Prepper Guns: Firearms, Ammo, Tools, and Techniques You Will Need to Survive the Coming Collapse (2016)

SHOTGUNS

What’s the Action with Shotguns?

Pick your poison, pump or semiauto; they both get the job done.

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Semiautos are faster, but is speed everything in a defensive shotgun?

When it comes to defensive shotguns, there are really only two options for the action type: pump action and semiauto. Double barrels are limited to just two shots and are very slow to load. I know they are favored by Joe Biden, but taking gunfighting advice from him is like having Michelle Obama cater your kid’s birthday party. It’s just not going to end well.

Single-shots, the other option, are, well . . . single-shots. Not the best for fighting.

It comes down to a semiauto or a pump action. While there are a tremendous number of variations in semiauto or pump guns, we will address those in another chapter. For now let’s look at these two actions and explore the pros and cons of each.

Currently the pump-action shotgun is almost universally used for tactical and defensive situations. While I am a huge fan of pump shotguns and they work very well for that use, I can’t help but wonder why that is still the case. We have embraced semiauto handguns and rifles for defensive use, but when it comes to shotguns we continue with an antiquated, manually operated system.

Don’t misunderstand this to mean a pump shotgun is a bad idea. It’s not. I shoot them often and have several for defense of my home, family, and life.

They do have some advantages. One is that they are far less expensive than a semiauto. That brings up a good point. If you are on a budget, an inexpensive pump-action shotgun will usually function pretty well, but a cheap semiauto is often a mistake. Unless you can afford a high-quality, top-of-the-line semiauto shotgun, stick with the pump.

If you are considering a new defensive shotgun and can afford a good one, it might be time to look harder at the semiauto option.

A couple of years ago I was asked by NRA’s Shooting Illustrated magazine to take the semiauto side in a “Pump vs. Semiauto” argument. I was very happy with the position, as I sincerely believe that a high-quality semiauto is the best option for a defensive shotgun. They are faster than a pump action to cycle and operate. But more importantly, machines do not have emotions and because a semiauto is not depending on a panic-stricken human to operate it in a stressful fight situation, they are more reliable for most shooters.

The tendency with most people under stress is to try to go faster and that will often result in short stroking a pump action and jamming the gun. The semiauto can’t panic and it will usually keep running no matter how stressed out you become. Of course training and experience can overcome much of this, but it can’t eliminate human error.

My friend Sheriff Jim Wilson from Texas, another writer for NRA publications, took the pump side. Jim has a wealth of experience in law enforcement and has been in a few shootouts, so he speaks from experience. He favors the pump and took very willingly to defending that style shotgun.

We talked it over and decided to have some fun with a made up “feud” between gun writers. Jim focused on my competition background (while ignoring all the training for defense I have done over the years) while I poked fun at his age, even though he is only a decade older than me.

(Of course I might point out that an old guy, who spent his life in a dangerous profession, probably has a reason he got old. It’s certainly not because he lost any of those gun fights.)

I could not resist adding to my section a little bit for the book. Magazines work on very strict word counts, so I had to cut a lot from my article. I added most of it back in here for the book, plus a little more, as it’s important information to a prepper. That’s the reason my section is so much longer than Jim’s, which remains pretty much as he submitted it to the magazine.

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Jim Wilson with a borrowed repeating rifle, trying to prove he is hip and happening. Photo courtesy of Jim Wilson.

I include the articles here, not because I dislike pump shotguns, but because I felt both of our arguments were valid. The goal here is to provide all the information available to help you decide which guns are best for you. If you are buying a shotgun for prepping, you need to look at all the options. Here are two old shooters’ opinions about some of them.

Make Mine a Pump

By Jim Wilson

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Pump-action shotguns dominate with tactical shooters.

Folks, you are just going to have to overlook my friend Bryce Towsley and his argument supporting the autoloading shotgun. I suspect that those long winters in Vermont have finally gotten to Ol’ Bryce and begun to affect his judgment. Nice fellow, though, he’s just a bit misguided.

The biggest mistake that Towsley makes is basing his opinion on his experiences in competition shooting. The defensive shooter needs guns that are as reliable as it is humanly possible to manufacture and guns that are easy to understand and easy to operate. That is the reason that the venerable pump is still the defensive shotgun to choose.

