When size does matter...

By Thomas T. Hoel, Tactical Advantage

So called “short barrel” shotguns have been around seemingly forever, in several different guises. The time honored act of cutting the barrel(s) on a shotgun to make it more adaptable, or even concealable, goes back at least to the days of the Old West. In most instances though, it was done to break-action single shot (or double barrel type) guns as the breach mechanisms and magazine sections of repeaters made shortening the barrel(s) past certain points difficult.

Even in modern times, the shortest repeater type actions rarely lowered the barrel length below approximately 12.0”, due to the need to accommodate the factory action system. The resulting barrel length was simply a function of where the need to preserve the action components stopped. A Remington 870 for instance, can be cut to 12.0” and still utilize the normal factory pump-action, and remains far handier than the stock length barreled gun. Even with a pistol-gripped stock installed, at that barrel length it is hardly “concealable” in the normal sense of concealed carry of a handgun type weapon. Break-action shotguns, either single or double barrel versions, can be cut to bare minimalist dimensions, and with careful working of the pistol grip stock shape can easily approach the dimensions of a large handgun....the highly modified gun carried by Antonio Banderras in the movie ‘Desperado’ is a classic example. But in the end you still are only going to have 2 shots, at a maximum. If only a repeating-type action could be adapted to preserve it’s inherent larger ammunition capacity.......

The Serbu Super-Shorty AOW grew out of a specific request by a friend of Mark’s, David Prall, a true AOW lover with a fetish for bizarre and obscure AOW’s. Dave had requested Mark to build him “... a really short repeat action AOW”. Once challenged Mark eagerly went to work on the problem. For Mark Serbu, President of Serbu Firearms, Inc. and chief designer, this was more than just a joking matter. His new ‘Super-Shorty’ AOW is an amazing piece of engineering minimalism. It is also a most remarkable firearm. Since this was to be transferable as an AOW status weapon, fully transferable on a NFA $5.00 Tax Stamp, Mark had to choose a factory shotgun host weapon that had come from the factory originally equipped with a pistol grip stock. Both gas-operated and recoil-operated actions were eliminated for specific mechanical reasons of desiring the utmost in simplicity, and the fact that none of these host guns are currently offered from the factory without a full stock. As such, they could only be transferred as a NFA registered short-barreled shotgun, not an AOW, despite any shortening modifications done. So a pump action became the natural choice remaining, and the current number of factory guns coming this way can be counted with a couple fingers.

So sticking with the other original goal of making the conversion economically attractive as well, Mark selected the Mossberg Model 88 Maverick home defense shotgun in 12-gauge as the host weapon for the conversion. This is an excellent weapon with a time-proven action and well manufactured from high quality materials. The receiver is made from aircraft grade aluminum alloys with a steel breech mechanism. The barrel is made from ordnance grade steels. The weapon’s safety button is located ahead of the trigger guard, in easy reach of the trigger finger.

Mark’s conversion entails remanufacturing the entire front end of the host shotgun. The receiver and internal action parts are stock, with the exception of the action slide bars which Mark remanufactures into the customized configuration by shortening and welding them onto the new cocking handle mount. Serbu Firearms has a full-capability manufacturing shop completely equipped with CNC manufacturing centers, which Mark and his employees use to produce most of the conversion parts in-house. All conversion parts, whether made in-house or contracted, are manufactured on CNC machines using materials which are appropriate for their purpose. The cocking slide is made from 1018 steel, as is the new custom barrel lug. The new vertical cocking handle and mounting lug are made from 4130 ordnance grade steels. The cocking handle itself is beautifully CNC checkered and attaches to the mounting lug via a pull-down type spring-loaded catch. It pivots down and locks into the extended position with a very firm and satisfying ‘click’. All conversion parts are joined by TIG welding, and the welding job looks extremely professional and cosmetically pleasing. The new barrel lug is welded to the underside of the barrel and is attached to the shortened magazine tube by a 5/16” allen screw, providing a very strong attachment point for the vigorous cocking actions this gun will likely endure. The original barrel is shortened to 6.5”, extending fractionally ahead of the new barrel lug. When the conversion is complete and all parts forward of the receiver are completely assembled and welded, the entire unit is bead blasted then manganese phosphate parkerized to a pleasing flat, dark grey finish. This is a MIL-SPEC finish and should endure quite well for years. The Parkerizing blends well with the black anodized factory finish of the receiver. As a finishing touch, Mark laser engraves the catchy Serbu Firearms logo on the receiver side. When converted the AOW measures only 16.5” overall. The altered magazine holds two shells, either 2 3/4”, or 3.0”. This capacity combined with one shell in the chamber gives the Super-Shorty the capability of discharging 3 attitude-adjusting surprises as fast as the action can be pumped!

