My Lessons Learned From a Recent Tactical Shotgun Class, by Greg C.

I recently took part in a Tactical Shotgun class with the US Training Center and learned a great deal. I am obviously not an operator and have not engaged dozens of insurgents, but I feel the training I received was logical and correct. I’ll skip all of the obvious safety and protection comments which were part of the training and very well covered. I’ll also not discuss the media hatchet job performed on their earlier incarnation “Blackwater”. Here are my lessons learned from the three day class:

  1. Tactical does not mean cool looking, adorned with a plethora of accessories or clad in black. Tactical means light weight, easy to manage and successful in your mission. Eight pounds of shotgun, ammo and a light on your shotgun is manageable. Twelve pounds is less so. Speed and accuracy wins every time. Light weight equals speed. Accuracy is up to you.
  2. Equipment should be minimized. You don’t need a laser sight, a spare light and multiple side saddles. You need A light (singular), a sling and a source of ammunition replenishment (speedfeed stock, A side saddle (singular), ammo belt, shell pouch, etc). Firing off eight hundred rounds with your selected equipment will tell you all you need to know about it. I saw after market parts flying off left and right—unfortunately even some of my own—occasionally factory parts from Remington 870s and Mossberg 590s. By the end of the class most students had taken half the extraneous stuff off their shotguns. Robust designs usually have the least amount of failures because they have the least amount of components that can fail.
  3. Train the way you plan to fight. If you are going to bring an ammo belt to a fight, don’t practice with a shell pouch. If you are going to bring a side saddle to a fight, don’t practice with a bandolier. Use the shotgun you are going to have access to in a tactical situation, not a different weapon. You must know how your weapon functions, because they are all different. And you must know how to feed your weapon from somewhere other than the magazine tube.
  4. Tailor your ammunition selection to your mission specific goals. Will you be shooting in an area that has paper thin walls? Will you possibly be “unlocking” doors and need breaching ammunition? Do you need to have precision or is it okay if a few of the projectiles stray a bit? Can you only have a single projectile?
  5. Pick at most two types of ammunition you want for a mission—imagine breaching a door with a slug, or thinking you have a non-lethal round chambered only to find out after the firing you had double aught buck. In a firefight, time doesn’t slow down, it speeds up. Your skills diminish, even if you are an experienced gunfighter. You won’t be able to keep track of the five different rounds you want to carry, so don’t. Pick two. And don’t think for a minute you can play “count the rounds” like you do when watching Dirty Harry.
  6. Learn how to reload quickly. If you have time, opportunity and cover, execute a tactical reload (load the magazine tube). Even if you only have two of the three, perform a tactical reload. If you have one or none of the three, perform a speed load. The speed load consists of turning the shotgun 90 degrees counterclockwise, dropping a round into the ejection port while the forearm is back, then shucking the round into the chamber. It’s better to have that next round on hand, than a full tube without one in the chamber. It’s all about having the next round. Depressing the trigger with no “boom” is more than an unfortunate event. Oh, and when tactical reloading, keep the butt on your hip or stomach and hold the muzzle towards the sky. Load the shotgun while looking straight ahead to keep an eye on your target and most importantly, finger off the trigger. With a little practice and discipline, you won’t need to look down to reload—just watch your target instead.
  7. Diagnosing failures on the fly is critical. Is it a soft malfunction which you can clear by shucking the foreend, or do you need to dump the weapon (or sling it over your back) and reach for your pistol? Unless you have an obvious problem like a stovepipe hull sticking out of the ejection port, you will likely not know exactly what you have (double feed, binding of action arms failing to load a round, etc). The first thing you should do is rack the shotgun action, make sure safety is in the “Fire” position and fire the weapon. This should handle about 90% of malfunctions. If it doesn’t, you may need to consider the above situation. Hard malfunctions usually require removing a shell from the receiver. This could consist of using your fingers, or a pliers/multitool to remove a shell. You may even need to go to a kneeling position and strike the recoil pad sharply on the ground while depressing the action lock lever to eject the spent casing. This must be done with care as you can break parts of the shotgun. Obviously, the hard failures take a lot longer to overcome. Again, time, opportunity and cover are needed to defeat a hard failure. This also underscores the importance of a sidearm.
  8. The fundamentals are key. There are seven: Grip, Stance, Sight Picture, Sight Alignment, Trigger Control, Breathing and Follow Through. These really apply to all shooting, but I think are especially important to shotgun work.
    1. Grip—this consists of the best way to hold onto a shotgun for firing and retention. A pistol grip isn’t necessary, so don’t let the movies fool you. A solid buttstock it a good idea if you are firing more than a few rounds. Aid your recoil with a proper grip and you will be able to require your next target more easily. The most important part of your grip is finding the pocket of the shoulder and mounting the stock in that crease. If you haven’t ever fired a shotgun (I hadn’t), it really isn’t that bad, unless you don’t have the stock buried in there. Leaving the stock an inch away from the shoulder pocket and then firing will leave a bruise. Find the shoulder pocket by pointing your arm out—where your chest meets your shoulder is the pocket.

