How to Buy a Shotgun: 4 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy

Mossberg 935 ProSeries

Choosing the right shotgun is not as simple as Hollywood would have you think. The factors that go into your decision are many and it is important to be educated about what is available before you part ways with your hard-earned cash. Let’s take a few minutes and look at some of the points you need to consider.

First up is the gauge of the shotgun.

The term gauge is a very old school English method of determining the diameter of a barrel. “Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the firearm and is expressed as the multiplicative inverse of the sphere’s weight as a fraction of a pound, e.g., a one-twelfth pound lead ball fits a 12-gauge bore.” – Wikipedia. Yeah…makes perfect sense. Regardless, the smaller the number, the larger the bore of the barrel. While there are several options here, there are three that are most common. The 410 is a small shotgun shell and is used for small game primarily. There is even a popular revolver that is able to shoot this shotgun shell, and they are popular for defense purposes. Second up is one I see quite a bit and that is the 28-gauge shotgun. This is a capable and effective shotgun that can be used for self-defense as well as hunting. It is generally lighter and produces less recoil. The king of shotguns though is the 12-gauge. The 12-gauge shotgun is the primary gun in the self-defense, law enforcement and hunting market. It enjoys a wide variety of ammunition options and can be easy to run with proper technique.

The next decision you will need to make is what type of shotgun you are going to get.

There are essentially two types of actions available in shotguns with many options inside of those. The first option is the classic pump action shotgun. This is the most common style and has a reputation of being very reliable. These guns tend to be very affordable and are easy to run. The second type of shotgun we should look at are semi-automatic guns. Like semi-auto rifles and handguns, these guns use gas blowback to cycle the action. That action reduces the tasks a shooter must execute down essentially to just pressing the trigger. These guns can be fired very quickly and are popular in competition circles. The fact that they are not as reliable as pump guns however makes them a more challenging choice for home defense. One style of gun I did not include as a primary option is the classic double barrel shotgun. These can be a side by side cowboy type gun or an over and under. Regardless their application is limited due to the fact you only have two shots. They are very popular for shooting skeet, but don’t fit many applications beyond that well.


It is at this point where it is a good idea to determine just what you want the shotgun for? Are you hunting, looking for personal protection or both? As a rule of thumb hunting guns tend to have longer barrels and wood stocks. They can be beautiful guns and work well at taking a variety of game. Personal protection shotguns tend to have shorter barrels and are usually set up to accept lights and even optics. You can get a gun that may serve both categories, but I would suggest one for each. Product Spotlight Videos

One last general point we need to look at is size and more importantly length of pull. 

Length of pull is the distance from the middle of the trigger to the end of the gun’s buttstock. This is a very important item to consider and will determine whether the gun will fit you. The correct length of pull allows you to square up to the target as opposed to being bladed out. It also allows you to correctly seat the shotgun in the pocket of your shoulder as opposed to the side of the shoulder or in some cases, the arm. You can adjust the length of pull (LOP) by installing an aftermarket stock like those made by Houge. They can reduce the LOP by as much as four inches in some cases and makes the shotgun much easier and comfortable to shoot. Speaking of stocks, you may decide that a recoil reduction pad may be of use. A good pad like the Falcon Strike recoil reduction system can make shooting a much more comfortable experience.

While you may have thought you would just go to the local gun mart and get a shotgun, you now see there are some things to weigh before you make the purchase. Consider what you want it for first and then go from there. You have a fantastic variety of options and if you choose wisely you can get a gun that you will enjoy shooting for years!