Introduction: How to Build the Ultimate Survival Shotgun

Picture of How to Build the Ultimate Survival Shotgun

As a Survival and Preparedness instructor, I take my line of work very serious – sometimes too serious. Occasionally, though, I like to take on survival projects that are just down right fun. This article highlights one of those projects.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve been able to turn my passion into my profession – this being the study of Survival and Preparedness. I’ve always enjoyed building survival kits of all shapes and sizes. I enjoy the challenge of fitting life saving survival necessities into small compact containers. I’ve built survival kits using film canisters, candy tins, key-rings, boxes, bottles, tubes, bags and everything in between. For this project I decided to build a survival kit using a shotgun platform – creating the Ultimate Survival Shotgun. My challenge was that everything had to be included in or on the gun itself – no extra pack items or containers. Below is what I did as well as the survival logic behind each decision.

Ultimately your survival needs fall into 5 main categories. Your situation dictates the order. They are:
• Water
• Fire
• Shelter
• Signaling
• Food

Every survival kit must include contents that directly or indirectly meet these 5 basic survival needs. The shotgun platform I decided to use is the Mossberg 500 – PUMP. I chose a pump action because it is easier for me to troubleshoot and work on in the field compared to other models. I chose the Mossberg brand because it is a very popular gun and there are literally 100’s of aftermarket modification pieces and parts designed to fit this gun. I knew I would want to add on some of these ‘extras’ to increase ‘survival value’. In this step is a photo of the shotgun ‘off the shelf’ before my survival modifications.

Step 1: Ammunition

Picture of Ammunition

First thing first – the gun itself. A shotgun’s primary purpose is hunting. Clearly, you can use this shotgun as a hunting weapon to ‘restock’ on valuable calories. Humans can go for 3 weeks without food but it’s not fun. Lack of food leads to light headedness, weakness and poor decisions. In a survival situation, meat is the fastest and most effective way to replenish lost calories. Meat comes in all shapes and sizes. Carrying different shot shells designed for different applications increases your chances of a successful hunt.

For this reason, I chose to pack a variety of shotgun shells:
• BIRD SHOT: Designed for birds and other small game such as rabbit and squirrel
• 00 BUCK: Good for turkey and larger game such as deer
• SLUG: Designed for large game such as deer, hog or elk

Step 2: More Ammo + Signaling Flares

Picture of More Ammo + Signaling Flares

In addition to hunting, a shotgun is an excellent self defense weapon. It’s easy to imagine the need for a self-defense weapon in an urban or wilderness survival scenario – defending you or your family from man or animal. Not only is a pump action shotgun a proven deterrent, but it also has some serious knock down power. Because of these 2 considerations (hunting & self defense) I wanted to carry as much ammo on the gun as I could. I filled the magazine and the chamber which holds 7 + 1. I also added a side saddle shell holder and a screw on stock mount shell holder which together extends my total capacity to 19 rounds of ammunition. Not bad at all.

You are probably wondering what the short orange rounds are. These are specialty Signaling Flare rounds designed for 12 gauge shotguns. These flares fire over 300 feet and can be seen for miles. They are the perfect signaling solution to a shotgun survival kit. Not only are these EXCELLENT rescue signals but they can also be fired into a prepared fire pit to start a fire. In survival, multi-use products are key.

Step 3: Survival Knife

Picture of Survival Knife

I know from experience that one of the most important survival resources is a good quality knife. It can assist in almost every survival related task. I found a great 5” Ka-Bar Brand knife designed to mount directly to a picatinny rail. The stock Mossberg shotgun does not have picatinny mounts so I purchased a barrel mount picatinny rail unit. This makes the knife easily accessible for quick deployment. A knife can perform 1000’s of survival tasks including dressing game, cutting wood and cordage, striking a fire steel, digging, scraping, prying, slicing and the list goes on and on. I prefer a larger survival knife but this one will work just fine. I sacrificed size for the seamless integrated mount option.

Step 4: Lighting

Picture of Lighting

Another tool that assists in survival is a light source. Without a flashlight, low-light work or travel can be very difficult & dangerous – sometimes impossible. Not only can a flashlight allow you to be productive in low-light conditions, but it can also be used as a nighttime signaling device. A good flashlight can also help prevent injuries in dark conditions. I purchased a flashlight with picatinny rail holder for the other side of my barrel. The push button switch on this flashlight is also a compass. Now, I have a means to confirm direction as well. This can certainly be useful in any survival scenario.

