Book Review: The World’s Fighting Shotguns

Shotguns are a subject I don’t cover much, and I’ll admit that’s because of a prejudice on my part. I just don’t find most of them to be particularly interesting…but then I had the chance to take a look at a collection that included a bunch of mechanically unusual and pretty fascinating shotguns. The owner is planning to drag me out to the range for some trap & skeet lessons, and I realized that I really should pay more attention to these guns. I wound up getting a couple (like my .410 SMLE, and a Spencer-Bannerman pump that will be in an upcoming video), and I also started looking for good reference books on them.

I’m primarily going to be looking for martial guns, and the literature on those is pretty skimpy. Bruce Canfield and Joe Poyer both have books on US martial shotguns, Tim Mullin covered some types in his SMG/Shotgun/Machine Pistol evaluation, but the only reference I was able to find with an international scope was Thomas Swearengen’s The World’s Fighting Shotguns.

Swearengen’s book is dated (it was published in 1978), but it does a very good job of covering a wide variety of shotguns, from single shots to mag-fed aully automatic designs. It includes, for example, the 14ga Greener police guns (built on Martini-Henry actions), Spencer-Bannermans, Ithaca Auto & Burglars, High Standard bullpups, and the AA-12. Plus, of course, the more typical WWI and WWII trench shotguns, and a bunch of Philippine guerrilla kludges (I was a bit disappointed to see that the SMLE conversions are not included, though).

The book is very much out of print, but used copies to come up. There are two sets of listings on Amazon (one of them has misspelled the author’s name), and you can also keep and eye out on eBay and at gun shows. At the time of writing, there are a handful on Amazon for about $50, which is about as low as you’ll probably see them there:


    • About 20 years ago the US was awash in military-surplus and military-style (semi-auto AKs such) weapons. Most of it was out of East European depots after the fall of the Iron Curtain, along with a ton of Chinese rifles and handguns before the import ban. But there was stuff from all over – for a while you could buy French bolt and semi 7.5 rifles (and ammo) very cheaply. One of the neatest was a small stash of pre-WW2 Browning “Auto-8″ police shotguns. Made by FN, I have no idea for who, but a 12-gauge long-recoil humpback with an 8-shot tube, I think a 24” barrel, and a checkered wood foregrip that covered the entire magazine. Beautiful weapons at a very reasonable price for about two weeks, then they were all gone and I’m sure the price has quadrupled or more since then.

      Ian mentioned the Martini-Greener 14 gauge. Around 1971, when I was a gun-nut 7th grader, I remember seeing in either Gun Digest or Guns Illustrated (a slimmer version of GD, no articles but several hundred catalog pages) some high-end Martini-action trap guns that were made by a London custom shop under the Greener name. Vent-rib 12 gauges with 30-inch full-choke barrels, hand-carved exotic-hardwood stocks, a bit of engraving and inlay. At the time my historic interest was Civil War revolvers and cartridge carbines (to this day, I don’t think there has ever been a gun I want more than a Ballard in .56 Spencer) and wasn’t much interested in Martinis but the Greeners stuck in my mind because (a) they were kinda weird looking and (b) they were the most expensive single-shot shotguns I’d ever heard of. Well over a thousand dollars, and in 1971 that was about the price of a Super Pigeon Model 12 Winchester.

  1. The chapter on developments in flechette shotgun shells was almost worth the price of the book when I purchased it.

    • I might piggy-back here to say that the discussion of the U.S. Navy silent shotgun cartridges was also almost close to the price of admission! Very interesting. I still wonder how many decibels a shotgun shell could be “reduced” by without creating an NFA controlled device?

      • If the modifications were performed specifically for the purpose of reducing the sound signature, the ATF’s official response would be “None!”.

        Of course, you may always file an ATF Form 1 to create a registered silencer, do the background check, fingerprints, CLEO signoff, and pay the $200 tax. Then you’d be allowed to make the one single shell. The shell itself would be registered as a silencer, and subject to all the restrictions of NFA. Hooray for red-tape!

