Pistol Grip Pitfalls (and How to Avoid Them)

Mossberg 2359

Pistol grip shotguns have a certain sex appeal. They’re made for TV. Or maybe Hollywood in general. They are difficult to handle, almost impossible to aim (in the traditional sense), and almost too big to conceal. Yet our fascination with these guns continues to grow. I think the reason is pretty obvious. A shotgun with a pistol grip is as close as most of us will get to a short barreled shotgun.

But how practical are they? And how can you run both safely and effectively? To answer that, we’re going to be putting this Mossberg Persuader/Cruiser 6 Shot to the test.

Mossberg 500 Persuader Cruiser: http://www.mossberg.com/500-persuadercruiser/

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /mossberg cruiser

So let’s get practical

Shotguns have stocks for a reason. You need something to catch the recoil from the typical 12 gauge round, and your shoulder works better than your nose. So be careful. These guns tend to travel backwards when you pull the trigger. If you’re holding that rear end of the gun (in this case the pistol grip) securely, that force tends to push the barrel end up.


This here is what I’d call a bad idea.


Unless you want a nose-job done on the cheap. No guaranteeing the results, though.


This is a better way to shoot, though it is harder to aim effectively.


In this position, the recoil rocks the gun up, but not all the way to your nose.

Shooting from the hip

I worked out the 500 until my wrist couldn’t take any more. It isn’t exactly easy on joints. The function of the gun is flawless, it is the body mechanics that pose the obvious problem. Shooting from the hip solves that completely.

But hitting what you’re aiming at…not so easy. The targets below will illustrate this. You will have a much harder time hitting moving objects. Shooting clays is almost impossible. Hitting anything at any distance is also a challenge. But close targets are doomed. And that’s the point. This is a super-close quarters gun capable of delivering a wide variety of projectiles.

This is a load of bird shot from 15 feet, fired from the hip. I was aiming at the head, but missed high-left. That's the danger. You might think that the spread would make up for poor aim, but the spread is only about 8 inches across.

This is a load of bird shot from 15 feet, fired from the hip. I was aiming at the head, but missed high-left. That’s the danger. You might think that the spread would make up for poor aim, but the spread is only about 8 inches across.

Look again and you can see the pattern from a single round of buckshot. While the buckshot is more effective, it is harder to ensure an accurate hit. That's why you need lots of practice.

Look again and you can see the pattern from a single round of buckshot. While the buckshot is more effective, it is harder to ensure an accurate hit. That’s why you need lots of practice.

Let’s talk about the legality.

A shotgun, in order to avoid falling under the restrictions of the National Firearms Act of 1934, has to meet two major requirements. The barrel has to be 18″ long, or the whole length (measured in a line that run parallel to the barrel) must be 26.” If the whole gun is 26″ long, then it doesn’t matter how long the barrel is. More on that to come….

The barrel on this gun is 18", so there's no legal hang-ups there.

The barrel on this gun is 18″, so there’s no legal hang-ups there.

It shouldn’t be too complicated. But it is. There are other categories that you need to understand.

The following quotes are from this handy ATF reference document: https://www.atf.gov/files/publications/download/p/atf-p-5320-8/atf-p-5320-8-chapter-2.pdf.

“Shotgun: A shotgun is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder and designed to use the energy of the explosive in a fixed shotgun shell to fire through a smooth bore either a number of projectiles or a single projectile for each pull of the trigger.”

“The ATF procedure for measuring barrel length is to measure from the closed bolt (or breech-face) to the furthermost end of the barrel or permanently attached muzzle device. Permanent methods of attachment include full-fusion gas or electric steel-seam welding, high-temperature (1100°F) silver soldering, or blind pinning with the pin head welded over. Barrels are measured by inserting a dowel rod into the barrel until the rod stops against the bolt or breech-face. The rod is then marked at the furthermost end of the barrel or permanently attached muzzle device, withdrawn from the barrel, and measured.”

If you cut down a stock, then you run into some grey areas. As this one was designed and built for the pistol grip, there are no issues.

If you cut down a stock, then you run into some grey areas. As this one was designed and built for the pistol grip, there are no issues.

“Weapon made from a shotgun: A weapon made from a shotgun is a shotgun type weapon that has an overall length of less than 26 inches or a barrel or barrels of less than 18 inches in length.”

“The overall length of a firearm is the distance between the muzzle of the barrel and the rearmost portion of the weapon measured on a line parallel to the axis of the bore.”

“Any other weapon: Firearms meeting the definition of “any other weapon” are weapons or devices capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive. Many “any other weapons” are disguised devices such as pen guns, cigarette lighter guns, knife guns, cane guns and umbrella guns.”

