Over the years, the short-barrel 12-gauge pump has received regular recommendation as a home defense shotgun, as well it should. At close range, it's proven to be one of the most effective threat-stopping gun-and-ammo combinations available. However, it's often treated as a one-size-fits-all solution.
It's interesting to note that when researching sporting shotguns, like those used for sporting clays or upland fowl hunting, encyclopedic amounts of commentary are dedicated to the importance of properly fitting the shotgun to the person using it. This includes an evaluation of the length of pull (LOP), the amount of recoil the shotgun produces, how far the shooter has to reach out to operate the pump action, and the overall feel of the shotgun as it swings into action. So why is it, when considering defensive shotguns, that a single gauge and a single stock length are all that’s required to fill the need?
Mossberg is one gun company that recognizes the need for sensible defensive options designed for small-framed shooters. The well-respected family of value-priced Model 500 pump-action shotguns has included reduced-recoil 20-gauge and .410 bore options for quite some time. This year, the company has released a new Model 500 that successfully blends the modern tactical shotgun features of its military and law enforcement lines with the successful size and recoil reduction qualities of its Bantam shotgun models. Since the Mossberg 500 Cruiser/Persuader 8-Shot 20-gauge Catalog Number 54300 is a bit of a mouthful, let's just call it the Bantam Tactical for convenience.
The Bantam Tactical 20-gauge features a 20-inch barrel with a fixed cylinder bore choke. The extended magazine tube holds seven 2 3/4-inch shells or six 3-inch shells. The barrel is topped with an adjustable ghost ring sight system. The safety is a tang-mounted switch (located behind the rear sight) intuitively placed for comfortable operation. The trigger is a crisp 6 pounds with a short reset. Both the forearm and shoulder stock are constructed of durable lightweight polymer and the stock is capped off with a soft rubber butt pad. Unloaded, the Bantam Tactical weighs in at 6 pounds. All the steel components and aluminum receiver are coated in a uniform matte black finish.
An uncommon, but important, feature of this tactical shotgun is the Bantam shoulder stock. The length of pull, or LOP, is the distance from the trigger to the butt end of the shoulder stock. If the stock has a butt pad installed, the thickness of the pad is included in the measurement. LOP plays a key role in shot-gunning comfort. If the distance is too short, the shooting hand thumb will bump into the user's face during recoil. If the distance is too long, the user can feel over extended or off balance when holding the shotgun on target. The majority of shotguns, including self-defense models, leave the factory with a 14 to 14.5-inch LOP. This is a just-right stock length for the average adult male, but it’s often too long for many women or shorter men. The Bantam Tactical arrives with a 12-inch LOP. A stock insert and a second butt pad are included to allow the stock to be extended to 13-inches. A shorter stock option, like this one, solves several of the fitting problems for compact shooters. Another nice touch is the long forearm attached to the pump, which provides plenty of room for the user to find the best support hand placement for arm length.
At the shooting range, the Bantam Tactical functioned very well. The slide was smooth and easy to operate. The reduced weight, short barrel and excellent sight system made for fast handling and quick sight acquisition. This shotgun successfully cycled and fired a variety of sporting and self-defense grade ammunition. But before diving into the shooting results, it's important to take a moment to discuss the nature of the 20-gauge shotgun shell.
The primary reason to recommend a 20-gauge in place of the 12-gauge for self-defense is the reduced level of felt recoil the smaller shell has to offer. Generally speaking, a 20-gauge delivers about 80 percent of the payload of 12-gauge shells when firing similar projectiles (slugs, birdshot, buckshot), but with only 50 percent of the recoil. It delivers the ballistic equivalent of two .44 Mag. cartridges fired at once, so while it is not as powerful as the 12-gauge, the 20-gauge is still an effective self-defense option.
Reducing recoil can provide several benefits, including longer practice sessions, less shooter's flinch and faster follow-up shots. However, as with all firearms, the recoil of a 20-gauge can change significantly depending on the ammunition used. In fact, as the power level of 20-gauge shells increase, the punch to the shoulder they produce can cross well into 12-gauge territory. So the ammunition included in this shotgun test was evaluated for recoil as well as the patterns produced.
The first two 20-gauge loads tested with the Bantam Tactical were from Lightfield's Home Defense line of shot shells. These rounds are based on the company's less-lethal shells developed for law enforcement. The NOVA–DR Mega-Blank produces a very bright muzzle flash and a pounding concussion wave with only a modest level of felt recoil to the shooter. The goal is to provide a first-shot option with the potential to frighten or disorient an assailant without launching any projectiles into the home. Testing this round at an indoor range provided the distinct impression that standing on the business end of this load would be a memorable experience, to say the least.
The second shell from Lightfield was the Home Defender 20-gauge Double Ball load. The twin .60-caliber hard rubber balls fired by this shell have a relatively high velocity with a low mass. As a result, they shed kinetic energy quickly. This means the balls can inflict serious pain (even death), but with a reduced likelihood of penetrating walls within a home. This round proved to have an exceptionally low level of recoil, with the balls spreading 2 to 3 inches apart at 7 yards.
Two birdshot loads were tested at 7 yards, including the Federal Premium 3-inch No. 4 shot Upland Load, and the Winchester 2¾-inch Super Speed No. 7½ shot Game Load. The Winchester shell produced 10-inch patterns with the lowest level of felt recoil for the test set. Designed to maximize the hunting potential of the 20-gauge, the Federal load generated tighter 7-inch patterns. But since it contains ½-ounce more shot, the level of felt recoil was greater than the Winchester round.
12-gauge Buckshot loads are typically loaded with eight or nine .33-caliber OO Buckshot pellets. Trying to stuff these large lead balls into the slimmer 20-gauge shell is not as effective as packing it with an increased number of smaller pellets. Both the buckshot loads tested here, Federal Ammunition and Remington Express 2 ¾-inch shells, were loaded with 20 pellets of .25-caliber No. 3 buckshot pellets. Both loads produced 7-inch groups at 7 yards. With recoil at the high end of the 20-gauge scale, but at the mild end of the 12-gauge scale, 20-gauge buckshot loads provide a manageable and effective defensive option.
It’s good to see a value-priced defensive 20-gauge like the Mossberg Bantam Tactical arrive on the market. Some compactly sized shotgun owners have turned to using youth-model 20-gauges in order to obtain the stock length and balance they’re looking for. Although these shotguns are certainly useful for home-defense, the eight-shot capacity and ghost-ring sight system of this shotgun provide the tactical advantages that shooters prefer. If you are looking for a defensive shotgun to fit more than just one member of your family, then take a look at what Mossberg has to offer.