The Long, So-far Fruitless Quest To Build A Battle Scattergun
Story by Joseph Trevithick
The shotgun is an iconic weapon most often associated with the pump-action badassery of action films and video games. While awesome in fiction, its use in the real world is limited to close combat and breaching doors, not to mention bird and deer hunting. Despite its drawbacks, a mystique surrounds the weapon, and soldiers as well as law enforcement officers still use them. The draw of the gun is so powerful that the Pentagon has spent several decades and millions of dollars to improve on the basic design.
In the late 1960s, the military and private companies started tinkering with prototypes for a super shotgun. Three decades later, questions about the weapon’s purpose and practicality on the battlefield doomed the project. The proposed super shotguns were revolutionary, but perhaps to a fault.
Since World War I, scatterguns have been a fixture in American military arsenals. In the trenches, where fighting could be brutal and often hand-to-hand, the short-range idea wasn’t a problem. In World War II, individual soldiers or Marines, especially in the Pacific, carried shotguns to help clear out bunkers or break up ambushes. The same situation persisted in both Korea and Vietnam, but even throughout these eras, the US Army and Marine Corps mostly issued the weapons to military police officers on guard duty.
“The usefulness of the shotgun in combat has long been the subject of some controversy,” Carroll Childers wrote in the January-February 1981 issue of Infantry magazine. “Unfortunately, a great deal of romanticism about its use prevails.”
At the time, Childers was an engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Va., as well as an officer in the Virginia Army National Guard. In 1969, Childers started work on what he hoped would be a radical new design dubbed the special operations weapon, or SOW. Childers based his initial concept on the needs of and feedback from Navy SEAL teams and Marine reconnaissance troops. The shotgun’s features made it an attractive weapon for specialized units that often had very specific requirements.
During the Vietnam War, Marines complained about how contemporary scatterguns needed to be constantly reloaded during firefights, couldn’t reliably hit anything — let alone kill — at even modest ranges and couldn’t stand up to the abuse of a patrol, according to Childers. The SOW prototype looked fearsome and crude, but it solved many of these key problems. The gun was fully automatic and fed from a 10-round, detachable magazine. Unlike the fixed tubular designs on most shotguns of the day, a shooter with an SOW wouldn’t need to reload one shell at a time, and they could swap out ammunition types — pellets, solid slugs and more — with relative ease. Childers’ gun was also compact compared to the other types of firearms troops took into the Vietnamese jungle, at least in length. With its simple stock folded — or removed — the SOW was shorter than the pump-action Remington Model 870.
Three years after the project got under way, Dahlgren patented the SOW. That same year, Maxwell Atchisson, a former Marine and private weapons designer, introduced his Atchisson Assault Shotgun. Atchisson’s original weapon looked like an M-16 on steroids, but was clearly influenced by the same background as the SOW, and had a special recoil-absorbing system built in to make it less of a beast to shoot.
The benelli M-1014 semiauto shotgun still has not completely replaced all of the classic-style pump shotguns. (MARINE CORPS)
When Washington signed the Paris Peace Accords with North Vietnam and began pulling troops out of Southeast Asia, any interest in either design evaporated. In the years that followed, Pentagon budgets shrank across the board.
DEAD FOOT ARMS
Unlike many other projects, the post-Vietnam drawdowns couldn’t kill the SOW concept. By the end of the decade, the Pentagon had started up an overarching effort to cook up new guns across the services called the Joint Service Small Arms Program, or JSSAP. The new office declared that there was a need for an improved combat shotgun suited for military purposes.
“While the greatest threat is represented by Warsaw Pact forces in Europe, there is a growing belief that the most likely US military engagement will again involve third-world countries,” a May 1979 Pentagon memo stated. “Current shotguns are converted commercial weapons adopted under the pressure of wartime emergencies.”
If another small conflict were to break out, American troops would be in the exact same predicament they had been in Vietnam. The Pentagon felt soldiers and Marines fighting in dense wilderness or urban areas needed better guns.
