Tag Archives: shotguns

Q&A: Shotguns

You talk very often about shotguns and seem to have them in a high esteem. Could you, perhaps, tell us some more about what’s so great about them, what meaningful differences can there be between models and how to make sure the OC will use them to their fullest effect? I’m from a country without easy access to weaponry, so my knowledge is not too good.

There’s a kind of weird irony here. Generally speaking, I’m not a particular fan of shotguns. However, we do get a lot of questions that slot, pretty directly, into the kinds of situations where they excel.

If your character needs to put “weird” things down a gun barrel, then a shotgun is going to be the easy answer. These things will spit out nearly anything you can crimp into a shell.

For mundane uses, this includes things like conventional shot loads or solid slugs. On the more exotic end, this can include things like less than lethal rounds like beanbags or riot slugs. Those will hurt, but they should keep the target breathing (usually), and commercial payloads that can get downright weird, like Dragons Breath (again, highly reactive metal shrapnel which will ignite on contact with the atmosphere), TAZER slugs, or even flaregun shells. This is before you get into the utterly bizarre stuff that people will hand load into one and fire. Spend some time on YouTube, and you’ll see people making and firing shotgun shells loaded with ceramic magnets, silly putty, stacks of coins, glass, whatever they can think up and fit in a shotgun.

So, when someone says they need to decapitate a monster, the first thing that came to mind were bolo shells, which fall under commercial payloads. This expands further when you’re writing with monsters that require specific methods to dispatch. Granted, the idea of someone putting down a vampire with a copper clad wooden slug is a lot less horrifying than if your characters need to administer a stake directly, but it’s is a safer option.

The other situation where shotguns excel is when you have an inexperienced shooter.

So, when you’re talking about something like home defense, a problem with handguns (which I prefer), rifles, and most firearms is overpenetration. You put a bullet into someone who’s trying to kill you, and the bullet usually doesn’t stop there. It will punch through the person your shooting, go out your wall, through your neighbor’s wall, and maybe come to rest in someone’s engine block, concrete, or the ground. Before someone gets defensive about this, this is more of a problem with rifles than handguns, and it is an issue for shotguns. But, the background of where you’re putting a round is very important.

Pull a handgun in an apartment and fire at an intruder and your rounds could very easily kill your neighbor. With something like an AR15, you need to worry about your background out to around 200 to 300 meters. That bullet will not stop until it makes friends with something solid.

So, as I said, this is a consideration with shotguns. Buckshot won’t be deterred by your couch or some plywood, however, for the amount of damage they can inflict, shotguns are remarkably low power weapons.

Shotguns rely on delivering most of their payload into the intended target. Stray balls of shot are still dangerous, but they’re far less dangerous than putting a bullet somewhere over the rainbow and hoping for the best.

Shotguns do not spray pellets everywhere. They do eject shot in a cone, but it’s a fairly narrow one. This means that even if the shooter miscalculates they have a better chance of downing an attacker than if they were using a slug based firearm. Most hunting shotguns will have a 40 inch spread pattern at 35 meters. (To be fair, this is highly adjustable using chokes, so the user can configure their spread to fit their preferences.) If you’re in the same room as your target, you’re not going to see a lot of missed pellets.

Another factor is that shotguns have unusually light recoil. This makes them much easier to operate and control for inexperienced users.

When it comes to selecting the right shotgun, they’re fairly forgiving. A basic pump action will get the job done pretty reliably. In some cases, with exotic shells, a pump will actually outperform a semi-auto variant. Full auto shotguns exist, but are fairly rare, and again will have issues on non-standard ammo types. For example, loading Dragons Breath into a semi-auto or full auto shotgun will require the operator to manually cycle the bolt after each round.

If you’re looking for a simple, straightforward shotgun to give a character, something like a Remington 870, Winchester 1300, Mossberg 500, or any number of simple pump action shotguns will get the job done. (All of the above are used by military and law enforcement agencies. ) The basic pump design has been around for over a century at this point, and there are a lot of functional examples in existence.

So the short version is, I’m not a particularly big fan of shotguns, but sometimes they really are the right tool for the job.

