Some time ago, we took a close look at the Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun. It’s made for defensive use, and even the vanilla model might get a few funny looks on the skeet range.
Since that time, I’ve been experimenting with various customizations to the Beretta 1301 Tactical. I wanted to see, by trial, error, and plenty of use, what proved valuable over time. To do that, I sort of turned it into a Gunzilla. No, I didn’t hang all this junk on it as a result of playing too much Gears of War or doing a Walter Mitty Couch Commando thing. I just wanted to try a bunch of stuff in the risk-free environment of the plinking range so I could make informed decisions about what gear adds value and what doesn’t.
Pistol Grip Or Not?
I shot the Beretta 1301 Tactical – a lot – both with and without a Mesa Tactical Urbino stock with a pistol grip installed. Just to be clear, I’m talking here about a full stock, just one with or without a pistol grip. I can’t shoot those stockless pistol-grip-only shotguns for crap at anything more than a few feet away.
What did I find? I liked the pistol grip, but not for the reason you might expect. I don’t really care if it’s more tactical-er or not. What became apparent through use was the convenience of being able to control the gun with one hand. Not for shooting, but for simple things that require the use of your other hand, like opening a door, using the phone, retrieving more ammo, or whatever. I just found that the pistol grip made it a little easier to handle the shotgun “administratively” than the traditional grip.
I couldn’t detect much of a difference in recoil between the pistol and standard grip configuration, but that may be a personal issue. I’ve been battling some carpal tunnel issues in both wrists, and the standard grip causes me to hold my wrist in an awkward position while the pistol grip keeps it in a somewhat less strained position. For me, and I realize this may go opposite to others’ experiences, the pistol grip was easier and more comfortable to shoot.
You might want to consider your reloading method when deciding between pistol and traditional grip profiles. If your interest is three-gunning, you might find that the pistol grip gets in the way of multi-shell reloads. My interest with this project was purely defensive, so competitive speed tweaks didn’t factor into my decision. Just something to be aware of.
This simple experiment, actually using both configurations over time, showed the wisdom of trying stuff yourself rather than relying on what the hearsay dictates. The end result? On this gun, for defensive use, I’m keeping the Mesa Urbino stock with pistol grip. If I were to start using this gun competitively, I’d probably switch back to the factory stock.
Shotguns eat faster than Rosie O’Donnell and Michael Moore in the finals of a Krispy Kreme donut eating contest. Due to the size and weight of shotgun ammo, in-gun capacity ain’t all that great to start with. While it varies with the gun, you’re looking at somewhere between four and eight rounds for the “average” defensive shotgun. The Beretta 1301 Tactical used as my example here holds seven in the magazine tube after I installed a Nordic Components two-round extension.
Unless you want to wear bandoleers or staple a box of shells to your thigh, you have to consider some ways to mount some extra ammo. I’ve tried a couple of different approaches, so let’s take a quick look at each.
Mesa Tactical SureShell Shotshell receiver and buttstock caddies have turned out to be a good option. They make aluminum caddies that fasten to the receivers of many popular shotguns (and can include an optional top strip of Picatinny rail for optics). You can order them in a range of capacities – the one shown in the photos here holds six shells. Being made of metal, the “loops” for each shell are rigid so it’s easy to load and unload shells. I’ve not run into any downsides of this approach. The shells are right next to the loading gate, and as I orient them base down, I just push each down with my support hand and load it. The extras don’t get in the way of sight picture, mounting, or operation of the bolt or safety controls. I like it.
The Mesa Urbina Stock also has an option for an additional shell holder, and I mounted one that holds four shells. This is definitely a “back up extra ammo” option as the shells aren’t nearly as accessible as with the receiver caddy. As I shoot right-handed, I had to mount these on the right side of the buttstock, else they would interfere with my cheek weld. To load these, you need to hold the gun with your support hand and load with the strong side. The operation is opposite of loading from the receiver caddy, so that’s less than ideal. I haven’t found that this stock caddy gets in the way, but just know it’s slower and less accessible. If you feel you need the extra shells in this location, extra reloading practice is in order as you’re now doubling the complexity of whatever muscle memory you develop.
