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Let’s get some backstory first:

So I’ve recently came up with the idea of this combat support anti-zombie unit that’s dedicated towards fighting both human enemies and zombies (but mostly zombies (think of these zombies like the ones from The Walking Dead or World War Z (novel), except that they’re capable of going slightly faster and some of them are actually fairly intelligent)). The anti-zombie units mostly operate at the squad and platoon level for ease of maneuverability and speed. At the squad level, the squad is made up of 10 Troopers led by a Sergeant (E-5) and that squad is split into two fireteams each led by a Corporal (E-4). Everyone is equipped with an M16A5 with 20-round straight body magazines (in my world, the M16A5 is a legit rifle adopted by the entire US military).

Now onto my question:

I’ve recently toyed around with the idea of equipping one Trooper from each fireteam/two Troopers in a squad with some sort of shotgun so that they can act in a designated close-quarters combat (CQC) role. I’ve thought about equipping the designated CQC Trooper a Benelli M4 shotgun but I’ve also toyed around with giving them either a traditional Mossberg 500 or a tactical Mossberg 500. Maybe even an M26 MASS.

But would shotguns be practical against zombies? They pack a hell of a punch and seem like great CQC weapons but they’re also added weight since the Trooper who has a shotgun also has to have his or her M16 also (and it’s anti-zombie doctrine in my world to be as fast as possible).

So would they make sense to be issued out?

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    $\begingroup$ Why would they carry another rifle, troopers carrying LMG's don't also carry rifles. Also why not a a shotgun with a proper box or drum magazine. There are also bullpup shotguns if you are really looking for close quarters, you don't want a long gun for close quarters. $\endgroup$ – John May 8 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ I think the answer to this question depends a lot on how durable your zombies are to piercing injuries and tissue/shock effects. A rifle pumping 'modest' holes in a zombie that has to be torn limb-from-limb to "kill" won't be very good, but something like buck-and-ball shotgun ammo youtube.com/watch?v=mA0_XzYvtkU will rip the zombies apart. If zombies behave more life-like, the rifle shot will work a lot better. For close-quarters, don't minimize the value of a larger-caliber SMG with appropriate ammo. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus May 8 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ There must be a reason why you switched from M4 to M16. Would this very reason defeat the use of shotguns? $\endgroup$ – Alexander May 8 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ In your book, are shotguns a superior short-range weapon against a zombie (like they are in many movies)? If not, then why would a soldier carry one? If they are a superior weapon, why wouldn't most soldiers carry one? $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker May 9 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ There is this thing called a keymaster, an under barrel mount for a rifle. Used for knocking off door hinges. could serve the purpose you are looking for. $\endgroup$ – HIGHYIELD May 9 at 22:37

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Exotic shotgun rounds.

shotfun flare

source

Ya, shotguns make holes in the zombies. Regular guns too. Ho....hum.

But it is easier to have shotguns do fun stuff regular guns cannot. Think about Green Arrow. His arrows do everything except stick in people and leave sore bleeding holes when they get pulled out, like arrows usually do. Your shotgun soldiers can be like that! Like Green Arrow himself, I mean.

Your shotgun corps has flare shells, to illuminate massed zombies in the dark. They have noisemaker shells, that land and play Bon Jovi (bass is not that good because speaker is small) and the zombie hordes come check it out, maybe dance a little. Smoke shells to lay down a screen and allow escape while zed stumbles around bumping into each other. Paint shells to mark zombie for zombie tracking scientific investigation. And more!

You have the basics of army fighting zombie fiction with your regular troops. And you want shotgun soldiers because you know it is cool. Your shotgun corps can be the tabasco sauce on your meat-and-potatoes shooting-heads-off-zombie fiction.

