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Published on October 20th, 2014 | by FFL Unleashed
The Evolution of Shotguns
Shotguns are by far one of the oldest forms of firearms. Shotguns are unique weapon designed to fire a variety of different sized ‘shot’, which is made from a different sized pellets of round balls. Shot can range from superbly small bbs to large round balls. With small shot designed for small game like birds and squirrels, or sport like trap and skeet, and large shot designed for hunting medium game and self-defense.
The shotgun is a weapon that is devastating at close range. The shotgun can also extend its range with slugs, with are a solid piece of metal that are often rifled to insure accuracy. The variety of different loads make the shotgun an incredibly versatile weapon and has been used for warfare, law enforcement, self-defense, hunting, and sports for hundreds of years.
Shotguns go as far back as the muskets and early firearms. At this time shotguns and rifles were one and the same. The large barrels of muskets and earlier firearms were wide enough to fit either a large load of shot or the standard musket ball and wad. The earliest shotguns were called fowling pieces, and used in Europe for hunting.
These fowling pieces were loaded with a load of small shot that increased the chances of striking a moving target, which at the time was a flying bird. These fowling pieces were purely sporting arms and used by the highest families of European society.
In the early 1700s the famed blunderbuss was invented. The Blunderbuss was one of the first truly dedicated shotguns. The Blunderbuss featured an extremely wide and often shorter barrel. This weapon was extremely handy and small when compared to the muskets of the day. The blunderbuss became a favorite with for urban combat, cavalry units which became known as dragoons when paired with the weapon, and even pirates and sailors for it’s ease of use on a ship.
At this same time the buck and ball load was becoming popular, which was a musket ball packed with a small load of buckshot to insure greater hit potential. This became a favorite load during the revolutionary war, with both line troops and cavalry. The musket was used as both a shotgun and rifle until technology began to allow rifles to become smaller in length and weight, and modern powders and bullets reduced bore size.
As rifles adopted with technology so did the shotgun. Musket loading double-barreled shotguns became the shotgun of choice. Shotguns and rifles quickly separated and began going down their own paths of innovation. In the 1800s the shotgun became famous as a frontiersman’s weapon and helped tame the west. The term riding shotgun evolved from the practice of stagecoach guards riding passenger armed with a short-barreled coach gun loaded with buckshot.
Even with invention of modern shotgun cartridges the musket-loading shotgun was still used in the Civil War. While both sides of the civil war made use of the shotgun, the Confederate cavalry became well known for their employment of the fearsome weapon. The shotgun was an excellent weapon for the cavalry who were often engaging targets on the move in a rapid manner.
In the post Civil War United States the musket-loading shotgun was becoming a thing of the past and the modern break action double barrel fed from self contained cartridges ruled the land. These shotguns were used in a variety of different roles, from hunting to self-defense and police work. The shotgun was a favorite of gunslingers like Doc Holliday. Doc used the shotgun to tremendous effect in the shootout at the O.K. Corral, when he gunned down Tom Mclaury with his sawn off double barrel. The shotgun was a mighty weapon and its role has been drastically under played in pop culture when compared to the Colt revolvers. The double-barreled shotgun was always popular and continues to be an American icon.
The double-barreled shotgun was so fierce notorious stagecoach stick up man Black Bart didn’t even need to load his shotgun to rob the Wells Fargo stagecoaches. The double-barreled shotgun was produced by dozens of different companies, most small, producing a line of double barrels before fading away.
At this same time on the western frontier the double-barreled shotgun was entrusted to provide food for the table, protection from bandits and Indians, as well be a workingman’s companion on the range.
In 1887 a man we all know and love, John Moses Browning came along and revolutionized the shotgun. Browning’s touch revolutionized a lot of weapons including the shotgun, and he did it more than once. The 1887 lever action shotgun was the first widespread and successful repeating shotgun. This lever action shotgun was designed to be a similar manual of arms of Winchester’s famed lever action repeating rifles.
Browning to his credit and foresight thought a pump action was more practical than a lever action, but Winchester arms company pressed for a lever action. Some five years later Winchester listened and the Model 1893 was born. John Moses Browning later refined the model 1893 into the model 1897.
