Lessons from Crimson Trace M3GI: Shotgun reliability

I’ve never really spent a lot of time thinking about reliability in shotguns, because it’s never really been an issue for me. I shoot pistols and occasionally rifles, so I worry about making sure those run. The recent M3GI actually got me to think about factors that affect reliability in shotguns and how to mitigate them.

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First, the observations from the match itself: basically every shotgun in our squad puked once except for my Winchester 1300 and one dude who was running some kind of Benelli. Of course, my sample isn’t scientific because many of the shotguns on the squad were heavily modified Saigas, which aren’t renowned for their reliability. That being said, the rock solid reliability of my pump made me feel happy. That reminded me of a conversation I was having with fellow gunscribe Bryce Townsley about why we still use pump guns in a military/LE role to this day. A big part of it is ammo; you can use anything in a pump from extremely low pressure target loads all the way up to thunderous turkey magnums and everything in between. As long as parts don’t break off your gun, you’ll be fine.

In many ways, the classic pump gun is like a revolver then. It’s rock solid and reliable..unless you get a parts breakage, in which case you might be reduced to prison filing your extractor on the concrete outside of your hotel room. That’s not to say that modern semi-auto shotguns aren’t reliable. The Remington VersaMax Tactical that I’ve worked with in the past was spectacularly reliable with all manner of ammo.

Perhaps it’s just the curmudgeon in me, but if I want a shotgun for serious defensive work, I’ll reach for a pump gun every time. Maybe I’m old school, maybe I’m just paranoid. I will say that watching semi-auto shotguns experience all manner of failures at the M3GI did fill me with resolve to focus any work I’m doing on the Saiga I have right now on reliability first, then gamer function.


  1. In my experience, stoppages with a semi-auto are typically gun induced, and with a pump they are typically shooter induced. While I have a lot of 870 experience, I can shoot circles around the 870 on any timed drill with a Benelli or Beretta.

  2. Pro-tip: Test your 870 after putting in the new extractor. Don’t just say “Oh, it’s an 870; they always work!” 😮

    1. If you have to make the obedience noise you are either tossing a shell on the ground or you are starting with an unloaded gun. Neither make a lot of sense to me.

      1. “Squad ready” is a full mag and an empty chamber (most shotguns don’t have a drop safety)….

        1. And the first thing you are going to do when you pick it up to use it is? For me it is to put one in the chamber. I am not going to wait until I see the problem to load my gun. Also the one that sits beside my bed has one in the pipe so for me to make the obedience noise I would have to waist a shell.

          1. Well I guess that is the difference on our training, mine emphasized both shooting and not having a round go off in an enclosed space (like a vehicle or bed room) because most shotguns don’t have drop safeties and the weapon hit the floor or the vehicle hit a rough patch of road (or road like surface)…

  3. As I get ready for my 35th end of summer South East Alaska fishing trip, I look fondly at my do-everything shotgun: Stoger Coachgun, Nickel plated, side-by-side 12ga, 21″bbl, choked IC/M. My setup is useless as a competition gun, and yet it is the gun I’ve taken to over 35 states and 3 continents and felt perfectly confident and comfortable with. Shorter than any 18″ pump or auto, about the same weight, but operationally it is effectively TWO SINGLE SHOT SHOTGUNS THAT ARE WELDED TOGETHER. That shotgun has never been in a condition where I couldn’t fire at least one barrel at a time, and that’s the difference between being armed, and not. There is no bigger distinction.

    Growing up in a family of bird hunters, I have over a dozen shotguns. Pumps, autos, single shots, doubles, levers, 6 manufacturers, any configuration you can imagine, I have. Have hunted both feathers and fur, and shot competitive trap, skeet, sporting clays, and 3 gun since I was in my teens. All of these shotguns have malfunctioned at one time or another, but the Coachgun has always had at least one working barrel. Also, it takes down into two pieces and fits in very small spaces (like a day-pack, or the saddlebags on my motorcycle.) It is my sport-utility shotgun.

    The shotgun has some tremendous advantages. Devastating power at close and intermediate range, the ability to fire point or spread payloads, the flexibility to hunt everything from Dove to Deer, and to defend yourself from any animal on the planet outside of a few species in Africa. (Some disagree, but having run like hell from a herd of Ele in Zimbabwe, I’ll take my .458 Lott and leave the 12ga behind, although our PH’s were split on the issue). I am completely comfortable in any environment I can think of when equipped with my coach gun, a handful of Brenneke slugs, some buckshot and a few birdshot.

    Don’t leave home without it.


    1. you make a good point… I’m a pump guy (I cut my teeth on a browning BPS and still haven’t found a good reason to switch from that “utility” gun) and as much as it pains me to say this: that redundancy does seem to have its advantages!

  4. Caleb,
    Could the reason you see (more) shotgun malfunctions at a 3gun match be because people are “modifying” them? Another reason that may be a possibility is – because competitors might have mixed loads, a slug followed by bird shot followed by a slug etc…could that throw the timing of the gun and the way it was designed to handle the recoil off?
    Did you see any specifically made special 3gun shotguns choke? Benelli M2 3gun, Mossberg JM pro, Versamax tactical, guns made my Benny Hill etc….?
    Know your gear. Good post. Thanks for the good read.

    1. Our squad of seven had my 870, a couple FN SLPs, and the balance were Benellis.

      Other than my failure to polish my new extractor, the only malf I recollect was when a Benelli tore the head off some of that cheap steel-based promo 12ga ammo and left the hull in the gun. It went down hard. Luckily it couldn’t fully force the next one into the chamber enough for the bolt to close or the dude’s gun might’ve gone high-order on him.

  5. I know it is REALLY old school, but I have run thousands of rounds through an Ithaca M37. It never stutters, breaks, gasps or anything else. It is difficult to short stroke because the pumping action is so slick that recoil brings the pump handle all the way- simply extend your arm and the piece is locked and ready to fire again.

    Sadly – there is a lack of tacticool stuff for the M37, and new ones cost upwards of 800 bucks, although used are available for 250 or so.

    Try it-you might like it.


  6. When I use a shotgun for defense, it’s “cruiser ready” — full tube, empty chamber, uncocked. I figure the odds of something happening I’ll seriously regret are lower for “potentially losing tactical surprise because I shucked a shell after retrieving the gun” versus “potentially making an unintended loud noise reaching for a fully loaded shotgun”.

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