The work at Dahlgren caught the eye of the JSSAP. With Childers’ experience, the Navy led the development of RHINO — repeating, handheld, improved, non-rifled ordnance.
“I wanted to keep the name SOW, but that, being a female pig, never gained the support of those conferring program titles,” Childers wrote in a letter to Benjamin Schemmer in 1982. “RHINO was a little more catchy.” Schemmer, editor of Armed Forces Journal, had just published an article on the current state of JSSAP’s project. Childers felt the piece had fundamentally misunderstood and misrepresented his work.
The Pentagon had hoped the end result would be a revolutionary gun, not limited like existing shotguns, but the JSSAP-sponsored plans called not just for a new gun, but new projectiles to go with it. The RHINO would spit out pellets, high-explosive grenades, signal flares, tear gas bombs and more. Troops would use the weapon for house-to-house searches, combat and standing watch.
Tank crews would trade in their old WWII-era submachine guns for these new weapons. Even better, the resulting design could replace existing survival rifles, but plans for such a broad and sweeping firearm would run into trouble. Two years after JSSAP’s memo got the RHINO project going, the office renamed it the Multipurpose Individual Weapon System. A year after that decision, the Pentagon changed the moniker again to Combat Shotgun. Each shift reflected an internal debate about just what the new guns were actually supposed to do.
By 1982, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Ind., had taken over what was by then known as the Close Assault Weapon System, or CAWS. Much of the original logic for the new weapon was getting lost along the way. The CAWS requirements had largely dispensed with plans for a multi-purpose weapon. Ammunition development focused on trying to build pellet-filled shells that would be accurate at longer ranges. These new rounds would make a troop armed with the shotgun less of a liability to his comrades on a traditional battlefield, but no one had ever really expected a soldier to use the weapon in that manner anyway. “I certainly wouldn’t want an automatic shotgun,” retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith, founder of Delta Force, told Schemmer in an interview. “I’d have to have four boys along just to carry the ammunition!”
The Heckler and Koch and Olin Close Assault Weapons System (CAWS) prototype. (H&K)
The Olin CAWS Spec Sheet
(COURTESY OF H&K)
Perhaps worst of all, the whole thing was becoming a political nightmare for everyone involved. “It is important that JSSAP show some development success [on CAWS] or lose credibility as a research and development vehicle,” Ray Thorkildsen, an ordnance expert in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, wrote the same year. Thorkildsen wanted Crane to hurry up and build something. With Childers’ in-house project scrapped, private companies were eager to scoop up the now open contract.
The AAI Corporation and Heckler & Koch took the lead. Like Atchisson’s shotgun, AAI’s prototype looked and handled like a beefed-up M-16. H&K offered a more radical “bullpup” design, which had its magazine all the way in the rear. Pan Associates, a much smaller company, planned to offer an even more futuristic-looking gun called the Jackhammer, but the Pentagon demanded all manufacturers have a line of specialty ammo ready to go with their submissions.
Despite a protest to the Government Accountability Office that held up the contract, Pan gave up trying to meet the goal. Atchisson also declined. A year after Thorkildsen sent his memo, H&K finally won out. The German gun manufacturer brought in Olin to design the new all-metal shells full of shot made from a tungsten alloy.
For the next three years, the prototypes were put through their paces. The new buckshot was indeed more accurate and deadly, historian Kevin Dockery notes in his book Special Warfare Special Weapons.
But with the project’s supporters increasingly unable to explain who would use the weapons or why, the project finally came to a close. More than a decade later, JSSAP chose a conventional semiautomatic as the Pentagon’s new scattergun, but the Benelli M-1014 still hasn’t completely replaced aging pump guns.
