Kicked by a Mule – An Introduction to Tactical Shotguns by Shooter

We spent an evening back in June working on our tactical shotgun drills. Everyone brought their preferred shotgun, and the instructor ran us through the basics of Tactical Shotgunning.
I was really impressed to learn that most everyone was carrying a Remington 870 in one configuration or another. It is a very popular shotgun. Sturdy and robust, and like a Jeep, very easy to modify and improve. I was the only one carrying in the “anti-aircraft howitzer” mode, which is to say that I brought my goose gun with 28″ of max choke power. Everyone else had shorter barrels sans choke with extended magazine tubes and Side Saddle carriers and slings. There were a couple of home defense Rambos in our group who sported the neat Sure-Fire pump action light on the fore grip. Nobody had folding stocks or pistol grips, everyone fired from the shoulder.
This was a basic getting to know your gun class. We spent time working from various stages of carry. Instructor Greg stayed away from the “stage 1, stage 2, etc.” lingo and focused on simple vernacular that could not be misinterpreted. After learning how to load, charge the magazine, and chamber check, we went to work on firing from different stages of carry.
The instructor mentioned there are a wide variety of shotguns out there, and there is no one single military designated, tried and true shotgun on the market whose technology has carried over to the consumer. This means that shotguns are prone to Negligent Discharge (ND)/Accidental Discharge (AD) problems and extra safety is needed in handling them. He stressed normal carry modes that would leave the chamber empty but the magazine full.

First Carry Method: Transport Mode. Real simple, this is the way you carry a shotgun in your car from place to place. Basically, if you are not going to use the shotgun while in the car, the magazine should be clear and the chamber clear as well. Tension should be off the firing pin and the action closed.
Second Carry Method: Carry Mode. This is for the time you are carrying a shotgun in the field, home defense, on your person, whatever. Using a sling, the shotgun is stored on your weak shoulder with the muzzle down. Have a fully charged magazine and condition check the chamber to make sure it is clear. (NOTE: Instructor Greg asked the question, “What are you checking for when you check the shotgun?” His reply to our dumb stares was that we are checking to see if the weapon is loaded. Remember the first rule of safe gun handling: Always treat the weapon as if it were loaded!!!)
For those of us without slings, Instructor Greg advised that we carry a specific way. Using the middle and ring fingers of our shooting hand, hook the shotgun behind the trigger guard and keep it in the right shoulder-arms position. This was the easiest way to carry and be able to bring the gun in play when a threat presents itself. For those carrying a slung shotgun, they are to grab the foregrip of the shotgun with their weak hand, slide the sling off their shoulder and twist the gun around and up into the firing position.
Third Carry Method: Home Defense. The golden rule for our Tac Tuesday class is: “We train as we fight!” For each person, home defense means something different. Until this class, I kept my Rem. 870 loaded with BBB steel shot and left the chamber empty. (At the time, it was the only round I had in abundance. That has been rectified.) I feared a ND/AD accident, so I kept it in the corner of my closet muzzle down inside a soft carry case half open. This may work for you as well, I don’t know. A couple of our guys keep theirs under the bed locked and cocked, and still a couple have some other ingenious ways of storing. One individual has a special set of hooks behind his headboard that holds his street cannon.
Don’t forget about kids when you set up for Home Defense. What do they have access to, and what do you give them access to are completely different things altogether. Young children are into everything. I can remember being a young child and coming across my dad’s guns hidden in various spots in his closet and under his bed. I was a smart one, I left them alone. Make sure that you have thought out all, and I mean ALL, scenarios and circumstances before you leave a loaded shotgun in the house. Young and single living in an apartment is worlds apart from a thirtysomething couple with a toddler who can defeat child safety cabinet locks. [JWR Adds:  It is best to “de-mystify” the guns that you keep around the house. Make some things clear to your kids from a very early age: a.)  All guns should be considered loaded at all times. b.) Demonstrate by shooting a milk jug full of water the full implications of a loaded gun. I first did this when our #1 Son was three years old, and have repeated it several times since, for the benefit of the others kids. c.)  The kids are welcome to have either parent show them the workings/handling/function/loading/unloading of any gun at any time, at their request.  This satisfies their curiosity. Most of of the ADs involving kids are due in large part to unsatisfied curiosity.]
Fourth Carry Method: Home Storage. For those of you playing the home game, this is the completely nekkid, bare-bones, essential not gonna use it method. Since I don’t have a gun vault, I opt to keep my other shotguns in their cases in the back of my closet. I store them muzzle down in a corner so I don’t drop anything on them and possibly cause damage. Those of you with a secure means of storage can opt for a locked vault. Remember to chamber check and insure that the gun is clear when you store this way. Most accidents happen when you assume the weapon is not loaded.
