Bullpup Shotguns: Do They Make Sense?

Kel-Tec KSG Bullpup shotguns with ammo

These days when I browse the shops, among the few modern tactical firearms readily available in any number are shotguns. Some of them don’t really look like shotguns!

They are something called a bullpup. Some love the idea, some do not, and the individual must decide if they are willing to invest the time and effort to master the type.

This is a shotgun that the user should immerse themself in and learn the nuances of the design and operation if they are to deploy the shotgun for personal defense.

Bullpup shotguns are unconventional in appearance, while the base or skeletal structures are conventional shotguns, either a pump-action or a self-loading action.

Bullpup Shotgun Design

With a bullpup design, the receiver is behind the shooter’s cheek, the barrel is under the cheek and forward, and a tangent trigger system allows a pistol grip to fire the shotgun.

As may be expected, the balance is different from a standard shotgun, and even more different when fully-loaded. As an example, the Kel-Tec KSG is seven pounds unloaded and 8.5 pounds loaded.

The shotgun holds a formidable 14 shells! It is manageable for fast movement, however, and you do not notice the gun getting lighter as the shells are expended.

The KSG is a pump-action shotgun with two guide rails operating the action for added smoothness. If it is based on any other shotgun, it would be the Ithaca 37 with its downward ejection.

The KSG feeds from twin tubular magazines. The magazines feed independently. A lever operates as a stop-switch between magazines.

Choose which magazine you wish to load and move the lever to cover the other magazine. Load the shells as you would any other tubular-magazine shotgun.

When the magazines are fully-loaded, move the selector switch to cover one magazine, then load the other. This selector also acts as a safety, blocking both magazines if the lever is in the middle position.

The KSG’s unique magazines are a bit slower to load than a standard pump shotgun’s single magazine. With 14 shells on tap, this is hardly a consideration.

Consider the KSG’s formidable payload and compare this to a conventional shotgun with an extended magazine tube at nine shells max, and you see that the bullpup makes things possible we perhaps would have thought not possible just a few years ago.

The KSG is fast, very fast, for those that practice. I mounted a TRUGLO red dot on my personal example and began to shred targets from the seven to the 25-yard line.

A combination of Federal, Fiocchi, Remington and Winchester buckshot and slugs never failed. Recoil isn’t as strong as you would think, perhaps less than a conventional shotgun.

Kel-Tec KSG
Perhaps the most successful bullpup shotgun is the Kel-Tec KSG.

Advantage of Bullpup Shotguns

Bullpup shotguns typically have plenty of rail for mounting optics, lasers and sights. This isn’t true of many conventional shotguns.

A 30mm red dot from TRUGLO is affordable and allows very fast work at all ranges. Shoot with both eyes open and hit the target!

The bullpup self-loading shotguns offer excellent control. These usually have a detachable magazine. Excellent speed and reliability are possible.

Don’t hose the target down with buckshot, fire at a slower cadence in practice and switch from one target to the other and you will be armed with a formidable combination.

With bullpup shotguns, keep the hand forward and press the forend into the shoulder. A vertical foregrip is a reasonable choice and offers some shooters better control.

Kel-Tec KSG
The KSG is unconventional in performance, but handles well.

Practice and Maintenance

You must learn maintenance with these shotguns. The usual bullpup action is encased in a shell that contains a more or less conventional shotgun in an unconventional format.

The bullpup isn’t for everyone. There is fun, even novelty, in the bullpup shotgun. For those willing to master the type, the short profile and fast handling in tight quarters make it an excellent choice.

The primary difference in the bullpup is that it must be handled and aimed like a rifle, the natural point of the shotgun isn’t the same when the bullpup treatment is added.

I am not certain this is a good thing, as the shotgun is based on handling for combat performance while the rifle is based on marksmanship. Some shooters prefer AR-15 stocks.

They are immersed in the rifle and also immerse themselves in training with the shotgun. Commonality of weapons in fit and feel is fine and the shooter that practices relentlessly will master the weapon.

There is nothing as versatile as the shotgun. Shotguns, for the most part, feed from tubular magazines.