  2. While the book is a great reference, certainly, there is way, way too much detail on all of the cropped and lopped criminal shotguns in single-shot and double-barrel configurations…

    Ithaca Auto and Burglar in 20 gauge–yes, yes yes!
    The 16-ga./ 20-ga. Liberator shotgun is really fascinating, and I’ll tell ya what, a modern version with all kinds of rails and whatnot made with modern production methods and marketed as a four-shot defensive shotgun would sell! [At least to me…! 😉 ]
    Swearengen is first rate on the Remington 870 and pump action guns, and also the British Malaya counterinsurgency use of the Browning Auto-5 in 12-gauge. I must confess that a Remington Model 17 in 20 gauge is now on my “must have’ list!

    Thanks, Ian, for the review!

    • “Remington Model 17 in 20 gauge”
      BTW Which shotgun was first bottom-eject design?
      When I check early 20-century Remington pump-action shotgun I find Remington Model 10 designed by J.D.Pedersen, this firearm is earlier than Model 17. states that
      “[In Remington Model 10] The loading port was located under the receiver ahead of the trigger and doubled as the ejection port.”
      If the Remington Model 10 is first bottom-eject pump-action (or at least first mass-produced), then the Pedersen is inventor of the small but important feature – the bottom-ejecting.
      Do you know any earlier bottom-ejector shotgun designs?

  3. I’d argue that the use if the Winchester 97 by the doughboys in WWI would have been a game changer, had tanks not been introduced.

    The mention

    • Yeah, that’s true. Jacob, there were very few tanks in WWI and before they came into play, the Winchester 97 was a true trench-cleaner. And bad news for tanks. After the British introduced their tanks, the Germans created K bullets. K bullets are armor-piercing rifle-caliber rounds, and they have a 1 in 3 chance of penetrating the Mk 4 tank clean through. To maximize this nastiness, have an MG08 with ammo belts of K bullets. While they won’t go through WWII tanks, the K bullets will lacerate light armor like no tomorrow. Shotguns on the other hand are weapons that like being up close and personal in war. They love crowded spaces like trenches and urban rubble…

  4. of the Auto 5 leads to the possibility that civilian firms learning to manufacture the complex arms made them better able to switch to war production semi-auto arms that were machining intensive. The inside of an Auto-5’s receiver is a milling machine’s nightmare.

    For rifles, pistols, and SMGs, militaries led the way and the arms designs trickled down to the civilian market. With a few exceptions, the reverse with shot guns–the civilian market place made the designs for the civilian market, which were later adopted by militaries.

  5. The military has log recognized the effectiveness of the shotgun in CQB. In fact, about half the minutemen at Lexington and Concord were armed with “fowling peeces”, not “proper” infantry muskets, and due to their lighter construction were probably firing shot loads rather than ball.

    There’s every reason to believe that when Major Pitcairn’s horse reared and threw him,. resulting in his pistols ending up in General Washington’s possession, it was because said horse had been stung by a shot load. A musket ball hit almost anywhere would have rendered the horse unable to run off with the saddle-holstered pistols; the poor thing would probably have been down, and badly hurt or dying, from such a wound.

    That sad, the military’s repeated efforts to develop a dedicated fighting shotgun never seem to work. The major defect being that they always seem to end up with something larger and heavier that a SAW, but with less effective range than a pistol. The H&K CAWS, Daewoo USAS-12, and Franchi SPAS-15 being cases in point. (The earlier SPAS-12 was no lightweight, either.)

    They inevitably end up buying “off the shelf” sporting shotguns, sometimes modified with certain features (extended magazines, etc.) to make them more amenable to combat use.

    The U.S. Army’s XM-26

    Which basically takes the place of the M203 40mm blooper under an M-16’s forend, gets around some of these objectives, being an SMG-sized arm that is also reasonably lightweight. But being a manually-operated repeater puts it at a disadvantage in a fast-moving infantry skirmish.

    The shotgun is really a specialist’s weapon on the modern battlefield. For most uses, the infantry rifle still wins overall.



    • Shotgun ammunition is heavy and bulky. Rifle ammunition became more compact and light, enabling more cartridges to be carried. In the U.S. first, and belatedly, elsewhere, the rifle became lighter and more compact too.

      Shotguns are indeed specialized weapons, more suited to police use as weapons go, although even there they have clearly been superseded by rifles and carbines.

      • Speaking as someone who’s “been there”, the police popularity of the shotgun was always due to three things; its perceived high “stopping power”, its perceived low over-penetration potential, and its perceived psychological effect when racked and pointed at a perp.