The host Maverick is shipped from Mossberg with a normal full pistol grip stock. While other AOW shotguns may employ a more horizontal Birds’ Head grip, this grip is intended to work in conjunction with the new vertical slide operating grip that Mark installs as an integral part of the conversion. We had initially wondered whether this nearly vertical factory pistol grip was ideal for control reasons, as other short BBL AOW’s in 12 gauge had become much more pleasant to shoot when the Birds’ head type grip was installed. To our surprise, when using the two handed shooting stance that is intended with this weapon, the combination of the two vertical grips lends a great amount of control to this weapon. It also causes a most natural shooting stance as the hands are configured in a strong gripping position, which also lends to the natural motion of cycling the slide mechanism between shots. The Deluxe version of the Super-Shorty ships with a silver-soldered-on stub front sight, though this is mostly cosmetic; in our mind by it’s very nature this is a point-and-shoot weapon intended for instinctive point aiming.

With the forward hand gripping the slide handle only about 13.5” in front of the rear hand (when cocked), it is quite easy to master a natural cocking stroke by simply drawing both hands together after each shot, then extending them until they stop. There is no need to divert the eyes from the aiming point when doing this, it is an instinctive action to close the hands together, and then draw them open when they are so closely positioned. And since this is a point-and-shoot weapon anyway, having the eye-to-hand coordination so closely aligned enhances the instinctive pointing nature. Bringing this gun into action from under cover, and to bear on a target at the intended engagement ranges is even more natural than using a handgun. For most people, the slide cocking hand is usually controlled by the master eye, and swings instinctively where the eye leads it on target; follow up shots are merely the result of quick hand motion while the master eye keeps the end of the gun aligned without conscious thought. With the cocking handle extended, the gun is only 7.5” tall. The Super-Shorty AOW may be fired with the vertical cocking handle in the fully folded position. Also, the action may be cycled with the handle in the folded position, though leverage is considerably reduced when used in this fashion, and if not careful the rear of the cocking handle may impact the front of the receiver. We only recommend cycling the action with the cocking handle fully extended and locked in place!

Aimed shots, while holding the front sight up into the line-of-sight, are actually more difficult than instinctive aiming. With such a short overall length, and with both hands so close together high in front of the face, the gun must be held out at arms’ length to gain a reasonable sight picture. It is simply a matter of getting used to, but very acceptable shot patterns can be had out to reasonable distances. The only problem with holding the gun in this manner is that the arms tend to be forced to absorb all the recoil forces, whereas held low in front of the body allows more of the body mass to help counter the stout recoil of such a short BBL weapon. There will of course be those who just have to try and shoot it like a normal handgun, one handed and fully extended, though they will be quick to remember that this is still a shotgun! Recoil when fired in this manner can be described as....stout, even with game loads. Aiming in this fashion is probably only realistic out to 5 feet at most, and to fire in this manner defeats the purpose of it being a pump action repeater! We tested our demo Super-Shorty with several common ammunition types, in order to gain a wide-ranging opinion of it’s capabilities, and manners. Over two field sessions we tested 2 varieties of buckshot loads, and four commonly available field loads as follows. On the first expedition we loaded and fired several magazine tubes each of:

