The Best Survival 12-Gauge Shotgun

I was raised a shotgunner. Growing up in southwest Michigan, there wasn’t much need for any other weapon. We couldn’t use a rifle for deer hunting except up north. My dad was an avid pheasant hunter and clay pigeon shooter. When I wasn’t with him, I was jump-shooting pond ducks with Grandpa or running his beagles on rabbits. I can strip down and clean a Remington shotgun while half-asleep and dog-tired. This intimate familiarity and trust are why I would choose a shotgun as my survival weapon.

If you are new to the survival gun discussion, you may wonder what the best survival shotgun is. What gauge should I buy, and in what configuration? These are all important considerations and require some thought. I will throw in my 2 cents here that I think a survival shotgun should be a 12-gauge. Ammunition and recoil are lighter with the lesser gauges, but you give up payload, and with slugs and buckshot, some lethality. 12-gauge shells are the least expensive as well. If you agree with my logic so far, let’s look at what is the best survival 12-gauge.

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A survival shotgun should be durable, reliable, and versatile. The manipulation of the controls should feel natural to the user, so try several until you find one that feels comfortable. Everyone’s needs and situations will be different so this will not be a “one-size-fits-all” type of discussion. I will try to highlight weapons that I think will be most suited to a given situation, but I also will presume that you either already have, or plan to acquire, a more well-rounded arsenal in the future. Now, onward to the discussion.

Best for the bunker: Kel Tec KSG

By far the most compact offering listed here, the KSG comes in at just over 26” long. The ingenious use of a dual tube magazine allows this short bullpup shotgun to hold 13 rounds of 3-inch 12-gauge ammunition. This short length and high capacity make it extremely useful in tight spaces such as apartments, vehicles, or an underground bunker. It could also be a decent weapon for dangerous game protection in the thick brush.

Hickok45 has some fun with the KSG

Best for Suburbia: Mossberg 590A1

Backed by a military pedigree, the 590A1 is a durable and formidable weapon. This shotgun can be found with either an 18-inch barrel and 7-round magazine or a 20-inch barrel feeding from a 9-round magazine. Both options are available with ghost-ring sights. And are drilled and tapped for optics.

The addition of the ghost-ring sights makes it a little easier to hit your targets at longer ranges. This is a definite plus if things have gotten crazy in your neighborhood or if you like to occasionaly hunt medium to large game and want a dual-purpose weapon.

Best for the Trekker: Midland Backpacker

Like to load up a pack and disappear in the wilds for extended periods of time? The Backpacker folds almost in half, and with the 18.5-inch barrel, the muzzle ends flush with the butt stock when folded. So, this gun will fit nicely into a backpack. The Midland is similar to other folding shotguns, but they are built on a steel receiver rather than aluminum. The Backpacker weighs less than five pounds and will be no burden at all to carry. The recoil with a heavy load may get your attention, but some don’t seem to mind. The gun does come with a thick, vented recoil pad.

Being a break-action gun, the Backpacker can use adaptors. Highly favored by some survivalists, adaptors allow the use of different ammunition in the gun. These are very helpful if you want to use a smaller gauge shell for lower recoil or noise. Rifled adapters are also available, enabling you to fire rimfire or pistol ammunition from your gun. I know several people who have the 5-inch rifled adapter for .22 Long Rifle produced by Short Lane. When used correctly, these seem to shoot a three-to-five-inch group at around thirty-five yards. Plenty good enough to bag a rabbit or for informal plinking in camp.

Best for Getting Dinner: Remington 870 Express Turkey  

This one is a compromise. The 870 Turkey has a 21-inch vented rib barrel with interchangeable chokes. While a little short for swinging on ducks, it is still long enough for most wing shooting needs and still be short enough to handle defensive tasks and not be in the way.

If you don’t want to compromise, search for one of the combo sets offered by various manufacturers. These shotguns come with interchangeable barrels. Usually this includes a 28-inch vented rib barrel and either an 18-inch defensive barrel or a 20-inch slug barrel. If you go this route, I would avoid the rifled slug barrels as they are only good for slugs and not buckshot. Remington used to make a smoothbore slug barrel that made a dandy dual-use barrel. The early ones had no choke, and the latter ones an improved cylinder choke. I prefer the choked models since they produce better groups with slugs.

Other Options

There are a plethora of inexpensive pump-action shotguns on the market set up as defensive guns. Few are a poor choice, and they can be found at almost any store. If you happen to live somewhere that restricts you from having a pump or automatic, look at the compact double barrels imported by Stoeger. These can also use adapters like the Midland and have a reputation for reliability.

Another route to finding the best survival 12-gauge shotgun is to consider a combination gun. A 12-gauge over .223 would handle almost any foraging need and threats both near and far. If you have a lot of cash, then a drilling (three-barrel) gun could be your dream rig. These are generally found as a side-by-side shotgun with a rifle barrel underneath. No survival situation would be outside your solving.


If you are in a situation that requires a gun to stay alive, especially in the wilderness, the 12-gauge shotgun is a great choice. I hope that this discussion will help you find the best survival 12-gauge shotgun for your needs.

Until next time.

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