        Of the three, the third is the most subjective, but also probably the most realistic. The other two factors are more questionable.

        Ballistically, the 12 gauge shotgun has about the wounding/damaging power of a Civil War rifle musket at close range, especially with the rifled slug load.

        However, it doesn’t have even the effective range of the service pistol; contrary to popular belief (even among cops) the shoulder-fired shotgun does not generally group as well as the .38 or .357 service revolver at 50 to 75 yards, even provided the shooters are expert in the weapons’ use. In police work, “close” does not count, and is a danger to innocent bystanders.

        As for “over-penetration”, people who hold that the .357 revolver is “over-penetrative” for urban police use, but the shotgun loaded with buckshot isn’t, have never seen what 00 buck will do to a typical wood-and-plasterboard wall. Generally, it takes a minimum of 1 to 1.5 inches of heavy wood to stop 00 at close range. In typical modern home or (worse) apartment construction, the 00 buck load is as dangerous to non-combatants as the full-caliber slug load.

        Many departments went to No. 4 buckshot in the Eighties for this reason. No. 4 offers a good balance of pattern (16 pellets in a 2 3/4″ shell as opposed to 9 00 pellets) and reasonable penetration (enough to get through heavy winter clothing at close range). It will still penetrate plasterboard, but generally gets brought to a halt by 1/2″ or thicker wood, even lighter woods such as pine. Also, No. 4 loads had lighter powder charges, so they were easier for female and smaller-statured male officers to handle from a recoil standpoint.

        As a side note, before carbines and pistol-caliber long arms became common, there was a move toward the 20 gauge for police work for the same reasons. It didn’t take off because the 5.56mm and 9mm longarms were quickly proven superior to it. Plus, I suspect there was a sort of “macho” thing involved; the 20 was considered a “starter” or “ladies'” bore by older male officers- who happened to control the purse strings.

        The 5.56mm and 9mm will definitely “over-penetrate” by police standards; after all, their penetration effects were intended for a battlefield where anyone on the opposite end of the muzzle is at least potentially a valid target, and will almost certainly be behind cover unless he’s not too bright. Both factors can be mitigated by the use of expanding or frangible bullets in police work, a relief prohibited to the military under the Geneva and Hague accords.

        BTW, the ACLU to the contrary, the use of HP and SP bullets by police has always been less about increasing “stopping power” than about reducing overpenetration. The old .38 Special 158-grain RNL, and the newer 9mm 147-grain subsonic load (SN, HP, or whatever), were both noted for going right through a “valid target” and posing a threat to any bystanders within a block’s range behind him. Mainly because the .38 RNL did not expand (it was never designed to do so), and the 9mm subsonic didn’t either;it was supposed to do so, but generally failed due to faulty design resulting in the nose collapsing inward and behaving like a RNL thereafter. Round-nosed bullets penetrate tissue entirely too well.

        The “ideal” police bullet is one that goes in and stops, thus not posing a threat to innocents and also delivering its full kinetic energy to the intended recipient, rather than expending it uselessly and dangerously on the landscape behind him.

        Given proper bullet design, the 5.56mm and 9mm can be made to do this. And as with the military, the lighter weapon with lighter ammunition and a higher capacity is superior overall.



        • Hey eon, I saw your comment and boy did I learn a lot. I’d like to ask everyone this: Would an advanced combination gun be more suited to police work than carbines and shotguns separately?

          • Andrew;

            Thanks. I do my best. 😉

            As to “combination” weapons, you’re mainly talking about tactical teams. Patrol units are probably better served by having a carbine and a shotgun in the unit, especially if it’s a two-man.

            The problem with combination weapons is deciding which one to use under the IA circumstances. It’s easy to say, “use the shogun at ranges under 25 yards, the carbine beyond that” but what if the target is exactly at 30? Or wearing a “bulletproof” vest? (North Hollywood) In a vehicle behind safety glass? (FBI, Miami 1986) Or has a hostage and is using them as a “human shield? (Examples too numerous to reiterate here)

            Under stress, your manual dexterity tends to leave the room. (Personal experience here.) And having to decide which of a multiple-function arm’s functions to use in such a situation is a problem. It can certainly be overcome by training, but keep in mind that police departments have limited funds for same. Which is why there is a tendency to look for “tech fixes” to purely human psychology/training/ operational environment problems.

