Sunday, February 22, 2009

Defensive shooting with a shotgun

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My son and I were doing some shotgun practice today. He was patterning his new turkey/goose/deer/squirrel/trap Mossberg, and I was drilling with the 870 house gun.

He asked my opinion on using the shotgun for defense in the house. “Should I shoot till it’s empty?” He said.

I responded “In my opinion, you only shoot at someone for one reason. They are trying to hurt you or your family, and you want to make them stop. So you shoot till they stop. Then you reload, fast, in case they start again”.

I said “I’m no expert, but I’ve thought about this. If you need to shoot, then make it count. Also, try not to get shot yourself. That means you are moving and shooting, moving and reloading, or taking cover and reloading. One thing is for sure… with a shotgun, you will always be reloading, so practice that a lot.”

Of all I said, one thing is certain; I am no expert. The other things I said, I believe to be true. The single best way to not get hit is not to get into a fight. If you have to fight, make yourself as hard a target to hit as possible. That means moving. If the fight is taking place with a shotgun, it will go empty in no time flat. That means reloading, often. Therefore shooting and reloading should be practiced on the move.

As with any other shooting skill…I take them one step at a time. In this post I’ll show some of the practice I personally do, and explain why. Readers will have to choose what works for them based on their own circumstances, skill level, and comfort level. My son and I... we are just learning. We watch each other, video each other, and critique safety and technique. Formal training would be wonderful, but there is none around here. We are left to fend as best we can, and figure it out on our own. There is nothing new here, and the Internet is rife with information and videos on this type of shooting. That said, here is a look at some of our practice methods.


While shooting pistols, reloading is practiced with magazine swaps. The same is done for the AR and many other rifles. Revolvers have speed loaders. Shotguns… have a pocket full of loose shells. In some cases, a shell holder is on the weapon itself, but still the gun is reloaded one lonely shell at a time. I’m discounting the shotgun speed loaders used in competition. They are not reasonable in a defensive role. Making this situation worse is the almost universal low magazine capacity of any normal shotgun. Four to eight rounds is the rule for pumps and autos, two for a double barrel.

Without question, a shotgun used for defensive purposes is the one weapon most likely to need a reload under pressure. Therefore reloading the gun needs to be practiced. Here are two of the short reload drills I do with the house gun.

One is a reload from dry, after shooting the gun empty. In both reloads the weapon stays shouldered and pointed at the threat. The right hand supports the shotgun and the trigger finger stays near (NOT ON) the trigger. With the left hand, reach under the stock and pull a shell from the holder. Reach over the receiver and drop the shell into the open port. Run the slide forward. The weapon is now ready to fire again, and has remained pointing at the threat the whole time. The off hand now pulls shells from the holder one at a time and loads the magazine till full.

I stage the shells in the holder base down for doing reloads in this fashion. It means I can pull them down and out of the shell holder, rather than reaching over the top of the stock. Learning to keep the visual attention down range while doing this takes work. For me, it was natural to look down at what my hand is doing with the reload.

The other reload drill is a ‘top off’ reload. The weapon has been fired one or more rounds, but is not empty. The only difference here is the off hand loads only the magazine, and not the port. Just as before, the right hand supports the weapon by the grip and the trigger finger stays near the trigger, but not on it. I practice this drill a bit more than the other, as that motion of pulling a shell down and shoving it into the magazine is not an easy one for me. It feels awkward, and requires practice. Considering I would only be doing it under extreme stress during a social encounter, it needs to be something done automatically and without distracting.

With movement drills, these short videos (shot by my son) show a few of our beginning efforts. Lateral movement with long steps to cover a lot of ground, lateral movement with short steps, and one we do for fun. The last is fired at small clay targets placed at random intervals, and shot on the move. It teaches the shooter to aim, not just point.







The boy and I burned up about 200 rounds practicing these drills, and had a great time doing it. We both learned from each other, and discovered quite a bit about handling our own weapons. A few of the lessons we carried away...
  • Missing with a shotgun is far easier than it looks. It's also embarrassing.
  • Reloading from the shoulder without looking is much harder than it sounds. Its also embarrassing. The hole in the magazine looks huge, till you are trying to shove in a shell without looking and with your off hand (righty/lefty).
  • Moving across ground while operating a pump shotgun is akin to patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. There's a lot going on with your body, and if you stop to think about it most of it will stop. Also, it can be embarrassing.
  • Five rounds can go downrange in a real hurry (two seconds), leaving you with nothing but a frustrating click. Thats embarrassing. It also means reloads are critical. Reloads seem to take forever, and the newly loaded weapon is again empty in seconds. Reloading needs to be practiced more than anything else.
  • Dry runs are valuable. For every drill we fired live, we had three runs cold. This let us watch each other and work on finer points, like not falling down in an embarrassing manner (and an unsafe one). The biggest obstacles on the ground turned out to be our own feet.
  • This kind of shooting is fun, and two hours can disappear in gun smoke.... seemingly in the blink of an eye. Two hundred rounds and a sore shoulder later, we are just beginning to understand how much we really don't know.

