The one sort of handheld firearm that consistently left me gobsmacked as I worked in the ER was a shotgun. At appropriate ranges, a shotgun is like wielding a gigantic ice cream scoop. Close up, it really doesn’t matter if you are using buckshot, birdshot, or slugs. Nothing rips a human body to pieces quite so efficiently.
Nobody really needs to pack a defensive shotgun covertly. However, if we just had what we needed, we would all be commuting to work on foot, Tweeting via smoke signals, and spending our evenings picking each other’s parasites. This is America. We are all about illogical extremes. If you need examples, I would submit Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, whatever the Kardashians are doing this week, or Congressional anything.
What if itinerant rhinos, grudge-bearing great white sharks, or the errant minor Greek deity showed up agitated on your doorstep with mischief in mind? Your favorite tuned Glock isn’t going to cut it in rarefied situations such as these. For those times when you need to excise all the ambiguity from the timeless question of whether or not you brought enough gun, here’s how you can actually pack 4+1 rounds of full-bore shotgun chaos comfortably underneath a proper windbreaker with the help of a legal sawed-off shotgun.
Now don’t be stupid about this. One in 21 adult Americans has a concealed-carry permit, but check your local laws before packing a concealed shotgun. Some regions stipulate that your carry gun be a pistol. Running afoul of such stuff as this can bring undue attention from our friends in law enforcement.
How to Build a Legal Sawed-Off Shotgun
Step 1: Get Squared Away with the BATFE
Back in 1934, when Congress passed the National Firearms Act (NFA), the $200 transfer tax on short-barreled rifles and shotguns effectively ended their commerce. Nowadays, however, inflation has taken the fangs out of this onerous law. While hardly pocket change, we can drop $200 on some fairly stupid stuff these days.
One of the not-so-stupid things you can do with $200 is shorten the barrel on your favorite scattergun. Such an enterprise involves filling out a BATFE Form 1 from the agency’s website. You fill the form out in duplicate and submit it along with a check for $200, a pair of passport photos, fingerprint cards, and a truly ridiculous self-attestation of your own citizenship. You then think about something else for six to nine months. Eventually, the same government that enjoys $600 toilet seats, Congressional fact-finding trips to Aruba, and enough computer power to listen in on my cell phone conversations in real-time sends the form back approved. You then retire to your workshop.
Step 2: Grab the Tools
It actually doesn’t take a great deal of talent to shorten a shotgun barrel. I have done several using a cutoff wheel on my table saw. Cut the tube a time or two close to the muzzle to get comfortable with the process. Then mark the barrel with masking tape and carefully cut it for real. Dress up the end with a Dremel tool and you’re good.
I set new front sights with my drill press and a hand tap, but you could do the same thing with a hand drill if you’re careful. Replacement front sights are available at Brownells. Simple beads are just a few bucks. Radioactive night sights will set you back a bit more.
Once trimmed back, your homebuilt, legal sawed-off shotgun will indeed pattern liberally, even at close ranges. If you want to tighten your patterns, have the muzzle threaded for screw-in chokes, also available at Brownells. If there isn’t anyone local who can internally thread your barrels, the Internet can connect you with folks who will do it for about a C-note.
Step: 3 Furniture Shopping for a Sawed-Off Shotgun
The world is your oyster when it comes to furniture options for your new shotgun, but I found only one manufacturer offering exactly what I needed. Choate Machine and Tool has been in this business for decades, and Fred Choate is one of the nicest guys in the gun world. His stocks and accessories are well-reasoned, practically indestructible, and made in Arkansas.
Choate made the side-folding stock that HK used on its MP5K-PDW submachine guns. Nowadays, the company makes stocks and accessories for a bewildering array of weapons. Its shotgun components in particular are top-flight.
I built one 12-gauge Remington 870 and another in 20-gauge. Both guns were inexpensive pawnshop beaters until I stripped them down and refinished them using bake-on ceramic engine block paint. This stuff runs about $10 a can at your local auto parts store. Once properly cured, it lasts forever. I built up one of these guns more than two decades ago, and it still looks new despite some fairly hard use. Cook this paint in your wife’s kitchen oven and you’ll get to meet a divorce attorney. However, these components could conceivably be cooked in a cheap box-store toaster oven.
The 12-gauge got a simple pistol grip along with a pistol-grip forend. The 20-gauge wears an indestructible side-folding stock. The side folder comes with a minimalist forend that does not interfere with the stock when folded. Both rigs sport sling swivels on top and bottom. Here is where our project gets weird.
Step 4: Sew a Shotgun Sling
Question my manhood if you must, but sewing is fun. I bought a spool of nylon webbing from Amazon and sew the stuff using standard needle and thread. The needle passes through painlessly, and whipping up my own carry gear is a great way to kill a lazy evening. Walmart carries polymer sliders and buckles. If that won’t do it, Amazon has a greater selection than you’ll ever need.
Thread your webbing into each of the sling swivels on your Choate pistol grips. Burn the edges to keep them from fraying. Sew or thread plastic buckles where you want them so you can dismount the gun quickly. I found that a single loop suspended the guns muzzle down from my shoulder. A second loop configured across my back keeps the whole rig in place despite vigorous movement. Customize the size to your frame and the whole shebang is genuinely comfortable.
Once properly configured, both of these guns ride comfortably underneath the right armpit. Swinging the guns into action is markedly faster than the same undertaking with a conventional sling. The vertical foregrip on the 12 gauge helps manage the stubby gun’s not-insubstantial recoil. At 15 meters, birdshot will liberally pepper a standard silhouette. At the same range, I can keep slugs on target from the hip until I grow weary of doing it.
The 20-gauge version is just dreamy. Popping the polymer buckle drops the gun and allows the stock to be extended. At that point, the gun is a fairly precise instrument, particularly with slugs. Winchester offers its PDX1 Defender ammo in both 12- and 20-gauge versions. The 20-gauge sort launches a solid lead slug. The 12-gauge variant also throws a slug but adds a little buckshot in for an Information Age variation on the Revolutionary-War-era buck-and-ball load.
Practical Applications for a Legal Sawed-Off Shotgun
Each gun will indeed hide underneath a proper jacket, but that is not the most practical application. It is rather the perfect way to pack a proper personal howitzer if you’re out fishing or wandering about where the wild things roam. In my neck of the woods in the Deep South, those are water moccasins. Back when I lived in Alaska, the bears stood up to 9 feet tall and could weigh half a ton.
I once read a story about an 11-year-old boy who saved his uncle from a brown bear attack in Alaska. The kid wielded a pump-action shotgun loaded with birdshot at amazingly close range. This exemplary example of miniature manhood apparently continued engaging the monster at near-contact range with his shotgun until the threat was no longer threatening.
Even if marauding bears the size of Volkswagens or venomous serpents longer than your leg are not part of your local threat array, nothing says, “Don’t screw with me, dude,” like the gaping maw of a proper shotgun. There are some viable applications for covertly packing a legal sawed-off shotgun. A beater pawnshop shotgun, Choate Machine and Tool, and an evening in front of the TV with a needle and thread can leave you prepared for anything.