10 Things to Look For In A SHTF Shotgun

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The Winchester SXP Marine shotgun would make a fine bug out shotgun.

The Winchester SXP Marine Defender shotgun would make a fine bug out shotgun.

Recently I received a Winchester SXP Marine Defender shotgun for testing and evaluation, and this got me thinking. Yeah, I know. Me thinking is a big stretch of the imagination, but just go with it, OK?

You hear a lot of scary scenarios from the prepper community. Some of them are realistic, others – not so much. Nuclear war, contagion or maybe just the threat of Joe Biden becoming President – there are an infinite number of possible tragedies that might dropkick us right back to the age of foraging, scavenging and no more Taco Bell runs at 3am. Whether or not you believe that the world will revert to Cro-Magnon times, it’s still a good idea to think about preparedness.

Depending on where you live, there are everyday threats that might cause you to be on your own for a while. Live on the east coast? Hurricanes knock on the door each and every year. West coast? How about those earthquakes? Flyover country? Tornados can come at any time. Washington DC? The congressional 401k plan might decrease in value, and that would be tragic indeed. No matter where you live, there are very real threats to all of us. Rosie O’Donnell could get her own TV show. Piers Morgan could become White House Press Secretary. Bill-ary Clinton could be elected President. Who knows what kind of epic disasters we might face?

With this in mind, I started thinking about my ideal qualities of an SHTF shotgun. You know, when the masses become all cranky and protesty because the Kardashians stopped doing reality TV.

While pondering all the ways civilization could end, I came up with a list of ten things I really care about in a save-my-bacon and shoot-my-bacon shotgun.

The matte chrome finish helps reduce glare and protect from the elements. Note the sling swivel on the front of the magazine tube.

The matte chrome finish helps reduce glare and protects from the elements. Note the sling swivel on the front of the magazine tube.

Sludge-Proof Finish

While the bluing on a Beretta DT-11 will make me stop and gawk, that doesn’t help much when we’re all eating 12-year-old canned pudding and squirrels.

I want a shotgun that requires no maintenance except for loading. No more oily t-shirts to wipe it down before retiring it to the gun safe. Hey, in the end of civilization scenario, none of us will be lugging around a humidity-controlled gun safe anyway, right?

Our example Winchester SXP has a matte chrome finish. It’s silverish, but lower glare due to the rough finish. You can also get them in black chrome, which offers the same corrosion resistance with reduced visibility.

Light Weight

This one comes at a price. And that price is pain. The lighter the shotgun, the nastier the recoil – especially with a 12 gauge. And extra-special especially if you’re shooting slugs or buckshot – both likely ammo choices if you’re really in an SHTF scenario. Recoil has nothing to do with this particular Winchester SXP model, but rather its six pound weight.

Even still, I’ll take a six pound shotgun like the SXP as I might be hoofing it. One less pound of shotgun weight translates to an extra six pack of canned pudding I can carry with me. Calories are critical in the apocalypse, right?

This pump action has a rotating locking bolt - somewhat like that of an AR-type rifle.

This pump action has a rotating locking bolt – somewhat like that of an AR-type rifle.


I’m looking for a little suggestion and debate on this one, so feel free to comment below. My “default” thought is to stick with a pump gun like this one, as you can make it run by brute force if necessary. Since all the junk blows out the barrel, there’s not much to clean in the action.

I’ve had some pretty good reliability success with modern semi-automatic guns, and the lightweight semi-automatics are certainly less painful to shoot. Even still, I’m kind of liking the ability to make the gun work with muscle power if required.

This shotgun has a sturdy pump action, but with an extra feature. The action is inertia assisted, for lack of a better word, to speed up repeat shots. You’ll also notice that it has a rotating and locking bolt, somewhat like an AR-type rifle.

Short Barrel

Usually, having a short barrel is a bad thing that can lead to confidence issues. With my SHTF shotgun, I’m wanting an 18” barrel for sure.

