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If you plan to depend on a shotgun as a home defense tool, you need to practice with it. That should probably go without saying, but the myth is still alive and well that the shotgun is some kind of magic wand that sprays death whenever you point it in the general direction of a bad guy. But as anyone who has trained at all with a defensive shotgun knows, you can miss, even at close range. Not only that, but it takes some effort to learn how to manipulate a shotgun smoothly and confidently, especially if it’s a pump action. Just like any self-defense tool, the ideal goal is to able to run the shotgun well without having to put any conscious thought into it, and to get to that point, we have to practice.

But here’s where you might run into a challenge — compared to training with a handgun or a carbine, there just aren’t as many resources available for working with the shotgun in a home defense context. It’s harder to find training classes, drills, and books, so even if you want to put in the work to improve your shotgun skills, figuring out where to start is not always straightforward.

If you start digging around for information using the shotgun for self-defense, you’ll likely see the influence of training centered around law enforcement needs and 3-gun competition. There is plenty we can learn from both of those contexts, but there is also a lot of information that’s not really relevant for the average person for home defense. We need to weed some of that stuff out if we want to get to the material that’s going to actually help us use a shotgun to defend against a home invasion.

I like to keep shotgun training pretty simple. I don’t worry much about skills like rapid slug changeovers. They’re fun to do, but for most of us, totally unnecessary. I also don’t bother with competition style reload techniques because, like most people, I don’t keep a belt with shell caddies next to my bed at night. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing these skills if you’re a multi-gun competitor or if your job involves breaking down doors, but when the primary goal is to become proficient with the shotgun for defense of the home, for the majority of us, our time is better spent working on other skills.

In the video below, I outline four simple drills that focus on the fundamental skills for running a home defense shotgun.

Practical Drills for the Home Defense Shotgun

Watching these drills via video makes them a lot easier to understand than reading about them, but if you just gotta do things the hard way, here’s the transcript:

There are a lot of ways to over complicate the defensive shotgun, but if your goal is to train for the purpose of home protection, I think it’s best to keep things pretty straightforward. There are basically two aspects of the defensive shotgun that I like to spend most of my time at the range focusing on.

First, the manipulations. In my experience, this is one of the most difficult parts of learning to run the shotgun well: quickly loading and reloading the shotgun, and if it’s a pump, running the slide. We want to make sure we get a lot of repetitions with the basic manipulations so we don’t have to put any conscious thought into making the gun function.

The other big thing to work on is mounting the gun — bringing it on target from a ready position.  For home defense, we’re probably dealing with an unknown threat — we don’t want to point the gun at anyone or anything unless we’re pretty sure we have to shoot it. And that can happen very quickly, so we need to work on getting that gun up on target and making sure that first hit is an accurate one.

The big advantage of the shotgun is its ability to end a fight very quickly, but that’s dependent on the user’s ability to operate the shotgun properly and get quick and accurate hits.

With those goals in mind, I’m going to suggest four defensive shotgun drills that I have gathered and adapted from a few different sources. I think if you practice these and get pretty comfortable with them, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming competent with the shotgun for the purpose of home defense.

If you want to run these drills the way I’m going to demonstrate, you’ll need five things:

  1. A pump action or semi-automatic shotgun
  2. Some way to store ammo on the gun like a side saddle or stock mounted shell carrier
  3. A shot timer
  4. A few silhouette style targets
  5. And some birdshot or buckshot.

I’m going to demo all these drills with birdshot at 5 yards. If I go out much farther than that, the targets get torn up too quickly and I can’t tell what I’m hitting. At five yards, if I can keep most of my pellets inside the center ring, then I should be able to do the same thing with buckshot at longer ranges. At the end of a practice session, I might grab a few rounds of buckshot and run some of these drills out at 10, 15, or even 20 yards — basically inside-the-house type distances —  just to make sure I can still keep my pattern roughly in the center of the target.

1. Mount, Shoot One

For the first drill, I’m going  to focus on mounting the gun quickly. When the timer beeps, I’m going to bring the gun up on target and fire one shot.

With all of these drills, I’m going to be starting from a ready position. It can either be high ready like this, or low ready. I like to change it up and work on both. Either way, the main focus of this drill is to make sure I can get into a firing stance really quickly and get sights on target. If I’m working with a pump action, I’m also going to be paying attention to manipulating the slide. I’m going to run the slide immediately after every shot as part of my follow-through. I want to make sure that becomes second nature to me.

2. The Follow-Through

For the next drill, I’m going to focus a little more on the follow-through. It’s going to look just like the first drill except I’m going to mount and fire two shots instead of just one.

