Top 5 US Military Scatter Guns

When we (and I mean we as I include myself in this statement) think of US Military small arms, we do not usually include shotguns.  When we think of the great American fighting arms of the past, we have visions of the 1911, M1 Garand, M-16, 1903 Springfield and maybe even a Bazooka before we picture the lowly scatter gun.  So lets take a quick look through history and into the present at the shotguns that have served our men and women in uniform.

 The Smoothbore Musket

An 1842 Springfield Musket.

An 1842 Springfield Musket.

I am going to lump these together: The Brown Bess, Charleville, 1816 and 1842 Springfields are the main smooth bore muskets used in American history. Technically this is a musket and not a shotgun, but that is a pretty fine line. They both have a smooth bore and can fire multiple projectiles so it works for my definition of a shotgun for this article.  The shotgun type load mostly associated with the musket is buck and ball.  It is just like the name sounds.  A ball, usually around .69 caliber, with 2 or 3 pieces of buck shot with it.  The musket is not an accurate weapon.  The idea of adding the buck shot was to increase the number of hits on enemy troops when firing volleys.  It worked too.  George Washington was a supporter of its use during the Revolution and its use continued until the Civil War when the Mini Ball changed the game.   The concept is not dead either.  Winchester has a modern buck and ball type shot shell in its Defender line.

Buy one on Guns America: /Search.aspx?T=musket

Winchester 97 Trench Gun

Winchester M97 Trench gun with bayonet.

Winchester M97 Trench gun with bayonet.

It is hard to make a list of US Military arms and not have a John Browning design show up.  The 97 Winchester is the one for this list. The trench gun version of the 97 had a 20 inch barrel and added a heat shield around the barrel.  It also included a bayonet lug and, like the civilian version, had an exposed hammer.  The 97 was the primary shotgun used by the Dough Boys in WWI.  It was at home in the muddy trenches of that war.  The short barrel and the 00 buck shot loads were devastating on German and other Central Power troops.  The Germans even tried to have it outlawed during the war under the protest that it caused unnecessary suffering.  The 97 was updated in 1912 and was given the trench gun treatment.  The 1912 was the primary shotgun used during the 2nd World War.

Buy one on Guns America: /winchester1897shotgun

Ithaca 37

Two Ithaca Model 37s. The one on top is in the military configuration.  You can see why the shot spreader got the duck bill nickname.

Two Ithaca Model 37s. The one on top is in the military configuration. You can see why the shot spreader got the duck bill nickname.

Whoops.  Another John Browning design slipped in.  The Ithaca 37 is a cool shotgun. I have held the thought that it might be the best combat shotgun design ever for one simple reason: It loads and ejects from the bottom.  Gravity is helping the spent cases get clear of the action and the open bottom allows for the dirt, mud and other muck, that will find its way into a combat firearm, to fall free. The Ithaca saw use during WWII and into Vietnam.  During Vietnam the early Navy Seal teams used the 37 with a duck bill shot spreader and an extended magazine tube.  Like the two Winchester shotguns above, the old Ithaca 37s will slam fire.  This means, if you hold down the trigger, every time you rack the action and load a shell it will go bang.  A slam fire shotgun in the hands of a practiced shooter can give an autoloader a run for its money. Ithaca is still around and making the 37 today.

Buy one on Guns America: /ithaca37

Remington 870

The current version of the M870.

The current version of the M870.

When you think of a pump-action shotgun the Remington 870 is always one of the first that comes to mind.  It has been in production since 1951 and is the best selling shotgun ever made with over 10,000,000 produced.  That says a lot for the design, and the design is a strong, reliable and robust one.  All of which make it a great candidate for a military arm. The M870 has been in service for so long and with so many variants there really isn’t a distinctive model.  It is still in use today, even.  It is a work horse of a shotgun. It is not just used by our military either.  Tons of Law Enforcement agencies use the 870 as their issue shotgun. I was issued one when I was an LE National Park Ranger.  And like many of you reading this article, there is one in my safe.  Or is it loaded and in the closet? That is a good place for an 870 too.

