Shotguns Used by the U.S. Navy & Other Military Branches

(Image by Margan Zajdowicz via

(Image by Margan Zajdowicz via

I meet a ton of great people through my position at Gun Digest, and recently one of them happened to be a U.S. Navy veteran. Part of this person’s role involved using shotguns to breach rooms (note that he wasn’t a SEAL, or at least didn’t tell me he was). I’ll pass along the models this person used here.

This information may not apply to every manuscript out there, but I think it’s interesting anyway. The Navy isn’t all about ships, just like the Air Force isn’t exclusively the domain of aircraft.

Benelli M4

Benelli M4

The Benelli M4 is a semi-automatic shotgun. That means a character wouldn’t pump anything to load/reload. Instead there’s a charging handle that’s pulled back and released to chamber the first shell. The character would then pull the trigger once per shot until the magazine is empty. Save the pumping for those exciting gas station scenes. (Image via Benelli)


  • Type: semi-automatic shotgun
  • Gauge: 12
  • Capacity: 5 (civilian), 7 (military and law enforcement)
  • Year introduced: 1999 (military), 2003 (civilian market)

The Benelli M4 is one of the finest tactical shotguns ever produced. It’s no wonder the military uses it for close-quarter operations, where it’s officially dubbed the M1014 (use that instead of “M4” in your stories for an authentic flair). A civilian version is also available for non-military characters (“M4”), with the primary difference being ammunition capacity. This one made my Hit List of go-to firearms in The Writer’s Guide to Weapons.

Remington 11-87

Remington 11-87 Police

The Remington 11-87 also comes in sporting models that look less tactical. It’s a solid pick for a character in need of an all-around shotgun for hunting or defense. (Remington image)


  • Type: semi-automatic shotgun
  • Gauge: 12 (introduced in 1987, the gauge the military would likely use), 20 (introduced in 1999)
  • Capacity: 5 (standard), 7 (extended magazine, preferred by military)
  • Year introduced: 1987

The Remington 11-87 is similar to the M4 in many ways. It boils down to a preference on the part of the shooter. I think for writing purposes that “M4” is easier on the reader’s eye than “11-87.”

The 11-87 shares a heritage with some of the most popular Remington shotguns, meaning its design is exceptionally trustworthy. That’s why it’s also used by law enforcement and civilians. It’s hard to go wrong with giving a character an 11-87.

The Ammunition

Note that both of the following models are used at up close and personal ranges. The character wielding the shotgun may not even use the sights. It’d be more of a “point and shoot” situation. Likewise, the ammunition would be buckshot. That’s the type of shotshell with the largest BBs. You can see the buckshot BBs inside the shotshell in this pic.

(P.S. Those spherical pieces of metal can be referred to as “shot” or “BBs.” The first is more technically accurate, while the second is colloquial.)


It’s safe to say being shot by anything would suck. Buckshot, however, would double down for maximum suckage. Watch out for legal restrictions for this type of shotgun ammunition when assigning it to civilian characters. Some places allow it. Some don’t. Military and law enforcement characters would be more likely to use it. (Shutterstock photo)

One other note: The barrels may be shortened when used by military characters. This makes them more maneuverable in close quarters. In the civilian world, shortened shotgun barrels less than 18 inches long (aka “sawed off shotguns”) are illegal without an OK from the federal government (i.e. lots of paperwork).

Shotguns Used by the U.S. Coast Guard & the Marines

Shortly after this article originally went live, I was contacted via Twitter by a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard. I’ll keep this person anonymous, but here’s what I was told about shotguns used by the USCG:

I carried a Remington Model 870 fairly extensively as my long gun. I preferred it over the M16 for tactical boardings and crowd control.  I carried the older 80s model, but the CG after 9/11 modified it by shortening the barrel and putting on a red dot.

Here’s a video of a drug interdiction. At the 1:05 mark you’ll see the boarding officer using carrying he newer model. (And here’s one that actually shows the Coast Guard using the 870. ~Ben)

Also here is an article from the U.S. Marine Corps site about the evolution of the USMC shotgun. During my operation in Haiti during ’94 I worked with the Marines. In the unit I worked with, one guy had carried a shotgun. I have no idea how he was assigned to carry it, but he had one.

Shotguns Your Characters Use

What shotguns have you assigned your characters? Let me know in the comments.

Get the Book

The Writers Guide to WeaponsThe Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction (Writer’s Digest Books) comes with everything but the ammo. Pick up a print or digital copy from these fine retailers:


5 thoughts on “Shotguns Used by the U.S. Navy & Other Military Branches

  1. In ‘Eden Green’, the title character carries around a Remington 870 she found at a gun shop; the tag said it was a decommissioned police shotgun. Since she’s an exhaustively conscientious person, her gun safety was hilariously strict, which was fun to write. She blows away quite a few needle monsters with it.

    Near the end, she meets a ‘special ops’-type character and sees he’s carrying an ‘M-870’, and takes this as a sign. I think my research indicated that they use them in the Army, but I’m no longer sure.

    It hadn’t even occurred to me that she might have trouble buying ammo for it. They sell 870s at my local Walmart, but I never checked what sort of ammo they carry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for stopping by, Fiona. I haven’t read Eden Green, so I’m not sure what a needle monster is, but I’m willing to bet the 870 can put the hurt on one. It’s one of the best-selling shotguns of all time, and for good reason. I like how you reflected a part of the character in the way the firearm was handled. The weapons characters use, and the way they use them, can flesh out traits that are otherwise left to the silence of the reader’s imagination.

      You’re right that the 870 was used by the military, but I don’t think it was ever officially adopted by a branch of service (feel free to prove me wrong). To my knowledge, the 870 was purchased by various outfits, but was never submitted for formal testing. To call it the M870 in a story is probably accurate enough (the M before a number usually denotes an official adoption).

      And as far as the ammo, the 870 would use 12-gauge shells. There’s plenty of variety within that gauge, from buckshot to traditional shotshells to slugs.

      Liked by 1 person

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