“Also included in the “any other weapon” definition are pistols and revolvers having smooth bore barrels designed or redesigned to fire a fixed shotgun shell. While the above weapons are similar in appearance to weapons made from shotguns, they were originally manufactured in the illustrated configuration and are not modified from existing shotguns. As a result, these weapons do not fit within the definition of shotgun or weapons made from a shotgun.”

Not a shotgun, as it has no shoulder stock. Not subject to "weapon made from shotgun" status, as it isn't a shotgun and hasn't been modified from its original design. Not an AOW, as it has a barrel length of 18.5", and an OAL greater than 26". So it is not subject to NFA regulation.

Not a shotgun, as it has no shoulder stock. Not subject to “weapon made from shotgun” status, as it isn’t a shotgun and hasn’t been modified from its original design. Not an AOW, as it has a barrel length of 18.5″, and an OAL greater than 26″. So it is not subject to NFA regulation.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Mossberg pictured here is not a shotgun. I’ve been referring to it as a shotgun, but it isn’t. As it has never had a shoulder stock, it can’t possibly have been designed to be fired from the shoulder. It is not a short barreled shotgun, as it has a barrel longer than 18″. (Plus, it would have to be a shotgun in order to be a short barreled shotgun–and we just decided it wasn’t a shotgun.) It isn’t an “Any Other Weapon,” as it isn’t capable of being concealed (that’s where the 26″ overall length comes in).

So what is it? The industry vernacular is PGO, as in Pistol Grip Only. This means the pistol grip version was the intended design of the gun. It never had a stock, and so was never modified. And PGO is usually followed by the word shotgun, because everyone who isn’t a lawyer or working for the ATF is going to call a spade a spade.


For me, the PGO shotguns are incredibly cool, but have limited utility. They make great truck guns. They’re visually intimidating. The are capable of devastating close range firepower. But you have to build up some basic hip-shooting skills. And it isn’t a good teaching tool. It isn’t inherently dangerous, but a novice shooter, or someone without the physical mass needed to control it… bad idea.

The real problem isn’t the size, or the control. It is the practice. Running one of these with low-recoil low-brass is a good idea. Move up to typical bird-shot. I’d limit the size to 2.75″ shells, and only run a few heavy shells through it in any practice session. It hurts your hand. That wrist, the one holding the pistol grip, takes a beating. I’m typing this now a good four days after a punishing day on the range, and I’ve still got a serious hitch in my wrist. Every peck of the keyboard is accompanied by a small reminder of just how hard this gun is to hold. Practice, yes–but use your head.

MSRP on the gun? $494. It is selling for less, just about everywhere. Not a bad investment. And, if you ever decide the PGO configuration isn’t for you, you can put a stock on it without much trouble at all.

Another thing Mossberg does right. The Shroud is unobtrusive, and keeps you hand off the hot barrel.

Another thing Mossberg does right. The Shroud is unobtrusive, and keeps you hand off the hot barrel.

One problem I find with the Mossberg design is the slide drop. The release is here, and the grip almost gets in the way. When you are holding a straight stock, it is ideal. This one works, it just takes some getting used to.

One problem I find with the Mossberg design is the slide drop. The release is here, and the grip almost gets in the way. When you are holding a straight stock, it is ideal. This one works, it just takes some getting used to.

{ 40 comments… add one }
  • Mark June 23, 2019, 8:27 am

    Only problem is ranges won’t let you shoot these. Do you know any place in Northeastern PA? Also is there an aftermarket stock avail?

  • Charles Peck October 4, 2018, 5:55 pm

    20 gauge lead slug is 61 caliber.
    That is effective on most soft tissue animals in north america.

  • Mrkoolio January 30, 2018, 1:16 pm

    Maybe I missed it, but the birdshead handle makes the pistol grip look like old technology.
    I started with very light loads to get the feel. In sum, you pull back on birdshead handle while pulling forward.on the pump slide. Sounds weird, I know, but in 10-15 shots you will never use a wrist-breaking pistol grip. My old man has the pistol grip and the whole drive to the range I heard how it would be impossible to control. When I switched from shotguns to his colt pythons (can you believe those are what I learned to shoot with!), he tried out my birdshead and I couldn’t get it back the rest of the.dsy. Plus, if you think a pistol.grip looks bad…a Birdseye looks like you borrowed it from your biker-gang brother in law. If you like Denzel…check out the book of Eli movie :). Try it you will like it…about 25$

  • Vikery May 18, 2017, 10:51 pm

    Funny nobody caught the NFA mistake he made.

