By Jeff Johnston, Shooting Illustrated
I recently returned from SHOT Show, where hanging in plain sight behind scores of semi-automatic pistols and ARs of every imaginable make were myriad new tactical shotguns. Indeed, with the advancements of bird’s-head-gripped guns that are not legally defined as shotguns and therefore can be made with shorter barrels, bullpup configurations and also removable-box-magazine-fed and AR-inspired shotguns, tactical shotgun gurus are experiencing more innovation in the last few years than we’ve seen in the last 50. That’s right, the golden age of tactical shotguns is upon us.
While several trends are ongoing, the style that is now dominating new shotgun development more than any other is the bullpup. (The funny thing is, no one really knows why they were called “bullpups” to begin with.) Research indicates there were rifle designs placing the action behind the trigger group as early as 1901 with the British-born Thorneycroft carbine. But, none of that really matters now, anyway.
The question of “why a bullpup” is easier to answer, and that’s because the design offers several tangible advantages: First bullpups, with their actions set behind the trigger group and occupying the space normally wasted in the buttstock, can be made shorter overall than conventional designs without sacrificing functionality. Second, their designs are conducive to multiple magazine tubes and detachable magazines. This is where I believe you’ll see the most advancement in the near future. That doesn’t mean I love them; they require a level of acclimation to familiarize oneself with them. But, they are growing on me.
The downside is that with the gun’s weight moved back toward the buttstock, bullpups are balanced much differently than traditional shotguns; i.e. they probably aren’t all that great for wingshooting if you’re used to swinging a Browning Auto-5 in the duck blind. For tactical purposes though, they are tough to beat.
Several new bullpup models include: Kel-Tec KS7, Hatsan Escort BTS 410, IWI Tavor TS12, Charles Daly N4S, Black Aces Tactical DTR and others. What all of these shotguns have in common is that they are incredibly easy to wield and conceal, yet they hold a bunch of rounds. Especially notable is the Tavor TS12, a gun featuring a rotating, three-tube magazine that holds a total of 15 rounds. This Star Wars-looking semi-automatic measures only 28 inches, overall.
Perhaps the company that is arguably pushing the envelope most, however, is a tiny firm from Pennsylvania. Certainly, it’s not the juggernaut of mass production like the Remingtons, Brownings and Mossbergs of the world, but it’s nimble enough to try various new designs without fear of breaking the bank if something fails to sell en mass. Black Aces Tactical is the company actually responsible for the Shockwave/bird’s-head-grip trend recently, and though it makes several guns of that ilk, it continues to press onward with cutting-edge designs such as a nifty “Pro-Series” lever-action shotgun, a “Pro-Series” bullpup of its own that has a spring-assisted pump action and several new NFA-stamp-required short-barreled shotguns that it buys from the big guys, chops down and customizes.
AR-inspired shotguns are trending big time now from more than a dozen companies—mostly made in Turkey. These guns look, behave and handle like ARs, which is to say they feature detachable mags and controls just like those semi-automatic rifles. This year several of the guns have been duly modified by the addition of an actual cheekpiece on their collapsible stock that provides protection against a 12-gauge shotgun’s significant recoil and therefore makes them easier to shoot than prior models. A great example is the F12 model from Typhoon Defense. The only downside of these guns is that for now—like larger AR-10s—they tend to be heavy. But there is significant advancement in this arena. These guns make for an intuitive transition for riflemen who mainly shoot AR-15/10s but who desire the devastating close-range power of a shotgun.
Finally, Mossberg and Remington keep cranking out both full-length, traditional-style shotguns that are as functional as they are easy to shoot and handle—such as Mossberg’s new 940 JM Pro and the established Versa Max Tactical series from “Big Green.” And sales of the two company’s bird’s-head “firearm” models, the Shockwave and Remington’s semi-automatic V3 Tac-13, respectively, remain brisk. The V3 is especially innovative because its return springs are located in the receiver rather than in the buttstock, so it can accept a folding arm brace from the likes of Suarez Tactical and others.
Doing so makes this semi-automatic a non-NFA shotgun-like defensive arm that can hold six rounds yet only measures 23 inches total when in the folded position. Look for more shotgun-based firearms like this short, handy and packable model from more firms in the near future.
In essence, 2020 is already shaping up to be the year of the tactical shotgun. I’ll keep you posted on new developments and new offerings as they happen.
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