-Starke

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Hi there! In an earlier post, you said that you would favor a shotgun for monster hunting– would you mind expanding on that? Your blog is top of the line as always. -Evvy

There’s actually a few reasons for this.

First, shotguns are very easy to handle. In spite of their destructive capability, they’re relatively low power by firearm standards. In fact, some non-standard loads, (Dragon’s Breath, for example) don’t generate enough power to cycle the bolt when fired. This means they deliver comparatively little recoil, and make follow up shots (even on a pump action) remarkably easy for an inexperienced user.

This does mean, when using some non-standard loads, your characters will need to manually cycle the action after each shot, even on a semi-auto shotgun.

The second major thing is that shotguns are extremely versatile. There are a lot of different possible shotgun shell loadouts available, ranging from the conventional buckshot and slugs to the exotic rounds like flares, flechettes, piranha (think a shotgun shell loaded with thumb tacks) and dragon’s breath rounds. There are even bolo shells, with two heavy balls mounted to a wire, designed to cut through anything that gets between them. Though, bolo rounds aren’t entirely reliable. We’ve mentioned them before, but there are also the FRAG12 rounds, which will convert a shotgun into a grenade launcher.

This is before you consider hand loaded rounds people assemble in their spare time. These range from cut shells (which convert a buckshot shell to discharge the shot inside the victim) to magnet clusters or even unspent airgun C02 cartridges. (I don’t recommend attempting the C02 cartridges on a commercially produced shotgun.)

When you’re bringing firearms into hunting monsters, you’re often looking for specific weaknesses. For example, a vampire may be immune to buckshot, but what about a shotgun shell filled with toothpicks? It’s going to splinter and be a mess, but it will still drive those wooden shards into the monster, and have a pretty decent chance of piercing the heart.

That said, wooden slugs don’t really work. Most are too light to fly properly. (This is also an issue with silver bullets.) Though, this might be fixable by someone with enough time and an actual application in mind. Some kind of wood core sabot might be another option.

Third, contrary to popular perception (and most video games), shotguns are useful at medium ranges. In theory shotguns remain functional at 100 yards, though 50 yards is a better effective range estimate. This means, yes, you can put a shot shell into a nine foot tall snarling deathbeast at 150 feet.

Finally, shotguns are easily available to most characters. Your character isn’t going to be breaking out a full-auto AA-12, but they can probably get their hands on a Remington 870, Ithaca Stakeout, Mossberg 590 or something similar.

They’re far easier to obtain, and a Winchester 1300 loaded with rock salt shells is
far less likely to draw unwanted attention, the way most specialized monster hunting gear, or high power weapons would.

They’re not a perfect solution to every problem, and obviously just won’t work for some characters, but shotguns are probably one of the most versatile tools an urban fantasy monster hunter can get their hands on.

-Starke

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Starke! You seem to know quite a bit about guns. Can you talk a bit about sawed-off shotguns for me? I’ve been trying to research them forever, but they’re illegal to sell where I live so I don’t get a lot of good information, just a lot of YouTube vids on how to make them. I’m mostly wondering what a standard size/weight is, what the damage is in comparison to a full-sized shotgun, and how easy it would be to carry/conceal it. Any information would be hugely appreciated!!!

Almost by definition, there isn’t a standard size or weight. A sawed off shotgun is just an illegally modified weapon, that’s been cut down to make it easier to conceal.

In general, civilian pump action shotguns tend to be roughly 6.5 to 7 lbs. Barrel length varies depending on what the shotgun is intended for. Hunting shotguns frequently have ~28” barrels, combat versions frequently have ~18” ones or shorter.

The weapon itself can easily add another 20” inches to the overall length, so you’ll end up with a 38” firearm. (I’m using the Remington 870 as an example if anyone’s curious.) At slightly over three feet, you could reasonably stuff it under a full trench and go on with your day.

With a shotgun, the barrel’s length doesn’t affect it’s damage, but it does affect the spread. Longer barrels will have a narrower spread, and be effective at greater ranges.

Cutting the barrel down results in a wider spread and a shorter range weapon, in addition to making it easier to conceal.

