Firearms

10 Great Shotguns — The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Wilson Combat custom shotguns based on the Remington 870 design

Not long ago, we looked at 10 great handguns. The feature was well received with many comments. Today, we are looking at 10 great shotguns. Since I am a hunter, and interested in personal defense, I may not be able to cover some of the great sporting clay and competition shotguns.

I have a hard and fast rule that may be rare in this business. I don’t write about firearms that I have not personally handled and fired, and I don’t cover experiences I don’t have. With that being understood, let’s look at 10 great shotguns.

Bob Campbell shooting a Winchester '97 pump action 12 gauge shotgun
This original Winchester 97 can take a beating! Slam firing is a lot of fun.

Winchester 1897

The Winchester ’97 is a rugged and reliable piece that was manufactured well into the 1950s. This is an exposed-hammer, pump-action shotgun. The 1897 shotgun looks like it is disgorging its guts as the action is worked but it is reliable. This shotgun was much appreciated in action against the Moros in the Philippines.

Variants include the World War I Trench Gun that was also used as late as Vietnam. Even the Chinese copies are decent guns. It is great fun to ‘machinegun’ a target with the ’97. Just hold the trigger down and pump the action. The shotgun will fire with every pump of the action.

Marlin 1898

A competitor to the Winchester the Marlin 1898 was regarded by some as an improvement over the Winchester. The Marlin was given several safety features and detail improvement. However, the Marlin isn’t allowed in Cowboy Action Shooting (CAS) competition because of the bolt unlocking plunger.

It seems that a shooter firing quickly enough could inadvertently unlock the breech and the shotgun would fire when unlocked. Just the same, the Marlin is an important piece. I have fired my example often — and very carefully.

Marlin 1898 pump-action shotgun chambered for 12 gauge shotshells
The Marlin 1898 is an interesting piece of ordnance.

Ithaca 37

The Ithaca pump-action shotgun was introduced in 1937. By 1968, one million had been manufactured. The Ithaca was manufactured in sporting, military, and personal defense versions including the legendary Ithaca Deerslayer. The Deerslayer features good fitting and adds rifle sights to make the most of slug accuracy.

Ithaca had fits and starts of production and is now back in manufacture. The major claim to fame of the Model 37 is that it ejects shells out the bottom of the receiver. While this makes the shotgun ambidextrous, clearing malfunctions or dropping a shell in the chamber is laborious. Ithaca shotguns are often found at a fair price in the used rack. Famously smooth, they are quite a piece of Americana.

Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer 12 gauge pump-action shotgun
This is Ithaca’s famous Deerslayer version of the Model 37.

Remington 870

The Remington 870 set the pace for pump-action shotguns with its bottom loading, using dual action bars, enclosed hammer, and an easily removeable barrel. Introduced in 1951 and offered in every gauge available, the 12, 20, and .410 are the most popular. The Remington 870 replaced earlier Remington pump-action shotguns and quickly gained acceptance as a first-class hunting shotgun in the form of the Wingmaster.

The Police Magnum receiver is legendary for its ability to withstand abuse. Wilson Combat bases its combat shotgun on the Remington 870. Pre-bankruptcy guns were sometimes not as smooth as they should have been. Modern production is back at the top.

modern Remington 870 DM shotgun with detachable magazine
The modern Remington 870 DM detachable-magazine version is the latest 870.

Mossberg 500

Where you see the Remington 870, you’ll also find the Mossberg 500. Slightly lighter due to the Mossberg’s aluminum receiver, the Mossberg holds one more shell in its standard configuration. Since 1961, the Mossberg 500 has been among the most popular pump-action shotguns of all time.

The affordable Maverick is an economy-grade version. Heavy duty versions, such as the 535, handle 3.5-inch magnum shells. This is a great go-anywhere, do-anything shotgun, and the first pump-action shotgun I owned.

Mossberg 500 .410 gauge pump-action shotgun
A beautifully-fast-handling game taker! A Mossberg 500 in .410 bore.

Mossberg 590

The 590 is more than just a variant of the Model 500, it is a super-duty pump-action shotgun. There are none tougher. The 590 features a thicker heavy barrel, extended magazine, and heavy duty barrel attachment.

For a while (during the pandemic) all good shotguns were tough to come by. The 590 was coming with a rough action and stiff safety. You can make them smooth with effort. As of July 2023, Mossberg is back on top of its game.

Bob Campbell working the action of a Mossberg 590 pump shotgun
The author keeping his hand in with the Mossberg 590.

Remington 1100 and 11-87

Introduced in 1963, the Remington 1100 replaced the little heralded 878. The 1100 is a gas-operated shotgun. This shotgun quickly earned status as one of the most reliable shotguns ever built.

