The "tactical shotgun" is a very popular build for those who use a shotgun as their primary home defense weapon. Inspired by the trench guns of the World Wars, the tactical shotgun is a great stand off weapon for holding up in a room while emergency services arrive, or clearing rooms in your house and the close yard (if you are properly trained to do so).
An iconic feature of a tactical shotgun is a side saddle to carry additional ammunition on board. One of the disadvantages of a shotgun versus a carbine is the magazine capacity. Even with a mag tube extension, shotguns typically top off at 6-8 shells total. Thats why carrying extra rounds is a popular practice. Bandoliers are a bit overboard in my opinion, as are slings with shell loops. However side saddles are quite popular as they position the shells close in proximity to the action for quick reloads.
Mesa Tactical has been synonymous with rugged and high quality shotgun accessories, often used by Law Enforcement and security forces. Their SureShell line of aluminum side saddle carriers are a popular aftermarket add on for several popular shotgun models, including the Remington 870 / 1100 / 11-87, Mossberg 500 / 590 and 930, and Benelli M1/M2/M4/M1014 and SuperNova. Some SureShells utilize the receiver pin holes, while others use the shotgun's drilled and tapped receiver when an optic rail is wanted.
For my home defense build, I opted for a Remington 870 Express that I could readily swap between a 26" choked barrel during hunting season, and an 18" barrel during the rest of the year. The SureShell comes in handy both in the field and at home, as it works with all types of shells: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. Its even handy for carrying a alternate type of load then what's loaded up, like if your hunting for upland birds and deer at the same time, or rubber buckshot for non-lethal, and 00 buckshot for extra-lethal.
The SureShell carrier is milled from 6061-T6 aircraft aluminum, then bead blasted and anodized with a mil-spec, non-glare finish. It is secured to 870's receiver with a bracket that comes with an adhesive-backed rubber gasket to protect the shotgun’s finish from marring by the carrier's flush screws. Back in my cheapskate days, I had glued microfiber cloth to the back of a TacStar side saddle's bracket. Oh how relieved I was to upgrade to a more rugged and professional solution.
The SureShell shotshell carriers come in three configurations: four-shell, six-shell and eight-shell. The Eight-shell configuration spans the entire side receiver and seemed overkill for my application. The four-shell carrier was appealing as it could be installed on either side of the receiver, just behind the action port if installed on the right side. I went with the six-shell carrier, since my current magazine capacity is six in home defense configuration, and three when its hunting season.
Mesa Tactical also makes SureShell carriers that work specifically with M4 SOPMOD buttstocks using special hardware, and an adapter mount so carriers can be attached to shotguns already equipped with the Mesa Tactical High-tube or Lowtube Telescoping Stock Adapter. The carriers are pretty specific, so the 870 one I picked up wouldn't work on stocks. But if you are the kind of guy who wants to carry an extra 12+ rounds onboard the shotgun, I guess its handy to know Mesa makes that possible.
Mesa Tactical also designed SureShells with integrated rails for certain shotguns with drilled and tapped receivers. So instead of a stamped backing plate, the shell carrier yoke is attached to the top of the receiver, and users can attach an optic to the picatinny MIL-STD 1913 sight rail. Personally, I didn't intend to do any modification to my 870's receiver, and instead use a barrel with rifle sights for use in the home. This keeps the receiver nice and clean for traditional sight picture when trap, skeet, or wing shooting.
One compatibility factor you have to consider is your shotgun's forend. If the forend overlaps the receiver when you rack the action open, then the forend itself may contact the SureShell carrier, and require modification for proper functioning of the shotgun. For instance, if you own a Remington 870 Super Magnum thats designed for 3.5" shells, the factory forend will not come back fully with a side saddle installed. Ask me how I know!
The SureShell receiver mounting system for Remington 870, 1100 and 11-87 shotguns uses a combination of steel fasteners threaded into a steel pin (at the rear) and paired Chicago screws (up front) for more secure attachment to the shotgun without the risk of pinching the receiver. The mounting plate even features a window over the shotgun serial number location, to make it easier for armorers to inventory their weapons.
The shotgun shells are retained inside the aluminum carrier via an elastomer tube that spans all 6 bores of the yolk. When the shells are inserted into the bores, the elastomer provides resistance against each shell. Mesa provides two different stiffnesses, the white tube being stiffer than the black tube. You may want to swap them out based on your preference, or if you find your climate effects the resistance property of the elastomer.
The SureShell carrier is a huge upgrade over the TacStar I used to have on my Remington. Its got no edges to snag on stuff, and only protrudes 1.25" from the receiver. The anodized finish is a big improvement over the shiny plastic as well. The only downside is that if the weather is cold, the shrinking effect can cause shells to fit looser inside the bores. If they are positioned brass down, they could fall out. For that reason I usually insert them primers up when in a cold environment, like sitting in the duck blind in mid January.
Overall, the SureShell carrier from Mesa Tactical is a pricey but worth while for any home defense shotgun. It's a buy once, cry once kind of upgrade that should take the same degree of beating as the host shotgun can withstand.
FIREARMS INSIDER REVIEWS – 8 KEY POINTS
Claim to Fame: The Mesa Tactical SureShell Side Saddle is a rugged, reliable on-gun shotshell carrier
Target Market: Shotgun owners (home defense, security/LEO, hunting)
FNBs (Features & Benefits of this product):
12 or 20 gauge
Elastomer friction retention holds shells in place
Machined from 6061-T6 Aluminum
Hard coat anodized black
Comes with or without a picatinny rail
Mounts via shotgun receiver pin holes or tapped receivers
Compatible with Mesa buttstocks are forends
What other aesthetic options or finishes are available?: available is 8, 6, 4 and 4 shell capacity for 12 or 20 gauge shells
What others are saying?: "Bought this for my Remington 870 Express Tactical. Mounting was very simple and involved removing the two action pins which hold the 870 trigger group in place. The pins are replaced by double ended screws (Chicago screws) that tighten from both directions. These, in combination with a thin rubber adhesive strip allow the mount to fit snugly to the weapon without damaging the finish. They hold on to shells very tightly from either a primer-up or primer-down position. Only difficulty is with the rubber retainer piece. When loading the side saddle, the rubber tends to squish around and twist, making remaining shells a bit tricky to load. If this happens, DO NOT FORCE THE SHELLS IN! This may damage the rubber and deform it considerably. I figured out that if you twist shells while sliding them in, they go in smoothly without binding up the rubber retainer. Knowing that, this thing is good to go! Durable, made of aluminum, and fits well. Definitely would use it on my other shotguns." Amazon User Review
- Comes with two Santoprene® Elastomer tubes for variable stiffness/retention
- Aluminum rings don't wear out like all plastic carriers
- Doesn't cover up the serial number
- Mesa has more replacement Santoprene tubes for free upon request
- Elastomer tube insert can warp if shells are inserted too hard
Score: 7.5 Good