-Winchester WW12D,

No. 7 1/2 shot, 1 oz. shot, 3 1/4 Dram equiv.
-Winchester WW12P, No. 6 shot, 1 1/4 oz shot, 3 3/4 dram equiv.
-Remington HV12-6, No. 6 shot, 7/8 oz shot, MAX dram equiv.
-Winchester XS123, T shot, 1 1/4 oz shot, MAX dram equiv., 3 in. magnum

As expected, recoil forces increased as either shot weight or powder charges increased, though for all practical purposes the Remington HV No. 6 shot provided the most ‘pleasing’ combination, and one we could essentially shoot for several boxes without any discomfort. While some would balk at contemplating using anything less than a “buckshot load” in a shotgun for self defense purposes, it must also be remembered that with this weapon, engagement range is measured at a few feet at most. As such medium range shot sizes, such as 4 and 6, in front of a common field charge would provide ample performance!

To explore the upper realms of usefulness, we then explored two common true buckshot loads. Firstly we chose the very popular Federal H132-OO; a OO Buck .33cal, 9 pellet load in a 2 3/4 in chambering, their “Tactical Buckshot Load”, which is actually a reduced charge loading compared to normal hunting loads. (This round is widely sold to LE Agencies for their duty guns) It provided a definitely enhanced effect, with considerable recoil though still manageable. The effect of those 9 pellets at 5 feet is devastating. With the field loads we could easily ‘strong arm’ the gun during the recoil effects but it became clear that when firing even these reduced charge buckshot loads a well-balanced stance was necessary to help with recoil control. The Super-Shorty, though, remained well-mannered, with maximum recoil displacement being a sharp upward transition of the muzzle. A controlled return to point-of-aim while cycling the action to load the next round was completely under control and rapid. The gun is, of course, cylinder bore, so shot patterning will be expected to expand quickly from the bore. Patterning with this load was tested at 3, 7 and 10 feet, with maximum shot displacement at 10 feet patterning in an elongated upward right side deflection approximately 9”. Serious engagements would likely occur under this range and as such the patterning of this load is quite acceptable for defense purposes. Extensive practice with this weapon using buckshot is highly recommended. (We contemplated having the chamber back-bored to ease the recoil loading, and the barrel could be adapted to a screw in choke system, though it is doubtful if this would increase the overall effectiveness of the weapon at longer ranges due to the inherent sighting issues and required firing hold.)

The last load we tested was the Federal P156-OO; a OO buckshot .33cal, 12-pellet load, 2 3/4in chambering listed as a magnum MAX dram equiv. charge. This shell was clearly too much power to recommend it for serious shooting in such a light, short weapon. It was fun for a round or two, but recoil forces quickly bit into the web of the rear hand and caused the sliding cocking handle grip to become difficult to cycle easily as the rear hand was badly out of position when trying to immediately cycle the action. In terminal ballistics, the difference between the Federal Tactical buckshot loading and this one would not be noticeable at the intended ranges.

To summarize, the Serbu Firearms Super-Shorty AOW shotgun is an amazingly well conceived, highly concealable weapon. It has legitimate self-defense capabilities, and is surely one of the most striking looking firearms available today. It is one of those weapons that just oozes personality and calls out for attention!

While we only tested the original 12-gauge chambering, the Super-Shorty AOW shotgun is currently available in both 12-gauge and now 20-gauge, which is probably even a more desirable chambering considering the gun’s physical size envelope. (The 20 gauge model is built on the Mossberg Model 500 action, but is identical in all other aspects.) Retail price for the standard model is $675.00, the Deluxe version with front sight installed and with sling swivels is $725.00, priced the same in either chambering. Either version transfers on a $5.00 NFA Tax Stamp.

Serbu Firearms, Inc.
6001 Johns Road, Suite 144
Tampa, FL 33634

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N6 (March 2001)
and was posted online on August 1, 2014


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