This’ll be the first blog that I’ve actually written about shotgun shooting, and this article will focus on the defensive use of the shotgun, as well as some quick tips and thoughts about setting up your defensive shotgun.
First let’s discuss the reason behind the use of a shotgun. Shotgun’s were originally designed as a hunting weapon
and are incredibly powerful tools. Use against humans probably originated because it was the weapon the user had at the time, but I would guess that the devastating effect of the gun at close range likely made it an obvious choice when defending against the two-legged animal variety.
More than likely if you’re still using a shotgun for home defense it’s because that’s what you have. The truth is if I had to choose I would probably select a carbine defensive rifle like an AR-15 variant before I would select a shotgun. The main reason for that is I have higher ammunition capacity and less worries about over-penetration with the right ammunition. Additionally, a AR/M-4 is easier to manipulate, and a bit more forgiving in terms of recoil control. If you choose a shotgun for home defense for example, and let’s say your wife or child needed to use the gun during an incident when you were gone, the AR/M-4 system is simply going to be easier for them to control.
Now, having said that I would select a rifle before shotgun, there is no doubt that a 12-gauge shotgun is an incredibly powerful tool that will certainly stop a fight very quickly. If it is your choice for a defensive tool, then it is important that you are prepared to use it. This includes the shotgun set up, ammunition selection (critical), and shooting/manipulating the gun (which includes reloading it). Let’s break each down:
Key 1- Set up:
When setting up a shotgun I’d recommend that you follow the same parameters that I would with a rifle.
In order of importance on a shotgun I want to make sure I have: spare ammunition, a good sling on it, a permanently mounted light (at the 6 o’clock position), and a good optic site of some sort or really high visibility ghost ring sites night sights.
Here’s the scoop on each:
- Spare ammunition holder: Most shotguns are going to hold anywhere from 4-8 rounds while loaded. While in most cases this should stop the fight, I want to have the option of topping the gun off if things go really bad. An additional five or more rounds not he gun is desired, and optimally, I want to have a selection of ammunition that I might not have loaded in the gun. For example, if my gun is loaded with buckshot, then I might keep want to keep several slugs on the gun in case I need them.
- Permanently Mounted Light: Imagine someone kicking in the door at night in your home. You grab your shotgun only to find you are unable to see well enough to engage the intruder. Would a light be a must have at that point? I say yes, and one that is permanently mounted to the gun is very important since manipulating the light and shotgun (pumping it, loading it, etc.) at the same time will be very difficult at best.
- Sling: I realize that slings might not be as common on shotguns, but if you plan on fighting with one you need to change this. Simply put a sling allows you to carry, sling, and manipulate things without having to set the shotgun down.
- Optic site or Ghost Ring: Under the same stress as the situation described above, especially in low light, it is going to be difficult to see iron sights. An optic sight like an Aimpoint solves this problem right away and is my preferred option. A secondary choice would be iron night sights with a high visibility rear ghost ring or notch that allows for fast acquisition.
Key 2- Ammunition Selection:
I’ve heard people recommend a variety of things from 4 to 6 shot standard birdshot to slugs to buckshot. The reality is that the closer ranges any of those will work very effectively. The problem is some of those will over penetrate, sometimes through numerous walls, causing a problem if you live in a house or an apartment that has very thin walls and children or other innocent people on the other side of that wall. A 1 oz slug for example will penetrate numerous walls and keep on going! As I write this article I am one day into a Defensive Shotgun Class where we took he time to build simulated wall sections and tested a variety of ammunition through those wall sections. The results were nothing short of surprising in terms of how much the shotgun ammunition penetrated the wall sections. Now, keep in mind that your shotgun might cause slightly different results, our testing showed the following when we shot directly through three walls made up of 2×4 studs and sheetrock. All tests were shot from a Benelli M-4 12-gauge and Benelli M-2 20 gauge. The distance from the shooter to the first wall was 5-yards, and distance between each wall was around 4-5 yards.
- Slugs penetrated three wall sections completely without even slowing down, made impact with the berm 20 yards down range. This was not surprising to me. If you decided to use a slug for some reason, you must understand that they will likely over penetrate if you hit your assailant, and if you miss them you can count on the slug exiting the room you are in and potentially traveling through numerous other walls. We also shot a slug the long way through a 2×4 (one of the supports in the wall section) and it completely penetrated and kept going through the second wall and once again hit the berm.