            Trivia note; the adoption of high-capacity autopistols by police in the 1980s and 1990s was driven by two factors. One was a perception of being “outgunned by criminals”, mainly due to anti-“assault weapon” propaganda by anti-2AM groups, plus Hollywood’s portrayal of heavily armed criminals in movies and TV shows (Scarface, Miami Vice, etc.) Neither one reflected reality, until the real criminals began acquiring high-capacity automatic arms due to… the anti-gun groups propaganda and what they were seeing on TV ad in the movies. (Life imitating art, so to speak.)

            The other factor was the belief that, as with the military, individual marksmanship (which requires extensive- and expensive- training) could be replaced by the concept of the “sustained firescreen”, aka “put that thing on rock-and-roll”. That is, lay down a base of fire and count on the law of averages to ensure at least one hit.

            Col. Jeff Cooper accurately defined this as the “spray-and-pray” technique, and at one point it was common for LAPD officers to fire off three or four magazines-full of 9mm from their Beretta M92s at a single suspect… and maybe hit him once or twice out of forty-five “tries”.

            In one case on the freeway outer belt, two officers fired 91 rounds at a single car theft suspect armed with a .38 revolver, hitting him once. The other 90 rounds came to rest in the residential area beyond him NW of the freeway. The local council was not amused, and I don’t blame them one bit.

            Not least because back when I was a kid and LAPD issued .38 revolvers (mostly S&W M15s), they were considered possibly the most accurate and quickest pistol marksmen in the United States, with bonuses paid for high scores on the PPC. (This is why Jim Reid on the old Adam-12 series was called a “twenty-dollar shooter” in the pilot; he shot a perfect score on PPC, and that was how much extra it put in his paycheck.)

            Adding the need to decide which function to use to that sort of situation is pretty much asking for trouble with anyone but a highly-trained operator, as you find in military special operations units. And please note, such units rarely use such devices.

            We used to call it the “Johnny Seven One Man Army Gun” syndrome;


            It seems really cool- except when it’s for real.



          • So much for my hopes of an Innogun Hybrid or BRNO 802 customized for police duty. I was hoping somebody would know what to do with this type of weapon. If there is anything I would count as an “advantage” about a hypothetical police combination gun with break-action shotgun barrel and magazine-fed rifle barrel, it would be that nobody in his right mind would kill a cop and steal the gun. I mean, could you imagine a crook running around with a freshly stolen Police-issued multiple-function long gun that can’t be disguised?

          • I know only one military use of combination guns – survival guns used by air forces, like M6 Aircrew Survival Weapon, M6 Scout, German M30 Luftwaffe drilling (actually hunting gun used by Luftwaffe in North Africa).

          • Daweo;

            I still have a box of Remington-made (red & green box) .22 Hornet ammunition, 54-grain softpoint, with a pasted-on label stating that the ammunition was to be used only for foraging, and that its use against enemy personnel violated the Geneva convention.

            Considering the way POWs, especially captured aircrew, were treated in that era (by Communists in Asia and radicals of all stripes worldwide) I have long suspected that a lot of those pasted-on labels were “lost”, on the grounds that “I never read it, so I had no idea that shooting that enemy soldier in the head with my M6 and taking his AK violated any conventions”.

            E&E is safer than relying on accords the “other side” refuses to acknowledge, overall. (“Our government did not exist at that time, therefore we are not bound by those rules”, etc.)

            Yes. The first rule of real war is that there pretty much are no rules.

            The second rule is that the winner gets to write the history books.



          • During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army Special Warfare Center at Ft. Bragg developed a special gun for the “tunnel rats” operating in Cu Chi province. Known as the “Tunnel Gun”, it was a S&W M-29 .44 Magnum with a 4″ barrel, and fired a special “piston” round loaded with 4 No.4 buckshot. The idea of the piston round was to reduce noise and contain firing gases which otherwise could be hazardous to the “rat” in the confined space of the tunnel.

            The “piston” round was soon proven to be a failure; it was a wounder, not a killer, and at arm’s-length range that wasn’t good enough.

