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Don’t Dump the Pump Shotgun

Just because you have an AR in the trunk doesn’t mean that your trusty 12-gauge is ready for the scrap heap.

January 01, 2007  |  by R.K. Campbell

There was a time not so long ago when the pump-action shotgun was known by another name. It was called the “police shotgun.” Back then, the standard equipment in every patrol car included a 12-gauge pump. Today, many agencies have dumped the pump shotgun in favor of the patrol rifle. And I think that’s a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the patrol rifle. I think it’s an essential tool for officer and public safety. I want you to have a patrol rifle. It’s just I don’t want you or your department’s brass to throw away your scatter gun just because you have a rifle.

True Stopping Power

Why should you keep your shotgun in addition to your new M4 or other patrol rifle? It’s an intimidating and powerful weapon, that’s why. The presence of a 12-gauge shotgun and its gaping maw of a barrel can stop a bad guy in his tracks because he knows what a close-range blast can do.

The wound capacity of a load of double-aught buck shot (essentially eight .33-caliber rounds) is so devastating that 12-gauge shotguns are the tool of choice for professionals who must neutralize dangerous animals quickly without bothering to aim. When a commercial fishing boat hoists up a large and angry shark onto its deck, you can bet that the first mate will reach for his shotgun. When an animal handler at a zoo or circus sees that a big cat is about to attack, likewise he will reach for a shotgun.

And you know why? Shotguns don’t require precision and they are fearsome weapons at close range. I have examined wounds from pistols, and sometimes they resemble bee stings. Of course, the wound channel inside the body is bigger, but from the outside it’s sometimes hard to find the hole. In contrast, shotgun wounds are often horrific in their level of trauma. I’ve seen some that look like shark bites.

If you don’t believe that a shotgun is an excellent man stopper, consider that the eight pellets in your typical 12-gauge 00 buckshot shell tend to do some interesting things when launched in anger. For example, when fired at close range, they typically travel in pairs or in clumps into the body of the target. This effect rends organs and causes massive shock and blood loss.

Deadly Accurate

Outside the typical range of close-quarter battle, shotguns can still be very effective. Spread patterns of shot fired from a typical 12-gauge pump make it more likely that you will score a hit on a moving target. Of course, the effective range of a shotgun is much shorter than that of a rifle. That’s both good and bad. Shotguns are not a good long-range weapon. That’s absolutely true. But they also don’t create the overpenetration concerns that rifles do.

At pistol distance, shotguns are much more accurate than handguns. Shotguns offer a three-point attachment, yielding excellent stabilization. Also, the stock configuration fits the human body very well and offers something of a natural point.

This does not mean that a shotgun doesn’t have to be aimed. Far from it; a shotgun must be carefully aimed. No police agency can accept careless, un-aimed fire. Police shotguns must be aimed and load centered for best results. And the hit potential of an aimed shotgun is considerably higher than that of a handgun or rifle.

Don’t believe me that a shotgun is more accurate in the hands of most cops than a pistol? OK, try this test.

Under time limits, have officers of various skill levels fire at reaction targets or targets that involve some type of motion. You will find that your officers score more hits with the shotgun.

Pump-Action vs. Semi-Auto

There was a time when almost every recruit in the police academy had some knowledge of shotguns, especially in rural and suburban departments. After all, the pump-action shotgun was the sporting weapon of choice for many hunters and weekend shooters.

Today, trainers have a little harder time teaching recruits how to use a 12-gauge pump. And it’s not just because fewer recruits have trigger time with a scatter gun. I think the real reason is the fact that most recruits and even in-service officers have only shot semi-auto weapons.

When they pull the trigger, they expect any weapon they shoot to chamber another round like their trusty Glock or M4. So after they shuck a round into their 12-gauge and fire it, they expect it to keep running. It takes a little work to teach them to pump the shotgun after every shot.

You might think that the solution to this problem is to adopt the semi-auto shotgun for police duty. But I think this is a bad idea. An intensive training session with the pump-action shotgun will teach most officers how to handle the weapon under stress. And semi-auto shotguns are not the most reliable firearms, especially when they are abused as much as a police shotgun.

That’s not to say that all semi-auto shotguns are junk, far from it. Some are great guns. But they are also great guns that need a lot of care. And that makes them less than suited to police duty. Po-lice shotguns often spend a lot of time locked in the rack or in the trunk without maintenance and without lubrication. Pumps can take that abuse, but semi-autos can’t.

Another reason semi-auto shotguns aren’t great for police work is that they are based on sporting designs, and they don’t like any ammo other than sporting loads. They just simply won’t cycle with specialty munitions that are often deployed by police shotguns.

A Very Basic Weapon

The pump shotgun is still a very useful police weapon. Its versatility is unmatched as both a lethal and less-lethal ammo launcher.

Shotguns also meet one of the greatest needs of all contemporary law enforcement long guns: They don’t overpenetrate. The pellets fired from a 12-gauge double-aught buck shell are effective at moderate range, yet they don’t carry nearly as far as rifle bullets. Also intermediate barriers are much more likely to stop buckshot than rifle bullets.

Of course, part of the versatility of the pump shotgun is that when you need penetration, you can opt for ammo that will do exactly that. For example, slugs and sabots will definitely do the job.

The pump-action shotgun may not be high-tech, nor state-of-the-art, but that’s part of what makes it such a great tool for law enforcement. The pump-action shotgun is a very basic weapon. It’s very reliable. It doesn’t need a lot of TLC. And it will get the job done, whether you have to shoot a cougar or a carjacker.

Taming Recoil for Shotgun Training

Yes, I admit, recoil is a big negative for shotguns. It’s such a big negative that it killed the U.S. military’s program to develop a full-auto shotgun for urban warfare.

The recoil of the standard 12-gauge pump shotgun is a much bigger problem on the range than it is in a gunfight. You won’t fire dozens of rounds in an actual battle.

For training, however, recoil is a concern. I do not recommend that anyone fire round after round of full-power double-aught buck in training. All that teaches you is to avoid shooting a shotgun. And that’s counter to what you are trying to accomplish in training.

So how do you train with a shotgun? Easy. Use light loads. There are various reduced-recoil shotgun loads that are available for training. Some of the best reduce the felt recoil by as much as 50 percent.

The best way to train is to fire these light field loads for most of the training session, then fire a few full-power slug and buckshot loads to sight the weapon and to make you aware of what it feels like to fire the full-power loads and how they will pattern.

A Weapons System


The pump-action shotgun is more than just a “street howitzer.” It’s a weapon system. The shotgun is a great launcher for a variety of projectiles ranging from slugs to bean bags to marking rounds filled only with non-toxic paint.

Here’s a short list of some of the munitions available for the 12-gauge pump.

• Breaching round
• OC or CS Gas
• Foam round
• Buckshot
• Rubber pellets
• Slug
• Bean bags
• Flash-bang

Tags: Shotguns

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