Yeah, it won’t swing like those competition 30-inchers like the FN SC-1, but how often are you going to be shooting fast crossing clay targets? I have yet to see a zombie that that can work a clay launcher worth a darn. For the kind of use that a post-apocalyptic world will demand, a little extra velocity from a longer barrel won’t matter either.

I’ll take the portability and compact size any day. Who knows? You might be foraging indoors for rusting cans of lima beans. You’ll want a compact shotgun so you can maneuver in that abandoned pantry without knocking over the trash can and drawing attention from the Zombies or squatters upstairs.

The stock is hard plastic with grip surfaces molded in where needed.

The stock is hard plastic with grip surfaces molded in where needed.

A Plastic Fantastic Stock

While I love the beauty of a wood stock as much as anyone, Zombies, ravenous mobs, road warriors and whomever else walks the earth in the end days won’t give a hoot about the looks of my stock. In rotten conditions where gun maintenance lags behind necessities like eating and waking up above the dirt the following morning, wood stocks aren’t all that utilitarian. Wood swells when wet, dings when it gets hit and tends to break when you whack a particularly fresh undead carnivore across the squamous suture. One more thing – fancy wood stocks can have some glare, and if you’re needing to sneak up on an unsuspecting dinner a dull, non-reflective stock can’t hurt.

I’m going plastic like on the Winchester SXP that inspired this diatribe. Plastic stock, hard rubber recoil pad and plastic forend to operate the pump action.

3-inch Chamber

Well, actually I would prefer a 3 ½-inch chamber, but I figure that might be tough to find in a compact, lightweight pump shotgun. The 3-inch chamber in the Winchester SXP will do just fine.

Why, you ask? Well I certainly would prefer NOT to shoot 3 and 3 ½ inch shells from a light shotgun like this, but if I ever have to forage for ammo, I’d sure like the flexibility to pick up just about any 12 gauge box I can find. Picture this scenario. You go on a scavenging journey to an abandoned Wal-Mart to scrounge for food and ammo. It’s been three years since the end of the world, so the store looks pretty much the same as it used to on any given Saturday. At least you’ll get the same level of customer service. You make your way to the sporting goods department and find a whole slew of discarded turkey shells because they were too long to fit previous foragers guns. OK, that’s kind of a long shot, but we’re talking hypotheticals here.

A single brass bead is mounted up front, but an extra fiber-optic tube snaps in place if you prefer that.

A single brass bead is mounted up front, but an extra fiber-optic tube snaps in place if you prefer that.

Ghost Ring Sights

While real sights aren’t ideal for moving clays of fowl, they’re great when it comes to defensive shooting or hunting with slugs or buckshot.

The standard Winchester SXP comes with an interesting sight arrangement right out of the box. It’s got a traditional brass bead up front, but the company also adds a snap-on fiber optic front sight. The plastic sight mount wraps around the barrel and clicks into place. There’s even a small notch so you jam the whole assembly right up against the front sight bead to make sure it’s centered on top of the muzzle.

If this were to become my SHTF shotgun, I’d choose the SXP Ultimate Marine Defender model as it comes standard with ghost ring sights, a receiver rail and side rails up front.

Easy Disassembly

The Winchester SXP I’m staring at as I write this provides a great example. Pumps are simple to start with, but this one has a drop out trigger group held in place by a single pin. Poke that out with a pocket knife or nail and you can rinse, shake or dust off the trigger components. Couldn’t be easier and no special tools required.

The entire trigger group drops out for cleaning via removal of a single pin.

The entire trigger group drops out for cleaning via removal of a single pin.


I’d just as soon not have any, but if the gun already is threaded for chokes, I’ll take a cylinder bore tube or something close to it. While I might want a tighter choke tube for longer range airborne meal selection, the cylinder bore is a great compromise that allows consistent performance with slugs, buckshot and birdshot at closer ranges. Besides, who wants to carry around spare tubes and a choke wrench?