The first consideration of the defensive shotgun should always be reliability. A fighting gun simply must function and the pump shotgun will do this under the most adverse conditions. The pump shotgun will continue to function in spite of dirt, burned powder, and lack of lubrication. The pump gun will still be running long after the autoloading shotgun has gone belly up from lack of attention.

Bryce fails to realize that competition shooters have plenty of time between stages to add a little lubrication to their shotgun, clean the gas ports, and replace broken parts. In the middle of an engagement, the defensive shooter simply does not have this luxury. Bryce also makes a big deal about the large number of rounds of light birdshot loads that he has run through his favorite auto. I would simply suggest that he run that same number of high-velocity buckshot and slug loads through an autoloader and see if it can remain problem free.

Another reliability value of the pump shotgun is that it will handle ammunition that would have an auto hiccupping in no time at all. A couple of years ago I was invited to test a new autoloading shotgun on a bird hunt in South America. This was a very nice shotgun and it had functioned extremely reliably with American ammunition. However, the designers had not taken into account the poor quality of some South American shotgun shells. There were about eight of us on this hunt and every one of us had numerous malfunctions due to the sorry ammunition. However, these same shotgun shells fed reliably in pump shotguns. In times of trouble, one may not have much choice as to what quality of ammunition he is able to get his hands on. It is comforting to use a gun that will handle virtually all of it.

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Jessica Stevens from Barnes Bullets finishes a pump shotgun drill.

(Note: Jim has a very valid point here, particularly if you select a conventional gas-operated semiauto. In a survival situation we may need to use the ammo we can find, not the ammo we want. While it’s unlikely that we will be forced to use that ratty stuff he found in South America, there are some pretty poor shotshells being sold in the states as well. For the most part they are imported ammo and if you stick with brand-name, American-made fuel for your shotgun you should be fine. But, as a prepper, you must plan for all scenarios. The newer semiautos like the inertia driven Benelli or the Remington VERSA MAX with its unique gas system are very tolerant of fouling. But, any semiauto is more susceptible to failure from crappy ammo than a pump.)

In all fairness, I have to say that auto shotgun manufacturers have made and continue to make, great improvements in the reliability of their products. In fact, these new guns are almost as reliable as pump shotguns have been for years. But I’m sorry folks, in a gunfight “almost” just isn’t good enough to suit me.

A second factor that supports pump shotguns for personal defense is ease of function. While gun handling is a subjective thing, most shooters will find the pump shotgun easier to understand and easier to manage.

(Another valid point.)

Much is often made about the tendency of a shooter to short-stroke a pump gun when the shooter is under stress. However, failing to properly function the pump is not a design flaw, it is a training flaw. It is amazing, when properly trained, how few shotgunners will short-stroke a pump.

Because shotguns don’t have a very large magazine capacity, it is important for the defensive shooter to know how to quickly reload the shotgun. Again, the pump shotgun shines. It is dead simple to learn to palm a shell into the shotgun’s open ejection port, run the support hand forward to the pump, and get back into the fight.

The competition shooter will probably never be required to transition from buckshot to slugs in the middle of an engagement. (Not true, it happens all the time in 3-gun and tactical shotgun matches.) Yet this is a very possible situation for the defensive shooter to deal with, and the ability to do this is one of the things that makes the shotgun such a great defensive tool. With an autoloader, the shooter is faced with using fine motor skills as he tries to find the little action-release button and one should avoid having to use fine motor skills in any sort of deadly confrontation. On the other hand, the Select-Slug drill is accomplished with a pump shotgun using gross motor skills, as the whole support hand uses the pump to function the action and facilitate the transition.

A third factor that favors the pump shotgun as a defensive tool is cost. Suitable defensive pump shotguns can be purchased for a good deal less cash than a comparable autoloader. And, most importantly, the money that one saves can be properly spent on practice ammunition and defensive training tuition.

(Again, Jim has a good point here. The cost of a decent pump-action shotgun is far lower than the price of a good semiauto. Also, as noted earlier and probably again later, if you do select a semiauto shotgun for your defensive shotgun, you should only buy the best. Cheap semiauto shotguns are often unreliable. If money is a big issue, buy a brand-name pump shotgun and odds are it will give you little trouble. Jim is right about training as well. As my competition-shooting buddy Pat Kelley likes to say, “the best accessory you can buy for your gun is ammo. The way you get better at shooting is by shooting.” It’s always best to get some formal training to help build a strong foundation for that shooting.)

