Some are saying that the shotgun is making a comeback in recent years. Others say that its popularity never waned, so a “comeback” is hardly necessary. For nearly 150 years, shotguns have held a special place in the hearts of many shooters and hunters all over the world, and I feel this is doubly true for Americans. This post will explore the disappearing niche of bolt action shotguns, often considered to be a classic slice of 20th century Americana.

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For some decades now, it seems we’ve all been enamored with the ever-expanding universe of the AR platform and all its derivatives. Obviously, I dig it too, and have written about it extensively.

It’s a great weapon system, it is adaptive and versatile, and it serves its purpose. I can see why shotguns have taken a back seat to the host of AR-style rifles which have been dominating the scene (yes, I know I’m exaggerating a bit).

With the proliferation of various competitions (3-gun and cowboy action shooting come to mind), shotguns are back in the game big time – even if it is your contention that they weren’t there beforehand.

More people than ever are getting into the spirit of shooting for pleasure. Incidentally, bolt action shotguns would not be allowed in cowboy action shooting competitions, since the rules of the event only permit use of weapons that are compatible with the era. Lever and pump shotguns are usually the ones that are used.

On a personal level, I feel these competitions are awesome. They emphasize the use of firearms within the context of a friendly and non-deadly sport. This is in complete contrast to viewing firearms as nothing but purveyors of evil and woe, and a constant point of national controversy.

I mean come on: dressing up in a 19th-century getup and competing in ‘Fastest Gun in the West’ activities? Frontier fun!

Alright, so let’s get into it. What’s the story behind bolt action shotguns?

Bolt Action Shotguns

As mentioned, this design came after the time of the mythological Old West. Join me now as we journey to the 1930s – the time of the Great Depression, Dust Bowl farmers, and celebrated engineer and firearms manufacturer Oscar Mossberg. In 1933, Mossberg designed, invented, and subsequently released the first prototype bolt action shotgun.

We’ll talk more about Mossberg later on in this article because the company he founded in 1919 has a place of honor among gun manufacturers by and large, and among shotgun manufacturers in particular.

The bolt action itself was already in the market for years, but it was being used as a rifle system more than anything else. In 1824, the first bolt action rifle appeared on the scene, but it was only a century or so before that mechanism was used to cycle shotgun shells. It is not the most sought-after action for a shotgun, it’s true. Some consider the bolt action shotgun to be a rarity at best, and an obsolete, dang-near-useless firearm at worst.

M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System

Between the 1940s and 1970s (or so), bolt action shotguns were fairly common. Many young shooters received a .410 bore or 20-gauge bolt action shotgun as a starter gun. Although I have to say, learning how to shoot while using such a firearm is probably more awkward than many other choices.

Bolt action shotguns often required more skill to handle and they came with no bells and whistles, but they could be counted on as a serious piece of hardware.

Plus, the price of a bolt action shotgun was cheaper, making it a go-to for those who didn’t have much to spend, or who simply wanted something to keep behind the door for the purposes of security and safety.

Manual actions tend to be cheaper and more reliable, whether we’re talking about a pump, a lever, or a bolt – and even lovers of semi-auto actions will agree there are instances where a manually-operated shotgun is preferred to a semi-automatic one.

That said, semi-automatic shotguns are becoming more reliable with each passing SHOT Show, or so it seems, and they are quickly closing that gap (if any still exists). Granted, you could have a high-quality semi-auto which seriously outperforms a low-quality manual action in terms of reliability, so the simple fact that it is a manual action is no guarantee for superiority.

In the course of shotgun history, there have been some popular bolt action guns, though most of them have since been discontinued. These include models by Browning, J.C. Higgins, Marlin, Mossberg, Stevens, Western Field, and more. Some of those companies or brands aren’t even around anymore, but you can still find their firearms for sale at various gun shows and auction sites.

Marlin Model 25MG

In recent years, Savage Arms brought the bolt action shotgun back from the dead, sort of, with its 212 and 220 series. These are two groups of 12- and 20-gauge bolt action shotguns, which until now were only available for purchase by special order directly from the manufacturer.

In the spring of 2019, however, the company decided to change things around: they made the series more widely and readily available, and let any Savage Arms dealer place an order for the benefit of customers all over the country.

The bolt shotguns of yore may be considered archaic, but there are companies which still produce firearms in that configuration.

Bolt Action Shotgun 12 Gauge

Savage Arms’ decision to open up the channels of distribution was done in conjunction with the introduction of two new turkey guns to their successful series of bolt action shotguns, which itself has been around for almost a decade.

The 212 series includes 3 firearms:

212 Slug212 Slug Camo212 Turkey (new for 2019)
Savage Arms Model 212

Savage Arms 212 Turkey Specs:

Action: BoltCaliber: 12 GaugeCapacity: 2-Round Mag IncludedOverall Length: 44”Barrel Length: 22”Weight: 7 lbsMSRP: $779

20 Gauge Bolt Action Shotgun

Savage Arms’ 220 series includes:

220 Slug220 Slug Camo220 Slug Compact220 Slug LH220 Slug Stainless Camo220 Turkey (new for 2019)

As previously mentioned, this caliber (alongside the .410 bore) was in high circulation. People were training their kids with those gauges, though according to some of the anecdotes floating around, learning on such a firearm was a real pain in the butt. I actually started off with AR-type rifles and handguns and didn’t fire a shotgun until I was a bit older.

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Savage Arms Model 220

Savage Arms 220 Turkey Specs:

Action: BoltCaliber: 20 GaugeCapacity: 2-Round Mag IncludedOverall Length: 44.5”Barrel Length: 22”Weight: 7.5 lbsMSRP: $695

When they began toying with the idea of a bolt action shotgun, Savage Arms wanted to provide the public with a shotgun that closely resembles a rifle platform. Something shooters would be able to get behind without much of an adjustment.