Throwback Thursday: 6 Best Pump-Action Shotguns By: Bob Campbell

man shooting pump-action shotgun

Among the most robust, reliable, and effective shoulder-fired firearms is the pump-action shotgun. The pump-action shotgun may be simple to operate, but like all firearms, it demands some thought before you settle on which shotgun is right for you.

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You should decide what role the shotgun will fill. Hunting would call for a longer barrel and a shotgun with interchangeable choke tubes. The stock should be comfortable, and a healthy recoil pad is desirable for long shooting sessions. For competition, a shotgun with a red-dot sight is ideal. For personal defense, the choke isn’t as important. and the barrel should be short and fast handling.

You can get by with some pretty inexpensive gear, and then there are those in the middle price range that provide a good value. There are too many good and affordable shotguns to search the shops for used firearms, but sometimes older guns are good performers.


Man shooting best pump-action shotguns
The 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is an extremely popular option for sporting and defensive use.

Some firearms have features you may not need, such as a light-bearing forend or the ability to mount a red-dot sight. If you don’t need these features, don’t pay for them. On the other hand, if you purchase one of the common shotguns — a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 500 — you may add accessories later. Other shotguns do not have as many accessories available. Let’s look at some of the main considerations when choosing the best pump-action shotguns.


Main Considerations

Gauge Choice

The recent ammunition panic buying has put an exclamation point on the need to purchase a firearm that takes readily available ammunition. This means a 12 gauge shotgun. The 12 gauge is versatile and offers a wide range of loads that are available in most every gun shop and online retailer.

Barrel Choice

A heavy barrel or a light barrel is one choice. Modern shotguns have barrels that are easy to change. While you may find a vintage Savage 67 or High Standard Flite King at a fair price — and these are cool shotguns — their lack of an easily removable barrel makes them far less versatile. A Remington 870, as an example, may take any game in North America with a single hunting barrel with a choke system backed up by a slug barrel. You can quickly and easily swap between a 28″ barrel for hunting and an 18.5″ barrel for home defense.

two best pump-action shotguns with different barrel lengths
When you choose a pump-action shotgun, barrel choices include the short defense-oriented type (bottom) and the longer barrel with choke tubes for hunting game (top).

Shotgun Sights

A vent rib may be important for sport shooting. A personal-defense shotgun with a 20-inch or shorter barrel is ideal for most of us and a simple front bead is all that is needed. A shotgun that may be used with slugs, and which you are going to practice with often, will benefit from a set of ghost ring sights. For more tactical situations, an optics mount for a red dot sight is a must.

Feed Device

Today we have the choice of a tubular under-the-barrel magazine or a removable box magazine. I strongly prefer the feel of the tubular magazine and its easy handling. However, the Remington 870M is a reliable and fast-handling shotgun if you prefer a box mag. Its sturdy detachable magazines are well designed.

Mossberg barrel and magazine tube
This Mossberg features a standard tube-fed magazine.

Top Shotgun Choices

Remington 870

With its push-button safety, smooth dual-rail feed, and fast handling, the Remington 870 is a proven shotgun. You may spend more — a lot more — on highly elevated versions with a muzzle brake, extended magazine, aperture sights, and special furniture. Or you may purchase the standard Police Magnum action with bead front sight and own a formidable home defender. You may add the XS magazine extension for two more shells and be especially well prepared for an emergency. For hunting, one of the Wingmaster versions with choke tubes is ideal. The 870 is easily upgraded.

Remington 870 magazine fed best pump-action shotguns
The Remington 870DM is a tough-as-dirt modern shotgun.

Mossberg 500/590

The Mossberg features a tang safety, which some prefer. The Mossberg is a rugged shotgun proven in military service. There are three grades of Mossberg. The standard 500 is probably the best buy. Available in hunting and defense configurations, and in the popular Retro series, this is a reliable performer and one of the best pump-action shotguns available.

The less expensive Maverick 88 series are credible choices for hunting. The Maverick action is reliable, but corners have been cut in manufacturing and the forend may rattle. The Maverick 88 features a single action rail. For hunting and for use as a house gun for those on a budget, the different versions are affordable choices.

The 590 is at the opposite end of the spectrum. The 590 features a heavier barrel and is generally beefed up over the Mossberg 500. This is a no-compromise combat shotgun. The 590 is sometimes seen with a simple bead front sight or you may obtain one with aperture sights.

Mossberg 590 Magpul edition
This Mossberg 590 is fitted with a Magpul stock, special sights and an accessory rail.

Benelli Nova Pump

I am a huge Benelli fan. This shotgun features a stainless steel receiver with a polymer overlay. It doesn’t get any tougher than this. The action is very smooth and reliable. The forend features a magazine cut-off for single-loading munitions if desired. Most examples are supplied with aperture sights from the factory. This is superb quality at a fair price.

Benelli Nova Pump-action shotgun
The Benelli Nova pump-action shotgun is a formidable defensive shotgun.

Harrington and Richardson Honcho

This little short shotgun is an import with a storied name. The full-size H&R shotguns are affordable and have given good service. This little stubby shotgun with birdshead grip is among the most affordable of the type. This fits into a very narrow niche for personal defense and demands the shooter know how to handle the type well. I have tested an example in 20 gauge with excellent results.

Birdshead grip pump-action shotgun
Harrington & Richardson’s Honcho is affordable and reliable.

Turkish Shotguns

There are quite a few pump-action shotguns imported from Turkey. Some have famous names on them. Shop around and don’t pay double for a fancy label. Some of the Turkish shotguns offer impressive features, such as oversized safety buttons and takedown knobs that are specially designed for greater leverage. The sights are often well designed. Among the better choices are the shotguns imported by Iver Johnson. These shotguns offer reliable function and good handling. They are fine basic defensive shotguns. Several finish options including Cerakote are available.


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Man shooting Iver Johnson pump-action shotgun
The author trying out the Iver Johnson pump-action shotgun.

Dickinson Marine Shotgun

A tough chrome finish is essential for those that keep a shotgun on the boat. Marine fishermen, boaters, and explorers like to keep a shotgun handy. Repelling boarders isn’t usually a problem. Killing sharks brought overboard with the catch is a common chore. A properly chosen shotgun charge won’t sink the boat, but finishes off a thrashing shark handily. The Dickinson is among the best pump-action shotguns in the marketplace.

Dickinson Marine Shotgun
If you prefer a marine finish, the Dickinson shotgun is among the most affordable. Note the shotgun features a heat shield, uncommon on such an inexpensive shotgun.

Conclusion: Best Pump-Actions

These are just a few pump-action shotguns available. They offer simplicity of operation with absolute reliability with low power, standard, or magnum shells. You simply cannot go wrong with any of these shotguns.

What are your favorite pump-action shotguns? Let us know in the comment section!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.