If I Could Only Have One: Shotgun Edition

double-barrel and pump-action shotguns

In the continuing series “If I Could Only Have One”—click here to read last week’s article about revolvers— I am looking at shotguns. When we look at the shotgun, we have many good choices.

We also have the inevitable feeling that perhaps the shotgun might be the only gun we would have if we could only have one firearm.

While a handgun is needed for concealed carry, home defense, area defense and hunting may be accomplished with the shotgun.

A shotgun is a versatile firearm.

Just the same, if you are limiting the shooter to just one firearm, it is like asking a mechanic to limit himself to one tool!

But then, some mechanics use a wrench instead of a ratchet to maintain a feel for the job, and some shooters feel that the shotgun is a great choice for most uses.

They will take game, protect the home, and even if it is overkill for small game, it is enough gun.

My primary chore is personal defense with the shotgun. That limits the choices. But then, some are versatile enough for home defense and hunting.

An advantage of the shotgun, is that a sturdy and reliable example may be had for less than the price of a similar quality handgun or rifle.

shotgun ghost ring sight
A set of aperture sights that offer easy adjustment are a desirable feature.

Primary Deciding Factors

When I look at a shotgun, there are two primary choices: the action type and the gauge.

I prefer a pump-action or a semi-automatic.

Single-shot shotguns and double-barrels are fine for sporting use, but I prefer more shells in the magazine.

I also like a shotgun that handles like a shotgun.

The modern AK and AR types are ok for folks that invest in training and learning to handle the rifle-like shotgun.

They come with commonality with the AR rifle in handling. For myself, I like a conventional stock and forend, although a pistol grip works fine.

Furniture with sufficient stippling and abrasion will aid in handling. An important choice is the shotgun gauge.

While the 20-gauge is a fine choice, I like the 12-gauge. There are many more choices in loads and the 12 hits harder, no denying this.

The 20-gauge hits hard enough with some loads. I am able to find 12-gauge when I cannot find any other shell.

12-gauge buckshot package federal
12-gauge shells are plentiful and effective.

A Note About Tactical Shotguns

Tactical shotguns are useful for hunting.

When it comes to turkey and wild boar, a relatively short barrel shotgun with aperture sights or a red dot are ideal for hunting.

So, the tactical pistol-grip shotgun isn’t ruled out for both defensive use and hunting.

A number of fairly affordable modern shotguns are supplied with choke tubes.

I think if I needed a defensive shotgun right now and could only find one of the least expensive shotguns without a choke tube I would be ok.

But, if I am going to make it work for every chore, I would really need choke tubes. A word to the wise, pattern your buckshot!

Buckshot isn’t as dependent on chokes as lighter shot. So, a tactical-type shotgun with choke tubes is getting to the top of the list. 

12-gauge shotgun
Choose a self-loading shotgun that is well-made, offers good sights and is fast handling.

If I Could Only Have One Shotgun: My Choice

A common truck gun is the Remington 870. I own a well-worn version that certainly will get the job done.

I have added the new XS sights magazine extension to give me a little more reserve. The balance is improved and the shotgun is even more formidable.

But this is a spare and one that rides in the truck.

For a single shotgun to be all that it can be, I would prefer a quality self-loader with a good magazine capacity — five shells or more — aperture sights, and the real estate available to mount a red-dot sight or low-magnification scope.

A Benelli M4 might be the choice, but $2000 or more is pretty difficult to come by these days.

Several of the Turkish shotguns are reasonable stand-ins for the Benelli.

The Toros Copolla as an example, and in my opinion, is fully-capable as a stand-in for the Benelli.

In fact, the trigger action is actually smoother than the Benelli and an extended trigger guard is another improvement.

The Toros offers outstanding performance at less than $1000. I like this a great deal.

From the aperture sights to the choke tubes, this is a formidable shotgun.

12-gauge shotgun
Another Toros Copolla variation.

If you need a good firearm, there are several options among shotguns that will serve well for personal defense and all-around outdoors use.

Some are quite inexpensive. I have made my choice, and the right shotgun for you may be just around the corner.

Consider whether hunting or personal defense is the primary concern. This may be the golden age of affordable quality.