I shot a number of buckshot loads through the Winchester SXP with its cylinder choke and it had no problem keeping 9 and 15-shot buck patterns on a torso sized target at 25 yards. That’s more than sufficient.

Being a glutton for recoil, I also shot quite a few 1-ounce slugs at 25 and 50 yard targets. Even without ghost ring sights installed (yet!) I had no trouble with minute of dinner accuracy. Add the ghost rings and you could hit plate-sized targets at 100 yards if you do your part.

Lights, Laser, Action!

The forend is matching black plastic with ridges molded for improved grip.

The forend is matching black plastic with ridges molded for improved grip.

For short term emergencies like natural disasters or civil unrest, I’m not too worried about battery powered devices. Even for longer term challenges, today’s lithium batteries have a heck of a long shelf life, so it’s feasible to have a viable multi-year supply.

Having tinkered with shotgun-mounted lights and lasers at the past couple of Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun events, here’s what I like. I’ll mount a short Picatinny rail segment on the strong hand side of the barrel, up close to the muzzle. On that rail, I’ll put a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro with 100 lumen light and integrated laser. The strong side placement keeps it out of the way of my support (pump) hand for daylight operation but keeps it within easy reach if and when I need to turn it on.

What say you?

Obviously I had a little fun thinking through some of the things I would care about when it comes to selecting bug out or even end of the world shotgun. I’d really like to hear from you though. What features would you prioritize and more importantly, why?

MSRP of the Winchester SXP Marine Defender is $399.00

About the author: Tom McHale Literary assault dude writing guns & shooting books and articles. Personal accountability rocks!

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Pat July 3, 2017, 4:25 pm

    I have 4 Mossberg 500s. 3 have 28 inch and 1 a 24 inch smooth bore slug barrel. I have about 2200rounds of buckshot but most are a 15 pellet #1 buck load I load myself. I prefer that over the 9 pellet 00 buck load. Modified choke my loads are good for 40 yards. It’s better I think to have a long barrel if your outdoors.

  • chefjon December 4, 2014, 3:09 pm

    Mighty convenient that the gun they sent you “just so happens” to fit requirements you “just now” decided on. Cool commercial bro.

    870P is a fine choice, but I prefer my 590a1. The extra 1.5″ is worth having 8+1. I like the controls better too. Just my preference.

  • Geoff December 4, 2014, 9:36 am

    Very nice for $400. Which I don’t have. But I did have $200 for a Mossberg Maverick 88 12 Gauge with the 28″ barrel. Which I can change to the 18-1/2″ barrel and can change to the tactical stock, so I basically have 2 shotguns for about the same $400, once I add the scope mount and reflex or red dot sight. It is nice that Mossberg 500 parts fit the Maverick. Field gun for hunting and tactical for home defense.

  • Joe McHugh December 3, 2014, 11:41 am

    Remingtons and Winchesters are OK but a Mossberg 590A1 US Service model is the only one that can pass the Army’s acceptance tests for ruggedness and reliability, (they are not exactly the same thing.) My 590A1 came with an extra heavy 20-inch parkerized barrel that has a factory installed Ghost-Ring sight set up. You can load it with nine 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge shells, (one in the chamber), or one less of the 3 inch type. The rugged synthetic “shell storage” stock has one spring loaded hole on each side of the stock for extra shells.
    Hey, the thick walled barrel is super rugged but makes this pump shotgun weigh 7.25 pounds. The extra weight helps when firing the 3-inch shells. You Rambo types can use the M9 Bayonet because the barrel has a “accessory lug” on it. Yup, this is the “US Service Model”
    OK, the receiver is constructed of aluminum but not to worry because all of the violence is controlled by the steel barrel/ bolt lock up mechanism. Did I mention that this shotgun is the only one that stood up to the US Army tests for acceptance?
    My impression? The slide action operates as smooth as butter right out of the box. The Ghost-Ring sight set up is amazing in quick and clear target acquisition. OK, I didn’t get the optional M9 Bayonet, but if the bad guy is still coming at me after being hit with nine Buck-Shot charges, a bayonet is not going to stop him.
    I did some home work and talked with various pump shotgun experts before finally deciding to purchase the Mossberg 590A1.
    What can I say, I love the thing! Oh yeah, this shotgun also has the one pin trigger mechanism take down feature and mounting hardware for a sling.