  • Mike Myers April 13, 2017, 7:56 pm

    Had one. A Mossberg 500.. Sold it. Really glad I did

  • Rem870 October 24, 2016, 1:02 pm

    Never liked PGO shotguns. Yes, they are fun to shoot but they are almost useless in my opinion. Difficult to aim, difficult to deal with recoil. If you want to have an easy to transport shotgun, get one with folding stock.

  • j September 28, 2016, 8:05 pm

    Bought a 20 gauge mossberg pistol grip so my wife could be comfortable and so I could have a fun gun. If you know what you\’re doing, this is top notch home defense…. short, powerful, looks and sounds scary. First time out I hip fired at an 8 oz redbull can with a slug and hit both times. So again, if you know and are comfortable, it doesn\’t get much better.

    • JIM STEPHENS October 13, 2017, 11:36 am

      Everybody always talk abt. knockdown power but they can’t hit the broadside of a barn w/those large cal. guns! Look at the pics above, did you notice all of that recoil??? Did you know that a slug in a .20ga is the same size as a .45 & you have a lot more to hold on to & be able to control than just a pistol grip! If you use a pistol w/a 10round mag. in it you can be out of ammo pretty fast! You can take a .20ga & use #3buck in it & send 20 to 24 .22 caliper bb’s down the barrel w/one pull of the trigger & a woman is not scared of it like she would be a big kick coming from a 12ga. so she might even hit what she aiming at like an intruder! Come on guys give a little on your ego’s & start using common sense!!!

  • Tim Leadberg September 10, 2016, 7:57 pm

    As a ruff and ready civilian, how many of u knowledgeable experts have ever killed someone from inside 10 yards in your houses? Anybody?
    You all talk like fearless killers just waiting for someone to break into your house so you can show ’em how ready you are and kill ’em dead. Jeese… Yeah, you’ll all be ready if the opportunity presents itself. That is if you don’t shit yourself and slide off in it before you get the chance…

    • Doug Ditchez November 20, 2016, 12:34 pm

      Don’t see any comments here reflecting this attitude. Perhaps you were jumping to conclusions?

      • Justin Franks November 29, 2016, 12:09 pm

        I’d say 75% jumping to conclusions and 25% projection.

  • Dave August 27, 2016, 5:10 pm

    I have a Mossberg flex 20 gauge with all three stocks. I have trained intensely with both the tactical and Pistol grip. I can say without a doubt that for home protection, it is my opinion that the Pistol grip is a ideal choice. Recoil is light and since I train with pistols, and shoot point and shoot training, the Pistol grip can be extremely fast and accurate. Basically the pistol grip is nothing more than a big Pistol and one that you can hold with two hands. I am talking about a 20 guage and most likely would not train this way with a 12 guage. But then again, I would not choose a 12 gauge for home protection. The Pistol grip 20 is light, easy to carry, fast to target and very comfortable to shoot. Considering that inside a house, most target will be 20′ at the most. If you cannot shoot a pistol grip 20 ga. You most likely cannot handle a 9mm pistol. Try the 20 guage, bring it up close to position near the face and NO it will not go into your face. Especially if you know how to handle the weapon and you actually train often with it.

  • Harry December 14, 2015, 7:28 pm

    All the scary parts that Dianne Feinstein hates!

  • Nickolai Mazeppa December 14, 2015, 12:23 pm


    Interesting thread! I have a Maverick, with a 28 inch, Parkerized, rifled bore. Never a feed failure, no problems at all. I wanted to train my Lady to use it for home defense. At a gun show, I purchased several boxes of Winchester Low Noise/Low Velocity 12 GA. shells. 8 buckshot, in each shell. I knew if she used regular strength, she would never want to fire it! Full shoulder stock, worked like a charm, hard to tell the difference regarding target devastation, but noise and kick seemed about half. She does not fear shooting it, with these reduced loads. I was thinking, might be a good shell to use with a pistol grip. No need to go around limp wristed!

  • James E Bailey December 14, 2015, 12:06 pm

    I solved the aiming problem by installing a laser which was an easy task because the Mossberg is pre-drilled to install a rail. I put a pen laser in the barrel and aligned the two dots from the lasers on a wall at 40 feet to zero it in.

