Image by Jörg Prohaszka from Pixabay

Best Shotguns for Survival

When people discuss shotguns for survival, they mean one of two things:

  1. To some, survival (when it comes to shotguns) refers to self-defense, such as home intruders or a zombie apocalypse.
  2. To others, they are thinking about being able to hunt game in the wilderness in order to survive.

In this article on the best shotguns for survival, we will keep both goals in mind as we explain the different features and styles available. By the end, you should have a pretty good idea what the best fit is for you.

Why Are Shotguns Ideal for Survival?

Let’s see why shotguns are great for survival:

You Don’t Have to Be a Great Shot

Shotguns do not shoot a single round, per se. Instead, they spray a wad of pellets. Depending on the type of ammunition, the spray can be as tight as a golf ball or as wide as a softball.

That being said, you need to aim, but you are not required to be a sniper by any means. When firing upon an intruder, in principle, you can point in his general direction and fire from the hip to hit him. You may not want to do this in real life since the kick might sprain your trigger finger, thumb, and/or wrist.

The Ammunition is More Versatile

Essentially, you can purchase shotgun ammo for any game or purpose you can imagine. As long as you purchase the right ammo for the gauge of your shotgun, you will be able to select ammo that addresses your specific purposes, whether hunting or disabling intruders.

What is the Difference Between 12 and 20-Gauge?

When talking about “gauge” with shotguns, you’re talking about bore size (the hole the rounds come out of) and the range (how far the shot will go).

Interestingly enough, the numbers feel opposite to the actual power. So the 12-gauge shotgun is going to have a wider bore and a longer range. This also means that there is more power, which in turn, generates a stronger kick to your shoulder.

In contrast, the 20-gauge has a smaller bore and shorter range. The kick is still significant, just not as significant as the 12-gauge shotgun.

Types of Shotguns for Survival

When speaking of shotgun types, we’re referring to the way the ammunition is loaded, fed, and fired.

There are four main kinds of shotguns, each identified by how it receives, stores, and fires the round. Generally, the same ammo for one type will work for another type, provided you have the appropriate ammunition for the appropriate gauge described above.


Do you remember watching those World War I movies where soldiers load a single round into the chamber, pull back the bolt, then push it forward and finally fire the weapon?

That’s essentially how the bolt-action shotgun works. A bolt-action is one kind of single shot shotgun. The idea of single-shot shotguns is a real downer when it comes to self-defense. But at least we’re not still trying to breach load weapons like the colonists in the Revolutionary War.

On the other hand, bolt-action rifles (including shotguns) tend to last longer and be more dependable than other load and feed types. For self-defense, this may not be enough to survive, since you need time to load another round in the chamber.

Perhaps when survival in the wilderness requires a shotgun, this is most dependable since you won’t be able to clean it on a regular basis.


When most people think of shotguns, they are thinking of pump-action (or perhaps break-action, but we will get to that one in a bit).

Pump-action shotguns allow you to load several rounds (amounts vary). When you are ready to feed the chamber with another round, you use your non-trigger hand to pump the next round into the chamber.

For self-defense, pump action can work pretty well. Loading the next round into the chamber is fast and easy.

If you need a shotgun for survival in the wilderness, then this is also a great shotgun. Pump-action shotguns are often used for skeet shooting, mimicking how we hunt birds and such. That is to say, this is a great shotgun for hunting.

The downsides are that pump-action requires more maintenance than the bolt and break-action shotguns. If you are out in the wilderness, you will need to clean it regularly to protect it from the elements.


In our modern rifles, most accept a magazine or set of rounds which you can fire at will without any kind of cocking, pumping, or reloading after each discharge. This is semi-automatic.

Some shotguns take magazines, like an M16. Or, you feed shells in from the bottom, remove the safety and fire at your discretion until rounds are exhausted.

Naturally, these are the easiest to fire, although, they are the highest maintenance. You need to clean the rifle regularly. They may not do as well for extended periods of time in the outdoors if you run out of cleaning supplies or do not tend to the weapon regularly.