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    $\begingroup$ Someone has played Borderlands... $\endgroup$ – barbecue May 9 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ You forgot one of the most ridiculous real-world shotgun shells, the Dragon's breath shell. 1650 degrees Celsius is enough to potentially sterilize the immediate area as well as killing the zombies. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn May 9 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ This is the real deal. They allow to use ammunition for breaching doors, NETS, flares, electrical discharge, pepper spray. They are also easier to maintain if the barrel is smooth. $\endgroup$ – Gustavo May 9 at 20:25
  • $\begingroup$ They do make exploding rifle rounds too. grantcunningham.com/2014/11/… $\endgroup$ – Ryan_L May 10 at 4:14
  • $\begingroup$ but in a post zombie world, HE rounds would be hard to manufacture. $\endgroup$ – HIGHYIELD May 11 at 13:26
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It's good as a room clearer, as per real life

I'm writing this answer based on Word War Z zombie rules. WWZ had a very clear 'one shot, one kill' policy when it came to zombies - you took them out with a clean shot to the base of the skull, and that was it. Body shots are more or less useless, but leg shots are a bit better as they slow them down. Shotguns aren't any better when it comes to this. If both an M16 and a M4 can kill with one shot, then you want the one with more bullets and a faster rate of fire. Go with the M16.

If, however, you're fighting in an urban environment, the situation changes. When breaching and clearing crowded areas, a sawed-off shotgun with maximum spread and kickback would be great for clearing away the zombies - not necessarily killing them, of course, but the knockback from getting struck would send them away. The breaching team would want the first people entering the room to have shotguns at the ready to clear the room.

And, as I mentioned, these are sawed-off shotguns. Both the Benelli M4 and its predecessor the Benelli M3 would be good choices, although I'd recommend the Benelli M1014 variant of the M4 myself, specially modified to have as short a barrel as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ Knockback from bullets and shotguns is primarily a Hollywood myth. Both the shooter and the one shot take the same force from the bullet being fired (actually the target take a slightly smaller force due to various inefficiencies like air resistance). If the shooter doesn't fly back, then neither should the target. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker May 8 at 21:17
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    $\begingroup$ Knockback from pistols is a myth, yes. Shotguns, not so much. You are correct that the force is the same, but the difference is that a shooter is braced for taking the impact to the correct point in his body, not to mention that the gun is also designed to help the process, especially shotguns which have a shoulder stock. A shambling zombie taking a chestful of buckshot isn't going to be sent flying across the room, but it'll kill the forward momentum, which is what you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – Halfthawed May 8 at 21:20
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    $\begingroup$ I was trying to correct the misconception that your readers might get from your line: "not necessarily killing them, of course, but the knockback from getting struck would send them away." To me this implies throwing them back very hard. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker May 8 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ It's a myth for shotguns as well. The reason why it would stop forward movement in real life is because people, uh, react to being shot. Namely by stopping movement because their body isn't functioning correctly anymore, on the account of being shot and all the pain and bleeding. It has basically nothing to do with "knockback". Zombies could very well shrug it off the same as anything else, who knows. $\endgroup$ – eps May 9 at 13:56
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I would imagine that they would be useful in limited capacity like house clearing, but in most cases a short barrelled AR15 platform or pistol calibre carbine would be a better choice.

While the spread of the shotgun is going to be more forgiving for landing headshots under pressure, with the comparatively low capacity of a shotgun and the large number of zombies a soldier would potentially be facing, some 7+1 shots with the Benneli before you're out is not going to last you too long.

Considering that reloading is going to be noticeably slower, they are probably going to swap back to their rifle quite quickly until they have time to catch their breath and reload, in which case you are stuck with an extra 8lbs (plus ammo) you have to lug around.

All the extra weight and hassle for 8 shots of better close range firepower before you have change weapons does not sound too efficient.

Even the M16 is probably overkill in this situation- in the context of fighting zombies, a shorter, lighter rifle allows you to engage targets quicker and carry more ammo for the same weight. Your soldiers probably aren't going to be engaging zombies beyond 400 yards too often, so trading range for speed and maneuverability sounds like a good tradeoff, especially considering they are often going to heavily outnumbered.

