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 (
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.