The new M&P Model 12 isn’t Smith & Wesson’s first foray into the world of shotguns. The Model 3000 pump-action was a traditional-style shotgun similar to the Remington 870 and manufactured for Smith & Wesson by Howa Machinery, Ltd. of Japan from 1979 to 1986. Smith & Wesson hoped that the Model 3000 would be competitive in the police market, and while it was a decent shotgun, it couldn’t compete with the Remington 870 or the Ithaca 37. But Smith & Wesson has come a long way with its shotguns in three decades, and the M&P 12 stands out as a dependable self-defense tool.
The U.S.-made M&P 12 is built on a bullpup configuration. What makes a bullpup firearm unique — whether rifle, shotgun or pistol — is that its action is located toward the rear of the frame instead of in the center. By placing the action to the rear, the overall length is reduced but the barrel length is retained. For example, the M&P Model 12 sports a 19-inch barrel and an overall length of 27.8 inches compared to the Ithaca 37 with its 18-inch barrel and overall length of 37.75 inches. The 10-inch difference gives the shotgun an advantage in portability and storage.
The 12 is extremely well-designed. The M&P moniker puts it in the Smith & Wesson “tactical” family of guns and, to bolster that connection, the main pistol grip is a standard M&P grip taken from the pistol lineup, complete with four different inserts so that the user can tailor the shotgun to match his or her hand. The vertical pump foregrip is similarly styled.
This is a true ambidextrous firearm that doesn’t require any modification. Ejection and loading occur via the chamber port — located on the bottom of the receiver — and the empties fly downward to the ground as they do out of an Ithaca 37. There are AR-15-style safeties located on both sides of the frame, and both a slide release on the front of the trigger guard and a magazine tube switch can be easily reached.
The shotgun comes with two interchangeable chokes. The cylinder bore choice is already in place and is the one to use if you plan on firing shotshells and rifled slugs, while the modified choke produces tighter groups for shotshells only.
Though some shooters love their unconventional appearance and short overall length, bullpup-type shotguns are so popular because of their superior magazine capacities when compared to a tube-fed pump or auto. This shotgun is capable of carrying a total of 14 rounds of 2.75-inch shells, or 12 rounds of 3-inch magnums. This dwarfs the capacity of any standard-style 12-gauge pump that holds between four to eight rounds (depending on the magazine tube). That is an enormous difference — especially when we’re talking about self-defense.
At the Range
Its configuration made handling and firing the M&P 12 an entirely new experience for me and my buddy Bret. The critical operating factors — the operation and positioning of the safeties, the operation and position of the slide release and the operation of the pump-action itself — were all very familiar to us. The sighting system was also quite familiar. The shotgun comes with a strip of Picatinny rail mounted atop the receiver, M-Lok slots located below both sides of the top Picatinny strip and no sights. For testing, I mounted my trusty Aimpoint Comp 2, which was perfect for this gun, as the sight was at the correct height for a good cheek weld and target acquisition.
I used up my supply of Remington Ultimate Home Defense 12-gauge ammo for this test, which was left over from the work I did on my tactical shotgun book back in 2010. This particular load carries a BB shot payload and is a great load for home or exterior defense. Sadly, it is no longer produced.
Loading the M&P 12 was different than loading any other pump or auto shotguns I’ve fired. Each tube must be loaded separately, and they are located at the outsides of the port instead of directly in the middle like with traditional shotguns. We had some minor difficulty loading the tubes on our first run-through, quickly realizing that feeding the shells straight into the tubes resulted in the shells not firmly catching. However, when we started the shells at a slight angle to the tubes, they went right in, and the process sped up considerably.
We had some minor difficulty loading the tubes on our first run-through, quickly realizing that feeding the shells straight into the tubes resulted in the shells not firmly catching.
The 12 didn’t need any adjustment out of the box, and the Remington loads rang the gong with authority. The patterning was tight even with the cylinder-bore choke, which is ideal for indoor distances and, with the right loads, for outdoor defense as well. Switching magazine tubes upon empty is an intuitive process and quickly becomes second nature.
The M&P 12’s 8.3-pound weight helped reduce recoil, making the shotgun fun to fire. Balance was quite good, and its pump action cycled smoothly. There were no jams during our time on the range.
Due to the bullpup configuration, a couple of other controls are included. There is a load/unload lever on both sides of the receiver — a necessity for safely unloading the shotgun. The switches prevent the user from having to cycle live shells through the action to clear it, which Smith & Wesson and firearms instructors warn against. There is also a button centrally located at the base of the buttstock that allows the user to open the action cover to clear jams.
A Self-Defense Bullpup
Bret and I enjoyed shooting the M&P 12, but if I were going to own only one shotgun, this wouldn’t be it. I need the greater versatility of a conventional shotgun available for sport shooting and animal control on my rural property. But having this shotgun in addition to my conventional shotgun would be great.
If you needed a shotgun strictly for home and property defense, the M&P 12 would be a great choice. It is compact and easily maneuvered indoors, and it can easily be stowed in a tight place, such as a vehicle, boat, RV or trailer. If you wanted to keep it loaded as a less-lethal defensive gun, two magazines loaded with Lightfield Ammunition’s less-lethal defensive offerings would be ideal. (Throw on a laser sight and you compound the pre-existing intimidation effect of the shotgun.)
Backed with a handgun or a partner with a long gun, the M&P 12 may be able to dissuade violent mobs who are threatening you and your home or business. And loaded with any of the current crop of reduced-recoil buckshot loads (Remington’s tight-grouping 8 pellet 00 Low-Recoil load is incredible), the 12 would more than hold its own in a deadly force encounter.
The First Successful BullPup
The Steyr-Mannlicher Armee Universal Gewehr (AUG) — or universal army rifle — was the first commercially successful bullpup. Introduced by the Austrian gun manufacturer in 1977, it was first adopted by the Austrian Army to replace the Sturmgewehr 58 (StG 58). What makes a bullpup rifle so distinct is that the operating system and magazine are located behind the trigger. In the case of the AUG, it has a shorter overall length than an M4, but that does not take away from its overall firepower. The receiver is made of steel-reinforced aluminum and the stock of fiberglass-reinforced polymer, making it extremely durable and lightweight, and the rifle’s modular system permits a user to quickly change the barrel over to one of its numerous options.
While some have argued that the AUG is an awkward-looking and unattractive gun, no one can question that it is an effective and easy-to-operate rifle. The rifle has been adopted by the armed forces of more than 24 countries and numerous police and security forces around the world. It is still produced by Steyr 40 years later.
— Frank Jastrzembski, Contributing Editor