Four years ago, the Army started buying shotguns that fit underneath standard M-4 carbines. These M-26 Modular Accessory Shotgun Systems give troops an option for breaking down doors without having to lug a whole separate weapon around. Still, private industry has refused to give up on the idea of a fully automatic shotgun. Over the years, many companies purchased the rights to Atchisson’s design. Daewoo in South Korea built a derivative of that shotgun, too, but without real interest from the Pentagon or any other military around the world, the various guns have spent far more time in Hollywood productions and video games than in actual combat. AmSJ
Bonhomie – Pedersoli’s new side-by-side is a modern shotgun with a classical twist, and it will be right at home for you at the range or aﬁeld.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
Dedicated scattergunners have probably realized by now that, although I’ve shot their preferred choice of gun for many years, I’ve never considered myself a shotgunner. It’s not that I have anything against them; it’s just that for me, shotguns have always taken a backseat to riﬂes and riﬂe shooting, especially when it comes to using black powder. But after seeing, handling and shooting a ﬁne Pedersoli 12-gauge double with twin outside hammers, I think my priorities might start to shift a bit.
Pedersoli calls this side-by-side their “Bohemienne,” or Bohemian. Comparing it to the standards of today, this shotgun is deﬁnitely nonconformist, and it is good enough that we can refer to it as being somewhat irregular. It is a cut above many others, and for me it is delightful in many ways, especially with its double outside hammers.
I want to emphasize one point right from the beginning. In most gun reviews like this one, contact information is provided so consumers get more information about the gun can described, but all too often the dealers at local gun shops don’t receive guidance about how to stock them. But this ﬁne shotgun is available through the Italian Firearms Group,
a partnership that supplies the U.S. dealer network with the best products of multiple Italian gun makers.
The Italian Firearms Group was established in 2010, and represents some of that country’s top ﬁrearms craftsmen: F.A.I.R, Sabatti and Pedersoli. By going directly to IFG, dealers can make rather quick contact to get wholesale pricing and other useful information in regard to getting ﬁrearms to sell.
This finely crafted firearm features fine engraving, color casehardening, browned barrels and blued trigger guard.
THE PEDERSOLI LA BOHEMIENNE is a striking piece, to say the least. It is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. The 28-inch browned barrels have 3-inch chambers, and are equipped with interchangeable chokes at the muzzles. The pistol grip and the fore-end each oﬀer checkering for comfort, a good grip and, quite honestly, beauty. And speaking of, the frame is color casehardened and features hand-ﬁnished engraving. Overall length of the shotgun is just under 46 inches, and it weighs about 7¾ pounds.
The hammers are rebounding, so they don’t have or use half-cock notches. Rebounding hammers are, in my opinion, a good safety measure. If the gun is cocked and the hammer needs to be returned to its “down” position, you just hold the hammer back, pull the trigger, and slowly ease the hammer forward while releasing the trigger. The hammers cannot go far enough forward to hit the ﬁring pins unless the triggers are held back.
The La Bohemienne is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot.
In addition to that, the gun is also equipped with a sliding safety, the very same as on a hammerless double, so the gun can be put on safety while the hammers are in the cocked position. The sliding safety does not move to the safe position when the gun is opened.
This gun is not speciﬁcally a black powder shotgun, not like a muzzle-loading shotgun would be. Instead, the Bohemienne is a ﬁnely made modern shotgun with modern steels in the barrels, so it is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot. While using steel shot, however, the changeable chokes should be used with only cylinder or improved-cylinder at the muzzles because the steel shot is simply not as compressible as lead.
A cloud of black powder smoke obscures the target, but it was a hit. (JERRY MAYO)
At the same time, in my most humble opinion, this gun is such a classic that it had “black powder” written all over it, and my choice for shooting it immediately fell to black powder loads for ammunition. That ammunition came from Buﬀalo Arms Company in northern Idaho. They oﬀer a variety of shotgun loads with black powder, and the one I selected to use the most was loaded with 3 drams (82 grains) of black powder under 11/8 ounce of size 7½ lead shot.
This close-up of the side-by-side’s muzzles shows the changeable chokes.
THE BLACK POWDER SHOT SHELLS from Buﬀalo Arms Company are rather classic themselves. They are loaded in good old-fashioned paper hulls, and are nicely star-crimped at the mouth. Inside, these shells are loaded with what we might call “old style” components.