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    $\begingroup$ Often going to be surrounded!? I hope you are not the officer planning my antizombie ops! $\endgroup$ – Willk May 8 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ Haha maybe "in a target rich environment" is a better description! $\endgroup$ – Jack May 8 at 19:53
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    $\begingroup$ Given zombies with suicidal mob bent, I would actually suggest support units with longer ranges and higher rates of fire - maybe the SAW. Realistically, you'd drop in a bunch of guys on a roof and peg zombies at longer ranges while a squad went in to achieve a mission. Grenade launchers also very good. Otherwise high powered sniper rifles to minimize ammo use, if that's an issue. Maybe this doesn't fit with the story narrative, though. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus May 8 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ 'Low capacity of a shotgun' There are shotguns with rather large ammo capacities. See for example the Kel-Tec KSG. The base model holds 14+1 2-3/4 inch shells,and they have an extended model that holds 24+1. There are other's too, like the SRM M1216 (16-rounds in 4 tubes) and the AA-12 (32-round drum mag, also full auto). The limited capacity of many shotguns is not really a limitation of it being a shotgun, it's the fact that few people need more capacity. $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn May 9 at 17:21
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    $\begingroup$ @AustinHemmelgarn I don't deny that there are, but these are exceptions to the rule. In terms of all the shotguns that exist in the world, the overwhelming majority are single tube systems, such as the weapons OP specifically mentioned. The question is about the practicality of arming men with shotguns, and weapons like the KSG have never been produced on the same scale as weapons like the Benelli or Mossberg. On the other hand, maybe this unit is fairly small and has access to niche weapons. And the KSG is very cool... $\endgroup$ – Jack May 9 at 18:31
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First, weapons depend on the enemy. Assuming Walking Dead or WWZ type zombies, that kept coming until brain stem destroyed, seems accuracy and knockdown is more important than volume of fire (i.e. zombies do not fear "suppression")

Now to your question: would a shotgun be useful? Yes, but not the Benellis. I was thinking more of a Saiga-12, since USAS-12 is long out of production. You really need a magazine fed shotgun to carry different loads of ammo, from heavy buckshot to solid slugs to more exotic rounds like grenade or tazer rounds. And someone carrying this would be their only long gun, not carrying another assault rifle / long rifle.

Completely aside, IMHO, this type of tactical environment would tend to favor larger caliber semi-auto rifles than full-auto assault rifles. Something like an SR-25 instead of M-16, or even modern M-14 or Mini-14. Of course, this kinda depends on how well the AR platform works against your zeds. If a round still produces headshots that drop zeds, then by all means, stay with the AR platform.

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But would shotguns be practical against zombies? They pack a hell of a punch and seem like great CQC weapons but they’re also added weight since the Trooper who has a shotgun also has to have his or her M16 also (and it’s anti-zombie doctrine in my world to be as fast as possible). So would they make sense to be issued out?

1) They don't pack a "hell of a punch", (https://www.quora.com/Are-shotguns-ridiculously-powerful-in-real-life-as-they-are-portrayed-in-computer-games-and-movies-And-are-they-actually-effective-at-range.) & (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShotgunsAreJustBetter)

I recall it being attributed to rotten.com displaying morgue images of point blank suicides, where at point blank range, the pellets spread a lot of human tissue. (but I can't find the reference anymore).

However this effect only works at point blank range or close range. The birdshot spreads at long range, because its for bird shooting.

However its pretty common in media to use shotguns as per movie fiction as opposed to real life. You could probably get away with it.

2) I would not want to transition between weapons when the zombies are getting in close. Weapon transition drills are hard to master.

3) I assume your squad needs to do a lot of door breaches. Depending on operation, in real life a shot gun could easily be issued to every 4th man, or every 8th man purely for shooting locks off doors. It is 100% worth the weight in modern combat, maybe not for zombies. For current military use (https://www.lightfighter.net/topic/military-shotguns-why-they-are-not-fully-properly-understood-or-properly-applied?page=1)

4) Door breaching shotgun are lighter the ones you selected. (https://cdn.athlonoutdoors.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2018/07/M870-1.jpg)

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    $\begingroup$ "The buckshot spreads at long range, because its for bird shooting." No, birdshot is for bird shooting. Buckshot is used against large land animals (including ones considerably larger and tougher than humans, either live or zombified), and works extremely well in that role. $\endgroup$ – Sean May 9 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for clarifying that, i corrected my post $\endgroup$ – Commander Nirvanah Crane May 10 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also, people don't use birdshot for committing suicide, because it doesn't work at killing humans. $\endgroup$ – Sean May 10 at 20:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Sean a mass of birdshot at the moment it exits the muzzle has as much energy as the same mass of buckshot, so for suicides and accidental deaths birdshot or even blanks work fine. The only time birdshot would not work for suicide is if somehow the suicide is remote-firing a shotgun from a significant number of metres away - which is an unusual scenario to say the least. $\endgroup$ – KerrAvon2055 May 12 at 6:45
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Overall? Probably not hugely practical as a primary weapon, but most likely present as a specialist weapon.