This lets me practice mounting the gun, and also forces me to have good follow-through since I have to make that second shot. I’m working on my ability to control recoil and also manipulate the slide without short-stroking it.

And you can add as many shots to this drill as you want — you can mount and fire three or four rounds, or go through a full magazine. It’s a good idea to change it up so you don’t program yourself to always fire the same number of shots.

3. Shoot, Reload, Shoot

For this third drill, I need to start with a round in the chamber, at least one round in the magazine tube, and ammo on the shell carrier. I’m going to mount, fire one round, and then reload one round into the tube from my shell carrier, and then fire a second round.

There are a bunch of different techniques for reloading the shotgun and that’s not something I’m covering today. But whatever technique you choose, adding time pressure and trying to do it as fast as you can is going to expose some weaknesses. You’re going to find out where you’re most likely to fumble and make mistakes so that hopefully you can avoid them in the future.

And just like the other drill, you can change up the round count. The idea is to just get into the habit loading that tube whenever you’re not shooting.

4. Reload from Empty

On this last drill, I’m going to work on reloading the gun from empty. I’m going to start with one round in the chamber, an empty magazine tube, and ammo on my shell carrier. I’m going to mount, fire one round, then load two rounds into the empty shotgun, and then fire those two.

This drill can get a little tricky. With a pump action shotgun, the reality is I’m not going to be able to count my shots, so I’m not going to know I’m empty until I try to fire and I get a click instead of a bang.

So when I’m running the drill, I’m going to fire the first round, and then I’m going to try to fire the second round and get that click. Then I’ll open the action and load a round directly into the receiver, and load a second round into the magazine tube, and then I’ll fire those two shots.

With a semi-auto, I run this drill a little differently because when the gun is empty, the trigger goes dead and the bolt locks open, so I can skip right to the reloading step.

Of course, just like the others, you can change up the round count — you can start with more ammo in the gun and you can vary the number of rounds you reload.

Realistically, it is extremely unlikely that you would ever have to fire enough rounds to run your shotgun dry in an actual home defense encounter. But trying out this drill gives you a lot of opportunity to get really familiar with running your shotgun and you’re going to discover every type of operator error possible, and you’ll learn how to fix them on the fly.

You don’t have to go to the range to practice a lot of this stuff. You can get really proficient with a lot of these manipulations just by practicing at home with dummy shells like these, so don’t underestimate the value of dry practice.

If you’ve got any shotgun drills you like to use, or any variations on the ones I’ve suggested, be sure to let us know about them in the comments.

Don’t forget to catch up on our whole series on defensive shotguns here!


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  • Uncle Buckshot

    Great article. I’m really gaining some useful knowledge. That’s a sweet 870P. Do you think an SBS is worth it?

    • Good question. Depends on your situation. I’m still evaluating and will probably address the SBS issue in an article or video before we’re done with the shotgun series.

      • Uncle Buckshot

        Awesome, I’m really loving the shotgun series.

    • retfed

      Let me just throw something out there regarding an SBS:
      You should always assume that any defensive gun use will end up in court. If it does, your opponent (either the prosecutor or the plaintiff’s attorney in a civil case) is going to constantly refer to your SBS as a “sawed-off shotgun.” It sounds evil, scary, and illegal, and makes you look like a kill-crazy thug. (It happened to me in a case where I was carrying an agency-issued 870 with a 14-inch barrel, and I didn’t even shoot anybody.) Do you really want to have to explain to twelve people who were too stupid to get out of jury duty, that your SBS is perfectly legal? And why you couldn’t use a standard, “legal-length” shotgun?
      In court, you want everything to be as simple and straightforward as possible. Don’t clutter it up with side issues.

      • Uncle Buckshot

        Thanks for your input. If I ever do go the SBS route it won’t be an HD shotgun. I have an old wingmaster with wood furniture for that.

      • That is a good point to consider. I would also add that the likelihood of this kind of malicious prosecution is highly dependent on where you live — castle doctrine laws and general public sentiment vary according to locale. I would not have wanted to own an SBS for home defense in some places I’ve lived in the past, but I am fairly comfortable with it here in East TN where DGUs are generally perceived more favorably by the public.

        But just to put it in perspective, if a prosecutor really has an agenda, they could just as easily make a big deal out of a shotgun with black synthetic furniture, a sidesaddle, or pistol grip as they could an SBS.