      Something that is rarely discussed is how important it is to maintain your “Master Grip”. This involves always keeping your trigger hand on the grip. I’ve seen a bunch of “experts” who load with their trigger hand and keep the opposite hand on the foreend. What is easier to do, move your trigger hand back to the grip or move your opposite hand to the foreend? How about under duress? If you need to squeeze off a round, it is a lot easier to simply bring the shotgun to your shoulder and balance it with your off hand. Fumbling for the grip and trigger will cost you extra time and it could be difference maker. Keep your master grip. Load with your off hand.

    2. Stance—there is some argument here, but we learned a symmetric style stance. Feet shoulder width apart, slight bend in the knees and more body weight on the front of your feet. Your chin, knees and toes should be in alignment with a slight hunched over stance to handle heavier recoil of the shotgun. Think boxer stance. Keep your elbows in and head upright—a nice cheek weld to the stock will help with a clean view down the sights. Keep both eyes open to aid in seeing additional threats peripherally—this was a fight for me with my dominant eye, but I learned to blink the non-dominant eye as needed. Eventually I overcame the need to close one eye when firing. The most legitimate reason for keeping both feet collinear is to allow for you to swing the left or right with ease. Changing directions can be difficult if you have one foot far ahead of the other. [JWR Adds: Another advantage is that when wearing body armor with a ballistic panel insert over your chest, this stance also provides the most effective armor protection.]
    3. Sight Alignment—the correlation between the front sight, rear sight and eyes of the shooter is sight alignment. If you don’t have ghost ring or 3 dot sights, the bead should be placed in the middle, top half of the target projecting down the center of the shotgun receiver when viewed from the rear.
    4. Sight Picture—the link between the Sight Alignment to the target. The front sight should be in focus when aiming, not the target. Do not move your head down to the gun, thereby ruining your stance.
    5. Trigger Control—pulling the trigger smoothly to fire the weapon without altering the Sight Alignment/Sight Picture. This can be tough—you need to only move that one finger in a even fashion so that the discharge is a surprise. It is here that a typical flinch materializes when people anticipate the firing. A few soft malfunctions will make you aware of your flinch, if no one else is around to see you flinch when you practice. An inordinate amount of practice should remove the flinch.
    6. Breathing—a tactical situation will already rob you of your fine motor skills and even some of your gross motor skills. You don’t want to lose any more of those skills by depraving your brain and body of oxygen. You may find that you need to remember to breathe if you are uptight in a firefight.
    7. Follow Through—this is the conclusion of firing the weapon properly. There are three main components
      1. Trigger reset—enabling you to fire another round
      2. Sight Picture acquisition—after the weapon fires, you need to assess the situation with these three questions
        1. Did I hit the target?
        2. Was the shot effective?
        3. Do I need to make a follow-up shot?
      3. Scan for additional threats and if possible perform a tactical reload. Be sure to follow through after each shot. Several times (especially early on) I found myself firing, popping my head up and then ejecting the round—this is a deadly habit to form. Follow through after every shot.

I have been very impressed with the instructing at US Training Center and would highly recommend them. I have taken some armorer courses with them and will be attending further pistol and rifle classes as well. I have never attended any of the other schools that are frequently mentioned on Survivalblog, but for the reasonable cost, quality of training, and multiple locations (main campus in North Carolina and satellite locations in Northern Illinois and Southern California ), I can’t imagine a better place to learn. It is my understanding that as of October 1st of this year, the Northern Illinois campus will be changing their name to the North American Weapons and Tactical Training Center. But they will be retaining their staff and excellent training methods.

I have shot firearms for several years. This is my first experience with a shotgun however. I am looking forward to seeing how my skills firing other weapons have sharpened since taking the class. No matter where you are, find somewhere to train with good instruction. All of the magazine articles and opinions fall by the wayside when those shells are flying off to the side and you are suffering the weather, bugs and fatigue. As our friend Boston T. Party (author of Boston’s Gun Bible) says, “Ammo turns money into skill”. Indeed.