Shotguns are incredibly versatile weapons that can be used very successfully as self-defense tools. I am often asked about using a shotgun for home defense, probably due to the fact that the majority of the population owns one for hunting purposes. This article will address using a shotgun for self-defense purposes, including my preferred set-up, shooting mechanics, and manipulation during a fight.
While your hunting shotgun might serve the purpose of a self-defense tool, in some cases it might not be your best choice. Hunting shotguns often are long-barreled guns found in single shot, double barrel, or pump action. While a pump-action gun is fine, I do not recommend using a single or double shotgun for self-defense due to ammunition capacity limitations. It’s possible that you may have to shoot more than once or twice during a fight, and reloading (or even retaining ammunition in) a gun like this under stress is difficult. Also, maneuvering around doorways or obstacles gets tougher as the barrel of a long gun gets longer. A long hunting shotgun is going to be very hard to move around things, and will also force you farther from a position of cover when engaging. Consider getting a good handgun if the above dictates that your shotgun may not be up to par.
Here are the minimum features I like on a self-defense shotgun:
- 20 gauge or larger (12 gauge is preferable)
- Ammunition capacity of at least five shells
- Additional ammunition carrier that holds three to five shells on the gun
- Sights visible enough to see in low light
- Weapon-mounted light
Optional but desirable features are:
- Barrel length no more than 20 inches
- Electronic sight (such as an Aimpoint Micro dot sight)
The following are some basic tips on shooting your shotgun effectively. They need to be trained and modified in the context of a self-defense shooting situation. When using a shotgun, in the best case your total ammunition capacity is probably around nine rounds in the gun and possibly another five on it (in a sidesaddle). This means that if you deploy the shotgun without grabbing some additional ammunition, you will be much more limited compared to, for example, an M-4/16 type rifle, where if you grab a gun with a magazine cinch system (two magazines cinched together), you will have closer to 60 rounds of ammunition. For home defense, 14 rounds will suffice in 99% of the situations you may need the shotgun for, but if you are in the military or law enforcement, I recommend that you purchase and use quick clips or a good bandoleer for reloading.
Shooting effectively requires that you build a mechanical platform that will allow you to control the shotgun effectively. Compared to an M-4 or any other .223-caliber rifle, a shotgun will offer significantly more recoil. Learning how to control the recoil will aid in getting combat-effective hits, as well as follow-up hits faster.
Here are the keys to controlling a shotgun for fast follow-up shots. This stance/mount process is the exact same one I recommend using with a rifle, but a shotgun will really test your weak areas of recoil control. I recently had a student in a shotgun class tell me that while he preferred a rifle as a defensive weapon (as I do), he really liked training with a shotgun due to the fact that it helped him perfect his stance. A shotgun recoils enough that any weak areas will be quickly highlighted and can be corrected in training.
Square the body and weight forward.
Most shooters will want to blade the body off more than necessary. Squaring up with the strong foot only slightly back will allow you to mount the rifle in a more centered position on the chest (see below). Staying centered offers the benefit of allowing the pelvic girdle to stay as square as possible to the target, improving the stability and mobility of the shooter. Weight forward simply means that the nose should be over the toes. To test this, go ahead and stand square to a friend, drop the strong-side foot back slightly, unlock the knees, and stand upright. Have your friend push back on the center of your chest. Next, leaning forward (without bending the knees much more) and placing your nose barely in front of your toes, have your buddy push on you again. You (and he) will find that simply shifting the upper body weight forward of your center of balance offers substantial recoil potential due to the weight shift.
Grip the gun high with the strong hand.
We often use this term with a handgun, but it applies to a shotgun too. Your grip with the shooting hand (the one on the pistol grip or stock that controls the fire systems) should be as high on the pistol grip (or forward if using a standard stock) as possible. Once you find this position, make sure you apply grip pressure and pull the shotgun straight to the rear into the chest (where the stock is mounted) when shooting. Simply resting the hand there will not do the trick.
With the support hand, grip as far forward on the handguards as feasible.
The biggest mistake I have seen is actually moving the support hand back and grasping the magazine well. Gripping forward on the handguard will do several things. First, it will increase the recoil control of that hand (due to an increase of leverage on the front of the gun). Second, it offers a better mechanical advantage if one has to snap the gun to a new target (once again due to leverage). Last, when gripping the gun forward with the support hand, the shooter will have much more leverage if he is forced to try to retain his gun from a surprise close-range attack. When gripping the gun with the support hand, ensure that you are gripping the handguard and pulling the shotgun straight to the rear.
Mount the gun as centered as possible.
This is a major key to controlling recoil, and one that almost everyone I have worked with misses to some extent. Like many of you, I was taught a standard bladed stance (by both my father and the U.S. Marine Corps) that is more traditional and places the stock on the outer portion of the shoulder. The problem is that this placement of the stock allows the gun to turn the body as the shotgun pushes backward. This causes the sights (or dot) to cycle high right or left (for a left-handed shooter).
To find this centered spot on your chest area, stand relatively square to the target with the head erect and looking forward. Now grab the stock of the shotgun and place it on the center of your chest. Drive your chin down onto the stock until you find a good cheek weld spot that allows you to see the sights or through the scope. As you drive your chin down, the shotgun will have to move slightly to either the right or left side (right-handed shooters, right side; lefties, the opposite) but will stay relatively centered on the chest. You might find that this places pressure on your cheek in relation to the shotgun, which is good. Any time I am shooting a shotgun, I focus on “pressuring” my cheek into the stock to increase my control on the gun and minimize dot movement.
Key Tip: Another great side benefit of centering the gun (while squaring up) is that, while shooting on the move, the gun will move much less, since it is centered on the chest rather than on the outside of the shoulder. The shoulders move while walking, which translates movement to the gun; therefore centering on the chest minimizes movement a lot!
Drop the strong-side elbow.
Once you have mounted the shotgun in the manner described above, your next area of focus will be to drop the strong-side elbow. This will do a couple things for you. First, it will flex the front deltoid and pectoral muscle on that side of the chest. (Go ahead and test that: place your hand on your deltoid/pectoral area with the elbow out to the side and then drop it straight down.) Second, it will keep the elbow low and out of the way so that it is less likely to get hit by bullets when shooting around cover, or bump into obstacles or people when you are moving.
Minimize and press.
Now that you have mounted the shotgun into a secure “platform,” all you have to do is minimize the movement and press. The pressure on the gun should be substantial but also neutral in a sense (straight to the rear except for the pressure required to hold the shotgun upright), therefore be careful to ensure that you don’t pull the shotgun off to one side or another.
If you fire several rounds with a shotgun, it’s critical to remember that it needs to be reloaded; therefore I teach and recommend one of two sequences when shooting your shotgun:
- Pump Shotgun: Shoot it, pump it, scan, and load it.
- Auto Shotgun: Shoot it, scan, and load it.
If I shoot three shots, as soon as I deem my area secure (during my scan process), I load the shotgun with three more rounds. We should always be preparing for the next fight!