Buy one on Guns America: /remington870

Benelli M1014

The Benelli M1014.

The Benelli M1014.

That brings us to the most modern and the only autoloader on the list, the Benelli M1014. The M1014, the civilian version is called the M4, was designed for test trials for a new semi automatic combat shotgun for the US Military.  The trials were held in 1999 and the Benelli won.  The M1014 was actually the first gas operated shotgun that Benelli designed.  It uses a rotating bolt as well.  The military version sports a 14.5 inch barrel and has a collapsible butt stock.

Buy one on Guns America: /benellim4

So there are 5 scatter guns used by the US Military.  There are plenty of other that have seen use, the Mossberg 590 is a notable example as well.  Any of these would also make a great home defense shotgun.  Well maybe not a smoothbore musket.  They are awfully long for one thing.  The single shot is another issue.  Although the amount of smoke from firing a black powder musket inside your house would probably act as a smoke screen while you grabbed a trench gun.

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Rem870 November 29, 2016, 5:16 am

    Remington 870 is my favourite shotgun! It is 2016 and there were more than 11,000,000 870s produced. And I am sure that it will be popular for many more years to come.

  • Neil Casper March 22, 2015, 1:01 am

    And I know you are instigating conversation BUT, the Winchester Model 12, such a shotgun! And I know the military used them at one time. I think it was and is the finest pump action shotgun ever made.

  • Russ March 11, 2015, 1:37 am

    Glad to see that Winchester M97 Trench gun with bayonet.
    Now that’s a shotgun
    Except you didn’t mention the biggest reason I like this SG.
    You can hold the trigger down and pump away shots.
    I real nice ass kicker for our guys in battle.

  • kerry March 10, 2015, 10:49 am

    I think the SPAS 12 would deserve at least an Honorable Mention here. On gun that I have always wanted and the right opportunity to buy one has just never come up.

  • kivaari March 9, 2015, 10:07 pm

    There is a problem with the Ithaca M37s. To clean the action the butt stock has to be removed. Quality control has been up and mostly down for 50 years. While at the state patrol academy they received 32-36 new M37s. None of them had been tested. The opening to the magazine tube was not reamed out so they could not be loaded. I had one that worked fine, except for the abusive recoil with the 2.75 in magnum 00 buck loads. I also had one that would dump rounds out of the magazine when the gun was fired. Unloading the magazine that way was not a good thing. Another fault is the large screws on the receiver where the carrier pivots came loose. Other than those faults they were OK. I just never trusted them, find the M870 to be more reliable.

  • Zach March 9, 2015, 5:59 pm

    A version of the duckbill spreader was used on the early versions of the M-16 in Vietnam until they found it snagged on every vine and tree limb when out on patrol.

    • kivaari March 9, 2015, 10:22 pm

      The three pronged flash hider on the M16 did snag on brush, but it’s biggest fault was it tended to funnel water into the bore. It is why it was changed on the M16A1/A2.

  • Fred Fudpucker March 9, 2015, 2:31 pm

    I was a WSO in F-4’s, Vietnam. Traded a tunnel rat 2 fiths of Jack Daniels for a 5 shot 410 pistol. Carried it through 2 ejections. Damn glad to have it in the kit.

    • Randy March 9, 2015, 9:37 pm

      Who MFG a 5 shot 410?

      • Administrator March 9, 2015, 9:55 pm

        Rossi. Called the circuit judge I think.

        • kivaari March 9, 2015, 10:19 pm

          What make and model of .45/410 revolver was available during the Vietnam war? That is one gun I had not seen until the Taurus junk and another no-name one that self destructed, but that was in the late 80s. We had one F4 that had taken ground fire. The pilot radioed his WSO was dead. He got close to us and punched out. Then he drowned. Most of the pilots had .38 special S&W revolvers loaded with tracers. It was a self draining 6-shot flare gun. They preferred the revolver since it self drained the sea water. The .38 tracers were bright and had a long burn time. Fire 6 rounds in front of the SAR planes and chances are they will see you.