            The Tunnel Gun was modified in the field to round-butt (with lanyard ring), 2.5″ barrel, and firing conventional lead bullet loads equivalent to modern “medium-velocity” Magnum loads (250-grain lead SWC at 1,000 FPS). It was a bit louder, but considerably more practical for its intended purpose.

            Most “special-purpose” weapons seem to wind up like this. The real world is not generally impressed with theoreticians’ brainstorms.

            BTW, the most common “rat” gun? The S&W .38 Special, Model 10 or Model 15, 2.5″ to 4″ barrel. They were issued to aircrewmen, could thus be readily acquired, and fulfilled pretty much all the “rats” requirements for a pistol.

            Source; The Tunnels of Cu Chi: A Harrowing Account of America’s Tunnel Rats in the Underground Battlefields of Vietnam , by Tom Mangold. Chapter 5, “Not Worth A Rat’s A**”.



        • eon:

          Respectfully, and with due deference to your having “been there” and, presumably, “done that”:

          “Many departments went to No. 4 buckshot in the Eighties for this reason. No. 4 offers a good balance of pattern (16 pellets in a 2 3/4″ shell as opposed to 9 00 pellets) and reasonable penetration (enough to get through heavy winter clothing at close range). It will still penetrate plasterboard, but generally gets brought to a halt by 1/2″ or thicker wood, even lighter woods such as pine. Also, No. 4 loads had lighter powder charges, so they were easier for female and smaller-statured male officers to handle from a recoil standpoint.”

          Anecdotally, the No.4 buckshot–which has 27 0.24″ diameter pellets in a 12-ga. 2-3/4″ shell–was used by urban police departments and so-called “stakeout squads” even earlier than the 1980s. Again anecdotally, some of these 1970s-era units made sure they fired first… Off-sides on the play, if you will, but as you note about “war” and combat generally “there are no rules” and no one is going to throw a flag. The No. 1 buckshot shell has 16 0.30″ pellets in the 12-gauge 2-3/4″ shell and has been proffered by “wound ballisticians” and other “bean counters” as offering a good compromise of pellet count and penetration. Some police departments in the Carolinas have used it, and it is my understanding that Federal, Remington, and some other ammunition manufacturers are making it more commonly than before. The typical 00 buckshot load is 9 0.33″ pellets in a 12-gauge 2-3/4″ shell, although the pellets are often actually 0 size, and there are lower-recoil “tactical buckshot” loads with just 8 00 pellets.

          You write “the police popularity of the shotgun was always due to three things; its perceived high “stopping power”, its perceived low over-penetration potential, and its perceived psychological effect when racked and pointed at a perp.

          Of the three, the third is the most subjective, but also probably the most realistic. The other two factors are more questionable.” While questionable, the “perception” of “hight ‘stopping power'” came from the reputation of 00 buck in the early 20th century and into the 1920s and 1930s among both law enforcement and criminals that 00 buck was a proven “fight stopper” and with a high degree of lethality. The “psychological effect” came from the aforementioned reputation. A shotgun in police hands was understood to be far more threatening than, say, a 4-in. .38 caliber revolver loaded with ordinary lead, round-nosed projectiles. Those same lead pistol bullets led to the mistaken assumption that the shotgun’s buckshot load was somehow comparable to shooting at a suspect with “9 .38-cal. bullets” even though bullets are ballistically quite different from round pellets.


  6. I’ve always had a great interest in shotguns, among many other weapons. One of my earlier and most cherished memories as a child was going fishing, hunting and crabbing in a large coastal ( tidal ) swamp almost every weekend with my Dad, his close friends and their sons. The adults used a combination of CZ double-barrel 12-gauge shotguns ( for waterfowl, etc. ) and .22LR CZ bolt-action rifles ( for small game ). That left me with indelible memories that are as sharp and poignant today, 48 years later, as they were then.

    Shotguns are really a unique class of firearm in their own right, with unique performance characteristics, ammunition types, ballistics and applications, and need to be treated as such. I am fortunate enough to own and enjoy some excellent shotguns, including a full military-grade Molot VEPR 12, military-grade Mossberg 500 Persuader 12-gauge tactical shotgun and Maverick 88 12-gauge modified as a military-grade tactical shotgun. I also have an H & R / NEF 20-gauge pump that I would consider a wonderfully versatile workhorse field gun ( cost-effective, reliable, sturdy, workmanlike, well-balanced and everything a good, no-frills shotgun should be ) and a little Rossi .410 “Tuffy” break-open single-shot that is an absolute gem in close country and woodlands.

