June 10, 2022

Semi-Auto or Pump Action – What Kind of Scattergun is For You 

Ooh boy, when it comes time to buy the defensive shotgun, you have big choices. One of the most important choices you’ll make is a semi-auto action or a pump action. Sure there are other options, but these two actions dominate the shotgun market. Today, we will dive into the differences between semi-auto shotguns and pump-action shotguns. 

These two action types have become the standard for tactical applications. When police and military forces turn to the shotgun, it’s either a semi-auto or a pump-action design. When you go shopping for tactical shotguns, you’ll find that the tactical options limit you pretty squarely to pump and semi-auto actions. There might be more room in the sporting shotgun world, but these two actions still dominate these categories. 

Semi-Auto Shotguns 

A semi-auto shotgun means the weapon fires one round per pull of the trigger without any interaction from the shooter besides the trigger pull. The shooter will manually charge the weapon for the first round, but after that, the weapon will fire until the magazine is empty. Semi-Auto shotguns use either gas or inertia-operated actions. 

Pump-Action Shotguns

Pump-action shotguns, also known as slide-action shotguns, feature a forend that reciprocates rearward under the force of the shooter. The user must pull the action rearward and shove it forward between each shot. This makes pump-action shotguns manually operated weapons. 


When you need a tactical defensive weapon, reliability is a huge concern. You don’t want to hear a click when you hear a bang or have to fight with a jam to get your weapon operating. In terms of shotguns which action is more reliable? 

The manual nature of a pump-action shotgun ensures almost complete reliability. Pump-action shotguns are incredibly reliable, and when a pump-action shotgun isn’t reliable, it doesn’t last long. 

The biggest downfall of the pump-action shotgun is the user. A phenomenon known as short stroking can occur when the user fails to completely cycle the weapon, but that’s on the user and not the weapon. 

Semi-auto shotguns have come a very long way from their early, humble beginnings. Over time they become widely accepted as reliable enough for tactical use. However, they are often restricted to certain loads that generate enough recoil or gas to cycle. 

Obtaining a reliable semi-auto shotgun does require some homework and a higher budget to obtain. More moving parts require a higher level of quality control and more attention to design and function. This makes semi-autos a hair behind pump actions in reliability. 


Shotguns are well known for their versatility. They fire various ammo types, including birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. Alongside those standard loads, you have mini shells, less lethal, reduced recoil loads, super light trap and skeet sporting loads, and so many more. 

The massive versatility of these rounds means different pressures, different velocities, and a variety of different cycling requirements. The manual nature of a pump-action shotgun makes it capable of handling the widest variety of loads. Pump-action shotguns can handle everything from standard buckshot to less-lethal loads and to breaching loads without issue. 

Since the pump-action design uses human force to activate the cycle of operations, you are not reliant on an internal gas or inertia system. Semi-auto shotguns can be considered picky in comparison to pump-action designs. They work fine with standard loads, and most work fine with reduced recoil slugs and buckshot. They don’t function with ultra-light loads of any kind. 

The pump-action shotgun is the more versatile tool. 


Shootability is the term I use to describe the combination of recoil and muzzle rise with a weapon. How easy is it to shoot and how easy is it to land accurate follow-up shots sums up the shooting ability of the weapon. 

With that in mind, semi-auto shotguns offer a much more shootable platform. It’s not secret shotguns pack some punch to them. It’s made many a AR 15 owner tap out after a few shots. Pump actions have nothing to buffer the recoil from each shot. You get the full blast of recoil from a pump action. 

A semi-autos gas system or inertia system eats up some of that recoil as the weapon cycles. The movement of the bolt does wonders to absorb that brutal recoil, and that translates to a much more controllable and shootable weapon. 

Ease of Use 

Pump-action shotguns are fairly easy to use. Shoot, pump, shoot again. Not much, but when compared to semi-autos, it seems like a handful. With a semi-auto, you charge it once, fire, and then fire again and again without any other interaction with the weapon. 

Semi-auto shotguns can even be wielded with one hand. Trying to shoot a pump-action shotgun with a single hand is nearly impossible. Semi-auto shotguns make it easy to fire more than round with one hand. 


Price can often present a unique challenge to the home defender, hunter, and sport shooter. When it comes to shotguns, you can get a very high-quality pump-action shotgun for less than 500 dollars. Actually, you can get a very nice shotgun, like a Benelli SuperNova, for less than 500, and you can get a Remington or Mossberg for less than $400. 

Quality semi-auto guns cost a fair bit more. There is anywhere from 800 to 2,000 dollars for a name-brand, high-quality, semi-auto shotgun. Semis aren’t simple, and the price reflects that. 

My Choice? 

This is America, and I just own both! I love both shotgun styles and have found them to be excellent choices for a variety of tasks. Heck, you can get both in one shotgun with the Benelli M3. It offers an inertia-driven semi-auto action that can be converted to pump action. 

If it’s your first shotgun, I typically point to a good solid pump action. The price lets you experiment with shotguns and learn their intricacies. Then, if you like shotguns, move into the more expensive and complicated semi-autos. 


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