With a pump-action (or tube fed semi-auto) shotgun, you can’t gut the barrel shorter than the magazine (the second tube running under the barrel). So, that’s a hard limit, and it will vary even with specific shotgun models.

The Remington 870 I mentioned above has varying magazine capacities ranging from 4 to 7 shells. Doing some quick math; a 12 gauge shotgun shell is between 2.5 and 2.75 inches, so, your 7 shell magazine could be nearly 20 inches long, meaning you couldn’t cut enough off a 20 inch barrel for it to matter.

The second thing that can be cut is the stock. This will reduce your ability to properly stabilize the shotgun, but, again, it will make it easier to conceal. Ignoring bullpups, I’m not aware of any shotguns that actually run vital components into the stock, but that is an issue with some rifles (including the entire M16/M4 family), so if you’re starting with some exotic full auto shotgun, getting rid of the stock might cause problems.

With a breach loading shotgun, you can cut it down to an almost pistol sized weapon. Anecdotally, these will have a very wide spread, though I couldn’t tell you what their effective range is or what they weigh. You might be able to stash one of these in a custom shoulder holster, and it might be short enough to hide under a jacket.

Small military/law enforcement shotguns for use in close quarters exist, and these can end up with 10” barrels. Combined with the pistol grip, you can end up with a shotgun that’s under 20” long. This won’t quite fit under a jacket, but a thigh length coat should be able to conceal it.

I don’t know the weight for those, but at a guess, I’d stick it at around 5 to 6lbs.

The primary use for sawed off shotguns is going to be indoors in cramped spaces, where a full length weapon would get in the way or be awkward to use. Homes and apartments are the primary examples. Existing compact shotguns are used primarily as breaching weapons, to destroy a door’s latch and hinges with a frangible round before entry.

It might also be worth it to look at this post from July. That was about a near future urban combat environment, but some of the details might be applicable, so long as you remember the specific weapon names I was picking were more for giving them high tech looking weapons rather than actual combat workhorses. (I’m specifically linking to my response to ProRonin because I forgot to talk about carbines in the original post, not for the powered armor.)

-Starke

Would a shotgun firing shot have less identifying ballistic evidence than a rifled gun such as a pistol? (In terms of matching fired rounds to a specific gun)

If it’s loaded with buckshot? Yes and no.

When you’re trying to match a bullet to a gun, usually you’re looking at the pattern of striations (scratches) on the bullet itself. This is caused by the bullet moving through the barrel and scraping across the rifling. This is what gets the bullet spinning, and keeps it from tumbling in the air, but it also leaves a distinctive pattern on the bullet itself.

Keep in mind, lead is a very soft metal, so firing into a concrete wall, or even just pulling it out of the victim with surgical tools will destroy some of those markings.

With a shotgun, the shot itself won’t have striations that you can tie back to a specific weapon, but the spent shells can still be forensically useful in identifying a weapon.

Spend shell casings pick up scraping and indentations from the firearm that they’re fed through. The firing pin will leave an indentation in the back of the shell casing. The breach block (which seals the battery/chamber when firing) will impress on the shell when it’s fired. And, finally, the feeding system, the extractor and ejector, will leave markings on the spent shell. And, all of these things will apply to a shotgun.

Spent shells can be useful for identifying the make and model of a weapon, and in some cases actually identifying a specific weapon (the same way bullets are). Though, my limited understanding is, that it is less useful for identifying a specific weapon, unless there is some anomaly or defect in the components that handle the shell.

However, if the shotgun isn’t cycled after being fired (with a lever or pump action) or reloaded (with a breach loaded shotgun), then there wouldn’t be any casings left at the scene.

Also, breach loading shotguns and revolvers won’t leave extractor markings, and some don’t even have ejectors. The extractor is the mechanism that removes a round from the magazine and cycles it into the chamber. The ejector removes a round from the chamber and kicks it out of the weapon, so the extractor can load the next round.

If the shotgun is loaded with slugs, and the barrel is rifled, then it should leave striations, though I’m not completely certain this is the case. A smooth-bore shotgun probably wouldn’t, though, again, I’m not sure.

Although it’s not generally an issue with shotguns, suppressors will further scrape the bullet, meaning they can make matching striations much harder or impossible.

-Starke