This one is a little different than Rifle Selection and Handgun Selection mostly because shotguns are so common and so uncontroversial. No matter what state you live in it is likely that a shotgun is the easiest firearm to get from a regulatory perspective. It also may be the cheapest. It is almost universally seen by the public as a hunting or sporting weapon, and will raise far fewer eybrows than anything else. Even in a socialist paradise like New Jersey.
You can hunt with a shotgun everywhere. Mid length and shorter shotguns are excellent weapons for home and vehicle defense. Shotguns at close range require less training to operate and are much more forgiving of poor aim than rifles or handguns.
Shotguns are measured in gauge instead of caliber, just like a pipe. The gauge is an indicator of the total volume of the shell. 12 gauge is the most common and most versatile. It passes the Wal-Mart test. Where rifles and handguns fire a single projectile, a shotgun shell actually contains a number of small pellets. The higher the number of the shell the more pellets it contains and the smaller they are. 00 buck shot or “Double ought” contains about 9 pellets of approximately .32 caliber. #7 “birdshot” contains a metric shitload of itty bitty pellets. For larger game, like crackheads, you want bigger pellets. They also make slugs, single projectiles, but these are mainly for really large game. Shotgun barrels may be “choked” to alter the spread of the pellets. Some barrels come in one “choke” and that is all they will ever be. Others have removeable choke tubes so you can quickly and easily alter the choke in the field and get the pellet spread you need. That’s too complicated for me. Whatever choke it came with is good enough for down the hallway in the dark.
Shotguns come in all the same action types as rifles. But semi automatic shotguns are less common, more expensive, and less reliable than a comparable rifle. There is even a shotgun, the Saiga, which is based on the AK platform. But I don’t recommend it if you are new to guns or prepping, or if you are on a budget or a limited timeline.
I also would stay away from single shot, and double barrel shotguns. If you hit the real bad day lottery and need to fire a gun then you may very well need to fire it again, and again. So having to reload after each shot is a good way to let animals escape and bad guys kill you.
For shotguns I recommend a pump action. They are the most versatile. Brand really doesn’t matter (though I prefer Mossberg) as all the major brands have plenty of models to choose from and plenty of factory and aftermarket options, and accessories. Barrels and stocks can usually be easily changed to alter the utility of the weapon for different purposes. Want to go dove hunting, put on the long barrel and mote carlo stock. Want to set it up for home defene, put on the shorter barrel, and pistol grip. In fact shotguns are regularly sold with 2 or 3 different barrels for dfferent purposes. All brands will use the same ammo within a gauge. A 12 guage is a 12 guage regardless of who made it.
One last advantage of a pump shotguns is the sound they make. Thanks to action movies virtually everyone in America recognizes the sound of a pump shotgun action working, and knows that it means someone just popped the top on a can of whoop ass.
As always please keep more than 1 box of ammo around, and learn to use the damn thing before you really truely need it.