In the Fight at the OK Corral, Doc Holiday famously carried his pistol and double barrel shotgun. These double barrel shotguns of the Old West are the classic break-action shotgun still popular today.

As the name implies, the weapon opens (or breaks) where the barrel meets the stock. You feed in the shells accordingly, close the rifle back up and fire.

Single Barrel vs. Double Barrel

Many break-action shotguns are single barrel, just like their bolt-action cousins.

And of course, the double barrel shotgun takes two shells. If you’ve held one of these up close you probably noticed two triggers, one slightly in front of the other.

For reasons similar to the bolt-action shotgun, we don’t see this as being the best survival shotgun. However, many people use the double barrel shotgun for self-defense against intruders.

How to Choose a Shotgun for Survival

Taking these factors into consideration – gauge and type – establish your budget and read reviews. Visit gun dealers and speak with them. Hold the weapons to feel their weight.

It is hard to go wrong with shotguns because they are mechanically, far simpler than any other kind of firearm. Nevertheless, reading reviews will keep you from getting a “lemon.” The most important thing to consider is the gauge and type you desire.

Choosing the Right Ammunition

In addition to the shotgun’s gauge, ammunition varies by size and power.

Shotgun Shells
Image by Jörg Prohaszka from Pixabay

Typically, when we speak of size in shotgun ammunition, we are referring to the size of the pellets stored in and projected from the shotgun shell. The two most often heard of categories are birdshot and buckshot.

Birdshot will generally be lighter than buckshot, as birdshot is intended to kill birds. By the same logic, we say that buckshot can be used on deer and other large animals (like bears) that threaten our safety.

With birdshot, a lead/tungsten/steel (or combination of the three) can be light enough to barely penetrate the human skin if that person is wearing heavy clothing. And with buckshot, the metal pellets can be powerful enough to go through a human and beyond.

That’s why for self-defense, we don’t recommend that you get buckshot. You might fire into an intruder and have the pellets penetrate the wall into the next room where your family could be hiding or sleeping. Plenty of birdshot ammo is strong enough to disable an intruder.

For survival in the wilderness, it might be wise to carry some of both, depending on what it is you are hunting or protecting yourself from.

Must-Have Shotgun Accessories for Preppers/Survivalists

Here are some of the essential accessories to keep in mind:

Muzzle Brakes

Shotguns are known for their kick. To offset kick for women and adults, shotgun owners often invest in muzzle brakes as a way to tone down the recoil.

How the brake works is not that different than how brakes work on a car. As the gun discharges, air/gas is pushed opposite the force of the discharge to minimize the kick into the shoulder.

Tactical Lights & Lasers

Often, those rare self-defense moments occur at night. The inability to see what’s ahead seriously increases the risk of injury in the event of an intruder.

There exist a wide variety of lights and lasers that attach to the shotgun to help you navigate in survival mode.


Many shotguns come with a traditional stock, as one would expect of a standard rifle. Other shotguns brands are experimenting more with pistol grips so that the shotgun resembles the M16 style for greater control.

Because of the shotgun kick, some users need extra grip so that the weapon doesn’t slip from their hand during discharge.

Barrel Extension

If you are out in the wild hunting game (such as ducks), you may want to fire your first shots and not alarm the other game with a loud noise.

Shotgun manufacturers considered this when they created the barrel extension. Not only does the extension seriously decrease the noise your shotgun makes, but it also naturally reduces some of the recoil. Many barrel extensions end up organically doing what muzzle brakes do.


Of all the rifles and firearms, shotguns are often the most fun to have and use. Not only that, they are arguably the most effective survival weapon.

The versatility of shotguns, both in terms of ammo and aim, lend themselves to better hunting and self-defense. The styles and brands are extensive. Understanding the features and types of shotguns will help you select the ideal shotgun for your survival needs.

Author Bio:

As the owner of, my goal is to help others gather the tools and resources they need to build that perfect set up, or just have fun out in the field. I’ve been an avid gun lover since I was 8 and started my blog to share my knowledge accumulated over the years.” – Josh Lewis

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