    • Michael A. D'Uva November 3, 2016, 12:07 pm

      Hello James, I have a mossberg 88 PGO . Installed rail with forward grip as I have bad shoulder and grip makes it easier to control muzzle rise. What laser did you install and does it hold zero after shooting? Thanks for your reply

      • Darren mould December 23, 2021, 2:50 pm

        I live in Canada and I was arrested for possession of a loaded restricted firearm it wasn’t cut down but the pistol grip was broke off does that classify as restricted/prohibited Mossberg pistol grip pump shot gun

  • Jim December 14, 2015, 8:01 am

    I have a 500 with pistol grips fore and aft. Equipped with a bright weapon light. It also serves as aiming device. At all ranges with in my home, 10 yards max, #4 buck 2 3/4″ is center mass and about 10″ wide. I practice with #4 high brass outdoors in late afternoon, when the light shows up better on silhouette targets. Did not take long to achieve consistent hits on clays laid against bank at 10 yards. Practice builds confidence. Batteries change with the clocks, twice a year.

  • Don Mei October 11, 2015, 8:58 pm

    We used to keep a Mossberg Cruiser (what this gun was called for years) on our boat when we would go shark fishing. Our boat was only 22 ft long. Usually we’d just cut the fish off once it got close to the boat. But if it was a Mako or anything we wanted to keep, a shot to the head of #2 buck would shut the fish down immediately. Then we could safely drag it on board.


  • Pete Harrison May 27, 2015, 1:20 pm

    Well, I have a Mossberg 500 pistol grip and have used it several times on a local range. Luckily for me, I read up on this before buying one. If I use shells with 1200 fps velocity or more it starts to hurt after a while (but that’s after many shots) and under that not so much. I also can shoot from the hip and holding straight out with my non-dominant hand bracing against the recoil with very few problems. I’m 6’2″, weigh 235, and have very long arms, so maybe those factors really play into all that. I did see some YouTube videos with guys and gals who did all the wrong things and got hurt doing them (not so funny), so the wise words and pics above are appropriate to those considering buying and using one. I’m personally very happy with mine since I bought it for home defense and we have a few hallways at home that are rather narrow. Just my two cents.

  • Superhawk May 26, 2015, 7:58 pm

    I have an 870 Remington set up this way with the addition of a pistol grip forend and it is not bad to shoot from the hip. I think the extra grip on the forend helps. I believe it is made by ATI.

  • Pro2Aguy May 26, 2015, 4:59 pm

    I live in a big urban city with little room compared to many…So I need the absolute best mobility/agility available to me absent a significant hit in performance…What works for me is a folding stock which gives me the option of using the shotgun from a pistol-grip or extended stock position.

  • Tommy Barrios May 26, 2015, 12:29 pm

    Besides the fact that you used the cheapest sorriest pump shotgun the planet, Mushberg, the article shows NOOBS that sexy looking short guns ain’t always what they are cranked up to be, by Hollyweird writers and IGNORANT journalists!
    I have an Ithaca Stakeout, a real pump gun of the pistol drip short variety (Disclaimer: I only own Ithaca Model 37 Shotguns), it was built for a specific purpose, short range engagements by LE or Armed Security in COB situations!
    It really NOT for the average yokel for the very reasons you pointed out!
    I also have a recycled Police M37 that spent its life in a patrol car shotgun rack, that is perfect for home defense and stays loaded with Bird Shot 😉

    • Sumner May 28, 2015, 7:10 pm

      We can see why you need so many shotguns (for all the friends you make online).

    • Scott July 13, 2015, 4:24 pm

      Damn, man. Elitist taste for a certain gun brand? Check. Baseless claims against another competitor gun brand? Check. Demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge on the firearm in question? Check.

      That hit all the bases, home run, man!

      And remember, friends don’t let friends use birdshot for defense.

    • Morgan July 7, 2016, 3:21 am

      Which is the only shotgun that passed the military trials? Cause I know it wasn’t Ithaca, and I’m pretty sure it rhymes with hossberg.

    • Bubba August 4, 2016, 1:11 am

      Must have taken a lot of practice and flexibility to learn to suck your own dick, Tommy.

      • John December 8, 2016, 8:46 pm


    • walkerny November 26, 2017, 11:35 am

      With the exception of the few know it all tools that show up on any topic, I’ve enjoyed all of your input. I have extensive firearms experience in the military, but very very little with a shotgun. I was looking for home defense, settled on the 500 based on cost and quality (and made in USA), and wanted a shorter weapon based on experience moving indoors with firearms. I like also the ability to choose a round that I can control it’s penetration and subsequent exit from my home, better. Based on the comments I see here, I’m convinced 20 gage is the way to go. I am planning on living in a very rural area and it just makes sense that you are alone and have to prepare for that. It’s likely too my wife will handle the 20 better, combined with a less powerful load.

