Pistol Grip Shotguns: Great or Gimmick?

posted on April 18, 2017

My first firearm was a shotgun rather than a .22 rifle. I cut my teeth on wingshooting, and to this day I am more comfortable loading, pointing and shooting a shotgun than any other firearm. I’m an NRA shotgun instructor and a big fan of the way the English originally designed them to be an extension of the body that rarely should be aimed. Therefore there are few shotgun proponents who are more adamant about shooting a shotgun with a full-sized, no-nonsense stock than me. That’s because a shotgun recoils on average about 10 times harder than an AR-15 or a 9mm handgun. A full-sized stock that fits adequately allows the shooter to properly align the arms, head and hands so he or she can control the gun, deliver an accurate shot, accept its recoil properly and get back on target quickly if necessary. This goes for hunters, clays shooters and home defenders.

So when inexperienced people asked me my opinion of pistol gripped shotguns for defense (we’re talking shotguns with no buttstock, but only a small rubber grip for the trigger hand) I normally laughed and described them as gimmicks that look great in the movies but are wildly impractical in the real world. You see, a shotgun’s recoil with buckshot is so heavy that shooting it with one hand is actually quite painful. It is also terribly inaccurate. That’s because a shotgun’s spread at home-defense ranges isn’t nearly as sweeping as people tend to think (it’s only about 3 inches at 5 yards), and also because shooting from the hip as pistol grips are presumably intended to be shot is inherently inaccurate due to this position’s distance from the shooter’s line of sight.

Realize, however, that this is not to say that a pistol grip shotgun doesn’t have its specialized niche. On a boat, where fishermen need a shotgun to dispatch fish at point blank range, it works fine. Or for military/SWAT units that use a shotgun to breach doors, yet need one they can easily carry, I suppose a pistol grip shotgun would perform admirably. But for most citizens in the home, I felt they would always be better served by a shotgun sporting a full-sized stock.

Recently, however, my opinion has evolved slightly, and I’ll tell you why.

A few months ago my 71-year-old mother requested that I help her find a gun for home defense. She doesn’t really like pistols because she doesn’t practice with them enough to master the controls, her petite hands are too slight to rack most slides, and she’s never been comfortable shooting them anyway. But she likes shotguns; she shot them when she was younger, and she wanted to give one a try. So I pulled a few shotguns from the safe and handed them to her.

I immediately noticed that she struggled to hold the full-sized shotguns to her shoulder for more than a couple of seconds. Nearly all shotguns, including 20-gauges, are simply too heavy for her to shoulder and maneuver with any dexterity. Recoil on her 110-pound body and face is punishing. So the way she found that it works for her is by holding it at the hip with the stock clinched under her elbow. Trouble is, it’s very tough to hit much from that position unless the target is point-blank. Still, this remained the best option. All told, she’d be accepting the recoil of the shotgun with one hand, she’s going to struggle to aim the gun well, and it remains very heavy even held at the hip. But this was just how it was going to be for her. Until I got to thinking.

You may have noticed that Mossberg recently released its new 590 Shockwave pistol grip pump shotgun that is deemed a pistol, and so it can legally wear a 14-inch barrel. It has what’s called a “birdshead” pistol grip due to its shape. It’s very concealable and equal parts cool and ridiculous, because although impractical due to its lack of shell capacity, severe recoil properties and inaccuracy by way of its design, it looks like it’s right out of an old Sylvester Stallone shoot-em-up movie. My mother isn’t Sylvester Stallone.

But three accessories are now available that have changed my opinion of this little pistol-gripped shotgun.

First, the Aguila ammunition company designed a 1 3/4-inch shotgun shell it calls its Minishell. It’s in No. 4 buckshot and it contains seven pellets, and therefore it has much less recoil than normal shells. (It also has less power, but remember, in home defense situations where ranges are measured in feet, its power is ample.) This makes handling the Shockwave much more manageable under recoil with one hand. And because the shells are so short, eight can be fit in the magazine.

All of this sounded promising, however, until I discovered that the shells are too small to reliably cycle. Thanks to capitalism, a Texas company called OPSol designed a small, $20 rubber magazine insert it calls its Mini-Clip. After 5 seconds with no tools needed for installation, the Shockwave now handles the Minishells perfectly.

So now that the issues of recoil and shell capacity were solved, one issue with the Shockwave remained, and that was accuracy. Unless you are a professional trick shooter, hip shooting is simply a stunt. That is, until flashlights and lasers came along. The Shockwave’s receiver is drilled and tapped for an optic, so I installed a small Picatinny rail and placed Crimson Trace’s Railmaster Pro on it that features a dual flashlight/laser beam—(but a rail-mountable flashlight would work almost as well.) Now, with the push of one button, my mom can simply paste the laser (or the flashlight’s beam) on a target and pull the trigger. Frankly, she needs a flashlight anyway, and it might as well be on the gun where it will free up her hands and help her aim.

All told, the 26.5-inch gun weighs 4.2 pounds fully loaded. That’s half as much as most loaded shotguns. Even my mother can shoot it. It holds a total of nine rounds of No. 4 buck and it’s small enough to stash in a closet drawer or a small gym bag. Turns out, the little dynamo is perfect for many scenarios including for your boat, automobile or office filing cabinet. Without much practice, it’s quick, accurate and deadly.  

Just last year, I thought all pistol grip shotguns except those for extremely specialized situations were little more than gimmicks for home defense. But now, by combining several different products, my opinion has changed, and I believe my sweet mother is safer for it.     


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