Shotguns have two advantages in this case:

  • They're ubiquitous. Most places in the world that allow hunting allow shotguns for at least some form of that hunting, and it's really common for farms and homesteads to have one in many parts of the world as a means of home defense.
  • They're versatile. Aside from conventional shot shells, shotguns can fire a wide variety of other types of shells. Slugs (effectively turning the shotgun into a small cannon), breaching rounds, LTL rounds (often rubber shot or beanbags, designed for non-lethal riot control), bola rounds (which are generally as stupid as they sound), 'ferret' rounds (chemical delivery rounds designed to punch through light barriers), dragon's breath rounds (magnesium shot that ignites when fired), and that's just listing real stuff I know about off the top of my head. It's not inconceivable that you could make flare rounds, or explosive slugs, or even some other crazy stuff too.

However, shotguns have a number of disadvantages:

  • They are by nature relatively short range weapons. It's unusual to engage anything with a shotgun from more than about 50m away, largely because with anything other than slugs fired from a rifled barrel you're not likely to hit much, and even if you do it probably won't do much damage.
  • For a shotgun of a sufficient gauge to be reliable for what you're suggesting, shot shells are rather space inefficient. You can fit 3-4 rounds of 5.56x45mm in about the same total volume as a 2-3/4 inch 12-gauge shot shell. If we assume a one shot one kill approach, this is huge.
  • They have a higher risk of collateral damage than most other firearms, because they fire more than one projectile.
  • Unlike portrayed in a lot of mass media, they're not very effective at dealing significant damage to multiple targets unless those are small targets, and they don't really send people flying.

Those first two disadvantages are a large part of why usage within most militaries is typically limited to security (where you're usually engaging at a relatively close range and don't expect to need to shoot dozens of targets at a time) or 'utility' usage (stuff like door breaching). They're just not all that good for dealing with large numbers of targets at reasonable ranges.

The first disadvantage is also a huge one when fighting zombies if those zombies are at all contagious or able to move faster than a slow shuffle. The further you are from your target, the safer you are. Given this, I'd take a compact rifle any day over a shotgun as a main weapon, though I'd actually go for something more compact than an M16 for that matter (an IWI Tavor or FN F2000 for example, or an M4 carbine if you don't care as much about accuracy at range) because that will allow for good CQC capabilities without really sacrificing much in terms of range.

However, I do see some value to having a shotgun available as a secondary weapon for at least some of your troops. The weight is actually a bit less of an issue IMO though than the complex logistics of switching weapons (it's bad enough while you're being shot at, imagine having to do it while being run down by hordes of zombies) and the extra space the other gun takes up. That's why stuff like the M26 MASS, the KAC Masterkey, and the Metal Storm MAUL exist, they allow the soldier to carry 'one' gun with both capabilities without needing to switch, and they're far lighter than carrying two guns.

If you subscribe to the above suggestion for compact rifle designs, I could easily see this role falling to either the squad's designated marksman or whoever has the light support weapon (while I'm not certain that a DM would be part of most squads for the purposes we're discussing here, I'm 100% certain that someone will be carrying a LSW/SAW, it's just too useful for fighting hordes of enemies to not have it), as they would have larger weapons with more space to mount such a device.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you rather have some guys in the platoon as a whole (like, six dudes at most, so it’d be two guys/squad and one guy/fireteam) be armed with just a shotgun of some sort along with a sidearm or would it be better to have those six dudes use M16s like everyone else and just have something like a Masterkey or M26 MASS attached to it? $\endgroup$ – user69268 May 9 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ I'd go for the second approach for two reasons: 1. Logistics (it's easier to equip and supply a group with more uniform weapon requirements). 2. Sidearms are a backup, nothing more, and someone with only a shotgun and a sidearm would be very dependent on the rest of the unit for survival (and wouldn't be able to contribute much to fighting). $\endgroup$ – Austin Hemmelgarn May 9 at 23:44
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There are a few reasons to bring shotguns, especially the pump-action variants.

If you are fighting the tough running zombies that don't fall over after a few rounds hit them, a shotgun in close quarters is a good contender. They can rip a lot of flesh off the zombie and even such tough semi-magical zombies will slow down or be incapacitated by such shots. And when your choice is to incapacitate it instantly or after a few shots, you want it instantly. Having less ammo per magazine is a small downside compared to needing more bullets to actually down the target that is trying to eat your face RIGHT NOW.