  • Tim December 2, 2014, 10:55 pm

    Pump gun
    Must have matte black finish or camo. No silver.
    Rotating bolt may aid extraction and chambering of dirty old shells in a dirty old gun. Straight line pulls from other shotguns offer little mechanical advantage.
    Add a bigger extractor. cause reasons
    There are no snap on plastic sights in the apocalypse.
    I would preserve my shotguns ability to shoot both birds and zombies by employing a mid bead.
    More ammo on board. Side saddle as well as two point sling with shotshell storage.
    Screw in chokes, whatever the heck you want, but use an extended choke tube with porting at the tip to allow for using improvised tools to remove them.
    Bayonet mount, cause apocalypse.
    Reinforced steel striking toe.

  • Roger V. Tranfaglia December 2, 2014, 9:28 pm

    My shotgun would be the keltec bullpup, 12+1. Use it for hunting and defense.
    Also made in the good ole USA!!

  • Will Dryder December 2, 2014, 1:42 pm

    All good points. Magnum chamber also means stronger and heavier action, still a plus in Gen Z. Get what ever finish you want then paint it with BBQ grill heat resistant paint. I did this to my salt water waterfoul gun (corrision and severly pitted barrel) and nothing resurfaced over 10 years. Add a 12 Ga bandolier. Add skill sets tactical and combat reloading. Folding stock and pistol grip should also be considered. I fill this reguirement with a old H&K Benelli M3 (pump and semi auto functions) but you need to be proficient in its operation. Load 7 (2 3/4) in the tube, 1 in the chamber, and 1 on the depressed elevator and close the action. Pump action also allows you to load a pocket full of the Agullia 12 Ga 1 3/4 shells that do not function in semi autos.

  • Callawegian December 2, 2014, 1:25 pm

    I have a pair of Mossberg 500’s in 12 and 20 gage in case Wally World is out of one of either gage.
    I have a question tho, what about setting up a double barrel shotgun?
    1. There are less moving parts.
    2. Shorter in length compared to pumps and autos.
    3. Screw in choke tubes would allow greater versatility.

    Alright you can start bashing my comments starting now:

  • egroeg December 2, 2014, 12:42 pm

    I’ve got a question.
    About that snap-on fiber optic sight. For the sake of argument let’s say you have it on and for some reason you decide to go all Rambo. Or you just want to test it out while killing some re-purposed milk jugs at 50 yards.
    What chance is there that the flesh melting heat of the barrel, after 7 rounds of rapid fire, is going to cause the plastic to soften and be ruined?

    • Tom December 3, 2014, 8:58 am

      Now this will make for a fun test! I’ll see if I can melt it. All in the name of science of course 🙂

    • Russ December 3, 2014, 12:26 pm

      My God people!
      No Gunsmith needed.
      It cost $54.00, and is what you will end up with after you’ve dicked around and wasted time & money on the rest.
      MIDWAY USA will donate round up dollars to the NRA, go there.

  • Willie December 2, 2014, 12:22 pm

    And while I’m at it…. shotguns are just made wrong. Okay draw a line straight down the barrel and where does the inertia all go? About an inch above the back of the butt stock that’s where! So it’s going to force the barrel up everytime. The barrel needs to be on the bottom and the magazine tube on top. And instead of a magazine tube or an xrail have an xrail type foregrip that spins around the barrel to feed into the tube. That’d give you about 5 feed tubes around the barrel. With the barrel on the bottom then you can have the carriage slide back some of the recoil in a straight line inside the buttstock with hydraulic/spring combo to soften out the recoil once you eject the cartridge and load the new one then the hydraulic mechanism can absorb the rest of the blow back. But hey I’m not a gun engineer.