8 comments:

Frank W. James said...

I think Clint Smith explained the shotgun best when he compared it to a revolver that you can only reload with LOOSE ammunition.

Essentially, the tasks and operations after you understand that parallel become extremely similar.

The shotgun greatest virtue is also its greatest weakness and that is its versatility. It can handle an extremely wide range of ammo for completely different mission purposes. Of course that means that Murphy says it WILL ALWAYS BE LOADED WITH THE WRONG AMMO for your needed mission purpose.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Frank said...

While I agree in princeable about using using a shotgun in home defense. In reality your more likely to hurt or kill a loved one. I personally use and recommend a pistol. Much easier to control where the bullets go. Trust me I know about shooting a shotgun in the home.

aczarnowski said...

One tidbit I took away from Farnam's defensive carbine/shotgun book (which is desperately in need of a 2nd edition) is to load an empty shotgun from underneath the gun. Pull your shell just as you are, reach *under* and toss it into the port.

This has several advantages:
* You have the potential to catch a shell that's fumbled
* Your muscle memory is closer for the "underneath" action required to load the tube
* And you are in a very slightly faster position to run the slide forward after filling the port

immagikman said...

Love those videos and it shows exactly how dificult it is to load on the move
and without looking.

The move and shoot drills are in the outdoors do apply to the "Home" defense role but not necessarily the moving long distances.

(preface with I am most definitely not an expert here)

It seems to me that for "Home Defense" you might want to focus on getting to know your house better than you normally would, learn to find firing lines and places of cover. An intruder will not know the layout as well as you do, so in theory you should be firing from cover and knowing the various lines of advance and retreat. Practicing moving and loading is a good idea but I think the most important skill is being able to reload without looking at what you are doing or in the dark. Lack of light is probably going to be the biggest obstacle, as opposed to needing to cover ground.

Just my thoughts.

A. Maddock said...

It should be pointed out that emptying your weapon in 2 seconds is panic fire and if you are in that state of mind it is unlikely you will be able to reload with the barrel on threat. Making every round count is also important because firing a 12Ga indoors will blind and stun you. (One of the few things learned in the Coast Guard other than how to float) Reloading also in most cases moves you from defense to offense. From a defensive standpoint you should be either shooting from cover or moving to cover while shooting.

I know, I know, everyone's an expert:)

Loved the videos BTW. Made me want to get out of the house and throw lead.

MCSA said...

I always loved the way CAS shooters reloaded their shottys...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=786jVtVxShc

and

Lead Dis-Spencer

Personally, I hate my shotguns...

Less (posting as MCSA)

Anonymous said...

Semiauto shotguns seem to me much preferable for home defense. My Benelli M4 has been 100% reliable after the brief breakin period. So much less to do correctly, which is important when the adrenaline is screwing up your fine motor control and your mind. Good enough for the Marine Corps to make it their standard combat shotgun.

Mine holds 7 shots. A Remington or Winchester can be legally modified to hold 10 shots. That's a lot of firepower as fast as you can pull the trigger.

I would not recommend a pump to anyone for HD (except trained professionals of course). Too easy to shortstroke and just get completely jammed up and useless.

Anonymous said...

Good info, but I'd like to chime in about your stance when firing while moving... you are crossing your legs at times, which puts you off balance not only for firing purposes but also making you vulnerable to being taken down to the ground by an attacker and have your shotgun wrestled from you. Always step first with the lead leg, then follow with the trailing one (just like how boxers move around to remain balanced). I don't mean to nitpick at all; it's just a friendly suggestion. If the situation calls for giving up a little balance for the ability to cover more ground faster, then by all means do just that. If the attacker is close enough to get to you quickly in the event of one or two misses, however, then be mindful of your center of gravity as you can be EASILY toppled over when your feet/legs are crossed while walking.

Also, to the last Anon's comment, isn't it better to have a jam in a pump that can be rectified by one gross motor movement that you've done a million times (racking the action), as opposed to problems with ammo feeding in semi-auto shotguns which would require fine motor control to rectify (which is tough to accomplish under stress)? Are you advocating semi-auto or double barreled break actions over pump? I could see your reliability argument work for the latter, however the 2 shot limit and need to reload more than twice as often as most pump guns seems to overcome their increased reliability. Thoughts?