Step 5: Store Space for Kit Items

Picture of Store Space for Kit Items

At this point I need to be thinking about storage space to house several other crucial kit items. After much consideration I opted for 2 additional modifications which gave me 3 separate storage areas. I first replaced the standard stock with an integrated pistol grip/stock combo unit. The rubber butt plate unscrews and detaches - revealing a generously sized compartment inside of the stock.

In addition, the pistol grip is hollow which allows for more storage.

I went one step further and replaced the pump hand grip with a picatinny version and mounted on a picatinny compatible vertical grip which is designed to store extra batteries.

Step 6: Fire Tools

Picture of Fire Tools

The vertical foregrip makes an excellent area to store fire starting materials. In here, I stored 6 waterproof matches and a striker. I also stuffed in some steel wool and a package of WetFire brand fire starting material. Both of these are excellent fire starting aids even in damp conditions.

Before I started assembling items to be stored inside of the stock, I carved a groove along the top of the stock to fit a blank fire steel rod. I used epoxy to permanently secure this in place. I like the idea of having quick access to the fire steel without taking the time to open a storage area. Using the back side of the Ka-Bar I can strike a shower of sparks into one of my fire starting materials to quickly ignite a fire.

Step 7: Multi-Tool

Picture of Multi-Tool

In the hollow pistol grip I stored a small Gerber Multi-Tool with pliers, large flathead screwdriver, small flat head screwdriver, cross point screwdriver, small knife, nail file and tweezers. All of these tools can be useful in a survival situation. I carved a custom rubber plug for the bottom of the pistol grip from a cheap rubber door stop and spray painted it black. It is a perfect and secure fit.

Step 8: Survival Kit

Picture of Survival Kit

Next I assembled a variety of survival kit items to be stored in the butt stock compartment. To remove the rubber butt plate I use the cross point driver on the multi-tool. Below are the items that I included in this kit and why.

• 4”x6” ALUMINUM BAKING PAN: Available at any grocery store, this aluminum bread pan can be folded flat for compact storage. A metal container is INVALUABLE in any survival scenario. It can be used to boil water which kills bacteria, virus and cysts. Boiling water is a 100% effective method of water purification. This container can also be used for other cooking tasks as well as water collection. The reflective metal also makes an excellent signaling device.
• TRASH BAG: A trash bag has a myriad of survival uses. Some of the most practical are poncho, water collection, ground tarp, make shift shelter, solar still and flotation device.
• FISHING KIT: This kit includes 20 feet of 30 lb test line, 5 assorted fish hooks and 3 sinkers. Not only can these items be used for fishing but the line can also be used as cordage for shelter building, gear repairs or animal snares. Bank lines can be set at night to work while you rest.
• 2 NON-LUBRICATED CONDOMS: By design, condoms are water tight. They make amazing water containers – capable of holding about 1 liter of water each. They are very lightweight and compact and make great back-up water collection and storage containers. They can also be used to protect fire materials such as matches and dry tinder. You can also fill these with clear (but not purified) water and leave them in the sun for 48 hours for UV purification.
• WATER PURIFICATION TABLETS: Boiling water is not always possible or practical. Chemical water treatment tablets are an excellent back-up water purification solution. They weigh virtually nothing and take up very little space. You can fill up a condom with water and use a tablet to purify it. They also have a very long shelf life. Chemical tablets are not very effective on cloudy or dirty water. The water must be fairly clear. You can pre-filter using clothing or a bandana.
• EMERGENCY SURVIVAL BLANKET: These survival blankets are designed to reflect and trap your body heat in a cold weather survival scenario. They also make excellent make-shift shelters, ground tarps, ponchos, rescue signals and fire heat reflectors.
• FIRST AID SUPPLIES (packed in zip lock bag): 3 adhesive bandages, 30 SPF sun block packet, 2 wound closure strips, 2 Ibuprofen pills, 2 Acetaminophen pills, 2 Calcium Carbonate pills
• CARMEX LIP BALM: Not only for obvious reasons, but this petroleum based product can be mixed with natural fire tinder such as cattail down. Doing so can extend burn-time up to 5 minutes which is very helpful in fire building. This is an excellent multi-use product.
• WHISTLE: Even though I have signal flares, a rescue whistle is always a good idea.
• SMALL BIC LIGHTER: This is the easiest way to start a fire.
• SNARE WIRE: Snares can work for you while you are working on other tasks – such as sleep. I’ve included 25 feet of snare wire for building traps. This can also be used as cordage or binding for a variety for projects.

I carefully wrapped most of the items inside of the trash bag for water proofing and then stored everything in the stock storage area. All of the kit items only weigh a few ounces.

