In law enforcement, the shotgun is best suited for short-duration, close-range engagements. In recent years, with accessories and action jobs, the shotgun has become a tactical weapon for officers. Let's look at the weapon's value in tactical roles.
First, let's consider several basic attributes of the tactical shotgun. When loaded with shells carrying multiple projectiles, such as 00 buck, it's a short range (under 30 yards) weapon that delivers minimal penetration. When paired with rifled slugs, it becomes effective out to 100 yards and can offer substantial penetration.
A tactical shotgun also needs sights. While a short-barrel shotgun with a simple bead sight has rapidly decreasing accuracy as range increases, a properly sighted weapon with ghost ring sights offers excellent accuracy out to the ammunition's maximum range.
Ghost ring sights have been one of the substantial improvements in the past few years in modifications and accessories used to convert a plain shotgun into an advanced tactical tool.
Other trends, such as pistol-grip-only, offer nothing more than Hollywood hype and can be tactically detrimental. Lastly, there seems to be a misconception that a shotgun is just a "big pistol" and that the tactics and techniques are the same. Not the case. The shotgun is completely different not only in it's design, but also it's employment.
There are essentially two types of tactical shotguns. The classic police "riot" gun is usually a pump action, short-barreled weapon. These are by far the most common and most modified. The second type is the newer semi-automatic weapon. Often incorrectly called an "automatic," these self-loading, repeating firearms are more complicated and therefore more likely to malfunction.
Typically, the biggest advantage a semi-auto offers is slightly reduced recoil. Barrel length is typically 18-28 inches. Short barrels have a slight advantage in close quarters action. Magazine capacity ranges from four rounds to as many as 10 with extended magazines added on. Remington, Mossberg, and Winchester all offer several variations on the basic concept. In my experience, an 18- or 20-inch barreled, pump shotgun with a capacity for six to eight rounds, ghost ring sights, and possibly a tactical flashlight makes the best choice.
When preparing a shotgun for tactical use, safety should be your prime consideration. Point the muzzle in a safe direction and engage the safety. If necessary, unload the weapon. Inspect the chamber and magazine. When you're satisfied that the weapon is empty, perform a basic function check. Make sure the barrel is not obstructed. Cycle the slide several times using the slide release. Make sure the slide release locks the action and that the safety works properly. Then cycle the action several times by pulling the trigger to unlock the slide as would happen when firing.
Now you'll want to load the shotgun. Again, with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, close the bolt, disengage the safety and pull the trigger. This allows the hammer to fall on an empty chamber. Having done this, you can fill the magazine to capacity with appropriate ammunition. 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.
You can then quickly change from buck (loaded for close range engagements) to a slug (for longer distances) should the need arise. With the hammer down on an empty chamber, the shotgun can then be secured for later use or carried safely.
Should the need arise that you must employ your shotgun quickly; it can be ready with little effort on your part. Remember, it's not always necessary to immediately cycle a round into the chamber. Keep in mind that with the hammer down on an empty chamber, you can do so in a fraction of a second without having to locate the slide release (usually found forward of or alongside the trigger group). If it should be necessary to fire, you can just cycle the slide and your weapon is ready.
After firing your first shot, immediately release the trigger and cycle the slide fully. In some guns, cycling the slide without releasing the trigger will allow the next round to fire without warning when the bolt returns to battery. Failure to fully cycle the slide will allow a fresh round out of the magazine without ejecting the spent round. When the bolt is brought forward, a jam often requires the gun to be disassembled to correct the issue.
Providing that you have extra rounds with you, you can effectively reload your shotgun without sacrificing instant firepower. If you maintain your grip on the stock with your strong hand, additional ammo can be fed into the magazine with the weak hand. You should always reload what you shoot as soon as practical. If you fire two rounds, then reload two rounds.
If you empty your shotgun, you can quickly reload one round by placing it directly into the ejection port. Cup the round in you left hand and roll it into the ejection port. Then immediately push the slide fully forward chambering that one round. Now you at least have one round to depend yourself with while you reload the magazine.
Use the following procedure, when the shotgun has been fired or a round has been chambered and the weapon needs to be returned to a safe condition. First, engage the safety. Then slowly pull back the bolt, exposing the chambered round so it can be removed from the chamber without letting a round out of the magazine. At this point, the remaining rounds can be taken from the magazine by depressing the shell stop on the side of the loading port. The weapon can then be secured or returned to readiness for continued use.[PAGEBREAK]
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.