The pump and self-loading shotguns feed from the tubular magazine under the barrel and even the Kel-Tec KSG feeds from twin tubular magazines.

A drawback to combat shotguns has been the relatively low capacity.

While conversions to a 10-round drum exist, the ability to quickly use a detachable magazine has been deemed desirable, but seldom has the need been met.

Seven and eight-round extended magazines are about it.

TriStar Bullpup shotgun
TriStar’s line of bullpup shotguns handle well and make a formidable home defense choice.

Other Factors to Consider

Finally, we have shotguns fitted with a removable magazine that seems to be reliable and the KSG with integral high capacity.

Be certain to master manipulating the safety selector, trigger, magazine release and bolt stop.

The choices of modern shotguns, such as the SRM 1216, is a broad choice, and with some very good choices, you may choose the perfect bullpup shotgun.

These are innovations well worth your time and effort to explore.

What do you think of the Kel-Tec KSG and other bullpup shotguns? Let us know in the comments below!

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 (17)

  1. BC,

    How loud are these things when they fire? A 12 ga goes BOOM! anyway and moving the chamber back towards your ears and face seems like it’d make it even louder and closer to breath in firing gases. Nevertheless, America is a great country and it’s nice to have clever choices like these.

  2. I traded a 12 gauge Coach gun for Kel-Tec KSG and I love it. It was the best decision that I could have made for use as home defense. There is nothing I would change about the KSG. Great design and engineering. Thank You KEL-TEC.

  3. Biden will not last two years at this rate. He will cause a lot of pain with gas, taxes, eliminating girls sport, etc. God is letting us witness what the world without Him is like. Just hide your guns and don’t register them. This too shall pass.

  4. Just bought a DP-12. Super excited to add it to the collection of long guns in the safe. I’m excited to learn how to properly use and maintain it. I’ll keep you posted.

  5. The KSG is more or less ambidextrous, as the shells are ejected downwards. The shell tube selector is centered between the tubes. I’m left handed and I haven’t had any issues my KSG.

  6. I have three models of KSG’s. Your first picture shows the original KSG. Your next two pictures show the KSG-NR. You don’t show the KSG-25. I like my KSG’s very much. I like their ability to shoot mini shells without an adapter. My favorite KSG for home defense is the KSG-NR because of its built-in flashlight. The KSG’S also have alot of accessories available to upgrade their usability. With their capacity and versatility using mini shells I think they are one of the best home defense shotguns.

  7. L,
    Many of these BP platforms are designed to change to either right or left hand operation. Some others may be simply ordered in one variant or the other.
    As to current laws an definitions the BP seems to have flown under the radar to date.

    Hey Norm, the trigger issues on a BP shotgun are not nearly as much of an issue as they are with a rifle. Given what it’s designed fir, how it’s used, and the environments it’s used in the issues you note are really not of great or noticeable concern. The tactical shotgun not being a precision or long distance weapon dosnt require the 1.75 pound pull of a crisp trigger assembly. I actually like the heavier pull for the BP shotgun. As to take up and delay in the trigger, that can be addressed and corrected with little work and is DIY more often than not.
    There are Im told several production platforms that have adjustment capability built into them.
    My MSAR STG556 trigger was much as you describe the AUG’s. With a little time an thought I have it down to a much cleaner pull and a crisp 3lb release with less take up. I’m no Smith so if I can do it anyone with tools an basic skills can.

