In Defense of the Humble Shotgun, by V.F.

As a longtime reader and supporter of survival blog I must first and foremost thank JWR and the many contributors. Your wisdom and insight have taught me many things that will help me and mine in the times of trouble now upon us.

My first exposure to the shotgun was as a youngster hunting pheasant in southern Arizona with an old 16-gauge double barrel, which was a little bit more than my 10 year old body could handle. I learned to shoot it, nonetheless, with the help of my grandpa and my dad. The two of them had many a laugh watching me learn to shoot a gun that was almost as long as I was tall. Alas, I digress.

As an 18 year old in 1983, I joined the United States Army. (By the way, as a shout out to the NSA, the oath I took to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, is still in force and will be till the day I take my last breath.) After 14 long weeks at Harmony Church and four weeks of U.S. Army Airborne school at Fort Benning, Georgia, I was the proud owner of a pair of silver “blood” wings.

After spending some time with friends and family, I returned home on two weeks of leave to Arizona, where I became bored. I started to go to some of the local gun shops. The prospect of buying my first gun on my own was exciting. After looking around, the only thing that really interested me was the Uzi 9mm, which was well out of my price range. One day, however, I wandered into the local K-mart. There she was– a Winchester model 1300 Defender with a 19-inch barrel, holding six in the tube and able to handle 2 3/4- or 3-inch 12-gauge shells. She also had the capability to shoot buckshot or slugs from the same barrel. From the first moment I picked it up, I knew this was for me. All of this for less than 200 dollars; she and I were out the door.

After taking the gun out in the desert the first time and firing 50 rounds through it, my shoulder hurt, and I was not as enthusiastic as I had been an hour or so earlier. However, when I took the gun back to my folks’ house and began to break it down to clean it, the words of my drill sergeant from basic training came to mind. It went something like this: “THIS IS MY RIFLE. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I master my life. My rifle without me, it is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than the enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will. My rifle and myself know that what counts in war is not the number of rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know it is the hits that count. We will hit. My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, will I learn it as a brother. I will learn its weakness and its strength. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life. So be it until victory is ours.”

As I drove my jeep from Arizona to Ft. Bragg, NC, I felt safe and secure with my “gauge” on the floor behind my seat. As I crossed the landscape that was, at the time, “Free America”, I felt blessed to live in such a country as this and honored to serve in her military. Upon reporting in and completing my in-processing, I was sent to Alpha Company, First Battallion 325th Airborne Infantry. On the second day, I checked in with the company armourer and secured my gauge in the company arms room. In that day and age (before the “political correct” corruption of the U.S. Army), it was fairly common for most enlisted soldiers to have private firearms. Back then, if by chance you checked your weapon out and forgot to check it back in, it was no big deal. Many was the weekend where three or four of us would go out into the wilds of North Carolina and burn through inordinate amounts of ammo.

My time in North Carolina came to an end when I terminated my jump status due to an injury. The army sent me to Camp Casey, South Korea for the last 14 months of my four-year enlistment. I had the good fortune to master two new rifles– the 50 caliber machine gun and the M-60 machine gun. So, my time in South Korea had not been a waste of time.

Upon my return to America, I literally kissed the ground at Travis Air Force Base. I had missed many things, including American food, my jeep, and my weapons collection. I moved to Northern Arizona to attend college and take classes in gunsmithing. After three years of college and falling on somewhat hard times, I packed my clothes, hand tools, and my weapons and set out for Las Vegas, Nevada. I went into the water treatment business and kept at it for 20 years. Through these years, my gauge was my constant work companion, having a “special place” in a succession of work vehicles. Even in the worst neighborhoods and even Northtown Vegas during the Rodney King riot, while I was working near Martin Luther King and Lake Mead Blvd and could see the smoke rising from the stores that were on fire, I felt completely safe.

Up until now I had never had occasion to chamber a round in my shotgun for any other purpose than practice or fun. However, in the summer of 1999, while on a camping trip with my best friend and our young children, I came to look at my shotgun with a newfound reverence. We had taken my boat to a very secluded spot on Lake Mohave, inaccesable by vehicle. On a lake that is approximatley 75 miles long, there are many such spots. We had settled in for our second night after a fantastic day of the kids catching fish after fish and just throwing them back. As I drifted off to sleep with my two young kids sleeping soundly and my buddy and his two young kids in the tent next to mine, I thought, “Life is good.” My bliss turned to shear terror in the middle of the night when I woke to the sound of a boat shutting off its engine, trying to stealthily come ashore. They were rowing their boat closer, and I heard one whisper to the other, “Be quiet. We don’t want to wake them.” I sat up in my sleeping bag with my heart pounding, reached down and picked up my gauge. The fear began to subside. My friend Tony, who was nearly blind, asked me if I heard that. “Shh,” I said as I waited without making a motion. It was not until I heard the strangers’ boat make contact with the shore that I chambered a round. That wonderful sound echoed off the lake and was followed by a silence that seemed to last for minutes rather than seconds. Then, the boat motor fired up and these sub-humans backed their boat out of the cove and took off at breakneck speed. Over coffee the next morning, my friend and I both agreed that having that shotgun with us probably saved us from a very bad outcome.

