Uses for Non-NFA Short-Barreled Scatterguns and AOWs

As of late, short-barreled scatterguns (slightly different than shotguns) have become increasingly popular. As defined in the National Firearms Act, a shotgun is a shoulder-fired weapon. But what about those shorty “shotguns” without a stock? Well, despite being patterned after a traditional shotgun, these shorty scatterguns lack a stock and are not intended to be fired from the shoulder, classifying them as an AOW (any other weapon). Under the National Firearms Act (NFA), an AOW is viewed as a “firearm.” But some folks wonder if these short firearms are actually useful, or if they are mainly range toys to make people feel cool. The answers you get here may surprise you.

How’d they do that?

These short-barreled shotguns (that aren’t really shotguns) have to meet certain criteria to not be an NFA (National Firearms Act) weapon. To put it simply, an NFA weapon is one that you need a $200 tax stamp for — machine guns, short-barreled rifles (SBRs), short-barreled shotguns (SBSs), sound suppressors, and the like.

In the case of these little “shotguns,” not being an NFA item means:

  • The weapon has to be over 26 inches in length
  • The receiver must never have had a stock attached to it
  • No stock can be attached to this firearm

Because of this, a 14-inch barrel is legal. Normally, shotguns must have an 18-inch barrel (if a stock or pistol grip is attached). However, this one was never designed to be fired from the shoulder, so it meets certain criteria. However, because this specially designed hand grip is attached, the feds have given their blessing and it is legal.

Are you confused yet? Join the crowd. You’re trying to make sense of the federal government’s gun laws. And unless you’re a lawyer, that’s a difficult task.

But I digress. These weapons were expressly designed not to fall under the NFA, and they succeeded. They are good to go with the Feds. However, some states take a dim view of them and have decided to outlaw them. Be sure to check with your state laws before thinking about purchasing one.

Any civilian-legal options for short-barreled shotguns?

Remember: they’re not technically shotguns. But at the moment, there are two main civilian-legal choices out there on the market: Mossberg’s 590 Shockwave, and the Remington 870 Tac-14. There are some others, but we’ll focus on these pump guns for the purposes of this article.

Both of these not-a-shotguns (which shall henceforth be referred to as shotguns or shorty shotties) feature barrels slightly over 14 inches and overall lengths of just over 26 inches. Both are very similar to their full-sized cousins as far as their actions are concerned; they’ve just had a chop job on the barrels and stocks.

These firearms use the Bird’s-Head grip as opposed to a pistol grip. The Bird’s-Head grip is far more comfortable to shoot than a pistol grip.

Back to our regularly scheduled babbling. These firearms are available in 12-gauge, 20-gauge and .410 gauge as well for those wishing to experience less recoil.

Note: You can’t modify an existing shotgun to meet these criteria legally without the NFA paperwork; these have to be manufactured in this configuration in order to be legal.

Mossberg Shockwave Specs:

  • 12, 20, or .410 gauge.
  • Action Type: Pump.
  • 3-inch chamber.
  • 14.3-inch barrel.
  • Overall Length of 26.3 inches.
  • Weight: 5.25 pounds.
  • Sight: Bead.
  • Capacity: 5+1 rounds.

Remington 870 Tac-14 Specs:

  • 12 and 20 gauge.
  • Action Type: Pump.
  • 3-inch chamber.
  • 14-inch barrel.
  • Overall Length: 26.3 inches.
  • Weight: 5.6 pounds.
  • Sight: Bead.
  • Capacity: 4+1 rounds.

How do they handle?

Those who aren’t tolerant of recoil will not enjoy these firearms. They do pack a wallop, both on the receiving end and on the shooter’s end. I usually try to use Low Recoil ammunition whenever I fire my Shockwave (it’s a 12-gauge). While we’re at it, why did I go with the Shockwave over the Remington? Mainly because of availability; I had the chance to grab a Shockwave and no Remington was available, so that’s what I went with. I’m actually a little more familiar with the Remington action, having trained on it for many years. However, I believe they’re both fairly good actions.

Some deliberate firing positions need to be used to get the most out of the guns. Blading the body and holding the shotgun to the side while using the side of the body for an aiming platform directs the recoil to the side, rather than into the body.

Chest-high firing position with the Shockwave.
Blading the body and keeping the weapon tucked in tight mitigates recoil. Firing from this chest-high position allows the engagement of targets out to about ten yards. Low Recoil ammunition also helps. The Shockwave’s forend has a nylon loop to help keep the shooter’s hand on the forend. Photo: Sue Davis.

Firing from the hip, chest, and extended positions (keeping the face away from the weapon) works best.

Managing recoil and getting rounds on target are the two challenges. Contrary to what gun shop commandos claim, you actually do have to aim this weapon; pointing it in the “general direction of the target” and carelessly lobbing rounds in that manner will not guarantee hits. Shooting from the hip or chest level, look over the barrel of the shotgun to aim it. Practice will help you get the elevation correct.