What shotgun would you choose if you could only have one? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
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 (44)

  1. Lots of good choices have been mentioned. The Benelli M4 is certainly an excellent choice, but I think I will stick with my old Remington Model 11. I have aperture sights on it, an extended mag tube, removable choke tubes, and the Browning A5 speed load. Works for me.

  2. So, Lincoln what are you saying?

    “What shotgun would you choose if you could only have one”

  3. My favorite is my father’s hand-me-down Rem 870 from the early ’50’s. Works as well now as when I first started hunting in the ’70’s. Reliable, smooth, never jams. Of all the firearms I own, this is my go to

  4. It may be heresy but find a Savage 24F[30-30/3″12ga] or Valmet 412s[30-06/3″12ga].Granted botha single shot in either shotgn/rifle,but they’ll reach out to 100+ yards
    They’re also left handed friendly and”don’t look black”.
    Barring them,again go for :Mossberg 590 with ghost ring sights….and bayonet lug

  5. Remington 870 Marine Magnum. Worked great on the streets as an officer, eight rounds (7 mag, 1 breech), accurate, and you can swing it in a hallway.

  6. I keep hearing talk about how a shotgun is the most versatile gun and best all around if you could only have one gun, and really i do not do not understand that! It confuses me everytime. I just don’t know where it comes from. An ar-15 clearly takes that position! I love shotguns personally for the fun-factor. Few things are more fun to me than a 3.5 inch shell or mag dumping a semi auto shotgun. I even tried to convert my coach gun to shoot 3.5 inchers, but the gun smith said he could not do it because it was risky. But an ar-15 is so much better in every way for defense, and if it came to defense i would in every scenario Everytime grab an ar-15 over a shotgun without the slightest qualm. A shot gun has a low rate of fire, and if pump, really low, holds few rounds, takes much longer to reload, and has much heavier and bulkier ammo for carrying around. So you can’t carry much ammo. Also shotguns are heavier and larger, reducing agility, and have much more recoil hindering follow-up shots. And lastly shotguns have a much shorter range. Also in many cases an ar-15 because of the extreme velocity can cause more damage than a 12 gauge round. Sometimes it depends on how it hits. It can be extremely volatile and devastating. Not too long ago i watched a documentary on the old fbi history story about the two bank robbers in miami who had assault weapons. One had a mini 14 in .223 cal. The other had a shotgun. The one with the shotgun hardly accomplished anything. In fact i think he was immediately hit and became unconscious. The other one with the mini 14 took out all of the fbi agents (that event was famous and changed fbi training forever–they were simply out-gunned using their revolvers). I don’t remember if it was four or six agents. But he took out all of them. One of the fbi agents shot in the arm by the .223 said it nearly blew his arm off and that his arm looked like road kill. There was hardly anything left of it. They really stressed that point in the documentary. That is near maximum possible damage! But it happened to be that same agent who with great courage and strength pulled himself together as the bank robbers were trying to start a car and leave and walked up unexpectedly with a pistol and gunned them both down, ending the ordeal for good. Anyways, With an ar-15 it is lighter weight and more maneuverable/compact, holds 30 high powered rounds that can be fired quickly and accurately. However i like my 100 round drum as well 😉 Recoil is low for quick and accurate follow-up shots. Even if you are fighting an elephant that weighs thousands and thousands of pounds, and he doesn’t go down in one round just finish off the mag in a few seconds! And then reload fresh ready to go all over again. Don’t just stand there wondering why one round did not do the trick. What are you waiting for? It is so easy! .223 also penetrates much better. You can carry more rounds, shoot them faster and more accurately. Range is also much better on an ar-15. For any purpose whether close, indoors, medium, or far an ar-15 wins in every way as that “one gun”. I have seen a lot of police body cam videos on youtube as well, and they always go for the ar-15 and not a shotgun whether indoors or outdoors, regardless if any factor. In the video i can feel the sense of security they have once they get their ar-15 in hand. “I’m going to get my rifle.” He says. I know what he means. The police are smart and know what they were doing. They have a lot of research, study, and training. If a shotgun really was better they would go for that instead of the ar-15. But i know exactly why they go for an ar-15 everytime. I know there is some fun and unique ammo for a shotgun like the dragon’s breath that shoots the fire. But that is not the discussion. It is effectiveness as a defense weapon if you could only have one. Shotguns are super effective too. I’m not saying they are not. And they are great for sport hunting. I am not denying any if that. And I am trying to get my first magazine fed semi auto shotgun now because the prices have come way down on that type recently. That is just tons of fun. I can’t resist it! I’m just saying an ar-15 is much better in every way, and if i had to choose i would always go ar-15 for defense. Zero question or doubt or hesitation.

