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Combat Shotgun Basics

Operating a tactical 12-gauge with rifled slugs allows an officer to engage targets accurately at longer ranges.

November 15, 2011  |  by Leonard M. Breure

Of all the basic shotgun skills, stance is one that contributes most to allowing rapid repeat fire. As with the pistol, balance is the primary goal, but because of the far greater recoil, the shooter must generally maintain a slightly wider stance than normal. It is also important that the majority of body weight be on the front foot with the knee slightly bent. The strong-side arm should be perpendicular to the ground, while the weak side arm should be parallel to the ground. Your head should remain erect.

The shooter should have a firm grip on both the pistol grip and the forearm but should not hold so tightly to cause fatigue or discomfort. When holding the slide (forearm) you should be careful not to twist it or the action may bind. Your strong hand should pull the stock firmly into your shoulder. A loose hold allows the shotgun to jump before it makes contact with your shoulder, which adds to the felt recoil.

In many cases, breathing may be heavy due to exertion or excitement. A conscious effort to slow down your breathing or hold your breath during firing will help. You should take a death breath, let it half out and then hold your breath briefly as you squeeze the trigger. At closer ranges, breathing isn't as important, due to the shotgun's pattern size. However, at longer ranges with slugs it is just as important as with a rifle.

On most tactical shotguns, the sights are of two basic types. The most common is the bead sight. This arrangement is simply a bead front sight with no rear sight, although some guns have a grooved receiver that helps somewhat. The second type are rifle sights, similar to those found on most rifles. These add greatly to accuracy, especially at longer ranges with slugs. Recently a new type of sight, called a ghost-ring sight has been developed. These consist of a large aperture peep sight in the rear and a large rifle sight at the muzzle. Ghost ring sights seem to offer the best combination or speed and accuracy for the combat shotgun.

With the shotgun, trigger control is not quite as important as it is with a pistol or rifle, except at extended ranges and involving rifled slugs. A deliberate press of the trigger while proper sight picture is held will give good results.

As with a handgun or rifle, you should complete a proper follow-through upon completing your firing. While still keeping your shotgun shouldered, scan the area for other potential targets. Then return to your initial target. While keeping them covered, reload whatever rounds have been fired. When you are sure the situation has been dealt with, stand down.

The way the shotgun is held or mounted is a major factor in how well it can be controlled. In mounting the shotgun, the strong hand—the one that grasps the pistol grip and trigger—should grip the shotgun just as it would a sidearm. The weak hand is the most im­portant for several reasons. First, the position of the hand on the slide controls how the stock comes up to the shoulder and where the cheek rests. The gun must come up to your head, so don't lower your head to the stock.

The firing positions most often used are strong-side standing and strong-side kneeling. Both of these are effective with use of cover. While it's possible that an individual may be in a position where the prone position may be all that's available, it's an awkward position from which to cycle a pump-action shotgun.

Less effective, but also widely used in the past is the old hip shooting position. If a shooter chooses to use this method he should be aware of a greater potential to miss the intended target even at close range. The tendency to miss even close targets results from most shooters firing with the weak arm bent rather than fully extended. The 'underarm assault' position offers a much greater freedom of movement, a clear field of vision, and a greater degree of accuracy. Here, the stock is tucked into the armpit. From this position, there is more of a tendency to keep the weak arm positioned correctly. It also allows a more natural alignment of the eye with the barrel.

The tactical shotgun can be carried in any number of ways, but for our purposes two will be used. The two positions are "High Ready" and "Low Ready." In the high ready, the gun is presented muzzle up in front of the body with the tip of the barrel at eye level, pointing up and slightly away. In the low ready, the butt is up against your shoulder with the muzzle down and away. Both positions allow rapid target pick­up without swinging the muzzle across a wide area. Both use an economy of motion. Two sling care positions are also used—muzzle up and muzzle down. You should regularly practice from both positions, as a different set of movements are required for each.

For most engagements out to 125 yards, the effective range of the shotgun is determined by the way it's loaded, the quality of its sights, and the skill of the shooter. Generally, 00 buck is used up to 30 yards. It will kill at far greater a distance, but the spread of the pattern could be of concern due to possible inj­ury to bystanders. Rifled slugs, on the other hand, can be effective out to approximately 125 yards but tend to have phenomenal penetration and can cause injury beyond the intended target.

In the great majority of cases, tactical shotguns have no choke or constriction at the muzzle. Choke forces the pellets into a smaller area as they leave the bore, causing them to stay closer together over greater distance. This makes for a smaller pat­tern or impact area. The lack of choke allows buck­shot to spread out quicker at closer range, but becomes a handicap as the range increases. A shotgun with a tighter choke can be used effectively at a slightly greater distance with buckshot.

The old "alley sweeper" concept of an extremely wide pattern is a ballistic nightmare. On the contrary, the longer a pattern holds together, the better.

