Modernize Your 12 Gauge Shotgun

Noted speaker/instructor LtCol Dave Grossman (retired Army Ranger) has said that it makes no sense to bring a shotgun onto today's battlefield. His voiced outlook that 200-year-old technology can't compete in the contemporary combat situation makes sense. However, I believe that with proper modification, the basic shotgun can be a suitable combat weapon. This week's review is going to look at how a standard 12 Gauge can be modified with sights, lights, stocks, slings and ammo to make it an efficient and versatile weapon for today's combat situations. Let's take a look at some of those options and modifications in just that order.


Rifle sights have been available on shotguns for a long time and theoretically increase the level of accuracy of the weapon. It often didn't make sense, because an officer's or soldier's command structure limited the ammunition that could be deployed to buckshot. Additionally, the slug barrel of most shotguns don't provide any stability to slugs in flight, so accuracy was further limited. Taking that into consideration, what was the point of putting rifle sights or other devices onto the shotguns? Well, welcome to the 21st century.

Companies like EOTech--now owned by L3--make sights specifically for the deployment of munitions. Many munitions primarily designed for 37mm/40mm weapons are also being produced in a 12 Gauge configuration. As a result, you may need a reflex sight--electro-optical sight or holoscope, such as an EOTech--for your shotgun. The other option is that you're firing ammo that provides a single projectile (more about ammo below) and a stabilized flight path for more accurate shot placement. Then rifle sights are very handy.

If you're "stuck" with fixed iron sights, night sights in various configurations are available. Tritium sights are available from several manufacturers. Those that are quickest to pick up in your line of sight and get aligned on the target are best when it comes to conflict/combat situations. XS Sights makes their 24/7 Big Dot sights for shotguns and, in my experience, they've proven quick to find during stress shooting situations.

Another sight option is laser aiming devices. LaserMax makes a combined light/laser module that easily mounts on the weapon (shown right). It makes the shotgun slightly front-end heavy for my preference, but I've talked to several officers who really like it. If I'm going to mount a laser unit on my shotgun, I'd prefer to have the light integrated in the fore end (see below) and the laser unit mounted on the right side by way of a Picatinny rail adaptor. These are commonly available and there are a plethora of laser units you can slide onto the rails using a remote pressure switch for momentary activation as needed.


I am a firm believer in having multiple lights for operational conditions. I have two on my gunbelt and one mounted on my shotgun. Every rifle (AR-type) that I have had has also had a fore end mounted light of some sort. Given that the FBI reports approximately 80% of all law enforcement shootings occur in conditions of reduced light, doesn't it only make sense to take the one tool with you--every time, all the time--that increases your chances of prevailing in a conflict situation?

SureFire makes some of the best weapon-mounted light-integrated systems available. Shown to the right, the SureFire 918FA fore end provides a tactical light that is easily activated by the shooter's support hand. With a hard on/off switch and touch pressure pad available, the 918FA provides versatility and ease of light management without having to modify or change your grip on the weapon.

Other manufacturers make terrifically versatile lights that can be mounted to the shotgun using various adaptors and rings. The Gladius from Night-Ops is an LED light that offers hard on/off operation, but also a strobe function and touch pressure-only activation. The fact that it uses an LED lamp assembly makes it much less prone to breakage during firing or hard use, and with about 80+ lumens of light output, it's more than adequate for tactical work. The standard size bezel accepts filters to increase the versatility available. While an adaptor for the fore end or placed between the magazine tube and the magazine tube cap and a set of rings is required, I've seen a field expedient mount where the Gladius was simply taped into the groove between the magazine tube extension and the barrel. The light was in line with the bore and manipulated by the thumb of the support hand. It wasn't pretty, but it worked.


Using an adaptor available from Mesa Tactical, you can mount a DuoStock onto your shotgun. Collapsible stocks are also available, and many operators I talk to like the ability to shorten their weapon for CQB conditions or to adjust the trigger reach to fit their vest or lack thereof. While there are many options for stocks out there that run the gamut from wood to plastic to metal alloys, there are a few things that your stock should do for you:

  • It should insure a good fit and secure hold between you and your shotgun.
  • It should provide comfort via padding whether it adjusts, collapses, whatever.
  • It should support the use of an adequate sling.

I'm not a fan of folding stocks, although other experienced shooters are. I like having an adjustable stock on my AR-style rifles and I believe that the same adjustment versatility is desirable in a shotgun stock. I like the DuoStock (shown right on an AR) because of the two position carry that it enables and how fast the weapon can be rolled up into use. It works well with slings and isn't hard to mount.


Let's face it: sometimes you just need both hands to accomplish a task. Unless you can sling your shotgun, you HAVE to hold onto it until you can properly secure it. Depending on conditions, you may want it slung someplace where you can readily and quickly get it back into action. For most that means having either a three-point or single-point sling so that the shotgun hangs in front of you, vertically (or close to it) down your centerline. Being able to ditch the shotgun under certain emergency circumstances may be a desirable feature as well. BlackHawk makes excellent three-point and single-point slings, while Blue Force Gear makes an excellent two-point design.

If you're using a three-point sling, make sure it has design features that allow you to easily put the shotgun to EITHER shoulder. You can't always shoot from your strong side. BlackHawk and other companies (such as Mesa Tactical) also manufacture the necessary mounting hardware and swivels for putting slings on your shotguns. One thing to keep in mind: shotguns are usually longer than carbines or rifles used for CQB work, but since the shotgun's design predominantly limits it to a maximum working range of 50 yards, it's virtually always used for CQB work. Select your barrel length, accessories, stock, etc before selecting your sling and then adjust your sling to work properly with everything else in place.

I know some folks who are fond of the "bandolier sling"--a two-point sling that carries extra ammo. While I wouldn't criticize them for their choice, it's not something I prefer. I like to keep my sling clean--not bulked up by additional ammo, unnecessary clips, etc. I'd rather put my extra ammo on the shotgun in a sidesaddle-style holder or on my vest/thigh in an ammo pouch such as the STRIKE pouches available from BlackHawk.


Which brings me to ammo. Thanks to the bore size of the 12 Gauge shotgun, ammo versatility is greater than ever--and certainly better than with any rifle, carbine or handgun. For specialized use, companies like Lightfield and ALS Technologies manufacture less-lethal and other special purpose ammo (Lightfield examples shown at right).

For general patrol duties that, in our contemporary world, can become Active Shooter response duties at any moment, such specialty ammunition as the PolyShok Impact Reactive Projectile rounds shown to the right are excellent. The tail-stabilized flight makes them more accurate than slugs. The fact that you're shooting a single projectile minimizes potential liability, especially when compared to shooting a 00 round with nine or twelve pellets that spread out. Because of the nature of the projectile, the rounds are suitable for breaching use as well, increasing their versatility. Recoil is about that of an eight-shot bird load. So, when you consider it all together:

  • minimum recoil
  • reduced potential liabilty
  • increased accuracy
  • increased versatility

I think it's easy to see where the PolyShok ammo is ideally suited for patrol use. It's probably great for our guys fighting in MOUT conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan as well.

So, anyway, there are some suggestions on how you can modernize your 12 Gauge shotgun. Don't let the fact that it was designed--in its most basic form--a long time ago slow you down. It's still an extremely versatile and useful weapon. We just have to keep it up with the times.