  7. I paid $999 for my Kalashnikov Komrad last year. It was discontinued then brought back this year for $1,299. If I had to give up all my forearms and keep only 1, this would be my keeper.

  8. Long ago when I was looking for a shotgun, I was advised by a very knowledegable gun expert to avoid autoloaders. He commented that if an auto shotgun jams, it usually requires a complex disassembly to solve the problem. He said pump-action guns are simpler and much more reliable.
    I acquired a very old Remington 870. I had it refurbed and it’s a great gun. Although Mossbergs may be a bit cheaper, 870’s seem to be ubiquitous – they’re everywhere, as are barrels, tube extensions, and other model specific accessories. They also seem to hold their value.

  9. Remington 870 with Vang Comp system installed. Tight pattern of 00 and very little muzzle rise.

  10. I have a Winchester SXP, It has a Browning barrel allowing me to use multiple chokes, I use the open choke for home defense, a Turkey choke for dove hunting due to the short barrel, a treaded choke for better slug accuracy and a door breech because it looks cool. It also has a Holo sight, flashlight, laser, and a sling. It meets all my needs.

  11. Beretta 1301 Tactical Shotgun is one of the most versatile and reliable “tactical” shotguns available. I’ve had one for several years and it runs well and you can get an extension tube to increase number of shells.

  12. One other thing to consider is whether or not you have kids are others in other rooms of the home. Most in home encounters happen at 10 feet or less. At this distance even birdshot will expand no more than 12 inches or less even from an18 inch barrel. It is far less likely to penetrate a wall injuring or worse another family member. It will still injure or kill an intruder at that distance.

  13. I have been reading and following for a while. Can’t buy anything because it won’t ship to NEW JERSEY ‘HECK’, but thanks for the knowledge. This SHOTGUN BLOG made me wonder if it is possible to buy SHOT PELLETS that whistle as they fly. I thought, why shoot an intruder if you can just make them mess in their pants as they run from their stupidity ? I will research my question further online and at a local shop or two, but what the heck? Is it an option? peace is easier to clean up after than carnage… DAN

  14. Yo Grumpy and Lefty, I have the Mossberg 500 with the field barrel with choke tubes and the 18″ defense barrel. At home and Camp, the 18′ is “ON”. I like the fact that the Mossberg is Tested with the Military and exceeds their standards.

    00 Buckshot,Slug,Buckshot,Buckshot,Slug in Camp. Especially in Bear Hoods.

  15. I’ve been looking for a shotgun for home defense and have been leaning towards the Mossberg Maverick 88 Security but have not been able to find a retailer that carries it for at least 1 year. Any thoughts on this shotgun? Thanks.

  16. i only have 2, an 870 from 1980, used on the rare bird hunt or clay shoot. a generic defensive shotgun, loaded alternating buckshot and slug mini shells

  17. If I could only have one shotgun (I actually have 5, with various barrel and stock/pistol grip options), I would select the Remington 870, 12 gauge. I added an aftermarket Remington recoil pad, making this 12 gauge much less formidable to shoot. The one I bought was an 18” home defense model, but I added a 28” barrel for hunting. I take my over/under Franchise hunting, but like I said…”if I could only have one..”. A semi-auto would do well, so long as it will cycle lighter loads for trap or such.

  18. Mossberg 12 gauge 930spx brand new. Fails to cycle every 4th round. Has been with my gunsmith for 3rd time.
    Purchased Mossberg Mariner tactical 12 gauge pump. Works like a charm and is dependable.
    Using Federal vital shok 00 buck in both shotguns.

