The Great Recession Shooting Holes in Your Wallet? Then Follow Along as We Build a $600 Home-Defense Shotgun.
We’ve heard your concerns, and we feel ya. The economy is kicking all of us in the naughty bits. While it’s great fun to read about guns that cost as much as a Yaris, most firearm enthusiasts can’t afford all those shiny new toys. How can you protect yourself and your loved ones if it means choosing between a home-defense weapon and your next mortgage payment?
We could have easily purchased a brand-new tactical shotgun with all the fixings (mounted light, extended magazine, etc.), but it would have cost us about a grand. No. We wanted to build a scattergun to our specifications that could defend the hearth without breaking the bank. So, we took the Goodwill route: find a used model and fix it up.
We established parameters to stay within our budget. Here were the five requisites for our Project Cheapbore.
Maneuverability: Wielding a 48-inch long-gun through tight hallways is like accidentally sexting the wrong person: awkward as hell. Therefore, Project Cheapbore would need a shorter barrel, but not so short that it’d incur the $200 tax of the National Firearms Act. Sorry, no sawed-offs. Maneuverability also means agility without fear of dropping our weapon, so a sling was in order, as well.
Capacity: When it comes to ammo, we like to paraphrase an old adage: It’s better to have more and not need it, then need more and not have it. Project Cheapbore would need to hold more than the typical four-shell capacity.
Visibility: We’d need a light. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whether power suddenly cuts out or a noise wakes you in the middle of the night, illumination is key to securing your home. And because we chose a shotgun as our platform, our light source needed to be weapon-mounted.
Reliability: No matter the make or model, the boomstick had to go boom whenever we pressed the trigger. That meant buying nothing that exhibited questionable quality control. Made in China? We think not.
Affordability: This was the crux of the whole build. It would have to have all of the above attributes, yet not cost us an arm and a testicle. Our cost estimate: $600, including the cost of the base gun (but not including the transfer fee or any possible shipping fees).
New tactical shotties can be pricey. The Magpul edition of the Remington Model 870 Express Tactical has an $872 sticker price. The Mossberg SPX Pistol Grip Eight-Shot clocks in at $883. A Benelli M4? Almost two G’s.
Knowing this, we turned to more economical options for new models. Benelli’s Nova Tactical starts at $419, more than two-thirds our budget already. With a $524 price tag, Remington’s Model 887 Nitro Mag Tactical would eat up most of our funds before we even started.
Then there’s Qiqihar Hawk Industries, a Chinese company better known stateside as simply Hawk. It has become (in)famous for producing Remington knockoffs, which are no doubt the cheapest new shotguns available in the USA. Case in point: The Hawk Model 981R, a clone of the 870 Express Tactical, retails for $275. But there’s just one problem: It’s made in China. It’s not that we boycott everything manufactured in that Communist state; we own plenty of everyday items made there, from plastic utensils to office supplies. The difference is that we’re not betting on pens and spoons to help us defend against an armed intruder. We’ve seen enough mixed reviews to reconsider these Chinese clones.
Our final hope for buying an affordable, reliable smoothbore brand new was the Mossberg Maverick 88 Special Purpose, which would set us back $289. It has a synthetic stock, a 12-gauge chamber, and an ideal 18.5-inch barrel. The Maverick 88 is a fine shotty, but aftermarket parts for the Remington 870 are far more prevalent and plentiful. Remember our parameters? We wanted to build it our way and not be limited by the kinds of kit we could put on our build.
So, a used 12-gauge, pump-action 870 it would be then. (Let’s, for the sake of story length, set aside the whole debate about semiauto versus pump-action.)
After combing web forums, online auction sites, and local gun shops for deals, we were surprised to find that some pre-owned 870s were going for almost $400, practically as much as a new model. Yikes. Luckily, we scored a lightly used Model 870 Express with wood furniture for $225 at a local Southern California pawn shop. And so began Project Cheapbore.
Barrels o’ Ammo
Our 870 Express measured 48 inches long overall. For shooting skeet, trap, or turkeys, that’s perfect. For moving through your house to secure family members, not so much. So, the first order of business was to switch out the 28-inch, vent-rib barrel with something 10 inches shorter. And it needed rifle sights to replace the tiny single-bead front sight — for our budget build, we could dial in slugs for precise shots without requiring the more expensive route of gunsmithing the receiver to affix a ghost ring rear sight.
