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Brutal efficiency: The top 5 combat shotguns out there today

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This article by Eric Miller was originally published by Coffee or Die.

Americans began fielding shotguns on the battlefield during the final stretch of World War I and with great effect. German soldiers, who had regularly utilized chlorine gas on their enemies, found the wounds left by the weapons to be egregious and were stunned by their brutal efficiency. 

The German government would eventually distribute a diplomatic note protesting the Americans’ use of shotguns and asserting that they violated several articles of the Hague Conventions. In response, the US Army’s acting judge advocate Brig. Gen. Samuel T. Ansell published a five-page opinion in which he effectively countered the German claims and pointed out that they were, in essence, complaining that shotguns were too efficient at what weapons of war are meant to be used for — maiming and killing. 

The US ultimately ignored Germany’s protests and continued to utilize shotguns in combat. Four months after the US introduced shotguns on the battlefield, Germany surrendered and World War I ended. Over 100 years have passed since World War I, and militaries the world over still issue shotguns to their troops, some of which are similar in design to the ones utilized during the Great War.

Related: The brutality of trench weapons in World War I 

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Here are our picks for the top five combat shotguns.

Remington 870

top 5 combat shotguns
A US Navy SEAL conducting a training exercise with a Remington 870 shotgun. Department of Defense photo courtesy of

About as American as apple pie and baseball, this pump-action classic made by Remington Arms was first introduced in 1950. Since then the reliable shotgun has found a home in every environment from the backwoods to the battlefield. Several different versions of this prolific shotgun exist and are utilized by countless military and police units all over the world. 

Despite the pump-action design being well over 100 years old, these types of shotguns still manage to find their place on the modern battlefield. Used less for direct combat and more as a tool, shotguns in the modern military provide a method of breaching doors as well as allow for less lethal ammunition in civilian uses.

M26 Modular Accesory Shotgun System

A soldier with an M26-MASS attached to their rifle. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The M26 is a combat shotgun that is configured as an underbarrel attachment for a service rifle, typically an M4 or M16, but can also be operated as a stand-alone shotgun. This 12-gauge features a manually cycled straight-pull bolt and has a three- to five-round detachable box magazine. 

The idea behind the M26 was to provide soldiers with a lightweight attachment for their standard rifle that could perform tasks like door breaching and less-lethal fire while also increasing short-range punching power. The United States Army has more than 30,000 units of this weapon system. 

Benelli M1014

M1014 combat shotgun
A Marine utilizes an M1014 during a three-gun marksmanship competition. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joseph Cooper.

Related: The M1014: Inside the USMC’s combat shotgun

Benelli’s M1014 is a semi-automatic shotgun made for close-quarters combat. Though not completely capable of replacing pump models due to its inability to consistently cycle less-lethal rounds, the M1014 was designed in 1998 to meet the Marine Corps’ demands for an effective combat shotgun that would reliably function and work with various optics and attachments.

Built for the Marine Corps, the M1014 was also famously utilized by a member of the British Special Air Service during a raid on an ISIS bomb-making facility in Baghdad. The team’s breacher made entry into a room where he immediately came into contact with five terrorists, two of whom were wearing suicide vests. He eliminated all five in less than seven seconds with his M1014. 


A Saiga 12-gauge shotgun. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This semi- or fully automatic shotgun looks like an AK-47 and a shotgun had a baby — and that’s by design. Like many Russian firearms, the Saiga-12 is patterned after the Kalashnikov family of rifles and like them is a rotating bolt, gas-operated firearm that feeds from a box or drum magazine. 

Like many shotguns on this list, several different versions of the Saiga-12 exist and are used in different capacities all over the world. In France, it is carried by counterterrorist units; in Egypt, it is issued to special police units; and in the United States, this guy uses one to make random YouTube videos. 


AA-12 shotgun
A U.S. Marine firing an AA-12 shotgun. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Despite being a terrifying powerhouse of a weapon, the AA-12 is the only combat shotgun on this list that is not in active use by a military or police unit. Perhaps there just isn’t a need for a fully automatic, gas-operated, 12-gauge combat shotgun that is capable of firing 300 shells per minute and also doubles as a fully automatic grenade launcher

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Feature image:  U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brendan Custer

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Coffee or Die

Coffee or Die Magazine is Black Rifle Coffee Company’s online news and lifestyle magazine. Launched in June 2018, the magazine covers stories both about and for the military, first responder, veteran, and coffee enthusiast communities.