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Throwback Thursday: 6 Best Pump-Action Shotguns

man shooting pump-action shotgun

Among the most robust, reliable, and effective shoulder-fired firearms is the pump-action shotgun. The pump-action shotgun may be simple to operate, but like all firearms, it demands some thought before you settle on which shotgun is right for you.

You should decide what role the shotgun will fill. Hunting would call for a longer barrel and a shotgun with interchangeable choke tubes. The stock should be comfortable, and a healthy recoil pad is desirable for long shooting sessions. For competition, a shotgun with a red-dot sight is ideal. For personal defense, the choke isn’t as important. and the barrel should be short and fast handling.

You can get by with some pretty inexpensive gear, and then there are those in the middle price range that provide a good value. There are too many good and affordable shotguns to search the shops for used firearms, but sometimes older guns are good performers.

Man shooting best pump-action shotguns
The 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is an extremely popular option for sporting and defensive use.

Some firearms have features you may not need, such as a light-bearing forend or the ability to mount a red-dot sight. If you don’t need these features, don’t pay for them. On the other hand, if you purchase one of the common shotguns — a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500 — you may add accessories later. Other shotguns do not have as many accessories available. Let’s look at some of the main considerations when choosing the best pump-action shotguns.

Main Considerations

Gauge Choice

The recent ammunition panic buying has put an exclamation point on the need to purchase a firearm that takes readily available ammunition. This means a 12 gauge shotgun. The 12 gauge is versatile and offers a wide range of loads that are available in most every gun shop and online retailer.

Barrel Choice

A heavy barrel or a light barrel is one choice. Modern shotguns have barrels that are easy to change. While you may find a vintage Savage 67 or High Standard Flite King at a fair price — and these are cool shotguns — their lack of an easily removable barrel makes them far less versatile. A Remington 870, as an example, may take any game in North America with a single hunting barrel with a choke system backed up by a slug barrel. You can quickly and easily swap between a 28″ barrel for hunting and an 18.5″ barrel for home defense.

two best pump-action shotguns with different barrel lengths
When you choose a pump-action shotgun, barrel choices include the short defense-oriented type (bottom) and the longer barrel with choke tubes for hunting game (top).

Shotgun Sights

A vent rib may be important for sport shooting. A personal-defense shotgun with a 20-inch or shorter barrel is ideal for most of us and a simple front bead is all that is needed. A shotgun that may be used with slugs, and which you are going to practice with often, will benefit from a set of ghost ring sights. For more tactical situations, an optics mount for a red dot sight is a must.

Feed Device

Today we have the choice of a tubular under-the-barrel magazine or a removable box magazine. I strongly prefer the feel of the tubular magazine and its easy handling. However, the Remington 870M is a reliable and fast-handling shotgun if you prefer a box mag. Its sturdy detachable magazines are well designed.

Mossberg barrel and magazine tube
This Mossberg features a standard tube-fed magazine.

Top Shotgun Choices

Remington 870

With its push-button safety, smooth dual-rail feed, and fast handling, the Remington 870 is a proven shotgun. You may spend more — a lot more — on highly elevated versions with a muzzle brake, extended magazine, aperture sights, and special furniture. Or you may purchase the standard Police Magnum action with bead front sight and own a formidable home defender. You may add the XS magazine extension for two more shells and be especially well prepared for an emergency. For hunting, one of the Wingmaster versions with choke tubes is ideal. The 870 is easily upgraded.

Remington 870 magazine fed best pump-action shotguns
The Remington 870DM is a tough-as-dirt modern shotgun.

Mossberg 500/590

The Mossberg features a tang safety, which some prefer. The Mossberg is a rugged shotgun proven in military service. There are three grades of Mossberg. The standard 500 is probably the best buy. Available in hunting and defense configurations, and in the popular Retro series, this is a reliable performer and one of the best pump-action shotguns available.

The less expensive Maverick 88 series are credible choices for hunting. The Maverick action is reliable, but corners have been cut in manufacturing and the forend may rattle. The Maverick 88 features a single action rail. For hunting and for use as a house gun for those on a budget, the different versions are affordable choices.

