," mean little when the gun won't shoot where its pointed. If possible, get a shotgun with a variable choke system (Rem-Choke, Win-Choke, et al) and test it with the various choke tubes until you find one that satisfies this requirement. Or, buy a custom-choked after-market barrel, such as offered by VANG COMP SYSTEMS, Inc. Muzzle brakes can be useful, but remember too that they channel muzzle flash & blast upwards in front of you, thus obscuring the target in low light.

(4) Avoid shotguns with poor human engineering, e.g. sharp edges or stocks that prevent comfortable grip and straight-rearward trigger pull. As an example, the Benelli Super 90 was the least popular among test personnel because its human engineering leaves much to be desired. Not only did it exhibit a plethora of sharp edges that quite literally left "Shooter A's" hands bleeding after he had used it for only a short time, but its pistol grip was also too large, thus quickly fatiguing the firing hand. To make matters worse, its buttstock demonstrated excessive drop, thus increasing recoil and preventing a straight-back trigger pull, making the achievement of maximum efficiency very difficult.

This gun may indeed be popular, but it is by no means the most efficient. "Shooter A's" performance, though sufficiently good to take first-place in both Elapsed Time and Points Per Second and 2nd place in Points Per Round Expended, came from the fact that he's a 4-Weapon COMBAT MASTER, not from any superiority of his weapon. In fact, when questioned about why he selected it, he said that, although he preferred the Remington M-1100, he chose the Benelli because no one else wanted to use it and he felt that, since it was popular, it should be included in the test! He also said that he figured his score would have been approximately 20% better with any of the other shotguns.

Please don't misunderstand. We played no favorites here. The purpose of the testing was to determine just how the various action types and features compared to each other in realistic simulations of typical real-world tactical scenarios. That by virtue of superior human engineering, some guns are easier to shoot than others is one of a number of issues deemed to be critically important by every single shooter in the test. As such, it cannot be ignored. Like it or not, when the chips are down, there is more to weapon efficiency than mechanical design.




Additional information about ASAA is available. Please email me directly at:

American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
Prescott, AZ 86304

2003 Chuck Taylor's American Small Arms Academy, All rights reserved.