Better yet, one has only to visit any gun show or gun shop to see the large number of perfectly serviceable used pump shotguns that are available. And let me share a little secret with you, your shotgun does not have to have synthetic stocks to make it suitable for personal defense. The wooden ones will work just fine. Any competent gunsmith can easily and quickly shorten the barrel of this used shotgun to a manageable 18 to 20 inches, thread the muzzle for choke tubes, and add ghost-ring sights, should that be desired.

(Replacement barrels for most pump shotguns are inexpensive, probably even cheaper than paying a gunsmith. That leaves the first, longer barrel to use for foraging and hunting.)

So there you have three arguments that favor the pump shotgun for personal defense. It is more reliable, it is easier for most people to learn to handle efficiently, and it costs a good deal less than an autoloader.

Soldiers, lawmen, and gunfighters first recognized the value of the pump shotgun as early as 1900. It is still being used by most soldiers, lawmen, and gunfighters because it is reliable, dependable, and meets their needs. In short, it does its job and it does that job well.

Poor Brother Towsley, on the other hand, has made the mistake of comparing competition to personal defense. Competition shooting is great fun and it is a great way to test and improve one’s shooting skills. Unfortunately, it does not teach one how to fight, nor does it test one’s ability to fight. The disciplines are different and therefore the tools are often different.

So when you see Bryce and me sitting in a dark bar during the NRA annual meeting or at the SHOT Show, please know that we are not goofing off and avoiding our responsibilities. You should just know that I am doing my best to straighten him out on fighting shotguns.

Smart Choices about Fighting Shotguns

By Bryce M. Towsley

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Two empty hulls in the air and a third in the gun ready to go—most can’t do that with a pump. The author favors semiauto shotguns for competition and, under some circumstances, for defense.

“Don’t get stuck on stupid!”
—General Russel L. Honoré to a reporter after Hurricane Katrina

As shooters we do indeed tend to get “stuck on stupid” sometimes. Case in point, the continued reliance on the pump-action tactical shotgun.

That’s not to say that my buddy Jim Wilson is stupid, quite the contrary, but what you need to understand about Jim and his love affair with antiquated gun designs is that he is an old man with old ideas.

In fact, Jim is one of those guys who was born an old man. He thinks single-action revolvers are the “cat’s meow” and he hunts with a single-shot rifle, presumably because he believes that repeaters are still unproven technology. The word around the industry is that he writes his articles on parchment with a quill pen. Heck, based on all this, I’ll bet Jim’s truck still has a hand-crank starter.

Jim’s writing in other articles about competition shooting is filled with confusion. For example, much of it is focused on PPC, a sport that was popular for training back when dinosaurs were still roaming the earth and one that has nothing to do with modern action shooting.

He beats me up for using competition as a proving ground for defensive guns, but neglects that many of the elite fighting men in law enforcement and the military are right there beside me shooting in the same matches. In fact, every branch of the military now has a 3-gun team to help develop tactics and test equipment. There are techniques that were developed in 3-gun competition that were taught to military operators and used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those techniques were credited with saving lives because they were so much more effective than the “old” way of doing things.

The matches are full of SWAT operators and elite military guys including Special Forces, Delta, and the SEALs. Why? Because they know that 3-gun and Tactical Shotgun Matches are proving grounds for fighting guns and techniques and are great training.

We left the revolver behind decades ago as a fighting handgun and now semiauto handguns predominate. When is the last time you saw a SWAT team member kicking in a door while holding a bolt-action rifle? Again, semiauto rifles are the overwhelming top choice for anybody expecting trouble. But when it comes to our shotguns, we remain stuck on stupid while we stubbornly cling to nineteenth century technology.

Why?

Because the bad guy will hear you rack the action and it will scare him so much he will wet his pants, curl into the fetal position and placidly suck his thumb while he waits for the police to rescue him from the badass homeowner? Have you ever considered that perhaps you are watching too much television? Or that you spend way too much time on the Internet?