The 590 is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The 590 features a heavier barrel and is generally beefed up over the Mossberg 500. This is a no-compromise combat shotgun. The 590 is sometimes seen with a simple bead front sight or you may obtain one with aperture sights.

Mossberg 590 Magpul edition
This Mossberg 590 is fitted with a Magpul stock, special sights and an accessory rail.

Benelli Nova Pump

I am a huge Benelli fan. This shotgun features a stainless steel receiver with a polymer overlay. It doesn’t get any tougher than this. The action is very smooth and reliable. The forend features a magazine cut-off for single-loading munitions if desired. Most examples are supplied with aperture sights from the factory. This is superb quality at a fair price.

Benelli Nova Pump-action shotgun
The Benelli Nova pump-action shotgun is a formidable defensive shotgun.

Harrington and Richardson Honcho

This little short shotgun is an import with a storied name. The full-size H&R shotguns are affordable and have given good service. This little stubby shotgun with birdshead grip is among the most affordable of the type. This fits into a very narrow niche for personal defense and demands the shooter know how to handle the type well. I have tested an example in 20 gauge with excellent results.

Birdshead grip pump-action shotgun
Harrington & Richardson’s Honcho is affordable and reliable.

Turkish Shotguns

There are quite a few pump-action shotguns imported from Turkey. Some have famous names on them. Shop around and don’t pay double for a fancy label. Some of the Turkish shotguns offer impressive features, such as oversized safety buttons and takedown knobs that are specially designed for greater leverage. The sights are often well designed. Among the better choices are the shotguns imported by Iver Johnson. These shotguns offer reliable function and good handling. They are fine basic defensive shotguns. Several finish options including Cerakote are available.

Man shooting Iver Johnson pump-action shotgun
The author trying out the Iver Johnson pump-action shotgun.

Dickinson Marine Shotgun

A tough chrome finish is essential for those that keep a shotgun on the boat. Marine fishermen, boaters, and explorers like to keep a shotgun handy. Repelling boarders isn’t usually a problem. Killing sharks brought overboard with the catch is a common chore. A properly chosen shotgun charge won’t sink the boat, but finishes off a thrashing shark handily. The Dickinson is among the best pump-action shotguns in the marketplace.

Dickinson Marine Shotgun
If you prefer a marine finish, the Dickinson shotgun is among the most affordable. Note the shotgun features a heat shield, uncommon on such an inexpensive shotgun.

Conclusion: Best Pump-Actions

These are just a few pump-action shotguns available. They offer simplicity of operation with absolute reliability with low power, standard, or magnum shells. You simply cannot go wrong with any of these shotguns.

What are your favorite pump-action shotguns? Let us know in the comment section!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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
Rifle Magazine
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 (25)

  1. When I was young, I curiously looked inside every police car I saw to see what model of shotgun was locked into the front-seat bracket. They were all Ithaca M37s. I took that as a testament to the quality of that weapon. I started with the lesser expensive Mossberg M500 and after trying many other models, returned and stuck with it. I have two 7 shot Mavericks with tritium beads. Muscle memory is primo to me. Those pumps with 7, 12 gauge 00buck in the tube are all I need, I believe.

  2. I love me 870’s ,,,, 12 and 20,,,, got one of each set up for defense use.
    got other pumps too,,, but always rely on the Remington’s ,,, love those guns.

  3. For most folks, a good standard pump shotgun is ideal. The new wave of short barreled “non shotguns” may seem to be a good idea, but try one in 12 gauge with buckshot, and you may need to find where it landed after the first shot. Worse, you may need to get your head treated after getting smacked because of the recoil. If you insist in getting a bird’s head grip, seriously consider a .410 with one of the new “handgun” loads.

  4. I really like my Winchester SX-3. Cycles quickly and is reliable. If I was going to buy a tactical shotgun it would be a Mossberg primarily due to the tang mounted safety.

