Airsoft shotguns – we love them.
Big, intimidating, and capable of peppering your opponents with BBs when up close and personal, there really is nothing like using a good quality airsoft shotgun in an airsoft game.
They’re also quite different from your average airsoft gun, not only in their looks but also in their use and handling.
As such, before running off and picking up the latest and greatest airsoft shotgun, it pays to do a little research and understand what these airsoft guns are all about, how they work and when best to use them.
To help out, we put together this guide that dives into airsoft shotguns and can serve as a good introduction so that you can more effectively decide if buying one would be right for you.
Why choose an airsoft shotgun over, say, an SMG or carbine?
The question that a lot of airsofters have when it comes to buying and using an airsoft shotgun is why not just buy and use a carbine or SMG and call it a day?
After all, airsoft SMGs and carbines are also compact and good for indoor/CQB games, and they tend to be easier to repair, upgrade and customise compared to airsoft shotguns.
Well, there are a few reasons.
Easy spread of fire
The most obvious reason you might pick up an airsoft shotgun and not just use a carbine is the same reason you might pick up a shotgun in real life – the spread of fire.
Much like their real steel counterparts, airsoft rifles, SMGs, pistols and carbines, regardless of their rate of fire, all tend to fire BBs in a more or less linear path, that is, one BB after another at the same target.
To hit multiple targets in an area, users have to then begin swinging their airsoft gun in a side to side, sweeping motion…assuming they have an automatic mode.
With a single pull of most airsoft guns’ triggers, several BBs are released from the barrel that expand outwards in a triangular manner.
As a result, while their fire is far less accurate, they can quickly and more efficiently fill a small area with BBs and ideally hit multiple targets.
More unique experience of handling
Another reason you might be interested in an airsoft shotgun over an SMG and carbine is that they tend to have a very different feel and handling.
While most airsoft SMGs and carbines tend to have little features here and there that make them interesting, like the MP5’s very slappable charging handle, broadly speaking they tend to operate somewhat similarly.
Load a magazine, disengage safety and fire.
This is especially true of carbines, which are essentially shortened versions of full rifle models.
Airsoft shotguns, on the other hand, like their real steel counterparts, tend to operate a little differently.
With forestocks to pump, breaches to open, shells to insert and more, there’s a lot of manual actions that make using them a more unique experience during a game.
As such, they can add a lot of novelty to an airsoft game and be a fun break from the usual M4 running and gunning.
Finally, there is something to be said about the intimidating factor of an airsoft shotgun.
Much like airsoft LMGs, shotguns are large, hefty and deeply ingrained in our collective psyches due to their prevalence in pop culture.
Turning a corner and suddenly coming face to face with someone holding a large shotgun is an experience that can unnerve even experienced airsofters and can give the holder a slight advantage.
What styles of airsoft shotguns are out there?
As with any other airsoft gun type, there are lots of different types and models of shotguns represented in the airsoft world. Most commonly, however, you’ll tend to find:
Usually pump-action and with a full stock, semi-curved pistol grip and internal tube magazine, classic style airsoft shotguns are what most people picture when they think of a hunting or sporting shotgun.
Airsoft models in this style tend to be quite long (40+ inches/1000+ mm) and often come with imitation or real wood trim.
Likely the most popular classic style airsoft shotguns are replicas of the classic Remington 870 or Benelli M3 Super 90.
Tactical & defense
While many may find the classic style of shotgun aesthetically pleasing, their longer frames aren’t always the most practical for airsofting (or for police or the military or home use, for that matter).
Tactical and defense airsoft shotguns tend to be shorter barreled and often come with pistol grip attachments, making them far more maneuverable and easier to use in CQB and indoor games.
These likely make up the bulk of airsoft shotguns on the market.
In keeping with their “tactical” nature, many of these airsoft shotguns have more aggressive styling, often offered with polymer furniture and rail attachments for the easy addition of various optics and accessories.
Unlike with real steel shotguns, sawed-off airsoft shotguns are freely sold to users.
Sawed-off shotguns are designed to be highly compact at the cost of…well, everything else.
Contrary to popular belief, sawed-off shotguns can come with stocks, pistol grips and other creature comforts. To be considered a sawed-off airsoft shotgun, there really is only one rule: a replica has to have a barrel of less than 18” (the legal definition of a shortened shotgun).