Speaking for myself, I would rather the bad guys didn’t know where I am during a fight. Sorry, call me foolish, but I prefer not to gamble my life on a “sound” tactic.

Sure, the good guy in every TV show or movie will rack his pump in every scene, just to make that cool noise. But do you seriously think it’s effective? Or intelligent for that matter? It’s a myth perpetuated by Hollywood and lazy gun guys who keep repeating it without actually thinking it through.

First off, let’s say that this guy has entered an occupied dwelling in the night and has advanced, looking for prey. Do you really think he will give up because he hears a shotgun pumping? This is not some wimpy NPR fund-raiser you are dealing with; it’s probably a hardened, dangerous, and aggressive criminal. One who is likely armed. I don’t want to give away my position by “racking” my pump.

The best way to survive this thing is to use stealth and surprise. Don’t rack the action, yell out, “I have a gun” or even think about a warning shot. The first time he realizes you are there, your gun should be pointed at his center of mass and your finger should be on the trigger.

Racking the shotgun gives them an audible location and just might invite a swarm of hot, angry bullets to a party at your place. Racking a pump shotgun alerts the bad guys that you are armed, which I suspect might make them more cautious and faster on their own triggers when you encounter them. It also tells me that you didn’t have a round in the chamber before your problems started. Bad tactics all the way around.

Forget the “sound” of the pump shotgun as a tactic. That’s stuck on stupid.

Reliability? That’s the same argument that the wheel gun guys used against semiauto handguns back in the day. Today there is not a bit of doubt that a semiauto handgun in the hands of a competent operator is superior in every way to the revolver. Heck, even Jim carries a 1911 now and then, just to prove he is hip and happening.

But let’s take a look at the 1911. When I started shooting Bulls-Eye with handguns competitively back in the Pleistocene Epoch I watched with horror as Gold Cup after Gold Cup jammed on the shooting line. I was well aware of the fact that there are no alibi runs in real life and it turned me off to the defensive use of semiauto pistols for decades. Today I understand that a properly made 1911 with good ammo is one of the most reliable handguns you can buy.

If you don’t trust a 1911, buy a Glock; nobody argues against the reliability of that gun. The point is, technology has progressed. Today’s semiauto handguns have become incredibly reliable. There is not one bit of doubt in most modern shooter’s minds that a semiauto handgun in the hands of a competent operator is superior in every way to the revolver as a defensive handgun.

So why do you think a semiauto shotgun is unsuited for fighting? Technology has moved way past the old “Jam-O-Matics” of your daddy’s era. We now have options on the operating systems that are far superior to some of the stoppage-prone early semiauto shotguns.

Of course, not every semiauto on the market is reliable, some suck. But the same might be said about rifles and handguns as well. For example, my son-in-law bought a new carry pistol from a well-known company a few years ago. Despite our best efforts, it simply would not run. So he sold it and bought a Glock G23, which runs 100 percent. Does that mean we should condemn all semiauto pistols because that one sucked? Of course not. Anybody not stuck on stupid knows that not every semiauto on the market is reliable. Jim clearly used one of the “sucky” guns on his hunt in Argentina. Then again, given his age, they were likely shooting black powder, which does tend to foul up the gas ports of any shotgun.

It’s the same with semiauto shotguns as any other firearm; some work, some don’t. One good clue is to look at the guns being used for 3-gun competition and Tactical Shotgun matches. If a shotgun stands up to serious action shooting competition, you can be sure it’s tough enough for defensive use too. No sport in the history of the world stresses a shotgun more and those with inferior capabilities are very quickly left behind, shattered, broken and sobbing with shame along the muddy road of progress.

Just as with the handguns and rifles, a modern semiauto, tactical shotgun is extremely reliable. In fact, they are more reliable than a pump-action shotgun, which relies on human interaction to operate.

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A competition shooter puts a lot of ammo through a shotgun.

I might also point out that few 3-gun shooters use “light birdshot” loads as Jim suggested. A great many targets are steel and must be knocked over or off a stand and light loads do not work well. Yes, it’s true that a lot of the shooting is with birdshot loads, the most popular load is 1 1/8 ounce of shot at 1,200 ft/s, which is not a wimpy shotshell. We also shoot a lot of slugs and a few buckshot loads. In 3-gun competition it is very common to switch from buckshot to slugs and back to birdshot, all in one stage and all on the timer. It’s fair to say that at some matches a 3-gun shotgun will see more action, including slugs and buckshot, in one stage than it would in a dozen gunfights, all without time out for maintenance.