  19. I have had many shotguns and a few I wish I had kept but my Benelli M3 is my favorite. Pump action and/or semi-auto on demand. I have the straight stock and the pistol grip. One shot gun I kept with it is my Winchester 1897 in fine condition, fun shotgun to slam fire.

  20. I have a 12gauge Silverado coach gun made by stoeger. Sixteen inch double barrel with straight English stock. I keep 3 inch 00 buckshot in it next to my bed….kick in my door in the middle of the night and I guarantee you two shots will be enough.

  21. What I use for home defense I figure someone wants in or is in my space up close. While I have many options to use my Taurus .45 sets right where I am. Fully loaded .45colt is a stopper but then I prefer my .410 home defense loads with three heavy disks at 5 yards is more then I need to stop anyone in there tracks. That’,s my option and just my opinion.

  22. my one choice would be the panzer arms ar 12 semi auto. while not really considered a hunting gun you can use and only possess 2 shot mags when bird hunting. but as a home/self defense gun it shines

  23. My choice is a 7 shot Mossberg M500 type w/ a 7 round tube. Muscle memory is there from my youth. However. changing bbls with the 7 shot is not an option. The barrel must match the tube. The magazine tube is threaded into the receiver but can be changed for a sporting length barrel/tube combination (a hassle). I also installed a tritium bead. A sling is a necessity for me so that was added. I also want an under barrel light but haven’t found one I really like yet.
    This makes a VERY effective weapon for home defense. I could go on and on. God bless and stay safe!

  24. I was gifted a Mossberg 500 pump action some years ago. It came with an 18″ and 30″ barrels as well as pistol grip and shoulder stocks.

    Excellent gun choice, if limiting yourself to a single shotgun. Holds 5, every other one is a slug / buckshot while in the house, with the pistol grip & 18″ barrel.

    Takes less than 5 minutes to change barrels & stocks, prior to hunting. Very reliable & accurate, couldn’t be more satisfied with this combination home defense / hunting weapon.

  25. Regarding the heavy bird loads. I agree they do not always result in death, but they do take a good bit of the fight out of the target. The question remains, is the target still able to dispense return fire, or are they out of the fight.
    It seems to me that you need a load that is effective enough, and no more. If death is the objective, then by all means, use 00 buck or better, but if incapacitation is enough, then a high power bird shot might offer the better choice as the target area is larger. For home defense, it is often better to not unleash the heavy loads as only sheetrock separates the rooms inside, and the heavier loads can pass through killing unintended targets. Loads depend on choke or no choke, and barrel type.
    Shotgun shells are big and heavy, which limit the magazine size. It would be nice to have a shotgun with 7 or 8 rounds as opposed to 4-6 rounds. it really sucks to have such limited capacity when you might want to spend one shot as a warning. While not often a good idea, sometimes it can help, but with so few rounds, it is very questionable.
    Sometimes, I wish the racking sound was silent. While it can be intimidating, I prefer quiet before I’m about to shoot.


  27. Always use what you are most comfortable with. You’ll shoot more and train/practice more with any gun you are comfortable shooting. I’m a fairly large man and have no issue using a 12 gauge, but my wife isn’t comfortable with heavy hunting loads, so she uses a 20 gauge.
    Personal preference for me is an old, well used
    Mossberg 500 with both a short slug barrel and a 28 in. shot barrel with interchangeable choke tubes.

  28. I have a Winchester 1200 defender that I’ve had for 30 years. 18 inch barrel, loaded alternately with 3” magnum slugs and 00Buck. Obviously not for hunting. Just home defense.

  29. I have a Mossberg Maverick 88 with the extended capacity in 12 gauge.
    However, the Wife, being smaller and less “robust” is kited out with an old pawnshop brand 410 gauge. She likes the handling of the lighter rig.
    So, if there is a couple ‘in the house,’ either a compromise gauge so that both can handle the ‘piece,’ or one for each, sized to the physical capacity of each.
    A marriage is a cooperative endeavour after all.