Step 9: Survival Saw

Picture of Survival Saw

One tool that I use extensively while on survival trips is a hand held folding saw. It’s not practical to include one of these in this shotgun kit. However, I did incorporate a suitable work-around. A saw is an excellent tool for cutting larger fire wood or collecting limbs & trees for shelter building. I purchased 2 replacement bow saw blades and cut them down to fit the span between the back of the pistol grip and the butt stock sling stud. I added another sling stud to the bottom back of the pistol grip which allowed for 2 anchor points. Using 2 small bolts which I keep in the stock, I can secure 1 of the saw blades on these sling studs – creating a perfect make-shift bow saw. I chose to pack 1 blade designed for wood and 1 blade designed for metal to give me versatility in a variety of survival scenarios. The blades easily tuck into the butt stock compartment when not in use.

Step 10: Cordage

Picture of Cordage

At this point I am still lacking sufficient cordage. Never underestimate how important cordage can be in a survival scenario. My favorite cordage is 550 Parachute Cord. I always like to keep as mush 550 paracord with me as possible. It can be used for all kinds of survival functions from climbing ropes to shelter construction. 550 paracord is comprised of 7 inner strands which can be used independently as well. These lines make excellent snares and fishing line. For this reason, I also added a shotgun sling made from approximately 80 feet of braided paracord. If necessary I can unravel the sling and use it accordingly.

Step 11: Bandana

Picture of Bandana

I finished off the sling by tying on a bandana. I have used a bandana in more ways than I can count while camping and backpacking. It is an incredible multi-use product that I know for a fact would be very useful in a survival situation. Below are just 15 great bandana survival uses:

1. Filter / Sieve for Dirty Water
2. First Aid Bandage
3. Dust/Sand Mask
4. Hat
5. Signal Flag
6. Dew Rag for collecting dew as drinking water
7. Container for collecting berries, fruit, nuts, etc...
8. Cut/striped into emergency cordage
9. Cleaning Rag
10. Neck Gator - Cool Weather
11. Evaporative cooling neck band - Hot Weather
12. Filter for Bush Tea (filtering out seeds, leaves, bark, etc...)
13. Eskimo sunglass to prevent sun blindness. Cut eye slits in the bandana.
14. Trail Markers – strip into pieces
15. Last ditch toilet paper

Step 12: Inspiration

Picture of Inspiration

So there you have it, the Ultimate Survival Shotgun ready for even the worst scenario. It offers multiple solutions for securing food. It offers multiple solutions for collecting and purifying water. It offers incredible signaling devices. It includes shelter building materials and also several ‘fool-proof’ fire building methods. It also includes a knife, a flashlight, 80 feet of paracord, 2 saws and a complete first aid kit.

However, it is still missing 1 very critical piece. Survival is 90% mental. Keeping your morale and spirits high is absolutely critical. Finding your inspiration and motivation for staying alive can get you through even the worst of situations. The will to live is more powerful than any skill or tool you can buy or improvise. I always include something personal in every survival kit I build – an item that might keep my spirits lifted and remind me of what I’m fighting for. It can be anything – a photo of your girlfriend or your family, a song lyric or a motivational quote. It must be meaningful and inspirational to you.

So finally, for inspiration, I had one of my favorite passages engraved on a small metal plate which I affixed to the receiver of this survival shotgun. Now…I’m all set.

Step 13: Conclusion

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Many of the lessons in this project apply to building any kind of preparedness kit for urban or wilderness survival. Basic survival principles apply to almost all survival scenarios. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and have taken something away that you can use in your own preparedness efforts and projects.

Below are a couple videos I did of the final build.

Remember, it’s not IF but WHEN.


Step 14: Resources

For a complete parts and supplier list of all the major components I added to this Shotgun kit, please visit our web-site link here:


CraigR33 (author)2017-02-27

Although we would all like to believe that everyone has common sense the fact remains that some do not. Because of that I will make a common sense suggestion not mentioned in the article.

With regard to the attachable saw blade between the grip and the stock, I strongly suggest that before actually using it that you make sure there is NOT a live round in the chamber. Never know when Murphy or Darwin is going to pay a visit. Just saying...
snorkledorf (author)2016-08-25

'merica! Love it!

sissiboo_smith (author)2016-02-22

They make compressed toilet paper towels now ( I think they'd fit in a shotgun shell case. Anyway, a very useful addition.

jrswords (author)2016-02-01

Hey i heared that they sell adapters for a 12 gauge to shoot bullets like 9mm or even smaller. idk you might be interested for small game and more versatility

soxnation (author)2016-01-24


deanlol (author)2012-07-08

If someone steals this while you're asleep, your screwed. Something about putting all your eggs in one basket comes to mind.

Orbital Melon (author)deanlol2015-04-06

They would most likely kill you anyway...