Three-gun competition simulates battle and if pumps were better, the pump-action shotguns wouldn’t need their own division to be competitive. Jim’s contention that the sport allows time to work on the guns just shows he is not a 3-gun shooter. I think he is confusing 3-gun with skeet, or perhaps trap, probably from back when they still used round, glass balls for targets.

There is no time to clean guns at most matches. I run my guns from start to finish without cleaning, sometimes even multiple matches without cleaning or maintenance. One exception might be the finely tuned Open Class guns, particularly the magazine-fed shotguns. They do require a lot of maintenance. Many of the Saiga shotgun shooters have to make the time to clean between stages to keep the gun running. What that proves through competition is that not all shotguns are suitable for defensive use. I have never seen a Saiga that has been tuned for competition that was reliable enough that I would consider using it for defense.

That said, 3-gun shooters can’t leave well enough alone. It’s not uncommon for them to “tune” reliable shotgun designs until they won’t run.

At the 2011 Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-gun match I listened to one competitor as he explained to another an elaborate and complicated process of milling parts and pieces on the operating system for the guy’s Benelli shotgun. “If you do all that it will run without a hitch,” he smugly finished. The other guy looked at him like he had two heads and said, “It runs without a hitch right now, why on Earth would I want to mess with that?” I’m with that guy! I have seen too many modified shotguns go on strike in the middle of a stage, including several at that match.

My point is, I can’t comment on how well the Saigas will run without anybody trying to “improve them” by tinkering and tuning. While I was the first American to ever fire that shotgun when I was at the factory in Russia, years before they started importing them, I have never owned one. By the time I started writing this book, Obama had used his pen and his phone to ensure they are no longer imported, so I was unable to secure a gun to test.

I can, however, comment on the guns I know. I used my first semiauto Benelli competition shotgun for several seasons of serious shooting. I would guess conservatively that I have somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five thousand payloads down the barrel. Most have been birdshot target loads, the kind that are prone to malfunction in a semiauto. But I have also fired several thousand slugs and buckshot rounds as well. The gun has gone hundreds of rounds between cleaning, and I have used it in grueling matches like the MGM Iron Man when high winds and blowing sand filled every crack and crevice with grit and grime. I have also used semiautos in rain, mud, snow, ice and just about every other conceivable condition while hunting. Conditions that would make a Spartan sob in frustration, but the guns keep working. That competition gun has digested birdshot, buckshot, and slugs and never had a single jam with factory-loaded ammo. I am still using it today and have put about three thousand rounds through it in the past few months. It should be worn out, but it just keeps working. I have never even replaced a part other than the magazine spring. I don’t know how much more proof we need that technology has improved the reliability of semiauto shotguns to the point where it should no longer be an issue.

Jim’s statement that “the competition shooter will probably never be required to transition from buckshot to slugs in the middle of an engagement” is further proof that he is confused about what we do in modern action shooting. Confusion is something that happens to older people and I don’t hold it against him. Switching from one load to another in the “heat of battle” is something we do all the time. He also mentions loading a single round in an empty gun. The semiauto is much faster because the action is already open, so there is no need to pull back on the operating handle and then close it again by hand after you load the shell. Just toss in the shell, hit the release, and shoot. Much faster. Those of us who practice this technique with a Match Saver, or a hand-held shell, can reload and shoot in less than a second, including reacting to the buzzer, so actual loading time is about half a second. Try matching that speed that with a pump. If you are worried about manipulating a small release button, just install a larger one as most 3-gun shooters do on their guns.

The human is the weak link in an operator-dependent, pump shotgun. When things are happening fast it’s very common for a shooter to short stroke the gun and jam it up. Time and time again I have witnessed shooters, even highly trained shooters, who are trying to go fast, short stroke a pump-action shotgun. I have done it myself and I love pump shotguns and train with them often. (I never said they were a bad idea, just that there are better options.) A semiauto is not dependent on the operator working the action correctly and so is not as subject to operator errors.

