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Image credit: Harrison Tactical.

Shotgun – Bang! What’s up with that thang? How to Buy a Shotgun

By Valerie Farabee

In the immortal words of some of my favorite old school rappers:

“You’re a shotgun – bang! What’s up with that thang? I wanna know, how does it hang?”

She asks some good questions. What is up with that thang? How, precisely, does it hang? Never fear! Priceonomics is here to guide you through the basics of buying a shotgun.

Lady-powered 90s rap aside, there are many reasons for you to consider buying a weapon, whether it’s for home defense, target practice, or hunting. A shotgun is a versatile, reliable, and formidable choice that will keep you safe during a home invasion as well as make for a useful piece out on the target range.

What’s Up With That Thang?

Shotguns are firearms designed to be fired from the shoulder and are typically used to hit targets at close range, making this an ideal weapon for home defense. Rifle and handgun cartridges only fire a single projectile at a time, while shotgun cartridges fire multiple lead pellets called ‘shot’ that spread out as they leave the shotgun’s barrel. Hence the name shotgun: A gun that shoots shot. Shotguns are short-range weapons because the power of the cartridge charge is spread evenly among the pellets, thus the energy of the shot decreases quickly as it moves away from the gun.

How Does it Hang?

Shotguns are typically used for home defense, target practice, and hunting, and have a long and storied history in military and police forces. There are three basic types of shotguns to consider: pump-action, semi-automatic, and break-action.

Types and Forces to Contend With

Pump-action shotguns. A pump action shotgun is a single-barrel shotgun that holds multiple rounds. Spent shells are ejected and a fresh round is chambered by pumping the handle and then pushing it back to its original position. Extraordinarily durable, these guns are an excellent choice for hunting in wet or swampy conditions. Pump-action shotguns are the top choice for home defense because they are easy to use, nearly impossible to break, and are more reliable than their semi-automatic and double barreled cousins. Added bonus: these can be had relatively inexpensively starting at around $200. The Remington 870, used by American police forces for years and the top choice for home defense, can be had for between $320-$750. This is the recommend starter shotgun and the top choice for home defense in the United States.

Semi-automatic shotguns. A semi-automatic shotgun fires a single shell and then automatically ejects the spent shell, and chambers a new one from the magazine. This means that shots can be fired more quickly, which can be great in the field! Unfortunately, as the design is more complex they are more prone to jamming than pump-action or break-action shotguns. These are more expensive than the pump-action shotgun, ranging from $400 up to $1600.

Break-action shotguns. A break-action shotgun gets its name from where it breaks open at the end of the barrel to load two shells, one in each barrel. It has one trigger that can be set to fire either the top or bottom barrel first, and the inertia from the first shot will reset the mechanics to shoot from the other barrel the next time the trigger is pulled. These are typically used by hunters and sports shooters. Break-action shotguns are very simple, almost never fail, and are easy to maintain. Unfortunately, each barrel only holds a single shot, so the gun needs to be reloaded after only two shots, which can be a problem if you are out hunting and want more shots. These classic weapons are expensive! You can get a great starter for around $1,000, but if you’re an enthusiast and a collector you might spend up to $4,500!

The Buck Shots Here

Shotgun ammo is broken down into three fairly simple to parse categories: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs.

Birdshot. Birdshot is used primarily for, surprise, surprise, hunting birds.

Buckshot. Buckshot is used for hunting small to medium-sized game, by police forces, and for home defense purposes.

Slugs. A slug is a giant bullet. You really don’t need these unless you’re a police officer or hunting large game.

Grasping Gauge

Handguns and rifles use caliber to measure the diameter of a barrel while shotguns use gauge. Here’s a handy trick for gauge: the smaller the gauge number, the larger the shotgun barrel; the larger the barrel, the bigger the boom from your boomstick. If you are primarily skeet shooting or hunting, you might go for a smaller gauge like a 20 or a 28, but otherwise go for a 12 gauge shotgun! The 12 gauge shotgun is the most common shotgun sold because it is a great all-purpose gun. Ammo and other accessories are easy to find so this is a great choice for home defense in particular.

Choke ‘em if Ya Got ‘em

Choke tubes are tubes that screw on the inside of the barrel to modify the spread of the shot depending on how far your target is. The kind of choke you need will depend on the kind of shooting you’re doing. A skeet tube offers a forgiving pattern that scatters wide and fast, while a full choke will fire a nice tight pattern, good for bird and other game hunting. Choke tubes can be had from between $20 – $150.

Be Safe

Alright, you’ve been primed on the three main types of shotguns, you have an idea of the types of ammo you can get, a good grasp on gauge, and a basic comprehension of choke tubes – you are ready to go to the gun store! Any questions that aren’t answered here will be answered abley by a good salesperson at the store, so make a list and head on out! Always remember to keep your gun unloaded when not in use and always point it away from your face and any people who are in the vicinity. Gun safety is paramount – don’t skimp on this part of gun ownership and always ask questions.

Be a safe and responsible gun owner, and happy shooting!