  8. Great article, Bob! Simply not enough written about the BullPup platforms either Rifle or shotgun to my mind.
    I have carried the BullPup exclusively now for some years, my EDC’s are the MSAR STG556 Modified for AR magazines as well as the detected mags. The M1A short barrel variant restocked in a BullPup configuration (I find the SOCOM16 to be the best balanced) is my heavy caliber platform.
    Since Vietnam I have always had a shotgun as part of my loadout. It’s simple versatility within the urban,CQ,and structure clearing environments cannot be spoken of enough.
    The BullPup shotgun shines and expands two important deployment environments. It’s use and deployment from inside of a vehicle and it’s position within an assault or breaching stack.
    Both of these envelopes operational restrictions are expanded by simply the size of the BullPup (some are even a bit shorter than an M4).
    In a vehicle they are now of a leant that is easily used from inside and thru a window.
    A shotgun in a breaching stack before the BullPup was often limited to either the front or rear of the stack because of its overall leant caused problems when the stack is bunched up and the additional half second or so to sweep a
    room with a standard riot platform.
    The BullPup allows for placement anywhere in a stack, much quicker sweep deployment and engagement times and is a force multiplier within CQ environments.
    My personal choice is the tube feed, pump variant. There is much to be recommend the auto loader but I prefer the simplicity of the pump. Much of that has to do I think with what I cut my teeth on as a youngster and in the Military. Having used both detachable magazine and drum loaded platforms l find the tube feed variants much easer to handle an deploy than Mag or drum as they (the tube) are far less likely to snag, catch on, or get in ones way in tight spaces.
    Cost of a production BP 12ga is another concern for many. There is an option that I have used for some years now and very successfully. If one already has a tactical 500 or 870 they might give BullPups Unlimited a look.
    This is an aftermarket BP stock system fir an existing platform and works very well.
    You are very correct about training and learning to use a BP, rifle or shotgun. To use them proficiently and be comfortable with them does take extra time an attention. Once one has achieved that skill level the platform becomes an intuitive extension of ones body and movement.
    The loading or number of rounds carried by a conventional tube has never been an issue for me but I can see where having more than five or six might come in useful on occasion. The idea of loading up one tube with #1 buck and the other with heavy slug, or breaching rounds and then being able to select as needed is attractive.

    Anyway, thanks again for what you do and the information you provide.
    I always look forward to reading your articles no matter where I am.

  9. I have a pump 12 gauge and semi-auto 12 gauge. Both were built as bullpups, not conversions. I bought both of them new. The trigger pull on the pump was greatly improve by a conversion kit from M-Carbo. The trigger pull on the semi-auto is unchanged out-of-the-box. I don’t sense a difference between the trigger pull on the shotguns vs. my .22 pistols or .22 rifles. Great clay pigeon guns.

  10. I am left handed, this gun would never work for me. I use my guns to hunt and in Louisiana get caught with out a plug in a shotgun (limit 3 shells), you will lose your weapon…

  11. You are not accurate in your assessment my VRBP100 holds 19 round mags and runs pretty flawless and is only 30 inches long I usually run 9 round mags in mine so that gives me 9+1. I have several chokes and after break in period of 500 rounds it eats any kinda ammo I put in it. Bull Pup shotguns are the future I now sold my semi auto shotguns and kept only 1 pump and when my VRBP goes out I will just buy another

  12. I have a Standard Manufacturing DP-12. I also have an 80’s 12GA Remington 870 Wingmaster. Love them both. Different shooting experiences and if you do shoot shotguns you know this just by looking at the two pieces and doing a contrast and compare run through. It is heavy with a total of capacity of 16 – 2 3/4” shells (14 in the mag, 2 in the dual chambers pump once, two shots, empty weight 9 lbs 12 oz). Everyone at the range wants to shoot it. As long as they have the ammo, I let them empty a full load of 16. I should ask Std Mfg for a cut based on all the references.

  13. I have a KSG and think it is one of the best home defense weapons I have ever used. it has replaced my Winchester pump riot gun, due to capacity and size. I’ve had it for several years and put several hundred rounds through it.

  14. The trouble traditionally with the bullpup design is that the long trigger linkage makes for a gritty and heavy trigger with creep and over travel. I haven’t fired any bullpup shotgun, but have felt this on bullpup rifles like the Steyr Aug. On the other hand, the advantages in overall length, handiness and portability outweigh that for a lot of people. Personally, for a short, light, portable barrel shotgun (at a lot less $) I have a short double barreled 12 Ga coach gun, with a leather cuff on the stock holding more rounds, and for up to 8 rounds have an 870 with extended magazine.

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