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
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.
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Winchester 97 Trench Gun
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.