The Riot Gun

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms


What is a riot gun? It is a 12 gauge pump-action shotgun with an open cylinder choke and 18-inch barrel. It just may be the best all-around personal defense firearm in the world. The short barrel and typical high magazine capacity—compared to sporting shotguns—gives the riot gun an edge in personal defense.

Door breaching Remington 870 shotgun

This is a door breaching Remington 870 shotgun.

The riot shotgun and the combat shotgun are really one and the same with the difference purely conversational. The riot gun is compact enough for any foreseeable need. The 18-inch barrel shotgun handles quickly and swings from one target to the other rapidly in trained hands. The open cylinder choke gives us a wide pattern compared to a sporting shotgun.

The pattern is sufficient for typical shotgun chores at ranges of 5 to 20 yards. The short barrel makes handling inside the home easier than managing a full-length shotgun, easier to keep at ready in a vehicle, and easily and securely mounted inside a police cruiser. You may even mount the shotgun at home and ready in the new Hornady wall safe configuration—a great product at a fair price.

Federal Personal Defense buckshot shot into a gel block

This is a gelatin block shot with Federal Personal Defense buckshot.

The typical bead sighted, short barrel shotgun is a 12 gauge. Extended magazines that increase the riot gun capacity from five to eight shells are popular. That is a lot of firepower and a sufficient reserve for any foreseeable emergency. The modern riot gun is as likely to have a synthetic stock as the traditional wood stock set. The wood set, however, is the traditional riot gun set up and remains the most popular.

The efficiency of the riot gun for short-range anti-personnel work relies on the effectiveness of 00 buckshot. Eight or nine double aught pellets are a terrible harrow at close range. Buckshot is effective to about 20 yards, with 15 yards the ideal range. Buckshot can be dangerous far past this range. When you address the combat load, it is good to remember that the effect of a large number of shot, striking the adversary instantly, is what makes the shotgun effective.

Military testing has proven, the shotgun has a higher hit probability than any other shoulder-fired weapon including fully automatic military assault rifles. (Versus civilian AR-15 rifles that are actually sporting guns.) The Winchester PDX uses a payload of both buckshot and a slug. These loads are no doubt effective and offer a good option for the person using a shotgun for personal defense that wishes to hedge his bets. When the shotgun is considered an all around, go anywhere, do anything firearm for personal defense, the true riot gun with an 18-inch barrel and bead front sight is simple to use and easily taught.

Winchester PDX shotgun slug

Winchester’s PDX load features a single slug and three 00 buckshot.

Some riot guns have modern features. These may include a heat shield on the barrel and rifle sights or Ghost Ring sights. These sights are more efficient with slug loads. Slugs are effective, well past the normal effective range of buckshot. I tested several buckshot loads in the riot gun, ranging from standard 2 ¾ buckshot to 3-inch Magnum to the reduced recoil personal defense loads.

After 20 yards, it is best to transition to slug loads to get a good hit that anchors the threat. With slugs, even a bead sighted riot gun will hit a man-sized target at 50 yards. An authority on personal defense tells me that his research indicates that buckshot hits on humans do not add they sum, that three hits feels like five to the nervous system. He feels that three hits are needed with 00 buckshot, per his personal experience and research, to provide an effective wound and cessation of hostilities. A modern load, such as the Federal Personal Defense buckshot load, produces a cohesive pattern with good performance.

Riot shotguns have roles in modern times not envisioned by their original inventors. Shotguns are also a great device for launching special munitions. I had a good friend that worked security and police at airports, and the threat of birds causing aircraft to crash is real. These men and women are holders of special permits that allow them to kill migratory birds if needed even out of season and in numbers due to the possibility of death or severe damage caused by these birds.

Shotgun-launched bird bombs are highly effective for frightening birds, but that fright provides only temporary relief. Bird dispersal teams are involved in immediate protection. They have shotguns and frightening devices including distress calls and even pyrotechnic devices.

Less than lethal devices, fired from the shotgun, have seen much use in civil defense and police work. The bean bag or flexible baton is one such device. Tear gas and ferett projectiles are others. Rubber buckshot and tear gas rounds are used in police and military shotguns. The bean bag is a bag filled with dense lead that is used to knock a person off of their feet. Those engaged in psychotic behavior or threatening suicide have been knocked off their feet with this type of projectile. When peace officers address a threat from a dangerous individual—and suicidal individuals are just a turn from homicidal—the officer usually has a backup officer armed with buckshot in case the non-lethal loads do not take effect.

Bob Campbell shooting a shotgun from a barrel

The author is practicing tactical shooting from cover with a short barrel shotgun.

Another very interesting use for the tactical shotgun is as a door-breaching device. This use is an important tactical role that is used often by both the military and police. As many of you know, the old TV myth of a cop using his .38 to shoot a door lock open is just that, a myth. A .38 would not penetrate most door locks, and if it did, you would never get the door lock open.