That said, most sawed-off airsoft shotguns tend to follow pop-culture representation and tend to come without stocks, which can make them harder to brace and rack (if pump action) and harder to aim and fire accurately.
A bullpup shotgun, much like other bullpup guns, has the action located behind the trigger, rather than in front. This allows the gun to have a longer barrel but still be quite short overall.
For a variety of reasons, including the fact that they are more expensive to manufacturer, require longer trigger linkages, and are generally very different to use, real steel bullpup shotguns are few and far between, and consequently so are their airsoft replicas, cool as they might look.
Are Airsoft Shotguns Really only for CQB Games?
Airsoft shotguns tend to have a reputation, or even a stigma, of being a CQB-oriented weapon, whose overall use to a player is therefore limited.
The reality is that while airsoft shotguns can be quite good for close-in games, being able to spray a few BBs into a wider area and (hopefully) get multiple hits at one time.
However, better quality airsoft shotguns tend to have decent performance and many are able to reliably hit targets at 100-150 feet out or more, meaning they can actually be used indoors and out.
Similarly, for longer games, sawed-off spring versions can also make handy secondaries as they don’t require batteries or gas to keep going.
Sure, while they’ll never replace a DMR or a well-tuned AEG or GBBR in terms of performance at range, they can be a lot of fun, highly unexpected by your opponents and can be especially useful if the terrain involves wooded areas and cover.
Airsoft Shotgun Shot types
Generally speaking, airsoft shotguns have two shooting styles – single shot and tri-shot.
Single Shot Airsoft Shotguns
Single shot airsoft shotguns are pretty simple and generally work like most other airsoft guns.
They have a single inner barrel and hop up, and when loaded, a single pull of the trigger launches a single BB at some speed towards the target.
The main advantage to these is that they are pretty simple and can give airsofters a shotgun look and feel during a game, even if functionally they resemble a single action airsoft rifle.
In other words, you’re looking at pretty much no spread.
Tri-shot shotguns are designed to mimic the action and spread of shot of a real steel shotgun by letting users fire off three BBs at once with a single pull of the trigger.
The way these usually work is that these airsoft shotguns typically use a system of three inner barrels attached to a hop up. When fired, a BB (or a couple) enter into and are propelled out of each of the inner barrels, launching a volley of BBs at a target as a single blast.
Tri-shots tend to replicate the action and blast of a shotgun quite well but have their obvious disadvantages as well.
The most obvious problem is that more barrels means that there are more things to go wrong.
Airsoft shotguns are notoriously hard to fix due to the fact that they aren’t really easily disassembled and there are often very few available parts for even recognized brands.
As a result, if one of the barrels breaks you’re usually out of luck.
Similarly, because they tend to use one hop up for three barrels, cheaper models can be prone to feeding issues, launching fewer or more BBs somewhat randomly.
These are built much like tri shot airsoft shotguns, with three barrels, but have a selector switch that will allow them to send 1 or 2 BBs down each barrel per cycle of action.
This effectively gives them selectable 3 and 6 round functions.
Wadded Shot Shotguns
Fairly rare in the airsoft world, airsoft shotguns that use wadded shot shells are essentially single-shot shotguns that are configured to use a special type of shell.
These shells are made up of a plastic container that is loaded with 12 or so BBs and covered with a circular piece of paper to hold them in.
When the shell is fired, all the BBs are ejected at once out of the single inner barrel and at the target, looking and feeling very much like a real shotgun shell.
Shotgun Loading Styles
There can be a few ways that an airsoft shotgun loads BBs, and each method has its own relative pros and cons.
Shell loading Airsoft Shotguns
By far the most unique, fun and realistic ways that certain airsoft shotguns load, airsoft shotgun shells act like little magazines that are shaped like real steel shotgun shells.
They have hollow compartments that unscrew and are filled with a certain number of BBs, typically 30 or so, and are then inserted into the shotgun as they would be in real steel versions.
When the shotgun is racked and/or fired, a certain number of BBs are fed through the hop up, into the inner barrels and then expelled.
Unlike real steel shotguns, most airsoft shotguns don’t expel their contents in one go, but rather fire off 1-6 BBs at a time from the shell’s reservoir.
As such, much like a regular airsoft magazine, each shell is good for a few shots, rather than needing to be replaced after every shot.