I would liken it more to making an extra basket with duplicate eggs in it, you could always still carry a more traditional, pack based kit with you.

Cheerfultrout (author)2015-12-31

WOW, great instructable! I really got a kick out of imagining someone lighting a fire with a flare. I thinkbwhat makes this instructable so great is that even if, like me, you probably wont ever make the thing the instructable is actually about, you can come away with stuff that you can use elsewhere, like that part about including something personal in survival kits. Really well done instructable.

NightScrawler (author)2015-12-16

How much does the whole unit weigh with everything loaded and stored?
Weight is my only concern with this build, even though you have pretty much everything you'd need to carry in an emergency. However, in the event that you'd have to carry it for extended periods of time, weight becomes a major issue once you combine it with limited calorie intake.

DanK39 (author)2015-11-21

I did something similar to this a few years back with my Ruger 10-22. I removed the butt stock and placed vacuum sealed packets with an extra 10 rounds of .22 ammo, fire making, water purification, and storage, and first aid and fishing gear in the stock. The thinking was if I am out plinking or hunting rabbits or squirrels, and something bad happens, I have an extra edge. It wasn't meant to be a total survival kit gun, but just some insurance just in case. It is all silicone sealed and I added an additional sling stud to screw through the stock into the butt pad further securing it. it is a good plan.

TwinsC (author)2015-11-10

In the situation as alone in the wood. on my novel "The Killer (Single) Shotgun" I let my hero character to choose and use break action single barrel shotgun as a survival gun. because he can use its as useful, such as to protect or defend and find food. As you know, the shotgun have many type of ammo to pick, buckshot , birdshot and slug. If you learn too much to know your gun as well, you can carry a single shot shotgun anywhere like my hero character. In this story he love to load his gun with birdshot Number 7 1/2 trap pallets.

Hatsan Optima 12 gauge 2 3/4 - 3 SB-P single barrel, break-action shotgun 30 inch barrels ventilated antiglare rib and foldable that is a gun used by my hero character. The Optima's barrel is made with Nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel and fixed cylinder bore. So that in the story my character fire its with cutshell pallet, wax slug and also use as muzzleloader, as better like firing with an ammunition from factory.

ThePaulHammer (author)2015-10-15

If you get a bad wound, you're up a creek without a paddle with this kit. I'd suggest a suture kit be added, they don't take up that much space and you'll be far better prepared for a really bad situation.

Lol that moment when i remember that his name is Creek

GeoffW6 (author)2015-09-11

What was the weight difference from before and after the extra equipment?

Skwurlito (author)GeoffW62015-09-22

That was the first auestion i asked myself. The 500 is a farely hefty weapon without all that gear.

Orbital Melon (author)2015-04-06

Good guide but I think the knife should extend in front of the barrel in order to use it as a bayonet to be quite or in an emergency. Also most water treatment tablets are Chloride Dioxide which reacts horribly with plastics, rubber etc...

Skwurlito (author)Orbital Melon2015-09-22

I agree but it can be moved forward to use as a bayonette.

dhymers (author)Orbital Melon2015-06-28

Depending on the other features a gun has (pistol grip or extra handles) adding a bayonette to a gun that originally wasnt sold with one (pre ban or "curio and relic" eligable) could net you a felony. Be very sure when modifying firearms, do all the research up front.

ScottS34 (author)2015-07-16

Any survival kit should contain - before others - 3 things: first aid kit, machete and a lighter! <a href="">survival enthusiast</a>

Skwurlito (author)ScottS342015-09-22

That depends on the user. I need nothing more than my firesteel and my knife. I can make what else i need.

Skwurlito (author)2015-09-22

I love this idea but it seems this is the only real post on the topic. I have read this post at least six times on various forums. Thank you for choosing the most versatile of firearms for this.

SimonG5 (author)2015-06-04

No instructions for building an actual shotgun, however.

totszwai (author)2011-07-28

When you want to survive, grab a backpack and a sword... Can fit way more into a bag, and you will never run out of ammo. In case of zombie attack? You can cut their head off! :P

But nice video and DIY though, as another poster stated, only possible in US.

dragoonpreston (author)totszwai2011-07-29

Using a gun is much easier then using a sword, there's a lot more to it then just swinging it around.

totszwai (author)dragoonpreston2011-07-29

Wrong. Using any melee weapon is much easier than using a gun. You don't need to aim, run out of bullet, out of range, and misses. How hard is it to whack a melee weapon to a target?

Maybe is easy in the US, since you guys have firing range for cheap and every one in your neighborhood owns a gun, but not the whole world is like in the US you know? Is not easy to fire a gun without training.