The door-breaching shotgun is used to shatter hinges and take the door down in a quick manner. The shotguns used in this role are typically very short barrel shotguns with a stand off device on the muzzle. This device adds to safety when firing the door breaching round into the latch. The actual charge then knocks the latch off of the door. The charge is designed to expend all of its force on the door and not pose a threat to anyone on the other side of the door.

When all of the roles the tactical shotgun may be called upon to fill are studied, it is obvious the old-style riot gun comes up short. Sure the riot gun is useful, but the tactical shotgun must have good sights to efficiently launch its projectiles. The combat shotgun must have the capacity to launch slugs accurately well past effective riot gun range. The good old riot gun is still useful, and it’s all the shotgun most of us need. However, the modern tactical shotgun is a more capable firearm.

Riot gun or tactical shotgun: Which one do you prefer? Do you own one or both? Which make and model of shotgun do you prefer? Share your answers in the comment section.


Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (29)

  • Brian


    I bought my Remington 870 riot gun at the Heidelberg Rod & Gun Club back in the early 80’s. Paid $150.00 for it. Some French police department had refused them. I still use it, and have replaced the walnut stock & grips with fiberglass camo ones, and added a magazine extender. It sits by my bed, loaded with trap shot.


  • Edward Lewandoski


    Need some home defense shotguns like this in 20 ga.Twenty Gauge would be a tad easier on the wrist.I like the looks of this one better than the new Mossberg Shockwave. The foregrip and hand grip look better for control on the Remington.


  • Jim in Conroe


    I have a UTAS UTS 15. Because of the bull pup design, only a short section of the fully legal barrel extends forward of the trigger guard. The short shoulder stock handles recoil well, and it can be purchased with a built in light and laser.

    With a full load of 15 2-3/4″ 12ga 00 buckshot shells, it is very formidable.


  • peteyraymond


    I have a Hatsun Escort pump tactical shotgun in 12 gauge. I’m pretty pleased with it. It groups slugs at about 6 inches at 50 yards, but it kicks like hell! Anyone else have any experience with this shotgun?.


  • Dark Angel


    Riot Gun, Trench Broom, whatever you want to call them are extremely effective. Carried one, an ‘old time’ hammer gun, that still had a bayonet lug and hand shield on it, as a ‘chaser’ (one who takes prisoners out on details) at the Fort Sill, Okla. stockade. Prisoners feared this weapon. When 1st introduced during WW 1, the Trench Broom was protested by the Germans as being ‘cruel and unusual.’ In other words; effective! So, just imagine how a home invader feels coming face to muzzle, in a poorly lighted room, with a homeowner carrying one.


  • jim


    Nice article, BUT the first picture shows a pump shotgun with a 12 inch barrel NOT an 18 inch. For a “riot” gun, the 12 inch IS better even if not legal.




    The riot shotgun configurations can also be used when camping, hiking, gathering wild plants in the woods, etc against many animals in the woods or mountains for personal defense. Alaskan Guides carry shotguns for use against bears, so using a shotgun for this use may require some practice for that kind of use but it could be effective. For home defense a shotgun is really good as in the article above, even the lowly .410 can be used by a lot more women than a 12 Gauge because of recoil.


  • Secundius


    How controllable is it from a Wheelchair?/! Does ANYONE know…


  • Deplorable Robert


    If the SHTF senario ever happens, I am sure that Mossberg 835 sawed off at 12 to 18 inches would do up close, using 3 1/2 inch #4 turkey shot! You can get an extra shell in the magazine if you use 2 3/4 inch, but hey… Nothing like shooting 3 1/2 inch! Unless you have a 10 gauge.🇺🇸


  • TomC


    The first photo in the article is identified as a “door breaching Remington 870 shotgun” — which is it is NOT, at least not this decade. That is an NFA Short Barreled Shotgun, but it is not set up for door breaching, at least not by modern standards — it MIGHT have been considered usable for breaching a decade or two ago, but any door breaching shotgun built in the last decade or so would have a muzzle standoff device to keep the shooter from having the muzzle in contact with the door when firing. And, of course, modern door breaching shotguns are normally equipped with a full stock that makes them much easier to control for the two or three quick shots needed.

    And by the way, the author ought to know better than to refer to an 18″ barrel on a shotgun as being a “short barrel” — it certainly IS shorter than a typical sporting shotgun, but the term “short barrel” has had a special connotation for both rifles and shotguns ever since the NFA was passed.


    • Primo


      I was thinking the same thing about the stock and barrel length. I got a Moss 500 ATI and its a certainly a scatter tact, but the barrel is not considered short. My pops (14y marine vet) says a breacher usually has a full stock (adjustable) or short stock (fixed) and a side saddle to carry loads (you cant count the hinge shots as protection rounds and you never know how many doors you got to breach)


Leave a comment

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

%d bloggers like this: