One key to effectively using a shotgun is to understand its limitations or zones of engagement, which are broken down like this. A Zone: There’s little or no patterning because of close proximity, regardless of the load used. From contact distance out to about 5 or 7 yards. B Zone: This is the optimum engagement zone, where the full pattern effect is realized. As patterns open up, combat effectiveness starts to fade, and pellets missing the target can be a liability. The B Zone is generally from 7 to 15 yards. C Zone: This is where the pellets starts to miss the target, and a single projectile— meaning a slug—is desired. You need to establish where your pattern strikes with regard to your sights, and you must know how your shotgun patterns at various distances.
Anyone can load a shotgun and shoot it dry. It’s keeping the shotgun up and running that makes the difference. Remember, when things go bump in the night, the ammo that’s in or attached to the shotgun is usually all you’ll have available. Considering many shotguns have a low ammo capacity, it’s paramount that you develop the skill of loading as you go. So, if you shoot two, load two.
Know how to put your shotgun “to sleep.” That is, place it in the proper condition when it’s not in use so that if it’s needed, you can deploy it with minimal effort. The cruiser-ready position—the way shotguns are kept in police vehicles—is the most popular. In this condition, the shotgun has a fully loaded magazine, an empty chamber and an activated safety. To deploy the gun, cycle the action and deactivate the safety. Because of legality or children in the home, keeping the shotgun unloaded might be prudent. This is easily negotiated in a hurry. With the action open, speed-load a round from your sidesaddle into the chamber and follow with a tactical load into the magazine tube.
A sidesaddle is a great way to keep a combat load or extra ammo with your shotgun. Most will hold up to six shells, and it’s a good idea to mix the load with buckshot and slugs. Store one type of ammo with the brass up and the other with the brass down so you can identify each without looking. An alternative is to put all the shot loads in the sidesaddle and all the slugs in a butt cuff.
Learn to load a shotgun correctly. Orient the shotgun in a safe direction or toward the known threat. Place the butt on your shoulder or under your arm. Maintain a combat grip with your shooting hand, reach up with your support hand and remove a shell from the sidesaddle. Cupping it in the palm of your hand, between your thumb and little finger, come up underneath the receiver and roll the shell into the chamber. Close the action, grab another shell and feed it into the magazine tube. Repeat until the shotgun is fully loaded or one short.
Why load the magazine tube so it’s one shell short? Simple. If the situation calls for a C Zone engagement where you need a slug, you can load a slug into the magazine tube, cycle the action and engage with the proper ammo. This is called the “select slug” drill. If the tube is full, you will have to fire the shotgun or cycle the action to make room for the slug you want to load.
Don’t stop until it’s time to stop. When the threat is out of the fight, you should scan with the muzzle depressed at the low-ready, looking for other threats, friendlies, an exit or cover. If there’s nothing else that needs to be taken care of, set your safety and tactically reload the number of rounds you just fired into the magazine tube.
You might consider avoiding folding stocks. They’re not user friendly or comfortable to shoot. They have their place for certain applications, but for most purposes, they can be problematic. Make sure the stock is not overly long, except for folks with long arms or necks. In most cases, a fighting shotgun stock should be an inch or maybe 2 inches shorter than the stock on your deer rifle.
A sling to a shotgun is what a holster is to a pistol. It becomes necessary in case you have to transition to a handgun or for other reasons. You might need to use both hands to do something other than shoot. You don’t want to have to set your shotgun down or ask the bad guy to hold it while you call 911 or change your soiled underwear. Stay away from slings that double as ammo bandoliers. They add way too much weight, and they’re cumbersome and kind of silly.
Extended magazine tubes are a good idea. They make loading the shotgun one round short less critical. Remember, any shotgun suitable for home protection will not have a high ammunition capacity. Still, try to avoid those added-capacity magazine tubes that extend beyond the shotgun’s muzzle.
Dedicated weapon-mounted lights are highly encouraged. Rule Four at Gunsite is to always be sure of your target, and most dangerous encounters occur in diminished or low light. You cannot and should not shoot what you cannot see. But remember, weapon-mounted lights are not for searching your home—they’re for threat verification
Optics are becoming very popular on defensive shotguns. However, the market is flooded with cheap knock-offs. The ones that can withstand a five-day course at Gunsite—such as those from Aimpoint, Trijicon, Eotech and Leupold—are the ones to look for. They are quick to sight and allow for precise slug shooting at distances. At Gunsite, participants shoot to 100 yards with slugs. Good hits can be accomplished with ghost-ring sights and even just a plain bead. But shotguns with red-dot sights are much more consistent.
When most shooters think of Gunsite Academy, they envision defensive handgun training. It’s true that when Colonel Jeff Cooper settled the Gunsite Ranch in Paulden, Arizona, and started the American Pistol Institute in 1976, his focus was on the defensive handgun. However, as Gunsite grew, defensive shotgun training was incorporated into the curriculum. In his 1998 book “To Ride, Shoot Straight and Speak the Truth,” Col. Jeff Cooper wrote, “To be used most efficiently, the shotgun requires certain technical and training factors that are not widely understood.”
He was correct then, and that axiom remains true today. Too many—including some police officers—shun shotgun training. That’s partly because of recoil and partly because, for most, it’s just not as fun as pistol or carbine shooting. A shotgun can be a practical, effective home-defense weapon, but you must know how to use it, and you have to know its limitations. Here’s a look at 12 technical defensive shotgun training tips, straight from Dave Hartman, Gunsite Academy’s training director. Pay attention, as your life could depend on it.
Seek some professional training on properly using your defensive shotgun. Gunsite Academy offers the three-day 260 Shotgun course for $ 1,160. People who complete that course can take the two-day Advanced Tactical Problems course for $805 or the one-day Shotgun Range Day for $175.
- RELATED STORY: 10 Double-Barrel Shotguns That Deliver Instant Defense
And remember, when you figure out your defensive shotgun, the defensive mindset is next. The gun is useless if you don’t perceive the threat. Don’t get caught in Condition White.
This article was originally published in “Ballistic” Summer 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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