So, we ordered a combo kit that tackled not just these two concerns, but also gave us increased ammo capacity. Brownells recently started offering an 18.5-inch Remington barrel with rifle sights and a magazine tube extension from Nordic Components in the same $240 kit. With some thrifty shopping techniques, we found this barrel and this mag extension sold separately from other vendors, totaling $228.
Though the Nordic Components mag extension already gave us two extra shells, we believe firmly in ammo redundancy, especially when it comes to self-defense. So we added the $36 TacStar Four-Round SideSaddle Shotshell Carrier, bringing our smoothbore’s capacity to six shells in the tube, one in the chamber, and four on the gun. The side saddle weighed just 6 ounces. Our ledger showed a $501 total retail price. But it’s possible to get the TacStar caddy for as low as $24 on sites like BudsGunShop.com. So the street-price tally was $477 at this point. Just a $123 left in our wallet.
Light It Up
SureFire is most commonly associated with lightweight, top-notch torches…and wallet-whooping prices. We had to look for alternatives.
Streamlight makes a wide variety of illumination tools, many of them within the financial reach of the working stiff. We selected the PolyTac LED for its reliability and its affordability (MSRP is $50, but we found one at Wal-Mart for only $36). Yes, we know it’s made in China, and yes, we know that contradicts our previous statement about Chinese products. But the PolyTac LED’s proven to perform in the field and it’s a peripheral, i.e. not the part that goes boom.
With the PolyTac LED, the MSRP total was $551, while the street-price total was $525. But how to affix the flashlight to the 870? The 870 didn’t come with a Picatinny rail or mount of any sort. And despite what the tactical mall ninjas might have you believe, duct tape is never smart, let alone cool. The only solution? Burn more cash.
Fortunately for us, GG&G is known for tactical accessories made of quality construction for modest prices. We snagged GG&G’s Sling-and-Flashlight-Combo Mount and its 1-inch Flashlight Mount, thereby giving us a means to attach the torch to our weapon while simultaneously securing a point for a sling. It is secured by the magazine tube cap, and when installing the mount there wasn’t quite enough clearance for it between the mag tube and barrel, so we had to grind it down a bit to squeeze it in.
Total MSRP for both: $47, pushing the overall cost to the limit at $598. But we spotted the 1-inch Flashlight Mount for only $10 at Amazon.com and the Sling-and-Flashlight-Combo Mount on LAPoliceGear.com for $27. This brought the street-price sum to $562. There was still some wiggle room.
We could have saved a few bucks by finishing the build there, but there was still one vital item for any home-defense long-gun…
The Sling is the Thing
Many say that a sling is to a long-gun what a holster is to a handgun. For example, if you need one hand to call 911, the sling will help keep your shotgun easily accessible. A sling will also keep the weapon on you if you need both hands free, such as to transition to a handgun or to carry your frightened child to a safer location.
For our purposes, a two-point sling would fit the bill. We found an economical model in the Butler Creek Comfort Stretch Sling. It’s made of flexible materials and closed-cell neoprene to soak up the tugging that you get from traditional slings, reducing felt weight. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too short to use as a tactical sling when mounting the shotgun. It did work for slinging your weapon when we needed to go hands-free.
Retail cost of the sling: $25, which poked a hole through the roof of our budget by bringing our total to $623. But, MidwayUSA.com sold it for $19. Street-price total? Still on track at just $581.
Next, GG&G’s combo mount took care of the mounting point, but there was no sling stud on the ass end of our 870. Enter the Viking Tactics Buttstock Adapter. This simple yet effective design lets you clip in to a ring at the top of the stock. And the best part? It’s just $11. Some places sell them for a dollar cheaper.
To connect the sling to these mounts, we picked up a couple of HK-style snap hooks from Brownells for $10 each. But beware: The hooks weren’t exactly low profile. If we weren’t paying attention, the front hook interfered while we pumped the fore-end. We alleviated this problem by wrapping the sling and hook around the PolyTac LED, but made a mental note to come up with better cheapo alternatives.
The snap hooks raised the official cost of Project Cheapbore to $654. But with our thrifty shopping techniques, we kept our street-price tally at $599. We had built a home-defense shotgun to our specifications — and with a buck to spare. While the replacement barrel added to the cost, we ended up with a shotgun that we can use to defend the hearth and still go bird hunting or shoot some clays by swapping barrels. Success.
For some of our readers, you might be able to shave off even more cost if you have an old 870 lying unused in a dusty corner of your safe. Or if you’ve been gifted one by your pops or granddaddy. So, consider reusing it as a base for a tactical shotgun. We hear recycling is good for the earth.
