Self Defense Shotguns

KR Training Defensive Shotgun 1

There is no shortage of bad advice regarding the use of shotguns for home defense. As such, attending an introductory defensive shotgun class, like KR Training’s Defensive Shotgun 1, is a sound and reasonable investment.

As some of y’all may have noticed, I’m taking the plunge into the world of shotguns in the context of defensive applications. Why? For several reasons. I’d argue the most prominent reason is because I’d like to speak intelligently about them and being able to do so will make me a more effective firearms instructor and blogger. Furthermore, it is a devastating weapon that can be very effective from home defense when employed properly. As such, I figured a good first step would be to take an introductory course on the topic. So I returned to my regular stomping grounds at KR Training and attended their Defensive Shotgun 1 course.

The five hour class started at 9am in the classroom with Dave Reichek at helm as lead instructor and assisted by Greg Howard. I’ve known both of these great guys for a while now. Both Dave and Greg have assisted with a number of classes I have attended at KR Training. I’ve also been in a couple of classes with Dave as a classmate and competed with Dave at several local USPSA matches over the past couple of years. I suppose I could say I’ve competed against Dave, but he out classes me in every division I compete in. He’s quite an accomplished pistol shooter. Both Greg and Dave are Rangemaster certified shotgun instructors as well.

There were seven students in the class making the instructor to student ratio one (1) instructor to 3.5 students which is a low instructor to student ratio that is typical of classes at KR Training.

First order of business were student introductions. Nothing fancy or stressful, just a name, where one was coming in from, and the type of shotgun brought to class. I noticed a few interesting things. Two of the seven students brought backup shotguns. Both of them brought a semi automatic shotgun as their primary and a Remington 870 pump action as their backup. I had intended to bring an 870 myself as a backup, but forgot to load it in the truck before I left home. Five students opted for a semi automatic platform. One of those was a Benelli M4, two were Beretta 1301s, one was a Beretta A300 Ultima, and the last was a Remington TAC-13 SBS. The two students who opted for a pump action instead brought Remington 870s. That made the Remington 870 the most popular shotgun in class even though two played a backup role.

I suppose this is as good of a time as any to go over the gear I used before we get deep into the course details. Here is what I used:

The introductions were followed by an extended range safety brief. This was the typical range safety brief with an added emphasis on muzzle discipline, safe table usage, and moving with a shotgun due to the destructive potential of shotguns. Additional emphasis was given to not catching dropped or falling guns given that shotguns are not drop safe.

Next up was the agenda or an overview of the course content. The terms, in my opinion, are completely interchangeable because Dave Reichek did an outstanding job hitting all the topics pretty much in order. The topics included: safety and safe handling, nomenclature, recoil mitigation, reloading techniques, ready positions and employment, shooting from cover or concealment, defensive ammunition performance and testing, a skills evaluation, modifications and accessories, and maintenance. I’m not going to rehash every detail from every single topic in this post, but I will highlight the ones I found most interesting.

Having safety and safe handling as its own module that dove deeper beyond the overview contained in the initial safety briefing was expected and warranted. Part of this was because the class is an introductory level class and as such it can’t be assumed that every student is familiar with the fundamental safety rules and has adopted them as lifestyle rules. Another part, once again, has to do with the destructive nature of shotgun wounds which were illustrated by a couple of images to drive the point home. This reminded me of a quote from Clint Smith: “Pistols put holes in people. Rifles put holes through people. Shotguns, with the right load at the right distance, will take a chunk out of a person and throw it on the floor.”

The recoil mitigation module focused primarily on a proper stance and the Haught method. The stance, which is one of the seven marksmanship fundamentals, is important to keep the shotgun from pushing the shooter around. The stance also should be a fighting platform since employing a shotgun for self defense means gunfighting. This translates into a stance that is square to the subject, feed should be about shoulder width apart with the support side foot about half a foot forward with knees bent. The posture should have an aggressive lean. The shotgun should be mounted with a good cheek weld with the elbows down. No chicken wings. The value of a shorter length of pull, that is the distance from the butt of the stock to the trigger, became painstakingly clear during this discussion and was explicitly covered since traditional length of pull found hunting or sporting shotgun stocks forces the average person blade their body towards the subject which is generally frowned upon as it since a bladed stance is less stable and nimble than a squared stance. Furthermore, a longer length of pull can lead to snagging the shotgun on clothing when mounting the shotgun from a high ready position.

The Haught method is a mounting technique that helps mitigate recoil and also helps the shotgun return on target faster after each shot. I’m fairly certain that this method is the same method I’ve heard mentioned as the “push-pull method” which I found to be a confusing name. Is one supposed to push or pull the forend away from the body? And are we supposed to push or pull the stock into the shoulder? The directions are the same but the ambiguity between the motions often resulted in me wasting brain cycles on attempting to get them right. At any rate, the method was presented in a much clearer way by describing it as “stretching” the shotgun which, in my opinion, is an accurate, precise, and much simpler description. Dave Reichek also used a slinky to demonstrate the stretching, which was an idea his daughter came up with, which drove the concept all the way home.

The last module covered in class before we hit the range covered “feeding the pig”. That is a Tom Givens term for reloading the shotgun. The focus in class was reloading from either a side saddle or a butt cuff. The students were provided with a few tips on how to load more shells through the loading gate without dropping them. This included a technique on how to hold the shells in addition to a few techniques on how to hold the shotgun while stuffing the shells into it.

