Top 5 Bullpup Shotguns
I’ve done my homework on these things and I’m ready to share all of my opinions.
Bullpup shotguns are quirky and eye-catching. They boast a couple of advantages too. In fact, a bullpup configuration naturally suits the role of a tactical shotgun well. A hypothetical home defense situation might demand the need for tight cornering, for instance, and a bullpup shotgun’s length is typically a little over half that of a traditional full-stock shotgun. Perhaps counter intuitively, a few shotguns on this list boast a high capacity (even higher than most traditional shotguns). As a result of their emerging capabilities, bullpup shotguns as a whole are expanding their market share of tactical shotguns. It’s worth noting they don’t sell well to hunters and skeet shooters (which is probably to be expected).
In ranking these guns, I’ve used a typical home defense situation where you would need to shoot buckshot about 10-15 yards away as a metric. Other typical civilian situations seem to be better suited for traditional guns (except maybe simply showing off a new toy).
Also, a disclaimer: All five of these shotguns were very similar in many categories. The distinctions that separate them are very tiny, and so the rankings had to be more subjective than I would’ve liked.
Top 5 Bullpup Shotguns
What Makes it Stand Out
5. Mossberg 500/590 Bullpup
Intrinsic reliability, mitigates recoil, smooth pump action.
18.5" or 20" tactical-length barrel
4. Remington 870 Bullpup Conversion
Reliable, converts in an hour.
Pump grip guard; rails on top, side, and bottom.
Holds 12+1 2 3/4" 12-gauge ammo and 14+1 3" ammo.
Feeds from two different barrels.
2. Saiga 12 Kushnapup Conversion
Can fire one-handed.
1. Kel-Tech KSG Shotgun
Two feeding tubes for 7+7+1 rounds.
5. Mossberg 500/590 Bullpup
The Mossberg 500/590 bullpup edition will start the countdown at #5. These Mossbergs are '80s movie stars, starring in Predator 2, Running Man, and Robocop, probably due to their futuristic appeal. Collectors should be on alert: Their value is set to only rise, because there isn’t anything like them currently being manufactured by Mossberg. (Update: I’ve been told there are bullpup kits out there for newer Mossbergs, and there’s a chance Mossberg will convert an existing shotgun to a bullpup for you.) And, being a Mossberg, they carry a certain degree of intrinsic reliability.
Like reliability, there are more pros that aren’t just superficial. The Mossberg 500/590 Bullpups are good shotguns, too.
- Even though the stock has a lot of gadgetry in it (as with most Bullpups), it does really well to mitigate recoil. This attribute is in part due to being heavy, which could be seen as a con.
- They still boast an 18.5” or 20” tactical-length barrel.
- They are easy to clean and break down for whatever purpose.
- The pump action is smooth and makes a great intimidating (for some too loud) sound, and it comes with a nice grip.
There are, of course, some nitpicky cons that prevent it from being higher on the list.
- The sight is disappointing to me. Admittedly, you won’t need a good sight if the target is close enough. Admittedly, you can change the sight to any one that you wish, if you know your way around a gun. However, I don’t think I’m crazy when I think that a sight doesn’t need to double as a carrying handle. Personally, I don’t value a carrying handle enough to start sacrificing optics. There have been vast improvements in optics since the gun came out in the 80's, so my critique might be a little unfair.
- Annoying and unnecessary grip safety (there’s another safety on the trigger).
- Heavy by any standard.
- Long/heavy trigger pull, although not unreasonable.
- The Mossberg 500 has a low capacity relative to others on this list (5+1), although the Mossberg 590 has a better capacity (8+1).
- High cost because they’re pretty hard to find.
- Ejection port is going to be on the right side next to your face (and literally in your face as a lefty, so lefties can’t use it).
The Mossberg conversions are still good weapons, and there isn't much that separates them from #1 on this list.
4. Remington 870 Bullpup Conversion
Coming in at number four in the countdown is the Remington 870 bullpup conversion. This is a great build, only takes about an hour to convert for the mechanically challenged, and although it’s virtually all plastic, it carries with it the Remington reliability. It's impressively almost 10 inches shorter than a traditional 870.
I haven’t carried out 10,000 round tests on these shotguns myself, but my top bet judging from a random sample of internet comments and intuition is that the Remington bullpup would perform the best on this list. Obviously I’d love to gather data to confirm that, but that’s just not practical to do for me at the moment. Sometimes reliability alone is the most important quality in a home defense shotgun. If you don’t feel comfortable buying a lesser known brand, the 870 bullpup will get the job done. Also, a Remington 870 + the conversion kit + accessories are going to be very reasonably priced at about $750.
