> TEOTWAWKI Blog: The Single Shot 12-gauge: Bad choice for survival long gun



The Single Shot 12-gauge: Bad choice for survival long gun

I'm a huge fan of Dave Canterbury - the amount and quality of the content he gives away, for free, on YouTube is pretty amazing. But, he's been promoting the single shot 12-gauge as a primary, go-to survival firearm for a while now. He's not alone - seems the single shot 12-gauge has a lot of advocates out there.

Sure, you can pick up a new in box H&R 12 gauge for right around $100 bucks, and used for well under $100. And yep, there's not a lot to 'em - pretty simple mechanically. 12 gauge is certainly quite versatile; from bird shot to slugs to random improvised loads, there's a lot you can do with it. And, of course, there are readily available chamber adapters that allow you to shoot a variety of ammo - from .22lr on up - through a 12 gauge single shot. 

But, there's some deal breakers that need to be called out, that are rarely mentioned by the single shot's proponents.

Reliability and Repairs
First, while the H&R is often hailed as having bombproof durability, that's actually not the case. The H&R's action has some weak spots--one specifically being the transfer bar. A Google search of "H&R broken transfer bar" will get you lots of hits - it's a fragile part that can/will break on a new gun, even dry firing with snap caps.

I know because I have an H&R single shot, popped in some snap caps and on the pull of the trigger, the transfer bar snapped and locked up the action completely.

What's worse - the action is not easily opened up/repaired by the average end user, and certainly not in field conditions. You need a vise, pin punches, and a jig to get everything all back together again. A pain in the butt. The transfer bar is one common failure point, but if you have anything - springs, etc. break inside the action, you're going to have a hard time getting it open, repaired and back together again.

Mine went back to the factory for repairs because it was going to be too much of a pain to work on (and it was under warranty), something I wouldn't dream of doing with my other firearms. This isn't like a Glock or an AR-15, where you can disassemble most of the firearm without much trouble, pop in the new part and resolve the problem. For their part, H&R was very helpful with the repair and it cost me nothing out of pocket.

So, if the transfer bar breaks on you in the field, or there's some other mechanical problem, it's not likely you're going to be able to repair it on your own. Reliability and ease of maintenance/repair (not just cleaning the barrel) are essentials for a survival firearm, and the H&R doesn't pass the test in my book. Older H&R shotguns do not have the transfer bar, but then they may have issues of firing if dropped.

The H&R single shot is often hailed as being tough as nails reliable, but for many, that's just not the case. And not matter how tough a firearm may be, parts will inevitably fail. If you can't repair those busted parts, then that firearm will be little more than a club or fairly awkward paddle.

Limitations Of a Single Shot
Of course, there are some other limitations inherent with a light weight, single shot 12 gauge shotgun.

First - and obvious - you've got one shot.

Yes, with training you can reload that single shot fairly quickly, but you're going to be behind the rate-of-fire curve against anything more advanced than a muzzle loader. For hunting, that means difficulty with a follow-up shot--that can mean losing your quarry and having your family go hungry. There's a reason hunting shotguns the world over are pump action or have two barrels - often, you need that second shot.

For defense, a single shot means you're at a disadvantage to most anything remotely modern. Instead of missing an airborne duck, you're dead, trying to break open your firearm and shove in a new shell. In an ambush situation or one-on-one showdown, that one shot may be all that's needed. But, for anything else, you're going to be outgunned. You are going to need to do a heck of lot more time reloading, sitting with a non-functional firearm, than your attackers are going to.

Yes, a single shot is better than nothing in a fight. But it's something that should be pushed in a defensive capacity out of dire necessity, not right out of the gates.

Another potential detriment: on the H&Rs at least, you're looking at a single action firearm without a manual safety. The sights are not visible until the hammer is cocked. There is no de-cocker, so you've got to manually lower the hammer. While not a problem if handled carefully by someone who knows what they are doing, it's a combination for potential safety problems for a novice shooter. And let's face it, if a $100 single shot 12 gauge single shot is the best you have, there's a good chance you don't have loads of trigger time.

Limitations of 12 gauge
12 gauge itself is wickedly powerful and a proven stopper of anything that walks North American soil. But, it has its limitations, too. There's are fairly well known, so I will just bullet point them out:
  • Limited effective range - even with slugs, you're not going to get much beyond one hundred yards, and slugs generally pale in accuracy when compared to a rifle.
  • Heavy ammunition. A single Remington reduced recoil 00 buckshot shell weighs in at 1.5 ounces; in comparison, a single round of M193 5.56mm weighs .4 ounces. With 12 gauge, you can only carry so much ammunition before it starts to get really heavy.
  • Potential for abusive recoil out of lighter guns - especially single shots. Pop some one ounce slugs in your single shot and tell me how pleasant an experience is. That recoil limits the amount one can practice with full-power defensive rounds and can make a shotgun unusable for some shooters.
  • Cost of defensive ammo. Yep, target loads can be had for cheap, but if you want buckshot, slugs, etc., expect to pay north of .50 cents a shell; you'll see $1/shell quite frequently at big box stores.
Common Man Alternatives
Now if the 12 gauge single shot was the only choice at the $100 to $150 price point, then heck, it'd be the only choice. But, there are lots of options at the price point, and many of them are better suited to survival, self defense and so on.