  5. I bought a Mossberg 20g pump Shockwave a couple of years ago for home defense— and also because it’s lightweight AND easily stored bc of the shortness of the gun itself .It took about a box of shells shooting it to figure out what was the Best technique for me . It was from the hip at first until I ran across a ‘hand sling’ (Amazon) that fits over the bird beak stock and over your hand (can be configured for L and R hand shooters) that GREATLY REDUCED RECOIL when I wanted to get an out front more accurate aim WITHOUT the recoil . It was the best $20+ bucks I’ve spent in a long time !!! I enjoy shooting this gun 10 fold now— not to mention this is a cool shotgun and works SMOOTH and FLAWLESSLY – great shotgun !!!

  6. Like Joe, for close quarters home defense I like the Keltec KSG. Short, bullpup design, high count magazine (especially with “shorty shells), easy to use.

  7. “the rub”with Ithaca 37s is that they are finicky about ammunition.In hindsight I should have kept mine,but I wanted a less temperamental shotgun.For now I’ll stick with Mossbergs.Incidentally,the safeties on Ithaca 37s can be reversed.

  8. We own several shotguns, semi-automatic and pump .12 Gauge (Mossberg 930 & 500), 2 .20 Gauge pumps (Remington 870 & Mossberg 510) and 2 Rossi Circuit Judges in .410 Gauge. I’ve been considering a shorter model, like the Mossberg Shockwave or Remington Tac-14. I just have yet to find one in .20 Gauge.

  9. I appreciate the Remington 870 Marine Magnum I was given as a gift from my youngest son. I trained on it in the police academy, and have always liked that rounds 4-8 are a big surprise to someone who is expecting a “three and reload” scenario. Since I am not hunting anything other than coyotes, intruders in the house, or defending from bears in the woods (and only on my own property) I don’t worry about the three round limit of hunting shotguns.

  10. I bought a High-Standard in’71 with an 18 and an eighth barrel. It holds 7 and one in 2 3/4. Have a folding stock for it; don’t need all the whistles and bells, or anybody stupid enough to go against it

  11. As a left eye dominant right hander, I have had a few problems over the last 50 years with guns that eject to the right. Auto-loaders especially, but even with a pump, occasionally the breech can malfunction allowing debris into the face of the shooter.
    For that reason, I have preferred bottom eject pump shotguns for years- I started with an Ithaca 37 in 12 ga and she still functions as sweet as the first shot. Well made and incredibly reliable with years of police and military service credit. I also have a Browning BPS in 28 GA. and 20 GA and they are sweet. I would recommend either to a left handed shooter. The Ithaca is readily available used and their may be clones; but the Browning BPS is available new.

  12. Couldn’t agree more about the Benelli Nova . I’ve had one for several years and the ghost ring sights are a huge plus .
    I’ve even shot clay with great success.
    Operation is flawless.!
    Great article!

  13. Nothing like my old Ithaca model 37 with a Deer slayer barrel. You can pump out 6 as fast as can. Wouldn’t trade it for any other shotgun. Antiques for old timers is what you call it with a little humor.

  14. I have a M-5 From Rock Island Armory that is very smooth to operate with a 18 inch barrel Matt nickel finish.

  15. I have a Mossberg 500/combo, 12guage 3″ shells shotgun. Combo meaning it came with a full stock and barrel – modified choke,
    It also included an 18″ barrel and a pistol grip. Besides being dependable, it has a wide assortment of parts and accessories, I have purchased composite stocks including the shockwave grip, I have also purchased a multiple choke barrel with the rib sight !
    In many ways it’s on the cheap side, but has never let me down, I highly recommend !
    Remington on the other hand, I inherited my Granddad’s, but I would never purchase or waste my time and money on a Remington !

  16. Remington[does it still make??] a few lefthanded 870,conversely Mossberg with its tang safety is ambidextrous.Also some Mossberg 590s came with a bayonet lug[won’t that annoy the hoplo phobes!],Ithaca 37s were temperamental as to what brands of shells they’ll cycle.Browning A-5s and the Remington&Savage licensed copies are interesting.You do pay more for the Belgian A-5 vs the Japanese manufactured ones.

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