When you’re thinking of iconic military weapons, chances are that your mind does not immediately go to ‘shotgun’.
More associated with farmers and rednecks than with armed forces, the shotgun nevertheless is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of many soldiers the world over.
It’s highly useful in any close-quarters situation (such as in the twisting streets of Iraq or Afghanistan’s cities) and has some ingenious niche uses outside of direct enemy contact – some of which uses we’ll examine in the course of this article.
Let’s take a look at the five most iconic military shotguns from around the world, from the trusted sidearms of U.S. troops to infamous trench guns that the German government tried to ban!
Winchester Model 1897 Wasn’t Intended to be a Modular Combat Shotgun
The shotgun so infamous that the German government tried to ban it, the Winchester Model 1897 – commonly nicknamed the ‘trench gun’ – was the bane of the Boche during World War I.
The 1897 didn’t begin life as a combat shotgun at all but as a civilian firearm for shooting clay pigeons.
This function was ingeniously repurposed in the muddy trenches of World War I, and the trench gun version of the shotgun was soon placed in the hands of ‘trapshooters’ – men with experience with clay pigeon shooting – to shoot grenades before they fell behind friendly lines.
The 1897 was also a brutally effective trench-clearing weapon and was so feared by the Germans that their government took the unusual step of petitioning the US government to remove the weapon from the theater of war.
The Germans claimed that the trench gun version of the short-barreled shotgun was in breach of Kriegsrecht (the rules of war) because its shotgun slugs caused ‘unnecessary suffering’, thus contravening the Hague Convention. The US government promptly ignored the request.
The trench gun was so effective in World War I that variations remain in use within the US military to this day.
Beretta 1301 Tactical
For reasons unknown, self-loading military shotguns have never really caught on within the US Army. The Beretta 1301 Tactical is one of the few combat shotguns to have bucked this trend.
This semi-automatic combat shotgun forgoes the manual pump-action chambering mechanism generally associated with shotguns.
Instead, its proprietary Blink Gas Operating System allows for semi-automatic operation, and it’s capable of firing all four rounds in around a second.
Combined with its rate of fire, the shotgun is also relatively compact, making it great for close-quarters combat and ease of crowd control.
It’s also light on recoil, and this – combined with its ergonomic design and relative ease of use – makes it a fantastic combat shotgun for female soldiers.
It also sees widespread use by LEOs, particularly tactical units like SWAT.
Benelli M4 is a World-Renowned Shotgun With a Pistol Grip
This Italian-made combat shotgun is renowned the world over for its versatility and reliability. And not without good reason – it’s such an effective weapon that it was adopted by the US Marine Corps in 1999 and is still in use today.
Chances are, in fact, that when you think of tactical military shotguns, you probably immediately picture the M4.
This is because of the fact that, beyond its practical use in armed forces and tactical response team, it’s heavily featured in movies and TV shows.
In addition to the fact that it’s semi-automatic, making for fast and effective firing, the M4 is also completely modular.
Although it’s formidable as a stand-alone shotgun, the stock can be switched out for another, and a number of sights (such as Ghost Ring sights) and other accessories can easily be accommodated.
All of this adds up to make one of the most effective and iconic military shotguns the world over.
Mossberg 500 Series
This rugged, lightweight pump-action shotgun sees extensive use by not only the military but also civilians.
Its versatility makes it ideal for such activities as duck, turkey, and deer hunting, in addition to its popularity as a close-quarters tactical combat shotgun.
The Mossberg 500 has, in fact, been put through its paces by the US military, who have tested it for durability, heat resistance, and accuracy and found that it passed in all areas with flying colors.
It has an 8-round magazine, making it much more capacious than some of the semi-auto competitors on the market, and its barrel can be easily swapped out for a longer or shorter variant.
On top of this, the 500 is extremely reliable. The US military’s benchmark involves discharging 3,000 rounds of buckshot, during which the gun cannot suffer more than three incidents of malfunction.
Anecdotally, several Mossberg 500 reviewers have commented that the gun didn’t suffer a single misfire or jam in days-long tests in harsh conditions.
Remington 870 is one of the Combat Shotguns Favored by the US Marines and Navy Seals
The Remington 870 is often touted as the best pump-action shotgun around and was historically used by various parts of the US Armed Forces, such as the Marines and Navy Seals teams.
Though it doesn’t see as much military use as it once did, it’s very popular with US LEO tactical teams and is still used by the Belgian, Finnish, and Canadian armed forces.
The 870 is renowned for its durability and reliability and is the perfect gun for civilian hunters due to the fact that it can be kept in hot or wet conditions without the user having to worry about jams or misfires.
It’s also highly modifiable and can be used as a close-quarters deck sweeper just as easily as for duck hunting.
The 870 is sometimes criticized for its heavy recoil and short range, but this is a misconception due to the hard rubber pad used on the stock (which makes the recoil feel worse than it is). Despite this, however, it remains one of the best military shotguns around.
Combat Shotguns Have Truly Earned Their Place in Military History from World War I and World War II to the Iraq War and Beyond!
The humble shotgun’s popularity – not only for civilian hunting and home defense but also for CQC tactical and military engagements – is such that we could add another five examples to this list and still have barely scratched the surface.
That said, the examples of combat shotguns given are titans in the military shotgun world, and their versatility has ensured that they’ve seen use in over 100 years of armed warfare.
Whatever your thoughts on military shotguns, there’s something to be said for a weapon that’s so fearsome that it has world governments begging their enemies to retire them.