There are generally two kinds of shell-loading shotguns:
- Shell non-ejecting – the majority of airsoft shotguns are shell non-ejecting, meaning that shells stay in the airsoft shotgun after firing, and are removed manually when empty.
- Shell ejecting – much as the name implies, as the shotgun is cycled (pumped, levered etc), the shells fly out the ejection port, giving them a very realistic action (and usually commanding a high price as well)
Magazine loading airsoft shotguns
Some airsoft shotguns feed very much like a regular airsoft gun, that is through a magazine.
Users load a magazine up with BBs, insert it into the shotgun and BBs are pushed up the feed tub and into/out of the inner barrel.
With magazine loading shotguns, you don’t really get the full experience of using shotgun shells and there are, of course, the same feed and fit issues to look out for as with any other airsoft magazine (more, probably, due to the lack of quality control on many airsoft shotguns).
On the other hand, some do come as mid/hi-caps and can hold more BBs than shells, meaning you don’t have to fumble around as much in game finding shells to reload, which can be a little more practical in game.
And if you’re interested in HPA tapping a shotgun, you’ll probably want a magazine anyway (which is generally why they sell M4 adapters for certain, better made airsoft shotguns).
Airsoft Shotguns Action
As with real steel shotguns, there are generally a few kinds of actions you’ll see on an airsoft shotgun.
A pump action airsoft shotgun looks and works (somewhat) similarly to a real steel pump shotgun.
The replica’s forestock has a little handguard on it that slides back and forth, or pumps. Each time the shotgun is pumped, a BB is loaded into the inner barrel(s) and is ready to fire.
Due to their iconic status in pop culture, hunting and with military/security forces, these are probably the most common style of airsoft shotguns around.
Far less commonly found than pump actions, and mainly seen on historical or film replicas (as seen in Terminator 2, for example), lever actions have a hinged cocking handle integrated into the trigger guard that, when pushed forward, loads a BB into the inner barrel(s) of the shotgun.
Although their action can be a little slower than pump actions, levers can be kind of cool. Unfortunately, they are quite rare and finding a well made model can be even rarer.
Likely the rarest airsoft shotgun type, break actions are usually what most people think of when they think of old-school hunting shotguns, and are most commonly seen on real steel double barreled shotguns.
Break actions are usually gas airsoft shotguns where the outer barrels of the gun are hinged and flip downwards when opened, allowing users to load or extract shells from the back.
In these guns, the shells themselves are filled with gas and when tapped and upon pulling the trigger, empty their contents at once and release a salvo of BBs into their target, much like a real steel shotgun.
While not the most practical airsoft shotguns on the market, they are classics and kind of cool.
Types of Airsoft Shotguns
|Simple, reliable||Requires a bit of muscle power|
|Usually less expensive||Not a lot of sound or feel|
|No need for gas or batteries||Slower rate of fire|
Many airsoft shotguns out are spring-based.
As the name might imply, spring powered airsoft shotguns are powered by a spring located towards the rear of the shotgun body.
The action of the shotgun (pump, lever, etc) tightly compresses the spring and, when the trigger is pulled, the spring launches forward, shoving the airsoft shotgun’s piston forward in the cylinder, compressing the air located inside.
Released through a nozzle, this air launches a BB out the barrel and at your target.
This relatively simple and mechanical action makes spring airsoft shotguns fairly reliable. There is no need to worry about gas, seals, batteries, motors, gearboxes, or really anything else other than a spring and the mechanism to compress it.
It also helps keep the price of an airsoft shotgun replica down, since there’s no need for a lot of extra parts.
And, unlike gas, the spring action is relatively unaffected by changes in weather. These things tend to fire pretty much the same, regardless of whether it is cold or hot outside.
All this makes spring powered airsoft shotguns an interesting consideration, particularly if they are going to be used as a secondary, a dedicated CQB airsoft gun or for those just dipping their toes into the world of airsoft shotguns and who want to go cheap at first.
On the downside, they do require a bit of muscle to use and how fast they can fire tends to depend on how fast you can work the action.
Finally, because of their spring-based action, lower overall weight and lack of good sound or really any feedback, they do tend to feel a bit more like a toy than gas-based models, which can bother some players.