- 00 Buck shot penetrated three wall sections as well and rung the steel plate mounted 7 or so yards behind the wall section with considerable force. We shot several varieties of buck including a number 3 from the 20 gauge and all penetrated at least two wall sections, and most penetrated three and hit targets well beyond the last wall.
- High velocity birdshot (number 71/2 and 8) also penetrated all three wall sections and kept going (although it is assumed with considerable less velocity). This was surprising to the group as we assumed there would be much less penetration after the impact of the round on the first and second walls. I will say this again, the high velocity birdshot completely penetrated the third wall! Lower velocity birdshot and that shot from the 20 gauge did show signs of stopping in the second wall sheet. A longer shot from the first wall that allowed the birdshot to spread out more still resulted in complete penetration of the first wall, and partial penetration of the second wall.
So what does this teach you? That shotguns are powerful, penetrating weapons. If you think you will get away with using birdshot in a paper thin walled apartment and a miss will stop in that first wall, think again!! The key concept is to look at the environment you will be fighting in and select ammunition that is appropriate. If for example you will be in a logged walled cabin that has 100 acres around it, you might select a completely different ammunition type than someone who uses a travel trailer to see the beautiful U.S. and plans to use the shotgun for “trailer” defense. Additionally, keep in mind that your shotgun (with a different choke variety) might perform different than mine, so “when in doubt, test it out.”
The following videos offer some visual of what we found in our tests, although these videos are not done by me…(soon I will repeat the test on video). I suggest you watch them.
Video #1: This video shows the penetration of a 1oz slug. What you should learn from this is the possibility of a slug over-penetrating a human torso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1Vi53WolsU
Video #2: This video is a great video that shows a variety of shotgun ammunition and what it does. It is kinda long, but is a good demonstrative video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C29mEJFFIvo
Slugs are incredible fight stoppers! But before you use one, you need to take responsibility for what one will do. They WILL over-pentrate (likely a human) and several walls. Granted, this is why we train what I call select slug drills meaning that if you have a shotgun loaded with let’s say birdshot or buckshot but you have several slugs with in a side saddle, you could select a slug and utilize it at longer ranges. I think the reality though is that most people will probably not need to or be justified in shooting long-range with the shotgun. I would guess that the distance is we need to worry about our between 5 yards and 15 yards which covers the length of any room in a house and probably most of the distance of someone’s yard
Okay so we’ve set up the shotgun with selected our ammunition time to talk training with the shotgun.
Key 3- Shooting/Training:
Let’s talk about stance first.
Three keys to really mounting and controlling a shotgun for fast follow up shots.
- Square the body and weight forward– Most shooters will want to blade the body off more than necessary. Squaring up with the strong foot only slightly back will allow one to mount the shotgun in a more centered position on the chest (see step 4). Staying centered offers the benefit of allowing the pelvic girdle to stay as square as possible to the target, improving the stability and mobility of the shooter. Weight forward simple means that the nose should be over the toes. Keeping the weight forward by simply shifting the upper body weight forward of your center of balance offers substantial recoil potential due to the weight shift.
- Grip the as far forward as feasible (on the hand guard or pump) with the support hand– This is an area that I often see taught, and done wrong. The biggest mistake that I have seen here is actually moving the support hand back and grasping the rear of the hand guard or pump). Gripping forward on the handguard will do several things. First, it will increase the recoil control of that hand (due to an increase on leverage on the front of the gun). Secondly, it offers a better mechanical advantage if one has to snap the gun to a new target (necessary when developing dynamic skill). When gripping the gun with the support hand, ensure that you are gripping the handguard and pulling the shotgun straight to the rear, best described (I believe) by Mike Pannone as pulling on a rope like you would during a tug of war.