It was proven reliable with a wide range of loads. I have used these shotguns in 12 gauge and 20 gauge, and cannot recall an unqualified malfunction. They are solid and reliable, and there seems to be no bad run or production era.

Remington 11-87 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
The author’s well used and most trusted Remington 11-87.

Benelli M1 Super 90

Introduced in 1967, Benelli’s Inertia-driven action is among the most reliable semi-auto shotgun actions. Forgiving of cold, heat, or dust, the Benelli system introduced space age reliability to shotgunning. One of my shotguns is a Heckler & Koch marked Benelli M1.

Benelli shotguns were once imported by HK. This is as reliable a shotgun as I have ever fired. Although I have excellent experience with other makes, including the Remington V3, nothing gives me the confidence of this old warrior.

Benelli Super 90 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
It is difficult to mark one as a favorite shotgun but the Benelli Super 90 is in the running!

Remington V3

The Remington V3 is a gas-operated shotgun similar in many ways to the Benelli M4 — Benelli’s gas-operated military variant. The pandemic and Remington’s bankruptcy curtailed the Versa Max shotgun’s acceptance. The V3 Tactical has proven reliable, effective, and fast handling. An extended bolt release, extended cocking handle, and express-type sights are modern features lacking on my older Benelli. The rub is… Will Remington make the V3 available in the near future?

Remington V3 shotgun with green receiver
If you own one of these V3 Tactical shotguns, you are lucky!

Mossberg 940 Pro

This shotgun is affordable but offers reliability and fast handling in shotgun competition. I love my Mossberg 930, and I am getting into the 940. The two are comparable while the 940 demands less cleaning in the long run.

While I’ll tell you that these are excellent shotguns, don’t ask me. Jerry Miculek, and his daughter Lena, have won many matches with these shotguns. Ordinary mortals (such as I) also put the Mossberg automatic to good use.

Mossberg 940 Pro 12 gauge shotgun
Rugged, reliable, and completely modern, the Mossberg 940 is a great shotgun.

These are my 10 greatest shotguns. A trap shooter or a duck hunter will naturally have different choices, and I would love to hear from you!

Did your favorite shotgun make the author’s list? Which shotguns would have added to the 10 greatest list? Share your answers in the Comment section.

  • Wilson Combat custom shotguns based on the Remington 870 design
  • Winchester Model 97 pump-action shotgun
  • The Winchester action is exposed as the pump is operated.
  • Chinese copy of the Winchester 1897
  • Bob Campbell shooting a Winchester '97 pump action 12 gauge shotgun
  • Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer 12 gauge pump-action shotgun
  • Ithaca 37 12 gauge pump action shotgun, right profile
  • Bolt release on a Marlin pump action shotgun
  • Marlin pump-action 12 gauge shotgun action with the hammer to the rear
  • Marlin 1898 pump-action shotgun chambered for 12 gauge shotshells
  • Bob Campbell shooting a pump-action 12 gauge shotgun from behind a barrel
  • Mossberg 500 .410 gauge pump-action shotgun
  • Mossberg pump-action shotgun, left profile
  • Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun (top), Remington 870 pump shotgun (bottom)
  • Bob Campbell shooting a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun with detachable magazine using a car for cover
  • modern Remington 870 DM shotgun with detachable magazine
  • Benelli Super 90 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
  • Remington 11-87 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
  • Remington shotgun action
  • Bob Campbell working the action of a Mossberg 590 pump shotgun
  • Mossberg 590 pump-action shotgun, right profile
  • Mossberg 940 Pro 12 gauge shotgun
  • Jerry Miculek running the Mossberg 940
  • Remington V3 shotgun with green receiver
  • Remington V3 Tactical 12 gauge shotgun expelling a shotshell
  • Remington Versa Max shotgun, 12 gauge, right profile
  • Benelli Mod.1 Super 90 receiver markings

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (10)

  1. I too love several of the shotguns listed, but I’d also added the Benelli Super Nova as far as hunting with one.

  2. Winchester 1300 pump. I have the camp defender model. It’s been thru hell and back hunting and camping trips. Still works great. I modestly outshoot buddies with more expensive shotguns, alot. Back in the day. Walmart special,$179.99!

  3. In my opinion, for a pump model to make the “great shotgun list” it must do one thing.
    When pulling the shotgun into your shoulder, the forend MUST release upon firing to travel rearward. Too many models require an extra action of pushing the forearm away from your shoulder to release the forearm befor rearward travel can be accomplished. The Maverick is one such model and it is a nuisance. I’ve gone back to the Benelli Nova for its speed and smoothness.

  4. The Ithaca was a fine shotgun but a beast to shoot. When I started security work we had the 37 with no butt pad. Every time I finished the range with it, my shoulder was black and blue. The some of the Remington 1100’s and probably some of the Bemellli’s are on the assault weapon ban list so that will be interesting to see how that all plays out.

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