Editor’s Note: We may have taken a break from our series on defensive shotguns, but it’s far from being over. Today, I’m proud to be able to share the following contribution from Darryl Bolke; a true expert in the field of fighting shotguns. Darryl is a fantastic shooting instructor with a wealth of knowledge and experience that is matched by very few in our industry today. Whatever your background with shotguns has been, you can probably learn a thing or two from Darryl’s take on a few popular shotgun myths.
One of the defensive firearms that has been a source of a massive amount of myth and misconception is the 12 gauge shotgun. Having used the 12 gauge as my primary long gun for high-risk work as a police officer for almost two decades, I would like to try to shed some light on reality versus myth.
First, I am not just “a cop who used a shotgun”. Those folks are often some of the worse perpetrators of fiction. I used a shotgun many, many times. I used them when most of my co-workers would not. If I had an inkling of high risk, a Remington 870 went with me. This was usually tight interior building work, searches for felons with K9’s, and high-risk vehicle stops. I have used a shotgun with exceptional results in a couple of actual shootings along with the deployments. I also wrote the policy and the program to put true fighting shotguns in every police unit. I hold instructor and user certifications from many different training organizations and trained with some of the most prolific shotgun instructors in the country. They really are “my thing”, and I would put my experience level up against anyone on actual usage. With that out of the way, let’s delve into the first of several articles that are part of our series on the fighting shotgun.
Myth 1: “You don’t have to aim a shotgun”
This is a big one, maybe the biggest. Just pull the trigger and a cone of death appears, right? TV and movies have only perpetuated this myth. Here is the truth. Most guns with good buckshot will have a shot pattern of about 1 inch per yard. Some specialty loads or barrel treatments will hold it tighter. That leaves a lot of room to miss in close quarters and a lot of room to lose most of the effectiveness at distance. Keep in mind that buckshot is pretty much a .33 caliber sphere that makes a single round hole. When those pellets are tightly compressed in indoor room distances, they create devastating wounds that will overwhelm the system by causing numerous wound channels very close together simultaneously. If they make a single “rat hole” in very close quarters, they are hard to recover from by letting a lot of air in and fluid out rapidly. Once we get past about 15 yards with normal loads and 25 yards in the specialty loads, we get single pellets making a single hole in a few places that are not very efficient at stopping people. We also start getting to the point where we are losing many of the pellets off the target, and they will all hit something. So the truth is, you need to aim the gun, and it is most effective at about 15 yards or closer with buckshot loads.
With slugs, we get a single projectile that is highly penetrative (they work well against vehicles and felons behind cover). The slug gives us distance extension, but because of their penetrative nature we very much have to be aware of backstop and ensure we hit our targets. Again, aiming is critical, and in the next article, I will address sighting systems for the shotgun that can help with aim. It is absolutely critical that anyone using a shotgun for defensive needs take the gun to the range with actual defense loads you will be using and pattern the shotgun. Know for sure what your shot spread is and how accurate you are capable of with both slugs and buckshot. Training with birdshot is fine, but you have to also do the work with buckshot and slugs if that is what will be in the gun you are depending on in a crisis.
Myth 2: “Anyone can use a shotgun”
Another huge myth is that shotguns are great for non-dedicated shooters — a horrific assertion that often goes with the “don’t need to aim” myth. The 12 gauge shotgun has heavy recoil, ammunition that’s difficult to manage, limited capacity, and is long and difficult to maneuver in close quarters without very specific handling skills that take training and dedication. Management of the shotgun requires very aggressive handling of the gun when using it to both operate the action and to handle the recoil. Pistol grip only shotguns are by far the worst of the bunch, and the only real practical use for them is breaching, and some specialized units have used them for covert carry. If those tasks are not part of your mission, don’t buy them. These are not the guns to give to the elderly, frail, inexperienced, or novice shooters. Yet, the 12 gauge shotgun and the equally difficult to master airweight snub revolver seem to be favorites to sell or give to the exact people who should not be using them.
“In my first shooting, the two carjackers I was up against both told investigators individually in interviews that they heard me rack my Remington 870 as I exited my car. The effect it had was exactly nothing.”
One of my personal favorites is “you just need to rack the shotgun and criminals will run”. This is utter nonsense. In my first shooting, the two carjackers I was up against both told investigators individually in interviews that they heard me rack my Remington 870 as I exited my car. The effect it had was exactly nothing. They did not surrender or change their actions at all, other than to prepare for a fight.
Truly dangerous predatory criminals are not like you and me. Having guns pointed at them is not new or unique and they do not scare easily. Are there crooks that will run if they hear a shotgun being racked? Sure, but those are the same folks that will run if a light goes on or they are spoken to harshly. So, the racking of a shotgun will simply let a criminal know you are arming yourself for a fight–period. You are now at the mercy of their fight or flight decision. If they flee, great. If they choose to fight, the question now shifts to how well you have prepared for that fight. If your preparation is depending on them running because of a noise, you are in deep trouble. If you have invested in proper selection of your defensive tools and solid professional training, you will be in much better shape.
Myth 3: “Just fire a round in the air”
This is simple. Do not listen to Joe Biden. He is an idiot with zero understanding of criminal and civil law. You are responsible for everything that leaves the gun. Subjecting the community to falling projectiles fired from a gun without justification is a felony in many places and the “Biden Defense” will likely not work.
Myth 4: “Shotguns are too big to use inside”
The myth that the shotgun is too big to work indoors is one that does have a bit of truth. Unfortunately, the typical solution is wrong. This myth is what is often used to sell people on pistol-gripped shotguns with no shoulder stocks. Again, these make matters worse, not better. The truth is that shotguns are difficult to run in close quarters. It is why I was a rarity in my agency for using them a lot indoors. They can be run very efficiently indoors, but you have to train, practice, and have a deep understanding of how to move and function with a long gun in tight confines.
This comes down to dedication of learning. If you decide to try to clear your home (or someone else’s, for the LE/Military folks), you need to devote time and training to figure this out. For most home owners using a shotgun for home defense with minimal training, the best role is to use them in a bunker defense role of holing up in a bedroom or secure area while waiting for authorities.
Myth 5: “Shotguns are the ultimate in reliability!”
The last thing I want to address is reliability. Many think these guns are utterly reliable. They are not. Pump guns can be easily short-stroked under stress. The semi-autos often depend on ammunition and proper maintenance to function well. Most of the shotguns we have for defensive use are sporting guns altered into a role to use for fighting. Sporting guns are not like military guns. They are not easy to clear if malfunctions occur, and when they have parts failure they usually require a trip to a gunsmith to fix. Make sure you invest in good equipment and do not cut corners.
“These guns are often the primary defense of your castle that protects your most precious things. Your family, pets, and your assets are at stake. Do not put these at risk by skimping on getting proper instruction.”
Do not hang tons of accessories off of these guns. They need a light, sling, and sights as a priority, and on-board ammunition capacity as a bonus and that is about it. Use a quality gun and proven accessories, and you will be good on the hardware side. On the software side, training is critical. Seek solid advice and at least one good professional training course at a minimum. These guns are often the primary defense of your castle that protects your most precious things. Your family, pets, and your assets are at stake. Do not put these at risk by skimping on getting proper instruction. Watching movies with lots of shotgun use is not instruction (although I highly recommend Way of the Gun if you want to get some ideas). Invest in training and practice ammunition instead of gadgets and myths. Do some homework and do not depend on the advice of people who often have no idea of what they are talking about. They are usually the ones who elevate myths and TV fantasy to perceived reality status.