  • John Currens March 9, 2015, 2:04 pm

    Out to a hundred or so yards a 42 musket will hold its own with a modern shotgun (as long as we aren’t talking rifled slugs in the modern one) and can spoil someones day. The real problem is that accuracy falls apart at ranges over 100yds but otherwise can easily hit a man sized target. Just takes a little practice

  • Joe March 9, 2015, 12:21 pm

    I’m too old to re enlist nor would I do it anyway so I’ll stick with my good ole Browning auto.

    • UncleNat March 10, 2015, 11:42 am

      In the WWII US Navy (South Pacific) my Dad’s boarding crew carried Browning autoloaders. The navy tested them out on Savo Sound.

      • Joe March 11, 2015, 5:42 am

        Thanks for that input.
        My father served in the pacific theater in the NAVY during WW 2, and the Korean conflict as well… rest his soul.
        The Browning is a very dependable shooter with a sweet pattern for laying to waste those pigeons of clay.
        I also have an old savage automatic but only low brass is used in it due to the thread pattern deterioration where the mag tube screws into the receiver.

  • Tinman March 9, 2015, 11:51 am

    And don’t forget the Stevens 520/620’s! These takedown rifles were used from WWI until Korea. Post Sandy Hook, a bunch went to auction- most people didn’t know what they were, and they sold cheap. I have 3, and the most I have paid was $90 for one. They slam fire as well!

  • Mark Hanson March 9, 2015, 11:14 am

    I have the Mossberg 590-A1 Tactical. Can’t beat the number of rounds it holds (9), and the bayonet that comes with it is excellent. I installed a Talon 6 position collapsible stock, front pistol grip, and heat shield… had to purchase separately, did not come installed from the manufacturer.
    Excellent shotgun, would recommend it to anyone.

  • Tim Allen March 9, 2015, 9:30 am

    The first picture is not a “1819 Springfield Musket”.
    It is an 1861 Springfield Rifled Musket. It is not a smoothbore. Note the distinctive arced hammer that was a holdover from the earlier 1855 rifle and so shaped to clear that model’s tape primer feed. And note the 3 leaf rear sight that no US martial smoothbore musket ever had.

    • Sam Trisler March 9, 2015, 9:40 am

      I just noticed this myself. “I thought, whoops that is a 1842… no wait! Shit, that is not even a smoothbore!” I pulled the image from some stock pictures I have and must have titled it wrong. I will fix it here in a few. Thanks for the catch.

  • JohnLINY March 9, 2015, 8:59 am

    The Mossberg 590A1 is used by our military today. How could it be left off the list! Like Lou said a musket?

  • Lou March 9, 2015, 8:25 am

    A musket over the 590A1?
    You’ve lost some credibility over this decision……

    • Sam Trisler March 9, 2015, 10:08 am

      Yep. This is a short history piece that moves to the present, not a comprehensive article about the current shotguns used by the US Military. If I had put the 590 in place of the 870 I would get the same comments about it. These “Top 5” articles are meant to be conversation starters. We sometimes leave off an overly obvious choice to spark some discussion, not to lose credibility. If I lost any “cred” on this article it was for not looking closely at the pictures I posted when it first went up. I mistakenly put a rifled musket in the smoothbore spot. I fixed it, but that was a mistake I shouldn’t have made. We all make them from time to time.

  • Michael E. Hensley March 9, 2015, 4:12 am

    What!! No mention of the Mossy 590, 9 Shot with it’s Bayonet Lug and heat shielded BL. Lot’s of Firepower there to be sure.

  • lurker March 9, 2015, 2:50 am

    No love for the Mossberg 590?

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