Project Cheapbore proves that you can take an old scattergun and give it a substantial tactical facelift without taking out a second mortgage on the very home you’re trying to defend. Sure, we could have cut corners to make this a $500 project, but we have greater peace of mind knowing we have a reliable weapon system at the ready should bad guys come knocking at (or crashing through) our door.
If you’re converting a field shotgun — like the Mossberg 500 Waterfowl or Remington 870 Wingmaster — into a tactical weapon for your home, you’ll need to select the right ammunition.
Hornady offers a variety of shotgun ammo, including the Critical Defense 00 buckshot. It features Hornady’s VersaTite wad (say that three times fast…then chuckle), which is designed to deliver tighter, consistent shot patterns. For more info, go to www.hornady.com.
Other premium buck load we like is Federal’s LE13200, featuring its FLITECONTROL wad that — like the Hornady shell — gives unbelievably tight patterns. Other reliable self-defense ammo options include Federal Vital-Shok, Remington Express Managed-Recoil, and Winchester Double-X.
The best way to train with your self-defense scattergun is to take it to the range for some dynamic live-fire drills. But first, you’ll need a reliable carrying case. Plano has inexpensive offerings that can fulfill your transportation needs. Take for example Plano’s Gun Guard 400 Series Shotgun Case. It’s 54 inches long with an outer layer made of 600-denier polyester to repel rain, wind, snow, and debris. On the inside, there’s high-density foam lining to protect and envelop the gun. And there’s a gusseted side pocket for storing accessories, EDC items, and other gear.
Its MSRP is only $36, but you can find it even cheaper at various websites. If you’re pinching every penny, Plano also has 300 series shotgun cases for less — minus some of the features like the gusseted pocket or rubber muzzle cap. For more info on Plano’s Gun Guard lineup, go to www.planomolding.com.
If money were no object, we’d blow our wad on the following budget-busters to ensure our home-defense shotgun is even more badass than it already is.
It has a light integrated in the fore-end, eliminating the need for a separate torch and mounts. There are two ambidextrous mode switches (one for constant-on, the other for momentary-on), as well as a selector to jump between 200 and 600 lumens. It has a runtime of three hours. Plus, the ergonomic body is made of lightweight, high-impact polymer.
Model: Over-molded Shotgun Stock and Fore-End
Hogue provides no-fuss synthetic furniture and that trendy black-gun look. Another plus is that the fiberglass-reinforced polymer construction is non-slip and durable. We especially like the cushiony butt-pad.
Brand: Vang Comp Systems
Model: Dome Head Trigger Safety
This safety features a large rounded button that’s easy to find under stressful situations and prevents it from snagging on clothes or other gear
Brand: Viking Tactics
Model: Wide Padded Sling
This comfy sling makes transitions to and from any long-gun a cinch. It quickly adjusts to different lengths, allowing you to use it while employing or transporting the gun.
Model: iSeries 4909 Single Rifle Case
This hardcore case is waterproof and resistant to chemicals, corrosion, fungus, impacts, and UV rays. There’s a rubber over-molded handle for a comfortable grip.
Remington 18.5-inch, rifle-sighted barrel with Nordic Components +2 Magazine Extension
MSRP: $240; Street Price: $228
TacStar Four-Round SideSaddle Shotshell Carrier
MSRP: $36; Street Price: $240
Streamlight PolyTac LED
MSRP: $50; Street Price: $36
GG&G Sling-and-Flashlight-Combo Mount
MSRP: $30; Street Price: $27
GG&G 1-Inch Flashlight Mount
MSRP: $17; Street Price: $10
Butler Creek Comfort Stretch Sling
MSRP: $25; Street Price: $190
Viking Tactics Buttstock Adapter
MSRP: $11; Street Price: $10
Brownells HK-Style Snap Hooks ($10 each)
MSRP: $20; Street Price: $20
MSRP: $429; Street Price: $374
Our used Remington Model 870 Express
MSRP: $225; Street Price: $225
MSRP: $654; Street Price: $599
REMINGTON 870 Express
Barrel Length: 28 inches (18.5 as featured)
Overall Length: 48 inches (38.5 as featured)
Magazine Capacity: 4 (6 as featured)
Weight Unloaded: 7 pounds 11 ounces (8 pounds, 4 ounces as featured)
Price: $225 (MSRP is $411)