  30. I purchased my 12guage in the early stage of the pandemic (march 2020). I couldn’t find a Mossberg 500 or Remington 870 anywhere because at that time shotguns and handguns were flying off the store shelves as you well know. I finally found a store that had a Maverick in stock. Basicly it’s an economy version of the Mossberg 500 and almost all of the accessories for the 500 will fit the Maverick. I only have one complaint about the Maverick. The safety is at the rear of the trigger guard,but with practice I’ll get used to it. The price was too good to pass up and it’s all Mossberg. Easy to shoulder and cycles like a dream. My ammo is Federal LE with flight control. Excellent rounds. I’m very satisfied that it will stop an intruder dead in their tracks. Emphasis on DEAD.

  31. Why no mention of the Remington Tac 14 pump weapon or the V3 Tac 13 semi auto or similar weapons? These are concealable and quite formidable weapons.

  32. Howdy. I’m a Firm believer in my 870 and like another post that I read,Different Barrel options for different purposes work from Home Defense/Varmints to putting food on the table. I’m with you on if I only had 1,it would be my 870.AMEN

  33. Good article, but disappointed with the company/country recommended.
    I try to avoid purchasing from Islamist and communist countries that want to destroy the United States just to save a couple of bucks.
    Any other options come to mind?

  34. I like the Baretta 1301 Tactical semi auto shotgun. Holds up to 5+1 rounds so thats fine using Federal FORCE X2 ammo.

  35. I have a Maverick 88 pistol grip for home defense, loaded with #4 2 3/4 shells. I live in an apartment, and I don’t want a load that could penetrate walls. If the first shot doesn’t take the intruder out, I’ll just rack up another round; I doubt that it would take a third round.

  36. Most of the modern shotguns are good self defense tools. To me the three most important factors is weight forward, length of pull, training with a professional. Keeping your tool well fed is a major consideration with fighting shotguns. Training to reload on the go as your fighting is no small matter. Can you hold your front sight on target with one hand while feeding both the chamber (top) and mag tube (bottom) with the other hand? A properly set up stock of the proper length ( balance point and length of pull to the trigger) is a must in stabilizing the gun. Training is a must for using a fighting shotgun.

  37. I chose a Benelli Supernova Tactical with an 18 inch barrel. I added a green laser and a tactical flashlight. I use low recoil 12 gauge buckshot. Devastating at close range and the lower recoil allows for fast follow up shots. I call my weapon Uma Thurman because she’s beautiful, graceful, and a total bad ass!

  38. If you are planning on a Remington 870 shotgun. Search for an older, in very good to excellent condition one that was built BEFORE Remington was sold. I recommend the Remington 870 12 gauge Wingmaster. The quality of the gun dropped, debatably starting in 2010, when Remington was first bought out by The Freedom Group.

    Here is some background on the now defunct, as of 2020, Remington Arms Co.

  39. My Rem 870 Wingmaster is 45 years old. It has been in the trenches, yet still as slick as the day I bought it. Easy to clean. Never jams. Barrel swaps are no problem.

  40. With only one shotgun, getting a second barrel is not an option. A short barrel for home defense, and a “hunting” barrel with interchangeable chokes is a must. In this day and age, getting additional barrels for a Remington or Mossberg 12 gauge don’t require a gunsmith to fit. If you can unscrew the muzzle cap, you can swap barrels. YES – I do practice what I preach.

  41. Pattern your shot in your shotgun.00 buck@25 yards inky allowed 1 or 2 pellets on a 2 ft square target.No.4 buckshot did much better.For home defense@ 5 yards a”turkey load”will ruin a critter’s day.

  42. Mossberg 500 or 590.Both have tang safeties-much better[safer with gloved hands]-and ambidextrous for us southpaws.
    Remington’s quality has steadily deteriorated over the decades.

  43. Great article! The one thing to remember though is the load/ammunition that you’re going to run through it for personal protection. 00/000 Buckshot is all I’m running now in my home defense scatter guns. Coming from personal experience, a 12 GA hits hard with #5 Turkey Shot however, it didn’t kill me and that was a shot from 12’ away to the heart area. Had that been 00 Buck…..I wouldn’t be here writing this. Birdshot is a no go, the smallest id personally use is a Heavy Turkey load as it’ll lay hate and discontent but not always fatal. Definitely takes the fight out of the receiver though.

    This is my opinion and my opinion only. Not meant as a “be all, end all” just my views.

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