I betcha you can run faster with a backpack + any melee weapon than someone with a 5 feet long gun.

onrecess (author)totszwai2011-07-29

Good luck hunting with a sword. By the time you whittle and rig a working bow (if ever) you will be too weak to use it. And that assumes you don't run into a guy with a gun who can shoot you from a nice comfy distance.

dragoonpreston (author)onrecess2011-07-31

That also assumes you can get a real sword that will actually work not just a display item, this is also something most people don't realize.

BigAndRed (author)dragoonpreston2015-03-27

Machette is sort of a sword. most common big knife in the world. no legal problems so long as you're not walking around town with it.

jmccain1 (author)onrecess2011-07-30

ahaha nice

paqrat (author)totszwai2011-08-01

I would agree that running out of ammunition could make the sword the better bet but out of range? I have yet to see a gun with less range than a sword and as to ease of use, if we're talking about the same range at which a sword is effective the gun is not that difficult to use. Point and shoot. And if one has reasonable depth perception one can shoot an opponent before they can get into effective sword range. If I was going to face something like an irate Grizzly Bear I'd much prefer something like the shotgun loaded with slugs. Maybe a ninja could survive such an encounter using only a sword but most folks aren't ninjas.

TaZedPhanTom (author)paqrat2014-04-22

michonne could kill 10 bears at once with her katana.

bethehammer (author)totszwai2011-09-12

The point of the gun is that you dont have to run. Can you out run a bullet? I am pretty sure I can put a deer slug in you before you can get close enough to hit me with a melee weapon.

jessopher (author)bethehammer2012-04-23

He cant outrun a bullet... but he also can't acquire a firearm legally. No matter how persuasive you are... he still cant get a gun. If he can get his hands on some other martial weapon... wouldnt that be preferable to nothing?

autoglassguy (author)totszwai2011-08-25

just so you know.. its kinda hard to miss with a shotgun.. they kind of have a large shot pattern. but i do agree i would have a melee weapon as well as a gun.. but i would probably go with a axe instead of a sword due to the fact that it woould have more uses than just defense.

That One Eegit (author)totszwai2011-08-21

1. Use the bayonet as a melee weapon.

2. The shotgun itself is like a big metal club.

3. You can take the target down 100(s) of feet away from you as opposed to having it 3 feet away from you.

4. The guy without a backpack flopping around on his back can probably run faster.

I can understand not having access to proper training everywhere in the world, but from this guys standpoint, this is the ideal survival weapon.

Ryuk0 (author)totszwai2011-07-30

just to let you know not ever person in the U.S has a real gun but i agree swords are easier to use than guns

jmccain1 (author)totszwai2011-07-30

you kind of do need to aim, if you dont.... you'd miss and the zombie would eat your brains

tinker234 (author)totszwai2011-07-29

a sword and shotgun would work better

didgitalpunk (author)tinker2342011-08-19

or you can invest and make a swordgun XD

you could get a mossberg 590 and affix an m9 bayonet to the end...sword, gun, knife, fence cutter, etc...

tinker234 (author)didgitalpunk2011-08-19

maybe booth a sword and swordgun

totszwai (author)didgitalpunk2011-08-19

Gunblade from Final Fantasy!!!!

didgitalpunk (author)totszwai2011-08-19


Kevin Lincoln (author)2015-01-02

wow can u do this with other guns

uasmmx (author)2014-12-16

Is great see many good ideas together in a single weapon, I want to build one but instead a shotgun (for not breaking the law) I'll use a crossbow, the arrows can be reused several times, even with diferent types of arrowheads.

tim.hall.33449 (author)2014-11-11

Yea and how accurate is that compass. I applaud you creativeness but u have alot to learn

dad_a_monk (author)2014-10-07

Awesome. I did a similar project a few years ago with an 870, buy I like where you took this better. The ONLY thing I would change would be to add a separate compass. That compass on the switch of your flashlight can not be counted on since it has a big hunk of metal below it and worse the negative end of a battery beneath it, in the flashlight, making the compass completely unreliable. If it's removable that would work.

Any time you use a compass, you should have any large source of metal as far away as possible. That's why when I taught survival and land nav, you always sling or hold your weapon opposite of the hand you are taking an azimuth reading with. A weapon like a shotgun or rifle within a foot of a compass will pull the azimuth off by up to 15 degrees which can put you miles off your intended rally point

Cody Shackelton (author)2014-09-21

I don't think you can stab with the bayonet

vladivastok (author)2014-09-15


About This Instructable




Bio: Survival, Preparedness and Bushcraft School located in central Indiana. Visit the blog for more info...
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