Dave Gullo, owner of Buﬀalo Arms, described the loads this way: “An important feature to our shotgun ammo is that it’s loaded with nitro overshot wads and ﬁber overpowder wads, not plastic wads, so that the shooter is not needing to scrub plastic out of their barrels when they are done shooting.”
At ﬁrst, I couldn’t help notice what I will call rather heavy trigger pulls. I know that “rather heavy” is a relative expression. I’m most comfortable with the very lightly set triggers on muzzle-loading riﬂes and my favorite Sharps, so perhaps I wasn’t the best prepared for what this shotgun required. When I called for my ﬁrst bird on the sporting clays range, I followed it until it was out of sight and the gun hadn’t ﬁred. For my next try, I was more prepared.
The trigger pulls were actually quite ﬁne, breaking very sharp and crisp, while remaining a bit on the heavy side. I realized that one reason for those trigger pulls being “heavy” is so the gun can be ﬁred while both hammers are cocked. In this way, with its associated recoil, the jarring of one barrel going oﬀ will not release the second hammer. In other words, this gun will not “double” on you, which could be a memorable experience you wouldn’t want to have.
After I “caught up” with the gun, the good hits began to come one after the other. As you can guess, that’s when the fun really took over, and using this shotgun became a delight.
Our muzzle-loading club has a target known as the “slice of pie” that is used for a particular match with ﬂintlock smoothbores during our Trade Gun Frolic. The slice of pie is used in a luck shoot where each shooter gets just one shot at 25 yards while using buckshot. It’s hard enough just to get some hits on the paper, and a shooter must be lucky to get any score at all.
This shows the “slice of pie” target with the six holes from the buckshot load.
Just to give this Pedersoli 12-gauge a chance, I took one shot at the slice of pie while using 00 buckshot. This was done with the Pedersoli’s left barrel, with the modiﬁed choke, and six hits are seen on the target (see photo at left) but with zero for a score. That shot was just another part of the fun.
There isn’t a whole lot more I can tell you about the Pedersoli La Bohemienne that wouldn’t simply be echoes of what I’ve already written. It is a very ﬁne classic double-barreled 12-gauge, priced in the neighborhood of $2,100. And with the black powder loads, it provides classic shotgun shooting at its best.
For more information about Pedersoli, the La Bohemienne, and other ﬁnely crafted shotguns, visit italianﬁrearmsgroup.com. To learn more about the Buﬀalo Arms Company’s black powder shotgun loads in 10 and 12 gauges, visit buﬀaloarms.com. ASJ
[su_heading size=”30″]Good stuff for the beginner and a refresher for the experienced.[/su_heading]
Youtuber Janis Putelis from the MeatEater crew presents a couple of short videos here, where he talks about the various shotgun chokes and patterning your scattergun.
For the newbie, a shotgun choke purpose is to shape the spread of the shot in order to gain better range and accuracy. Chokes are implemented as either screw-in chokes, selected for particular applications, or as fixed, permanent chokes, integral to the shotgun barrel.
In the first video Janis explains the five basic types of choke: Highlighting from the most open or loosest (the cylinder choke) to the most restricted or tightest (the full choke).
The basic chokes:
Turkey choke – constrict spread even more
There are a couple of additional chokes that are commonly used—the ‘extra full’ choke and the turkey choke—which constrict the spread even more. These are primarily used, in turkey hunting, where a very tight pattern is desirable when aiming at a turkey’s head.
Next, video Putelis patterns his shotgun. By doing this you get a lot of good information that can help you in the field. You will know how your shotgun performs at certain distances, using certain ammunition, and the best choke to install for whatever particular game species or style of hunting you’re into.
The basic way to acquire the information for patterning is:
set up a large piece of paper
determine the distance to shoot from
take your shot
examine your shot on paper
determine where the bulk of the pellets landed
draw a circle around them & count the pellet holes inside the circle
Sources: Wikipedia, Steven Rinella – MeatEater Youtube, Janis Putelis, David Smith