Here's three:

Budget Pump Shotguns
Entry-level pump action shotguns can be had for only a little bit more cash than a single shot, especially if you wait for sales or find a deal at a gun show. This past Black Friday weekend, there were multiple options available for well under $200, and a few for under $175, new in box. For not much more than an H&R single shot (they're really around $120 or so NIB), and you get a massive upgrade in capability. A pump action 12 gauge is a viable option for a survival firearm, and overcomes many of the deal-breakers associated with a single shot.

What would you rather go into a gunfight with - one shot in your gun, or five or six or more? That's worth the $50-$75 extra.

What do you lose by going to a pump action? Not much. You have less variety of chamber adapters you can use, but you can (carefully) use shotgun-shell length adapters inside a pump action shotgun by breech loading the adapter. Don't believe? Check this. But yes, longer adapters aren't going to work.

I'd get something based on the Remington or Mossberg actions; spare parts and aftermarket support should be plentiful.

Semi-Auto 22lr Rifle
Of course, there's also the .22lr semi auto rifle. No survival armory is complete with out at least one .22lr, and if you're scraping together cash for your first firearm, this is the direction to go. They are the platform to learn to shoot on - cheap ammo, low recoil, excellent accuracy, etc. Throw a scope on one and you can be jumping golf balls at 25 yards without too much trouble.

While many dismiss the .22, the cartridge is plenty deadly - a CCI Stinger, Velocitor or other "hot" .22lr out of a Ruger 10/22  packs more punch in foot pounds than a .32 ACP out of a pocket gun, and does better than some .380 ACP loads out of similar sized pocket pistols. No one wants to get shot with a .22, especially out of a rifle. With proper shot placement, they will do the job. .22lrs are great for small game, foraging, and they can also be used for taking larger game if required. It's not the fight stopper that a 12 gauge is, but you have multiple shots, greater accuracy, and the minimal recoil allows you to engage threats as quickly as you can pull the trigger.

A basic Ruger 10/22 was my choice for "first" firearm, and it remains a staple of my armory. Expect to pay around $200 for a base model. If you are really on a budget, there are other, less expensive .22lr semi autos that will work - several to choose from at the $130-$150 price point. You will find more aftermarket support and widespread popularity for the 10/22, including 25-round magazines, folding stocks and more.

Mosin Nagant
Finally, if your version of survival is more insurgent defending against invading forces or hordes of zombie bikers, a $100 Mosin Nagant rifle will also probably serve you better than a single shot 12. Sure, they're 100 year old Commie bolt guns, and most are pretty rough around the edges, but they've got 5 rounds on tap, fire a potent cartridge and can be reloaded relatively quickly via stripper clips.

7.62x54R is a 1000 yard capable cartridge, and the Mosin is capable of incredible long range accuracy with the right shooter. Don't believe? Again, check out YouTube. There's enough power there to drop anything that needs dropping.Corrosive surplus ammo is dirt cheap, and new production stuff is available, too - from Hornady, Wolf, Winchester, Silver Bear, S&B and others. If you wanted to reload,  components are out there.

With good tactics, fieldcraft and a skilled shooter, a Mosin could do a plenty good job in a sniper role - harassing fire, pinning enemy forces down, taking out high value targets, etc.

Hunting large game? Check for that, too. I'd stock some new production soft points for that purpose.

What about small game? Well, they make chamber adapters for 7.62x54R, too. .32 multi-caliber - shoot .32 ACP, 32 S&W and others. Or a 7.62x25 adapter if you've got a Tokarev or similar kicking around.

Plenty of other after market support for replacement parts, upgrades, etc.

And then there's the bayonet. Zombies beware.

Heck, I don't own a Mosin, but I mighta just talked myself into one...

All three of the firearms discussed above are better survival options than the single shot shotgun, and in a similar price ballpark. Really, if your heart is set on a shotgun for survival, just get a pump shotgun.

Yes, some of the alternatives may cost a little bit more than a single shot 12 gauge, but we're talking $50 or so, and the rewards are great. If you can't pull together $50-$75 extra, ever, then you've got bigger problems on your hands than selecting a survival firearm.

Don't get me wrong, single shots are inexpensive and they generally work. Cheap range fun? Yep--and I've heard of people finding 'em at pawn shops and gun shows for as little as $40. A fun "project gun" - sure. A backup hunting firearm that you stash at the cabin? If you've got one kicking around, why not?

But, as your primary go-to survival firearm? For that important role, I think the single shot shotgun makes a poor choice.