The Model 1897 became the first modern combat shotgun and instantly became one of the most beloved shotguns of that time, and even now is still renowned. The 1897 was capable of firing the new, more powerful smokeless powder. The 1897 served the people as well as the police and military for decades.
The pump action made the weapon incredibly reliable, and the modern smokeless powder loads made it powerful. The pump design made it quick and easy, and incredibly streamlined dimension wise. When combined with a bayonet and heat guard, the Model 1893 became a war weapon.
The 1897 brought down many a dust bowl bandit when combined with the U.S. Marshals Service and the younger FBI. The Model 1897 served in World War 1 and was the perfect for trench warfare. The weapon could be slam fired, meaning the trigger was held down and every time the pump was worked the weapon would fire. This made firing the weapon insanely fast, perfect for clearing trenches. The weapon was so effective the Germans protested its use in warfare as inhumane.
The Winchester 1897 set the bar for the modern pump actions that followed it. The 1897 served with police and military forces for decades. In fact the weapon was still being used in the Vietnam War.
John Browning again revolutionized shotguns with his Browning Model A5, the first successful and mass produced semi-automatic shotgun. The A-5 was used extensively by militaries around the world, and saw service with the Western world until the Vietnam War. Some extremely rare South African military and police models are known to be a favored collector’s item.
The A-5 also became a favorite of bird hunters and skeet shooters for it’s quick shooting and easy handling. The A-5 could hold five rounds of ammunition and be emptied in only a few seconds. The A-5 was produced all the way up to 1998 and continues to be a favorite of bird hunters everywhere.
The next shotguns to make a splash were the Winchester Model 12 and the Ithaca 37. It has to be mentioned that the Ithaca 37 was based a John Browning patent, which became the Remington 17. The Model 12 was the first mass produced and successful internal hammer fired shotgun, and served alongside the 1897 in multiple wars. The Ithaca 37 became famed for its use with the NYPD and the LAPD. The Ithaca 37 in its different incarnations is the most widely produced shotgun in the United States.
By the time the 1960s came around two big names in shotguns dominated the market. The Remington 870, and the Mossberg 500 could be found in the squad car of police officers, the gun cabinets of hunters, and under the beds of those looking for a home defense weapon. These three pump action shotguns became the new normal for shotguns, and were much more popular than the many different budget pump guns at the time.
The Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 continue to serve to this day in with a multitude of users. Both shotguns are considered to be working man’s shotguns and are in heavy use with the police and military. The Mossberg and Remington’s popularity has spurred numerous incarnations and a massive amount of aftermarket parts. This allows the user to tailor the weapon for hunting, sport shooting or home defense. A basic model of these shotguns can radically redesigned to a tactical configuration with foregrip, adjustable buttstock, a red dot optic, and a flashlight without the use of tools.
The Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 are favorites for home defense. These two models helped propel the shotgun to the legendary home defense weapon it is now. The popularity of the two weapons put them in a wide variety of homes, and their ease of use and massive firepower made them ideal home defense weapons.
Both of these shotguns are the mainstay American shotgun, and both have spawned numerous, cheaper clones made overseas. Not only are these shotguns two of the most popular shotguns, but they are some of the most popular shotguns in the world.
While the Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 are not going anywhere anytime soon, the modern tactical semi-automatic is becoming more and more popular. The United States Marines adopted the Benelli M4 as their joint service shotgun, renamed the M1014. The Benelli M4 was used well before the military adopted it.
The M4 has been a favorite for home defense and tactical applications due to it’s increased rate of fire. In fact the M4 was around well before the military adopted it, and has always been a popular shotgun. The M4 is also easier to use and requires no manual action beyond chambering the first round. The M4 replaces the standard bead sight with ghost ring sights, and is available with an adjustable buttstock.
Semi-automatic shotguns have been replacing the classic Remington and Mossberg shotguns slowly by users who appreciate the faster rate of fire, more modern design, ease of use, and of course the reduced recoil. The combination of these traits makes the semi-automatic shotgun the premier home defense weapon.
Shotguns have come a long way since the birth of the United States. They have been used in wars across the globe, put food on the table, and have been the mainstay of the civilian home defense market. The shotgun is one of the most versatile weapons there is, and its staying power is evident in it’s varied and storied history.