        • retfed

          “. . . if a prosecutor has an agenda . . .” Agreed. Like I said, I just threw it out there, and it’s America; you can do what you want. But if you’re in court, you’re worrying about how to pay a 6-figure legal bill on top of a possible 7-figure judgment, or a lifetime in jail, and feed your family in the aftermath. Do you really want to hand a mala fide argument to your enemy? Best case scenario: You win the argument, but it will take a full day of your lawyer’s time and cost you an extra 10 grand.
          My take: I only use unmodified commonly-used factory firearms and commonly-used factory ammunition. I could make a case for exotic stuff to a knowledgeable gun enthusiast, but I want to be able to tell a jury I used what the cops use. They can understand that.

          • “I want to be able to tell a jury I used what the cops use.” Which is a great defense for using a common, pump action shotgun with the type of short barrel frequently used by police due to their ease of handling indoors.

            I do understand where you’re coming from. Using an NFA regulated firearm carries some potential legal risks, and that’s not a fact I would encourage anyone to ignore. However, I personally think it’s a defensible decision, and just one of many legal factors to consider.

            Frankly, I think people in the shooting culture tend to get way too caught up in maintaining the *perception* of innocence and don’t think nearly enough about actually trying to avoid violent confrontation to begin with. De-escalation, avoidance, retreat. Don’t drink too much. Don’t hang out with idiots. Don’t shoot at noises in the dark. That kind of thing is far more important for avoiding legal trouble than the size of your gun barrel.

          • retfed

            Once again, I agree with you: The best gunfight is the one you avoid. But I’ve sat in enough courtrooms that I don’t minimize the bad results that can come from using a weapon that the enemy can use to demonize you.
            The issue in a trial should be straight up: Did you or did you not act lawfully? Your enemies will try to confuse the jury with other issues. I just think it’s foolish to hand ammo to your enemy.
            In the case I mentioned, the opposing attorney (in this case, the defendant’s) tried to demonize the LEO (me) for using a “sawed-off shotgun.” That was easily shut down by saying “That’s what I was issued.” The armed citizen won’t have that luxury. “That kind of thing is far more important . . . than the size of your gun barrel.” In a rational world full of rational people, that would be true.

        • retfed

          (This comes after my original reply; please read the other one first.)
          While I’m on my soapbox, “. . . [H]ere in East TN . . .” I often hear that argument: “My jurisdiction is cool with DGUs,” but consider this: You use an SBS in a legitimate DGU inside your residence; your county prosecutor rules that castle doctrine applies, no charges are filed. The bereaved family, seeking only justice and in no way looking for a payday, hires a lawyer, who looks at the police report and announces on TV that you used a “sawed-off shotgun” to gun down the good churchgoing boy who was just turning his life around. Subsequently, half the city gets burned down. Is your buddy the prosecutor going to stand by you then?
          And what if the U.S. Attorney gets involved? You mentioned East TN; the Eastern District of TN includes Chattanooga and Knoxville. What’s the jury pool like there?
          It’s not as farfetched as it seems. I wouldn’t bet my freedom or my family’s future that it can’t happen.

      • bucherm

        “Do you really want to have to explain to twelve people who were too
        stupid to get out of jury duty”

        Treating Jury Duty as something that only stupid people do is why the Jury system is screwed up. It’s your civic duty if you want a free and fair judicial system.

        Be the change you want to see in the world.

        • retfed

          I agree with you wholeheartedly. Every time I was called for jury duty I tried to get empaneled, but I was rejected because I was a LEO. But if you ask 100 random people, 90 of them will tell you they will do everything they can to get out of it. The only people who seem to get picked for juries are the ones with no responsibilities, no knowledge of how the world or the law works, and lots of free time.

          In other words, I tried to be the change I want to see, but the world won’t let me.

  • PapaMAS

    Excellent article. I love this series – you are serving a population who I think are little served. Thank you!

  • jaxtom

    Thank you. Sweet shotguns!

  • Horton

    What is a good brand and source of dummy shells? I bought some once that were such soft plastic that they jammed the pump action as the metal dug into them. They weren’t that cheap, either, and I was very disappointed. Took me a long time to extract the jammed one, too.

    • Spencerhut

      A-Zoom make solid aluminum ones. We use them in the shop for demos and after six years they are finally wearing out.

  • Frank Howell

    I spent nearly 30 years as an AF Combat Arms Instructor. These are some of the same drills we taught our Security Forces with the shotgun. Excellent information here.

  • T

    Great demonstration, to assist one in self defese id rather be judged by ,12 than carried by 6, the law states we can defend our life, and cohntry,and the second amendment says so