Pump-action shotguns are also the AK-47's of the shotgun world. Rugged, reliable to a fault and can take a large variety of ammo no problem. The ability to quickly slot in a specialty round manually without having to slot in an entirely new magazine make them quick to modify to a particular situation. But back to rugged and reliable: when you are fighting zombies you never know how long you have to rely on your weapon without maintenance or spare parts, so having a weapon that wont jam and keep functioning for extended periods of time.

If it's really necessary you can use slugs for more range. Of these people are really dedicated to it they might get people to develop miniature discarding sabot rounds for better accuracy and penetration.

But most specialty rounds are kind of limited as they are because of the Geneva convention. You aren't allowed to use explosive-tipped ammo because it causes unnecessary suffering in the target. But for Zombies no such rules exist (I hope), and if you get hit by a 12gauge explosive-tipped slug you can be sure that said zombie isn't going to be walking it off.

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If you are simply grabbing what is available, then a 12 gage pump action shotgun with an extended tube is likely the "go to" for room clearing, CQB and so on.

However, in a military setting, there are weapons which make a lot more sense. If you are looking for a secondary weapon, the M-26 is compact, feeds from a 10 round box magazine and can either be attached to a rifle in the manner of an M-203 grenade launcher, or fitted with a stock and used as its own weapon

enter image description here

M-26 in both configurations

The AA-12 has also received attention from various military units, and fires from both box and 28 round drum magazines. The internal design mitigates a lot of the recoil force, allowing the shooter to stay on target. You can load the boxes and drums with a wide variety of ammunition, from 00 magnum shot to breaching rounds to "Frag 12" grenades (with a useful range of about 100m).

enter image description here

Other possibilities are to use actual M-203 grenade launchers, but issue 40mm "shotgun" rounds. This would be pretty devastating in clearing areas, and the M-203 can also be used for its more conventional purpose, like dropping grenades on targets 400m away, or using it to provide cover with a smoke round, or fire an illumination round at night. Other ammunition include rounds with carry cameras and parachutes, to provide short term overhead viewing of target areas, and various forms of "smart" rounds are being developed as well. If you are really that up close and personal, the regular hand grenade works wonders.

The primary issue with this question is it seems to view warfare, even small unit warfare, as being primarily direct fire engagements like a video game. The most dangerous devices carried by modern soldiers are not rifles, grenades or rocket launchers at all, but radios and target designators. Calling in even 60mm mortar fire (the smallest, lightest support weapon imaginable - really just a strong steel tube) gets far more firepower than even a full dismounted infantry squad. A mechanized infantry squad can also call on the firepower of the IFV, usually machine guns and automatic cannon.

Of course even a dismounted squad has a ridiculous amount of personal firepower (I really don't get why you have this obsession for 20 round magazines, since they were outmoded in the 1960's - every army in the world uses 30 round magazines, and soldiers in combat zones often have chest rigs for at least 10 of these), including rifles, light machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers or recoilless rifles like the AT-4 and so on. Shotguns are usually held by the quartermaster and only issued for breaching teams in urban combat or other special purpose uses.

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I highly doubt it. Shotguns specialize in high spread saturation fire, and if we’re going off World War Z, the only way to destroy a zombie is to destroy its brain. This means that you would need to get a full blast at its head to (hopefully) decapitate it.

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another alternative would be M203 grenade launcher under mounted to the M16. Besides conventional grenades there is a buckshot round the M576.

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  • $\begingroup$ Would you say that it’d be better to have an M203 grenade launcher or a something like a Masterkey? $\endgroup$ – user69268 May 11 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ The M203 can launch a variety of 40 mm Grenades so it would be more flexible and would do much more damage, but the Knight Industries MasterKey uses standard shotgun shells which are easier to find and weigh much less. The M16 / M203 combination does require some training to use effectively. Most people can learn to use a shotgun in a shorter amount of time. You could also look at the M26 MASS for the M16 / M4 or used as a standalone weapon. There are also companies that make under barrel shotguns for a variety of weapons including the AK 47. $\endgroup$ – James Cook May 11 at 17:13

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