Shotgun ammunition for tactical purposes is generally limited to buckshot and rifled slugs. In most cases, 2 3/4-inch shells are used, though some guns may be chambered for 3-inch Magnums. Buckshot is available in several size pellets. For example, 00 buck has a diameter of 0.32 inches, and has nine or 12 pellets per shell. Whereas, #4 buck shot is 0.24 inches and has approximately 23 pellets per round. Rifled slugs weigh approximately 1 ounce.

What about the idea that you should load a shotgun with one less round than the maximum. This supposedly allows rapid transition from buckshot to slugs. Theoretically, you can insert a slug into the magazine and cycle the action, ejecting the buckshot in the chamber and replacing it with a slug. Most users would have an extremely difficult time doing this under the stress generated in a life and death situation. An extremely competent operator, with years of training and practice may be able to.

Skill at arms is only one piece of the puzzle. Tactics for the successful employment of those skills are equally important. Under stress, knowledge and decision-making tend to be replaced by a "conditioned response." Training and repetition build these responses. Poor training will result in poor responses; proper training will result in proper responses. It's that simple. Typically, marksmanship isn't the main problem. Most deadly force encounters occur at "across the room" distances. And time is one of the bigger issues. Most encounters last 2-3 seconds.


How To 'Hot Rod' Your Police Shotgun

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Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Frank @ 11/24/2011 8:12 AM

Shotguns are the best defense weapon. I have three shotguns my favorite is my Remington 870 with a duckbill muzzle. This type weapon was a big hit in Nam spreads buckshot horizontally.

Jim @ 11/24/2011 8:19 AM

That was a decent article I guess. The title was Combat Shotgun Basics and that's certainly what it was, the basics. I guess I can't fault the author for that although I really didn't see much in the article that I didn't know by the time I came out of the academy.

One thing did confuse me in the writing however. On the first page the author mentions "If you might need to switch from one type of ammunition to another, load one less round in the magazine than normal. This allows you to switch rounds by placing a shell in the magazine and cycling the slide using the slide release", implying that this is an acceptable tactic. In the second to last paragraph however, he states that this should be avoided since it will be hard to accomplish in a life and death situation. I happen to agree with the second statement. But I'm confused as to what the author thinks. If he advocates it, advocate it, if he doesn't, don't.

Robert Shaffer - Ex LA Co @ 11/25/2011 12:35 PM

Not a bad article. Used to use the Ithaca pump with LA County but in my experience would give it a range up to 50 yards with 0 or 00 buck.

Martin Sonnenfeld @ 11/26/2011 10:01 AM

Because all LE training is extremely concerned with public safety---as it should be---very few trainers refuse to recognize that the shotgun can be effective at distances beyond 20-30 yards because not all of the pellets hit the target which is usually defined as the human outline. In rural areas where there is nothing behind the target besides grass and trees, errant pellets will not preclude me from using the shotgun even if only a few of the pellets hit the target. If all the pellets had to hit a goose to kill a goose, no one would ever take one home.

Alan @ 5/15/2014 10:57 AM

Regarding self-loading shotgun versus pump-action shotgun: a well-trained shotgunner will have no problem, but how many "home defense shotgunners" are well-trained? Shooter-induced malfunctions with the pump shotgun are common on police ranges. The self-loading shotgun is less sensitive to shooter-induced malfunctions. Which is more likely to cause a malfunction: administrative cleaning under stress-free conditions or cycling an unfamiliar action under life-or-death stress?
It's a matter of training. Anybody want to take up the banner of the "simple to use" spear? No moving parts!

Alan @ 5/15/2014 11:03 AM

Where'd you get the "Most deadly force encounters occur at "across the room" distances. And time is one of the bigger issues. Most encounters last 2-3 seconds." If that is from the FBI report on law enforcement officer line of duty deaths, it doesn't really apply to home defense--some of those dead cops were killed with their sidearm still in their holster. How long does a home invasion last? How many intruders?

DaleC @ 6/24/2014 11:59 PM

While I understand the arguments for the pump in the case of a malfunction, here is my argument for the semi-auto. I have fired, literally, thousands of rounds through my Remington 1100 hunting gun, mostly low powered #8/#9 field loads, but a good bit of high-brass #7 and various buckshot loads with not a single malfunction of any kind. I have run hundreds of rounds of higher powered defensive loads through my 1100 Tactical gun without a single malfunction of any kind.

In the, highly unlikely, event that my 1100 misfeeds/misfires/etc, I will drop it and use my 1911. Simple. Given my past experience, I trust the 1100 to cycle more than I trust ME to cycle my Mossberg.

I find it curious that I have never heard anyone apply the same "easy to clear a jam" logic to an AR/Ak that they do to a pump shotgun.

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