Instructor Greg ran us through some other drills that gave us familiarity with the Carry Mode, and how to come out of this mode and into Fight Mode.
First we learned how to load and chamber check our shotguns. Simple, most shotguns use a bottom feed, side eject. Others, like a Browning BPS [and Ithaca 37/87] use a bottom/bottom action. Feed the beast until you can’t feed it anymore. To unload, simply reach up under the action and press the little spring release on the right side of most 870’s and palm each round as it comes out. Using this method to unload prevents rounds from flying all over and keeps them in your control. Better to have a round in hand instead of on the ground and in the dark.
If you are unloading from a chambered status, first, engage the safety (Until now, the entire class worked without using the safety!). Pull the action back gently to unseat the round from the chamber until it starts to break out of the ejection port. Next, clear the rounds out of the magazine tube. Pull the action back one more time AND WITH YOUR NON-NOSEPICKING FINGER check to make sure the magazine tube is clear and that the chamber is also clear. Now, fully cycle the action, release the safety, aim downrange and press the trigger to release the tension on the firing pin. **NOTE: Some hunting models of the Remington 870 and other brands of shotgun have extended pump actions. These have a tendency to cover up the ejection port when down. Since I was using a ‘tactical tupperware’ model, I took a hacksaw to it and removed an inch from the end. If you don’t want to attempt the home surgery method, there are plenty of after-market options out there.**
Here is where we learned to unsling and engage the target. As I briefly mentioned earlier, for those carrying with a sling, the muzzle is pointed down and the shotgun is slung on the weak side. To unsling, first grab the pump action by your weak hand and bring the muzzle up. Your movements should unsling the gun from your shoulder. By twisting your arm around, the gun should come up into a firing position.
Once in the firing position, the action should be cycled and the gun made ready to fire. Remember to keep your finger in register so the cheap convenience store camera can accurately record your intentions. If you have time, go ahead and top off a round in the magazine. Your mind should be working to remember that you have X number of rounds in the gun and know that one is or isn’t in the chamber.
To return to Carry Mode from Firing Mode is just like I explained in the “Crawl” Phase. Safety on, bring the action back until the shell in the chamber starts to peek out. Remove that shell and with the action still back, reach under and pop that shell release spring until all the shells are out of the magazine tube. Condition check with your NNPF (Non Nose-Picking Finger), push the action forward, release the safety and press the trigger to relax tension on the firing pin.
NOTE: We had one guy using a Mossberg pump action who had considerable trouble with the gun jamming on him. At one point, the shotgun failed to clear a round during a fire exercise. In a real fight, he would have been killed just standing there trying to extract the round. This served as a reminder that in a real fight, a back up gun is a necessity. A pistol strapped to your hip is ideal in this circumstance, but may never be an available option. If you train as you fight, this may never have to worry you. On the other hand, just the fact that he could have drawn his pistol and fired a double tap at the remaining threat would have saved his bacon.
I though Airsoft was fun, but this was one massive celebration of gunpowder, recoil and target obliteration. The “Rolling Thunder” Drill was pretty neat, for a parlor trick. I failed to see how it would help in a tactical situation, but nonetheless, it was pretty cool. The object of the drill was to have five shooters on the line with five targets. The Range Officer (RO) would start by tapping the number one shooter and having him fire one round at target number one. Then, shooter #2 would fire at target #1 and so on and so forth until shooter #5 shot target #1. The RO would return to shooter #1 and have him shoot targets #1 & #2, and the cycle would begin again. For those of us with goose howitzers, it became a test of speed loading between turns. I am proud of myself for not nicking up my hands too bad.
Talk about an assault on the senses. In an enclosed range with the air conditioning turned off it got pretty darn smelly and choked with gun smoke. Makes me wanna do it again.
UPDATE: 02/15/06 — I have since had more training in tactical shotgun. This post is a basic, bare-bones intro. My advice to you, find someone who offers a tactical training class and gain from their knowledge base. Brian Hoffner, Clint Smith, and Paul Howe among others all have excellent classes that are thorough and informative. I was using my shotgun in its stock configuration, as a goose gun, at the time. I have since modified it with a couple of parts that anyone can get, and anyone can install. I started with the Side Saddle shotshell carrier. It adds an extra six rounds to the side of the gun. As a cop friend informed me, you can use the side-saddle to carry mission specific rounds (i.e. slugs, buckshot, bean-bag, etc) right at your fingertips. I have now added a magazine extension and collapsible CAR-15 style stock. I have a regular adjustable sling on at this time, but will be changing that soon to a single point sling as soon as I can (my preference). Each of us has our preference on shotguns. I am not here to harp on one over the other. I hope that this little lesson will add to our already growing fundamental knowledge of firearms so that we may pass it on to our family, neighbors and friends now and in TEOTWAWKI times. – Shooter