  • Willie December 2, 2014, 12:00 pm

    Alright, I like them ideas… now for a few more:
    1) saw the front off at a sharp pointed angle so you can stab with it as well.
    2) have a 12″ barrel for close encounters of the uncomfortable kind and an xrail so you can have plenty of fire power.
    3) I’d stick with semi auto cause if I’m hurt or too tired my trigger finger or big toe should do just fine.
    4) a really big trigger hole just in case I need to use my big toe
    5) teflon coated inards and made sloppy enough that years of junk build up only makes it work better.
    6) plastic stock with cut outs for more ammo
    7) camo paint on top of your sludge-proof finish so I can hide really good 10 feet from the bad guy.
    8) and what about screw threads (behind my knife edge on the front) so I can screw on a barrel extension for really long shots
    9) for those lights and lasers need to have a forever flashlight to keep a charge forever build it into the buttstock so the recoil keeps the lights charged (now that’s an invention right there!!!)
    10) a screw on barrel that has a flat funnel at the end to force all the bb’s into a tight straight line… to help cut down trees…. cause who wants to carry an axe too? much easier to shoot the thang down.

  • David D. December 2, 2014, 11:23 am

    I have custom built a couple Remington 870 and Mossberg 500s, both are outstanding guns but I prefer the 870. Dan F. you can get some very good after market springs for extended mag tubes that work flawlessly. Max H. JB Weld also works well for the snap on sites. (very thin layer)

  • Mark Schlegel December 2, 2014, 11:20 am

    Interesting article. I have come to appreciate shotguns for a multi-use firearm. This Winchester has some interesting features that could be of benefit. The easily removed trigger group and the sight options are definite benefits. With most shotguns, an 18 inch barrel comes as a cylinder bore and works effectively with buckshot and slugs, but not interchangeable with other chokes. When you want to shoot a modified or full choke, you need to switch out to a longer sporting barrel. While an 18 inch barreled shotgun with interchangable chokes probably won’t be named goose gun of the year, it does provide some options without lugging a second barrel around. I was surprised by the listed price. There is not a lot of new firearms out there that you can pick up for less than $400. Thanks.

  • Dan F. December 2, 2014, 8:56 am

    I’d try something like Gorilla Glue for that fiber optic front sight. Not quite as permanent as epoxy, and still works. My two cents would also include staying with factory-length tubes. The extended kind have springs that compress over time and don’t work well when the walkers number more than five.

  • Max H. December 2, 2014, 7:35 am

    I have a cut down 870 with no front bead. Purchased the same snap on fiber optic in your article. Sometimes moves and often pops off during recoil. Taped for now , but will probably be epoxied. Suggestions? What have I missed?

    • Russ December 2, 2014, 11:17 am

      Hey Max, 870 pump, best choice.
      00 buck in the mag, maybe other choices in a side saddle that you can pop in if needed.
      Listen to this guys opinion on SG’s you wont go wrong.
      Here’s what he and I would use on a SG; X S Big Dot

      • Tom December 3, 2014, 5:50 pm

        Totally agree on the XS Big Dot. Gotta love having a tritium front post!

    • david December 2, 2014, 11:24 am

      JB Weld typically works well.

      • Tom December 3, 2014, 5:53 pm

        You know, there’s just something kind of awesome about having JB Weld and Duct Tape holding parts on to a SHTF shotgun 🙂 Just adds the right “character” doesn’t it?

  • Dave Hamilton December 2, 2014, 4:12 am

    My choice. Surplus parkerized police model 870. Rust resistant finish, but any gun in your scenario will still need care to avoid rust. Has hardened internal wear parts. Durable. Common piece so many spare parts and pieces available if needed, as are accessories. Keep it simple. Limit electronics but must have a good tac sling, one or 2 point.

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