Aiming with the Shockwave.
Aiming is essential for engaging targets past ten yards. Just make sure to keep the firearm away from your face (it will remind you if you forget). For home defense distances, the Shockwave shines. Using the Push-Pull technique helps to manage recoil; the front hand pushes the shotgun away while the rear hand pulls it toward the shooter. Photo: Sue Davis.

Out to around seven yards or so, the pattern is one ragged hole. Around ten yards, the pattern is opening to about the size of an adult’s head. At 15 yards, the spread covers about half of a full-sized silhouette target.

Of course, since they are 12-gauge with 3-inch chambers, they will accept a huge variety of shotgun ammo, making them ultimately versatile.

So, what are they used for?

These little guns are actually a little more versatile than many people give them credit for, and the uses are endless.


Sometimes it’s just fun to go shooting. If you enjoy shooting guns that are a little on the ridiculous side, then these shotguns are for you. The muzzle blast and recoil are obscene, and the effects on the target are just as obscene. Shooting water-filled, plastic containers is a purely gleeful experience. Be aware that, if you’re standing within about ten yards of said container, you may or may not get doused with water splashing back.

A formerly water-filled jug that was hit by buckshot.
Water-filled plastic jugs detonate when hit by a load of OO buckshot. The fun factor is considerable. Photo: Jim Davis.

And if you like pretending to be Rambo and shooting from the hip, well then, this is right up your alley!  The cool factor is admittedly very high.

Home Defense/CQB

For home defense, these shorty shotties have something going for them. Assuming that you practice and get the elevation thing down, they are wicked close-range weapons. You will never find more power packed into a 26-inch weapon on Earth.

There’s no stock to contend with while moving through structures, so the guns are very maneuverable in tight quarters.

At room distance, it’s very easy to get hits on targets, so the accuracy potential is realistic as long as you put in some practice. I will, however, urge owners to put in some practice because these are not beginner weapons. They are advanced tools and they demand that shooters have some real experience.

For many people, a shotgun is preferred for home defense over a rifle or pistol because it has less penetrative abilities (I said less, not zero), and so it poses less danger to neighbors in dwellings. Shotgun pellets will typically not penetrate like handgun and rifle bullets will.

Backpacking/Hiking/Bear Defense

I rolled these three into one category since they often go hand in hand.

Sometimes, it’s just nice to have a little more protection than merely a handgun when taking to the woods. Case in point, my daughter lives in bear country. In fact, she often has bears going through her yard. If I were hiking around her place, having the Shockwave along for the ride would be a comfort. Six rounds of 12-gauge buckshot would certainly deter a bear from gnawing on my person, I do believe.

Shockwave with a day pack on the trail.
A compact 12-gauge makes a comforting hiking companion. It tends to repel all manner of predators effectively. Photo: Jim Davis.

For maintaining security around a campsite, a short shotty would fit the bill fairly well if you didn’t want to lug a full-sized shotgun in with you. And that’s another point – these things will fit into many backpacks, so you can maintain a level of discretion and not alarm other folks along the way. Some people get all weird about seeing others with guns. Or maybe you simply don’t want them to have any idea that you’re armed. Either way, it’s all good.

There are studs for sling swivels on the Shockwave, so it’s a simple matter of slapping some sling swivels and a sling on that bad boy. It only weighs a little over five pounds, so it’s not bad to tote along with you.

Truck/Car/Travel Gun

Nowadays, we hear the phrase “Truck Gun” a lot. Would a short shotgun work for that? It sure could. To be honest, I’d likely trust a full-sized weapon most of the time if I had the ability to keep one in a vehicle, but in a pinch, a shorty isn’t a bad idea either.

Shockwave and day pack in the cargo compartment of a car.
Given its compact nature, a short shotty fits into a vehicle with ease. It offers extra security on both long and short trips. It’s also easier to deploy from a vehicle than a full-sized shotgun. Photo: Jim Davis.

However, there might be times that I’d want a weapon that’s very compact and could be kept out of sight unless it was needed. And for that purpose, the Shockwave or Tac-14 would work great. As a bonus, it could be fired out of the vehicle because we wouldn’t have to be battling with a stock and a long barrel. So there is a case for the short weapon in and around vehicles.

Or perhaps you’re traveling on a trip and don’t want to drag along a full-sized shotgun (they are very long weapons). Maybe you just want to be able to secure a hotel room or small area. The shorty would be just the ticket for that. It could even be secreted in luggage or a duffel bag in your car or room. Again, sometimes being discreet has a lot going for it.

In Conclusion

We’ve covered a few possible uses here that I believe are legitimate for using the shorty shotguns. That said, I’m sure that there are other uses that my feeble mind has not even come up with. How about our readers – what uses have you folks come up with for these small canons?

Whether you’re hiking, securing a room or campsite, using it for vehicle security, home defense, or just having a good time at the range, the not-a-shotgun shotguns do have some advantages to offer. They are a niche weapon, but those niches might be a bit broader than we first expected.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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