Years later, in June of 2005, I was sure the real estate market would go no higher. We had two houses and decided to put the smaller, older one on the market. Within two days we had six offers on the table. We accepted the best and had a 14-day close. I spent the previous month completely gutting and remodeling the kitchen and both bathrooms. Each night as I went home late to my wife and kids, I was so happy not to be living in that place anymore, as the neighborhood had really deteriorated since the early 90’s when we first moved in. I had five days left until the closing and was about to get the highest price ever paid for a 40 year old house in that nieghborhood. I still had some tools left at the house and an empty gun safe bolted to the wall, which I planned on leaving with the house. One evening after work, I arrived at the house to find the inside door to the garage was open and the swamp cooler on the garage roof had been removed. I found that an attempt had been made to pry the safe from the wall with my own tools. I also noticed the lock on the kitchen window had been removed and the window just left ever so slightly ajar. So, needless to say, the next five nights would be spent camping indoors with no electricity. I didn’t have to wait long. The first night at about midnight, I awoke to the sound of breaking glass. I had placed a bunch of empty bottles on the counter under the kitchen window so I would be awakened by the the sound of breaking glass upon the return of the trouble maker. I walked down the hall, chambered a round, and heard more glass breaking as the teenage hoodlum scrambled back out the window. As I came around the corner, I saw his face as he turned to run. He definitely had the look of fear. His partner was already partially over the back fence, not waiting to see what happened. I didn’t give chase but yelled something at them about busting a cap in them if they came back. They didn’t. My rifle and I prevailed without firing a shot. The deal went through four days later without a hitch.

Here’s a side note. Immediately following this incident, I made a 911 call to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department and gave a detailed description of the trouble makers, the direction they were running, and asked if there were units in the area that could catch these two perps. Big mistake. All the dispatcher wanted to know was my name and the disposition of my weapon. After a few of these type of questons I became impatient, told her to do her job and get units up the street to head these two off, and I hung up on her. Within 90 seconds, two patrol cars rolled up to my house. The cops didn’t catch the bad guys and were just interested in seeing my weapon. After a few minutes of discussion I felt as if I was the perp. I showed the officers the weapon which I had wisely unloaded when they came tearing up my street. The officers were apologetic after I “checked out”, and explained they didn’t like it, but it was policy. Needless to say, I decided then and there to never call police again, unless I had taken a life in line with the castle doctrine.

I decided that night that even though I thought myself an expert gunslinger, I needed some training. I chose Front Sight in Nevada. (I have no vested interest financial or otherwise in Front Sight.) I chose it mostly because it was close to me (just 40 minutes away), and it was what I could afford. The description of the combat shotgun class sounded like it fit the bill for me. Also, my wife agreed to take the basic pistol class at the same time. The cost for both of us was less than 400 dollars for two days of training.

The first day of training begins with basic safety rules and regulations of Fronsite. Then there is a two-hour presentation from a 30 year veteren of the San Bernadino, California Sheriffs Department. He was an outstanding instructor, going over use of lethal force, the legal and moral implications of such, and very interesting proactive ideas to prepare ahead of any such event. All in all, it was three hours very well spent. Next, we moved onto the range. We learned to properly go from sling arms to full combat mode, combat reloading in the middle of a fight, sighting the shotgun at 50, 75, and 100 yards, using slugs from standing, one-knee, and prone positions. We engaged multiple pop-up targets simultaniously, having to quickly decide hostile from non-hostile targets. We patterned our shotguns using 00 buck. We practiced with two targets– one hostage and one perp, with only part of the perp’s head showing. You had to hit the perp target without hitting the hostage. At 14 feet or less with my defender, I am absolutley confident that I could take out a bad guy with two or three 00 pellets without harming my loved one. That was just the first day.

The final day began by reviewing and repeating what we did the first day, culminating in a walk-through combat scenario where we were engaging over 10 pop-up targets hidden in the desert landscape, including hostage situations and multiple reloads, all while walking from start to finish, and needing to complete the half mile course in less than seven minutes. In those two days, I expended 500 rounds of*** 00 buck and slugs****. The training I received at Front Sight was invaluble. I plan on trying out some of the firearms schools in Arizona, since we now live full-time at our bug out location, on five wonderful acres in Northern Arizona. I now have choices beyond carrying my shotgun in my vehiche, since Arizona recognizes the Second Amendment and my concealed carry permit. My gauge takes its place next to my bed, ready to fire straight and true if need be to repel anyone who would come into my home uninvited to do harm. I typically keep it loaded with two 00 bucks, followed by one slug and two more 00, then finished off with two copper jacketed hollow point slugs. I only use Remington Low Recoil 00, as I have found that as I age I am even more surgical with this load than any other. I am not particularly worried about less power versus potential body armour, because if someone kicks in my door wearing body armour I’m going to shoot the first two assailants in the groin, knee, ankle, or other exposed area. Then, if I’m still cycling my weapon they get the high velocity slugs center mass. The only changes I have ever made to my gauge are a bandolier sling that holds 25 rounds, a velcro sleeve on the buttstock that holds five, and a tactical light on the foregrip, which I operate with my left thumb. The light is intensly bright, and I have it set to come on in a very disorienting strobe mode. This light also doubles as my flashlight, if I have to go outside in the middle of the night. It just happens to be attached to my gauge. I have fired tens of thousands of rounds through this weapon. I have never had a malfunction. The same can’t be said for my Remington or Mossberg. I know this weapon as I know myself. I can still hit a pie tin at 100 yards from the standing position using the hollow point slugs. (This requires a little Kentucky windage though.)

I have had many conversations with friends and aquintences who argue the best weapon is the AR-15, the Glock, the AK-47, the 30-06, or some other this or that. For what it’s worth, I chose to put my safety (and that of my wife, kids, grandkids, pit bulls and/or any others who might rely on me) in the hands of my humble Winchester Defender. As the instructor at Front Sight would repeatedly say, “Any gun will do, if you will do.”