Range work began with dry fire work consisting of presenting the shotgun from a high ready position, which is sometimes referred to as a search position. The process was broken down into four steps, which reminded me how drawing a pistol is commonly taught as a four step process. The steps were:

  1. Mount – snapping the stock of the gun into the shoulder
  2. Stretch – applying the Haught method
  3. Press – pressing the trigger when on target
  4. Follow through – getting an additional “sight picture” in case a follow up shot is needed.

Live ammunition was introduced as soon as the class had the process down. Then we repeated the entire process starting from a low ready position.

Step 4, the follow through step, was revisited for pump action where we were introduced to another Tom Givens “ism”, “boom, chunk, chunk”. Which is the onomatopoeia, or words that imitate the sounds, that describes the process of running the action hard in order to be ready for a follow up shot if it is needed.

The next bit of range work consisted of getting the shotgun into action from a closet ready condition. Closet ready is a specific form of cruiser ready position in which a shotgun is staged with ammunition in the magazine tube but not a round in the chamber. This is common practice since shotguns aren’t drop safe. The difference between closet and cruiser ready is that closet ready is loaded with the action unlocked whereas cruiser ready loaded the same with but with the action locked. In both cases, the action must be run to load the first round into the chamber. However, cruiser ready requires the action to be unlocked before the action can be run. The locked action is an additional precaution so that the action can’t be inadvertently cycled by the motion associated with the “police cruiser” being driven.

Working around cover and concealment was covered next. The importance of leaning into the stance in order to manage the recoil was highlighted once again and also to avoid losing one’s balance during recoil. Keeping the elbows tucked was also revisited not just to maintain control on the shotgun, but also to avoid telegraphing. Working around was a bit awkward especially when switching shoulders.

Estate 2.75″ 9 Pellet 00 Buck @ 5 Yards

One of the most enlightening range modules followed which dealt with patterning buckshot, which is by far the most commonly recommended type of ammunition for defensive applications such as home defense. Any defensive practitioner who has looked into defensive shotgun use with a modicum of honest effort has probably heard that Federal’s 00-Buck with FliteControl stands head and shoulders above any other load for defensive use. Practitioners who have looked for those loads are also aware that the ammunition is difficult to find in stock and is a fair bit more expensive than other options. The patterning module made it unmistakably clear as to why that is the case. Even at five yards, the difference was apparent. The common run-of-the-mill 9 pellet 00-Buck shot I used had a pattern about the size of a medium sized adult palm but with one pellet that was about an inch to the left of the silhouette (see the head shot pictured above). At that same distance, Federal Premium 9-Pellet 00-Buck with FliteControl delivered a column of shot that was just a bit larger than an inch in diameter. At 15 yards, that Federal load delivered a tighter group than the run-of-the-mill buck did at five yards (see the picture below).

Federal Premium 9-Pellet 00-Buck with FliteControl @ 5 yards (left) and 15 yards (right)

The final range work module consisted of a skills evaluation which consisted of a few strings of fire under a bit of time pressure. I’m a big fan of skills evaluations as they provide a student with an idea of where they are at and what they need to work on. This evaluation consisted of three strings of fire each with a 10 second par time. The strings were as follows:

  • From either high or low ready with one slug and one buckshot shell (order doesn’t matter) at 15 yards, on the signal shoot two shots.
  • From either high or low ready with two rounds loaded at 5-6 yards, on the signal, shoot 1, load 1, and shoot 2.
  • With the shotgun in closet ready condition staged on a table at 5-6 yards and the shooter standing at 15 yards, on the signal, run to the shotgun and shoot 1

The evaluation wasn’t scored and it wasn’t deemed as pass or fail. I took it to mean that par times not met and any hit off the silhouette to indicate something that needed work.

The class returned to the classroom after the evaluation where we discussed defensive ammunition further and reviewed the patterning results we saw in the range. We also got yet another Tom Givens “ism”, “Birdshot is for birds, not assholes”, which speaks to the ineffectiveness of Birdshot for defense applications. We also spent more time understanding why Federal Premium 8-Pellet 00-Buck with FliteControl is the gold standard. The 9-Pellet variant that I used because it was the only one I could find does much better than run-of-the-mill 00-Buck in some shotguns but not as well as the 8-Pellet load.

The class wrapped up after discussing desirable modifications to a defensive shotgun and maintenance. This can be summed up as follows:

  • Shorten the stock. Period. End of story.
  • Consider replacing the follower in the magazine tube to make it easier to visually confirm when the tube is empty.
  • Add a side saddle, a butt cuff, or both. In a defensive encounter, you are going to have to deal with the incident with the ammunition you have at that moment in time. Having extra ammo on the shotgun can’t hurt, while not having it might.
  • Red dot or reflex sight isn’t absolutely essential, but it’s become quite popular for good reason. If you do, go with a rugged optic. The shotgun recoil is going to beat the snot out of it. Also, don’t cheap out on batteries.
  • Weapon mounted light? Doesn’t hurt to have, but it’s not essential when turning on the house lights is an option. Prioritizing the modifications listed above over a light is probably a good idea.
  • Keep the gun in good working order as your life or the lives of your loved ones may one day depend on it.

Overall, I’m very glad I took this class as it’s started to demystify the shotgun for me. I still hold the opinion that shotgun isn’t a simple straight forward to tool. It’s surrounded by a lot of myths and there are a multitude of options – different barrel lengths, actions, accessories, and ammunition loads. It is a very versatile tool that can work devastatingly well as a defensive tool if and only if it is configured accordingly. It’s also a tool that can be wielded and used by folks of different builds and stature assuming they know how to run it effectively and efficiently. I continue to be exceptionally satisfied by the quality of instruction available from KR Training and encourage anyone who is interested using a shotgun for home defense to check the class schedule for an upcoming class.

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