The second spare ammo approach uses Velcro-attached soft loop caddies. My initial assumption (and you know assumptions are often wrong, right?) was that these were just budget gun show table junk. Then I took a tactical shotgun class at Academi and learned the real value of elastic and Velcro. As the caddy attaches to the receiver via Velcro, you really use them as shotgun magazines. The idea is to permanently mount a Velcro pad to your receiver, then buy a bunch of soft loop caddies. Load them up and throw as many as you like in a dump pouch or pack. Stick a full one on the receiver, and when it runs dry, tear it off and mount a fresh one loaded with shells. Of course, you still have to load shells from the caddy to the gun, but you can easily refresh “spent” caddies for full ones. It’s a handy approach.
Optics, Lights and Lasers
It’s shockingly easy to miss with a shotgun, even when using something with a broader pattern like birdshot. Just try running around in the dark and shooting for speed. With that said, you actually do need to aim a defensive shotgun. At short range, patterns are small, maybe just an inch or two, so controlled shooting still rules.
I mounted an Aimpoint Micro H-2 on the Beretta 1301 quite some time ago and it’s become a permanent fixture because it’s proved to have all upside with no downside. As an “always on” optic, there are no switches to mess with; just mount the gun, and the dot is there, day or night, indoors or outdoors. The buckshot load I like to use is the Federal Premium FliteControl Wad 00, and that has a really, really tight pattern. For any distance from zero to 50 yards, you’ll want to aim. Even at 25 yards, this load patterns at less than eight inches, so by using a sighting method as opposed to the “spray” approach, you can decide where you want pellets to go.
In preparation for the last Crimson Trace Midnight Three Gun Invitational, I decided to try mounting a light and laser to this shotgun. To minimize the number of individual gadgets, I stuck a Crimson Trace Rail Master Pro up front on the strong side. That compact unit has a 100-lumen light and red laser. Although it’s tough and made out of aluminum, it does protrude to the side and in theory, could get knocked off. However, it does not at all interfere with either my support hand grip or vision. It’s also easy to activate just by flipping the lever with my support-hand index finger. When shooting in the dark, it was invaluable. The light gave me great target visibility well downrange and the laser allowed me to sight very fast while maintaining my focus on the target itself. I really liked it. For daylight shooting, I forget it’s there as it’s out of the way. Besides, that’s what the Aimpoint is for. The neat thing is that I never have to change my sight picture. Day or night, the stock aligns my eye looking through the Aimpoint glass. If the laser is on, I see it. If it’s not, I only see the red dot, so there aren’t two sighting scenarios to practice.
For a defensive shotgun, a sling is a really good idea. Why? It’s a holster for a long gun. In this use, that’s it. Obviously, you’re not going to be making arm loops for stabilized shots out of the prone position. What it will do is allow you to drop the shotgun and have unencumbered use of both hands. The one I’ve been using, and really like, is the Viking Tactics Original Sling. At $39.95 it’s not cheap, but it’s fantastic. It’s a two-point sling, but the genius is the quick-adjust mechanism. Use the sling in its expanded position so you can shoot with either hand, but when you release your gun, you have the option of cinching up the sling to bring everything close to your body. Tightening and loosening is a super-fast, one-handed operation.
The more I read and learn from discussions with others, the more militant I get about actually trying things on my own before making equipment or procedure decisions. Admittedly, the 1301 you see here is “overly geared up” for experimental purposes, but it’s been invaluable for actually trying out the various options that people argue about so enthusiastically on the internet. With a little creativity, you can try different configurations too without committing to purchases. Got friends with gear? Strike up an agreement to schedule some swap days where you reconfigure your stuff and try it out. There’s nothing like learning what works best for you by doing.