    I would dearly love to add an Ithaca 37 12-gauge to the collection at some point in the near future, then start getting into less well-known and historically interesting shotguns such as some of those mentioned in this post, or as seen in the Simpson’s catalogue — provided, of course, that my budget can withstand the strain :).

    • Hi Earl

      was the double barreled CZ over-under or twin? I own one of those over-unders with Kirsten (not 100% sure with the name) lockups. They were made for variety of calibers including ball combinations. My second shotgun is Winchester 1300 combo.

      • Hi, Denny :

        Great to hear from you again. Wow, you have a CZ O/U? That is definitely on my eventual “must-have” list — then there will be the problem of choosing which model to get first! The Winchester 1300 combo is a great gun with a lot going for it, too.

        The shotguns I was referring to were side-by-side with dual triggers, and I cannot honestly remember the exact models, but the closest modern-day equivalents I can think of would be the CZ Bobwhite in 12-gauge with 26″ barrels, or the CZ Hammer Classic in 12-gauge with 30″ barrels. I was only seven years old then, and none of the youngsters were allowed to shoot the 12-gauge guns or become intimately familiar with them for obvious safety and ergonomic reasons, so the closest we came was some “dry-handling” under very close adult supervision [ as little as we were, we could barely lift and balance those shotguns, which felt like they weighed a ton at arm’s length, let alone stretch far enough to accommodate the LOP, LOL 🙂 ].

  7. Only four shotguns in my safe:

    1. 12-ga. Remington 870 with 18-1/2″ cylinder bore barrel, 4-shot “side saddle” shell carrier, and a youth-sized length-of-pull stock. I’ve got a variable choke 26-in. barrel for it too, which I used in an unsuccessful white-wing dove hunt in a Texas farm field! Shooting clay pigeons is absolutely a blast!–pun intended.

    2. Smith and Wesson/ Howa Japan Model 3000 12-gauge used for 25 years by the Pontiac, Michigan PD.

    3. Chinese copy of the M1887/M1901 J. M. Browning-designed Winchester lever-action shotgun. Just because I like the mechanics and engineering of the thing, not for any practical or pragmatic reasons.

    4. Stoeger/Brazil 20-ga. coach gun for Cowboy Action Shooting.

    Some day I’ll stumble upon a bargain collectible shotgun…

    • You just reminded me — an old-style Stoeger double-barreled side-by-side with dual triggers in either the Uplander Supreme or Coach Gun / Coach Gun Supreme models is also high on the list. Thanks!

  8. If we discuss the civil shotgun converted to war service, we must also remember about military rifles converted in to hunting/sporting shotguns, the main reasons were law restrictions. Examples: Mauser GEHA, Mosin Фроловка and others.

  9. The Soviets also designed silent piston fired 762×39 rounds for use in a 2 shot pistol. Only traveled at 450 FT per second but it was 100% quiet and was good enough to do its intended job which was assassinations at close range.

  10. I bought a copy of this book when I stationed at Ft. Knox in the ’80s. In fact, I bought several copies (along with their other books on SMGs and machine pistols) when the U.S. Cavalry Store in Radcliff, KY was getting out of the gun and gun book business and closed out their stock. I gave them away as gifts to friends when got out of the Army.

    It’s a very interesting book, especially the section on the U.S. Navy commissioned full auto versions of the Remington 1100 (7188, etc.).

  11. Thomas Swearengen was an interesting man who in addition to beihg a avid collector, was a Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician. I met the man in 1966 at Indianhead Naval Propellent facility where all EOD personal were trained and while I was taking my entry level training he was taking the 3 year refresher course.

    We spent a few hours at the range and he was an avid shooter.

  12. Several years back, I wrote to Ironside Publishers and inquired as to when the followup Volume to this would be released (I believe I had seen mention of it in SAR back before Mr. Swearengen’s death that the follow up had been in the works). Mr. Nelson wrote back (yes, snailmail) that they were working on the but, but I never did see any other announcement of it being released.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.