That said, if you do decide to go for a lower end airsoft shotgun for whatever reason are probably best served by selecting a spring powered version, as there is simply less to go wrong.
|More authentic sound and firing||Replicas can be more expensive, need to buy gas|
|Can play with different gasses||Some airsoft shotguns may be overpowered on gas for indoor use|
|Typically faster ROF, better overall performance||Gas affected by weather|
|Easier to use physically|
The other main type of airsoft shotgun is gas powered.
As with traditional gas powered rifles and pistols, these use compressed gas (typically Green Gas) that, when the trigger is pulled, is released through some valves to send a BB hurtling out of the barrel.
Generally speaking, gas airsoft shotguns tend to run on Green Gas or duster (although there are models that run CO2), which is probably best given their more indoor nature and the fact that they’re not always built well enough to withstand higher pressure gases over time.
That said, more adventure players are certainly welcome to try, although results will probably vary.
Compared to springs, gas shotguns are a lot easier to pump, deliver a faster rate of fire (since they don’t rely on physical strength as much) and, like other gas airsoft models, tend to skew towards a higher FPS.
Also, in contrast to spring-power, they tend to be a lot more fun and realistic to use, giving a little bit of recoil and a nice sound when fired.
In terms of their day to day operation, there are actually a few ways that gas shotguns can be filled/refilled with gas.
Many airsoft shotguns have a gas reservoir built directly into the gun (in the stock or in the grip for example) that holds a given quantity of compressed gas. The gun then has a nozzle that users use to fill or refill the tank as necessary.
The main advantage of this setup is that users don’t have to constantly buy gas cartridges, and can more easily play around with the tank’s quantity of gas/compression if they want to lower the FPS.
They also can be a little easier to switch to HPA.
On the downside, this method of holding gas does make the gun highly dependent on the reservoir being tightly and properly sealed, and some models can be prone to leaks, which essentially makes the gun an expensive paperweight.
As with other gas airsoft guns, there are those that run on replaceable gas cartridges that are inserted into the gun and are good for several shots.
This setup can be a little more familiar to airsofters, and makes the shotgun a little less dependent on quality control. It also makes reloading faster, as users can quickly swap gas canisters as they run out.
On the downside, it does mean you will need to buy canisters periodically and typically canisters won’t allow you to fire off as many rounds per fill as a larger tank.
Finally, some airsoft shotguns hold their gas in special shells.
An interesting choice, these shell gas systems add a little more realism to the airsoft experience, as (much like real steel shotgun shells) the charge and BBs are located in one place – the shell.
It also means that should a leak or other issue develop, you can remedy the situation by replacing or repairing a shell rather than the whole airsoft gun, which can save a lot of money.
On the downside, it means that shells are most often proprietary to the gun, raising the cost of ownership by quite a bit.
What about Electric?
While most other airsoft guns have an Automatic Electric model (AEGs, AEPs, etc), these are largely conspicuously absent with airsoft shotguns.
In fact, there are only a handful of Automatic Electric Shotguns (AES) out there, mainly produced by Tokyo Marui.
And while certainly devastating on the field, and awesome to use, they are quite expensive.
As we mentioned earlier, shotguns do have a different mechanism of action compared to rifles and pistols.
There is usually a manual component to their use (pumping, levering, breaking the breech open, etc), and this doesn’t readily lend itself to an automatic electric system without ruining a lot of the experience of using a shotgun.
Secondly, to replicate the scattering effect of a real steel shotgun, most airsoft rifles use multiple inner barrels.
Feeding several inner barrels in semi or full automatic would require a unique motor, gearbox and hop up system that, to be reliable, would need to be proprietary to a multishot set up, meaning they couldn’t easily be reused in other AEG production models.
This would be expensive to develop and not necessarily worth the cost for most airsoft manufacturers given the more niche nature of airsoft shotguns compared to traditional AEGs.
Additionally, the more moving parts and complexity of such a system would require a good deal of investment in quality control, which given the lower overall number of shotguns sold compared to M4s and AKs, just isn’t worth it for most companies.
In fact, this is largely the reason that automatic shotguns aren’t really all that prevalent in the real steel world either. Their increased complexity, greater cost and difficulty of maintenance make them less attractive to shotgun users.
Which brings us to the final reason you don’t see a lot of electric airsoft shotguns – without a lot of popular real steel automatic shotguns there just isn’t as much demand in airsoft, which is largely based on replicating the look of actual guns.
What are we looking at in terms of FPS or power?
Like other airsoft guns, airsoft shotguns come in all FPS ranges.