Other than a small edge in both reliability and price, the Remington doesn’t really separate itself from the pack much. There were three other small things I liked about it that I’ll mention quickly.
- First, it has a pump grip guard that prevents your hand from accidentally sliding in front of the barrel (which is a potential issue with other shotguns on this list).
- Second, it has rails on the top, side, and bottom for a sight, grip, laser, flashlight, and so on. While rails are an upgrade over the Mossberg, it’s something that I almost come to expect these days.
- Finally, it’s not super fast to reload, but it is faster than others on this list.
There are a few cons, none of which are deal breakers. The most significant of these in my home defense metric is the pump. The pump action is noticeably unsmooth, and this could be an issue with a gun that is already prone to short shucking (see comments—this might have been resolved). The second biggest issue is that it “only” holds 6+1, which is satisfactory, but like the Mossberg, isn’t exceptional. Third, like the Mossberg, its ejector port is on the right side next to your ear no matter what. This is obviously especially frustrating for lefties, but also frustrating for right-handers because of the smoke, noise, and heat that are right next to your face. This might seem inevitable for a bullpup, but we’ll look at a gun later that has a fix for this.
I’ll list the rest of my grievances:
- Takes a long time to clean—requires complete disassembly.
- Only one color.
- No place for a side saddle.
You might notice the Remington has similar problems as the Mossberg. The difference makers for me were Remington’s lightness and rails. Some small edges that the Mossberg has (such as grip and guards) can be bought for the Remington, and the price will still likely be cheaper.
Number three on the countdown is the Turkish UTAS UTS-15. I’m not sure why they didn’t go ahead and just call it the UTAS-15, they were only one letter short. Anyway, it’s a gun that immediately catches the eye (perhaps the word ugly comes to mind, but I prefer the term eye-catching). The UTS-15 has a lot of cool features that makes it and immediate competitor in the bullpup shotgun market. If you haven’t heard of its maker UTAS, you probably aren’t Turkish. I hear UTAS is kind of a big deal over there.
With that being said, it’s not a brand that I would immediately trust simply out of lack of familiarity. As expected, most of the negative comments that I’ve seen have been about reliability. The sources that I trust more seem to agree that it is in fact reliable. Nevertheless, I would recommend trying the gun out as much as possible before buying. Reliability is why I’m timid to rank this gun higher. Well, reliability and these small cons:
- Loud when moving,
- No choice of pump grip. The grip it comes with is frighteningly slippery, especially (potentially) when wet,
- Speaking of that, in my opinion, there isn't enough guard to prevent a hand from slipping in front of the muzzle,
- Like the Mossberg and Remington it only ejects to the right side, next to your face,
- Expensive in that most go for over $1300, and you’re going to need to add a sight,
- Relatively bulky.
Is the UTS-15 an ugly shotgun?
With all of those cons, does it really deserve a high place on this list? I believe so, for two main reasons.
- For one, it holds 12+1 2 3/4" 12 gauge ammo and 14+1 3" ammo. That’s a ton. There aren’t a lot of situations where that isn’t enough to get the job done.
- The second reason compliments the first. The UTS-15 feeds from two different barrels, and UTAS designed a selector switch that allows you to choose which barrel to feed from. Not only is it nice to be able to choose what type of ammo you want, but also you’re given the choice to alternate between the barrels. Also, one feeding barrel is selected and then emptied, the UTS-15 automatically switches to the other barrel. The selector feature is unique and offers quite a bit of versatility in a small package allowing you to potentially choose between two different types of ammunition on the fly.
There are a few smaller pluses as well. The UTS-15 is incredibly light and durable because it is manufactured with state-of-the-art materials. It can optionally come with a built-in flashlight, laser, or an attachable extended barrel. The extended barrel could be handy if you wish to shoot skeet. It wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice for a clay gun, but it might be kind of a fun one to take to the range. It has rails to attach a sight, and like I said before you'll probably need to do that. Lastly, it's easier to reload than the other pump shotguns.
Just as a note: If I hear more sentiment that this is an unreliable gun, it will probably drop to #5 on the countdown.
2. Saiga 12 Kushnapup Conversion
Coming in at second place is the Saiga-12 Kushnapup. I’ll admit I was a bit biased against this gun at first. The finicky plastic look made me think the semi-auto Kushnapup would fall apart or have too much recoil.