  • mtmisfit May 26, 2015, 10:30 am

    Stop trying to shoot the PGO shotguns like a handgun, it will beat the crap out of your wrist. To shoot the PGO shotgun you pull back on the pistol grip and push forward with your support hand on the fore-end. It recoils almost straight back and doesn’t pound the grip into the web of your hand. At near arms length with a modified weaver stance they are accurate and easily handled as you now control the direction of the recoil and can avoid your front teeth.

  • Bill Searcher May 26, 2015, 9:25 am

    Interesting article, but it prompts two questions:
    1. Where does that large revolver that can also fire .410 shotgun shells fit into the regulations?
    2. And a similar question about firing those .22 caliber “snake loads” from a handgun?

    • mtmisfit May 26, 2015, 10:23 am

      They are both handguns, they have rifled barrels. The designation is on the firearm not the ammo you shoot out of it.

    • BillyBobRedneck May 26, 2015, 12:56 pm

      Bill U R right the S&W Gov with it’s 6 shots of #4 is all a person needs ! The short barrel is legal and the shot pattern opens
      up wide enough U don’t have to be dead on ! As a back up the last 2 or 3 of PDX1 410 – Stop the Threat Highly effective in both shotguns and 410 compatible handguns, the PDX1 in 410 gauge features a distinctive black hull and black oxide high-base head and combines three plated Defense Disc™ projectiles and 12 pellets of plated BB shot. The result is the ideal personal protection load for short range engagement with the performance needed to stop threats. This load is also suitable for varmint hunting and pest control. Designed for use in the Taurus Judge, this new personal defense round provides maximum protection at close range.

      • Duck October 26, 2016, 12:55 am

        Thinking about that, I’d bet for densely inhabited areas a pg’d 500 in .410 loaded with those might be a viable option. A lot of the aiming caveats would be gone when dealing with the low recoil of .410, but considering that defensive loadings for the revolvers tend to show improved ballistics shot from a longer smoothbore barrel, one might be able to justify the PGO over the pistol. best of both worlds, so to speak (in those circumstances, of course)

  • Joe May 26, 2015, 9:17 am

    Call me old fashioned but I’d feel naked if my Browning auto 5 didn’t have a stock for my shoulder to lean on.

  • BillyBobRedneck May 26, 2015, 9:11 am

    Can clearly see U never used a Blackhawk / Knox recoil stock ! Which cuts recoil in half ! Not a word about top or
    side FOLDING STOCKS ! Not word about just using bird shot in the house ! ( Do U feel luck punk ? This is a 12 ga shotgun and will blow a hole slap through several rooms in a house and possibly your neighbors !(using slugs or buckshot) ! Nothing
    like having a KSG with Aquila 12 by 12 + 1 = 25 rounds of pure fun at the shortest legal length !

  • Dave Bolin May 26, 2015, 8:41 am

    I’ve had a Mossberg Persuader/Cruiser 12-gauge for a while for home defense purposes. When it first joined my collection I tried firing it using the pistol grip and quickly came to the same conclusion as the author; lousy accuracy and painful to the whole hand and arm. Mine did come with a polymer shoulder stock as an alternative do I used that until I found an RTI system that mounts an AR-style pistol grip and M4-type adjustable shoulder stock on the Mossy. To me, this is rhe best of both worlds as it provides the stability of a stock with better recoil control from the shoulder and the hip. With six extra rounds of PDX on board in a receiver carrier it has become a truly viable tool for the defense of my family AND looks ultra-cool when I take it to the range.

  • Long Tom May 26, 2015, 8:01 am

    Worked at gun store and sold a PGO to a customer. Warned him about recoil and demonstrated shooting with the grip against the hip. That weekend (after having, perhaps, a drop taken), he decided to take out a hornet nest in the yard the TV way. Held firearm like it had a buttstock. Fired and removed upper and lower front teeth. He traded the not-a-shotgun for something else.
    Remember “Justified” on TV? They always used the toothless hold on their prop shotguns. I e-mailed them about this and other gun goofs. The second season they held a stocked shotgun against the shoulder. I doubt it was my note,but I felt, uh……Justified. Sorry.

  • Will Drider May 21, 2015, 4:05 pm

    A PGO is not VP Biden approved as it is not a shotgun. Lol

  • Marty May 20, 2015, 1:03 pm

    I’ve been a big fan of PGO 12-gauges for many years. And as I understand it, that whole secretive deal being discussed by the NRA, a handful of Congresspersons, and ATF behind closed doors to rewrite the law on PGOs has been dropped. According to my sources, once the NRA found out that we had found out, they dropped the whole thing. So it’s time to enjoy PGOs–if you can find one. Mossberg seems to have been involved in that whole deal somehow and quickly dried up their supply of PGOs as well as 14″ front ends available to civilians.

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