There are low powered, 200 FPS and below versions that can be appropriate for countries with very low legal FPS limits or for more casual use and games.
There are airsoft shotguns that fall in the 250-350 range, making them ideal for indoor and CQB games where there are stricter FPS limits for safety reasons.
Finally there are airsoft shotguns that rival more traditional airsoft rifles, hitting 400 FPS or more.
There are a few things to consider with FPS and airsoft shotguns.
While it is perhaps natural to reach for a high FPS shotgun to blast your opponents with, keep in mind that most fields you’ll want to use them in (CQB, indoor) have stricter limits on what FPS they’ll allow.
Secondly, chronoing a tri shot airsoft shotgun can be a little tricky.
Firing three BBs into a chrono chamber can mess with the device and give wildly high FPS readings (well past 800 FPS in some instances), and the most common solution (loading a single BB) tends not to be all that accurate as there is escaping gas/air from the remaining barrels.
For that reason, most experienced fields either have their own way of figuring out if an airsoft shotgun is safe to use, or don’t bother altogether.
This should be something to clarify ahead of time before showing up.
What are the Range Characteristics Airsoft Shotguns Shoot?
Due to their intended use, airsoft shotguns are most at home at the short to mid range, under 100 feet (30m), where their spread allows them to maximize their hits.
That said, better airsoft guns (especially single shotguns) do have the power and relative accuracy to hit larger targets at the 100-150 foot range.
The factors that most limit the effective range of most airsoft shotguns are:
- Fixed hop ups – most airsoft shotguns out there don’t bother with adjustable hop ups, meaning you can’t really adjust the backspin to increase range and accuracy
- Lack of proper sighting – many airsoft shotguns come with very basic, not always that well-designed sights to aim with
- Lack of stock on some models – mostly an issue that affects sawed-off versions, a lack of stock can make it harder to aim an airsoft shotgun effectively for distance
- Many use cheaper internal components that don’t perform well for distance and are hard to upgrade
- Many models use very short, poorer quality inner barrels
Overall, while certainly not meant to be precision tools, airsoft shotguns can be used close in and at some range if you’re willing to work for it.
What are some problems that are common to airsoft shotguns?
Shotguns, being built differently than other airsoft guns and occupying something of a niche in the airsoft market, tend to have certain issues that plague them.
They’re not known for their quality control
It’s no secret that the bread and butter of most airsoft manufacturers are rifles, SMGs and pistols.
Being something of a niche product with a different build and a lower price point, manufacturers (not all, but many) tend to put less effort into overseeing proper quality control when it comes to their shotgun lines.
As a result, many models are sold with feeding problems, poor fit and relatively less durable components compared to better selling (and more commercially important) AEG and GBB rifles and pistols.
They’re hard to repair and modify
Unlike other airsoft guns out there, more often than not, airsoft shotguns aren’t really easy to open and repair or modify.
Built to be sold at a lower cost, they are often glued together or have a lot of screws holding them together, and their internals aren’t always put together with the greatest care and may break apart when played with too much..
Similarly, while there are a lot of airsoft shotguns out there, there aren’t always as many OEM or aftermarket parts to repair or upgrade them with.
As a result, when things go wrong it’s often easier and less costly simply to buy a new one.
Quality control lags behind airsoft rifles and pistols
Airsoft shotguns simply don’t sell as well as airsoft rifles, SMGs and pistols, and as a result many companies don’t exert as much effort or expense in making sure their quality is as consistent.
As a result, many airsoft shotguns have developed something of a poorer reputation for quality compared to other airsoft gun types.
Supply often lags demand on well-made versions
As a niche product in the field, many airsoft manufacturers don’t produce as many shotguns in a given quarter as they do M4s, AKs and other models they know will sell.
As a result, when the community finds a shotgun that is well made, fun to use and effective, it tends to sell out quickly and may not restock for some time.
Shotguns occupy something of a niche in the airsoft world.
Although not always the most practical option, with unique handling characteristics and ammunition they can be an interesting addition to an airsoft collection and a lot of fun to use as part of a casual game.
That said, they do have some quirks to them and it pays to learn a little bit about them before you make a purchase.
Will Martin – Will has been into airsoft and paintball for well over 10 years, and has done it all – from upgrading and fixing gearboxes as a tech to building custom airsoft loadouts for his friends to supporting off those friends as a DM.