- Mount the gun as centered as possible and get a consistent cheek weld– This is going to be a huge key when trying to mount and shoot while somewhat in motion so pay attention to this step. I, like many of you, was taught a standard bladed stance (by both my father and the U.S. Marine Corps) that is more traditional and places the stock on the outer portion of the shoulder. The problem is that this placement of the stock allows the gun to turn the body as the shotgun pushes backward. Conversely, it also transmits all of the movement of the shoulders into the shotgun while moving, causing the sight to shift left and right. I recommend centering the shotgun as much as possible to fix this issue. To find this centered spot on your chest area, stand relatively square to the target with the head erect and looking forward. Now grab the stock of the shotgun and place it on the center of the chest. Drive your chin down onto the stock until you find a good cheek weld spot that allows you to see the sights or through the scope. As you drive your chin down, the shotgun will have to move slightly to either the right or left side (right handed shooters, right side, lefties the opposite) but will stay relatively centered on the chest. You might find that this places pressure on your cheek in relationship to the gun, which is good. Anytime I am shooting a shotgun or rifle I focus on “pressuring” my cheek into the stock to increase my recoil control and minimize dot movement.
Tip: “Drop and Drive” (the strong side elbow and shoulder)– Once you have mounted the rifle in the manner described above, your next area of focus will be to drop the strong side elbow and drive the shoulder forward behind the gun. This will do a couple things for you. First, it will flex the front deltoid and pectoral muscle on that side of the chest (go ahead and test that now, place your hand on your deltoid/pectoral area with the elbow out to the side and now drop it straight down). Secondly, it will keep the elbow low and out of the way so that it is less likely to get hit by bullets when shooting around cover, or bump into obstacles or people when you are moving. Driving the shoulder forward is a big key in controlling the recoil.
Controlling the recoil is just one part of the process, so let’s talk about the shooting process. Whenever you’re shooting you want to think about the entire shooting process. With a shotgun, that goes way beyond just pulling the trigger, and includes keeping the gun fed. Shotguns are hungry guns and need ammunition constantly, especially since you likely only have 6-8 rounds loaded in the gun.
For example if you’re shooting a pump shotgun, every time you fire a shot it’s incredibly important to cycle the pump to load the next round. This is because we always want to get another round in the chamber irregardless of whether not we’re going to actually take that shot. The key is to have the ability to fire again if necessary.
If at that point in time the threat is down and no longer needing to be shot again, our next priority after making sure we are no longer under attack is loading the shotgun. Why is this important? Because there is always the possibility that there are other threats in the area. We know the criminals travel in packs and often times attack in multiples. If someone has kicked your door open in the middle of the night, assume it’s more than one person as it is very unlikely one person has launched this attack by themselves. The key point is that we want to feed the shotgun so we’re always ready for that next fight.
So the process would be shoot it-cycle it-follow through and scan (to ensure the threat is down)-load it. Granted an automatic shotgun will do the cycling for you, but you need to be thinking about shooting and loading it.
Again: Shoot it-cycle it-follow through-shoot again if necessary-cycle it until the threat is down.
To work through this concept let’s use a simple mount drill and fire through a progression of four. This means that each time we mount the shotgun to our shoulder and fire, we will fire a different number of rounds. Here are your steps:
- Mount the shotgun (don’t forget about the recoil controlling secrets discussed above) and engage the target with one round and go through your after action procedures (cycle it-follow through and scan-load it).
- Mount the shotgun (don’t forget about the recoil controlling secrets discussed above) and engage the target with two rounds and go through your after action procedures (cycle it-follow through and scan-load it).
- Mount the shotgun (don’t forget about the recoil controlling secrets discussed above) and engage the target with three rounds and go through your after action procedures (cycle it-follow through and scan-load it).
- Mount the shotgun (don’t forget about the recoil controlling secrets discussed above) and engage the target with four rounds and go through your after action procedures (cycle it-follow through and scan-load it).
- Mount the shotgun (don’t forget about the recoil controlling secrets discussed above) and engage the target with three round and go through your after action procedures (cycle it-follow through and scan-load it).
- Etc. So the shooting progression is: 1 round, 2 rounds, 3 rounds, 4 rounds, 3 rounds, 2 rounds, 1 round. Then you will likely need more ammunition so go replenish and practice some more!
Key Tip: If you carry a handgun along with your shotgun (i.e. Patrol officer using a shotgun on duty), then during your progression drill if you EVER run out of ammunition, consider transitioning to your secondary weapon (handgun) so this is part of your trained response.
So there you go, a simple set of steps to maximize your ability to fight with a shotgun. The weapon system is proven to be a beast and very effective, but not if you don’t train with it!
Until Then – Train Hard!