My skeptical predisposition was soon lost after witnessing the firepower of this gun. Semi-auto of course is potentially lifesaving fractions of a second faster than pump shotguns. With that being said, I think even professionals are more likely to go through ammo faster with the semi-auto shotgun. This could lead to emptying a clip without adequate and thoughtful target selection. Pump versus semi-auto is a matter of personal preference, and that is probably what determines this shotgun’s place on a top-5 list for a reader.
As a side-note, whereas normally with semi-autos you have to worry about occasional faulty cycling (and no exception with this gun), I’ve seen pump Bullpup shotguns short shucked a lot too. I’d assume the Saiga-12 will reliably cycle with the right choice of ammo. I’d also assume the Bullpups wouldn’t be prone to short shucking once the shooter is familiar with the gun, and so I didn’t really let those things factor into my list.
The Kushnapup is undoubtedly a fun gun. There's not a whole lot of kick, and you can fire it one handed. Rich mavericks (or pretenders) might potentially try to dual wield two of these babies, but again, the ejector port is on the right side, which is troublesome. The one handed thing has been known to come in handy in a firefight because hands are sometimes at a premium. If one arm is shot, if you have to open a door, etc. it will come in handy (don't think that I've been in that sort of situation, but it makes sense).
There are a couple of more notes that I'd like to share with you.
- The capacity of the gun is low, but can be improved by buying an extended clip. Drum magazines don't work particularly well because with the bullpup configuration the feed is farther back; hence the drum magazine is gaudily sitting on your chest.
- There are sight rails, and you'll need a sight if you're accustomed to shooting traditional builds. Also, there isn't an easy, straightforward way to add a flashlight and a laser. The grip isn't optional but the one it comes with is satisfactory and ergonomic.
- Lastly, the Kushnapup conversion at times can be hard to find and acquire.
And with that, we move to #1.
1. Kel-Tech KSG Shotgun
The KSG is Kel-Tech's first shotgun, and it sets a good standard for Bullpups. I must admit I get a little swoony over it, so I ask that you bear with me.
The KSG started as a curiosity for most gun owners but it has earned some enthusiasts since it came out in 2011. Unfortunately, demand is high and they have gotten very pricey. One might have to be patient for the prices to come back down. Here is my take:
- Finally we come to a Bullpup that ejects downward, making it 100% ambidextrous. This wouldn't be such a big deal if the conversion kits and UTAS were more accepting of lefties, but when comparing it to other guns on the list downward ejection seems like a luxury.
- Also, at the range the KSG is more pleasant simply because there is less heat and smoke in your face.
- You want capacity? You have capacity. The KSG can hold 7+7+1 rounds, meaning it has two feeding tubes that hold seven rounds each and of course you can chamber a round. Like the UTS-15, this means that you can have 7+1 rounds of one type of ammo and 7 rounds of another, and quickly choose between each whenever you desire. Also, there's a handy slide release on the trigger.
- What really sets the KSG apart for me however is its lightness and compactness. There isn't a shotgun off the top of my head that I would rather have in tight corners or spaces. It doesn't look or feel like it should have 14 round capacity or an 18.5" barrel. Thus it is a true representation of what a Bullpup shotgun should be.
- It looks pretty sexy. The most similar gun, the UTS-15, is bigger than the KSG but I don't like the feel as much, and you don't get anything (except for a selector switch mode) that the KSG doesn't offer. There are pictures of the KSG everywhere for good reason.
- It's also pleasant to have rails. Like any of these Bullpup guns, if you're used to shooting traditional shotguns you'll probably have trouble at first. The KSG can be fitted with any optics you desire to fix this problem, and you can add things like a grip guard and other accessories to the bottom.
If I had to complain I would say that it's awkward to reload because the feed is so far back on the stock. However, I haven't seen a Bullpup that really solved this problem except for the Saiga with a magazine feed.
I would also complain that once a feeding tube is empty you have to find the selector switch and switch to the other tube or reload. This could be costly in the heat of action, although 7+1 is pretty good if you just count one barrel.
Lastly, the MSRP is pretty cheap in the $800-900 range, but they're hard to find so they will probably go for much more than that ($1500 plus or minus $500).
The overall package is just a fun and reliable shotgun. When the KSG is laid out on a table next to other guns, it's hard not to pick it up first. Hopefully Kel-Tech will come out with another model and/or there will be more shotguns like it in the future. For a first gen model, they knocked it out of the park.
Thanks for reading, be safe, and I hope to come out with some more weapons hubs in the near future. Suggestions welcome!