Speed? Semiautos again have the advantage here. Many of the big 3-gun and tactical shotgun matches will run a side match in which everybody competes head to head and winner takes all. Usually the side match uses multiple targets, which are all shot from one position. Nobody has to run or jump or reload the shotgun on the clock. So, it’s not about physical fitness or hand coordination or loading technique, it comes down to shotgun shooting speed only. The fastest gun to shoot all the targets wins the match and the semiautos always win. Pumps can come close, but they don’t win . . . ever.

Price? Well, I concede that the pump action will win that one. If you can’t afford a good semiauto, buy a pump. In my opinion you will not have the best fighting shotgun available, but you will have the best fighting shotgun you can afford.

But I would refer back to my days racing motorcycles and the catch phrase we had regarding helmets. (Remember, it was many inflation-filled years ago.)

“If you have a ten dollar head, then buy a ten dollar helmet.”

The implied message was that if you value your head and its contents, you must buy the best helmet you can find, not the cheapest. I would offer that the same applies to fighting shotguns. If you value your life, doesn’t it make sense to buy the best fighting shotgun you can find regardless of the price?

Trust me, once you perform an intelligent analysis of all the variables, that gun will be a semiauto.

So when you spot Jim and me in a bar at SHOT or NRA you can be sure of two things. That I will be sipping good bourbon and Jim will be talking while I am pretending to listen. I found that with old men going on about the “good old days” usually it’s best to just let them ramble.

A Brief History of the Remington Pump-Action Shotgun

How the most popular shotgun got started.

The first American slide-action or “pump” shotgun was made by Spencer Arms in 1882. Winchester picked up on the concept with the Winchester Model 1893. That gun proved problematic and was soon replaced with the Model 1897, which became a million seller. Marlin had the 1898 model and it was clear that the pump-action shotgun was here to stay.

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The Winchester 1897 is an early pump-action shotgun and it paved the way for today’s tactical shotguns.

Remington was undergoing some hard times back then. In 1886 the company had been placed in receivership and remained there for two years. In 1888, Hartley & Graham, owners of Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC) and Winchester Repeating Arms joined forces and acquired joint ownership of E. Remington and Sons. They renamed it Remington Repeating Arms Company.

Now Winchester, their main rival, owned half of Remington Arms Company, which explains why Remington never entered the lucrative lever-action rifle market. In fact, in 1892, Remington let a guy named Arthur Savage use their facilities to develop his lever-action rifle. It could be assumed that they wanted to produce the gun, yet they never introduced it. Instead, Savage formed his own company and the Model 99 Savage rifle is one of the most historically important and successful lever-action rifles ever made.

Winchester also was preventing Remington from entering the emerging pump-action shotgun market and not allowing them to produce a slide-action shotgun to compete with Winchester. Their association ended in 1896 and that freed Remington to start development of a gun in preparation of entering the pump-action shotgun market.

A few years later a Denver-based gun designer named John D. Pedersen was issued patents for a unique pump-action shotgun. Remington soon joined with him, launching one of the more historic partnerships in gun history. As with Browning and Winchester, Pedersen became synonymous with many Remington gun designs.

Remington announced its first pump-action shotgun under Pedersen leadership in 1908. They named it the Remington Model 1908 Repeating Shotgun and announced it would be ready for delivery in the early part of . . . you guessed it, 1908!

In 1909 the Remington Catalog listed the gun as a Pump Action Repeating Shotgun, with no mention of a model number 1908. In 1911 the name was changed to the Model 10. That gun had a good run in spite of the fact it had some strength and design issues.

In 1921 Remington announced the John Browning–designed Model 17 in 20 gauge. (That design was later adapted by Ithaca into the Ithaca Model 37.)

The Model 10 was replaced by the Model 29 in 1929. But that shotgun had a short run. When Dupont took over Remington in 1933 they dropped the Model 29.

The Model 31 came out in 1931, during the Depression. It was a fine shotgun, but struggled to compete with the Winchester Model 12. The Model 31 was Remington’s first side-ejecting repeating shotgun. It was made in 35 variations and was used by the military during World War II for aerial gunnery training.

The war interrupted everybody and when it ended the new generation of hunters was champing at the bit to find a shotgun that would define them. Remington was ready to launch that gun.