I recently read a couple of “survive anything” books. They said little of the shotgun.
I would be remiss if I failed to remind people: 1) assume every firearm is loaded. 2) always control the muzzle (which way it is pointed.) 3) know what your target is and what is behind it. 4) keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Safeties are good, but they are mechanical devices and can fail. The best safety is your brain!
For the most part shotguns have smooth- unrifled- barrels (bores). Shotguns for large game may have rifling- spiral groves and lands inside the barrel. Shotguns are divided into gauges. Gauges are determined by the number of lead balls of a certain size that will weigh one pound. A twenty gauge needs 20 lead balls to weigh one pound and a 12 gauge needs 12 lead balls to weigh one pound. The exception is the .410 which is a caliber not a gauge.. Its case’s outside diameter is the same as the Colt .45 (sometimes incorrectly called the .45 Long Colt): this allows a metallic case, .45 Colt, to be fired in the chamber (examples are the Tarus “Judge” and the S&W “Governor”). Shotguns have the gauge stamped on the barrel along with the chamber length. The chamber length should not be exceeded.
Shot shells: The heart of the shotgun is the shot shell. The case known a the “hull” holds everything together. At its base the is a head stamp, this will tell you the gauge and the manufacturer. Somewhere on the side, it will have the size of the shot, and on the very top there is the crimp (the folds that hold everything in). In the middle of the base there is the outside of the primer. (Inside the primer is the cup holding priming powder-an explosive held in by the anvil. Atop of that lies the powder (a propellent) and atop that there is the wad and shot cup that holds the shot. Shot are the multiple projectiles we will launch toward our target, they are numbered and the larger the number the smaller the shot. The numbers run from 8 to 1. When we get larger they assign letters and then get into buck shot where the numbers again take over and once again the smaller the buck shot the more 0s it is, ranging from 0000 to 0. The larger the shot, the fewer shot there will be.
Modern shotguns are breech loaders- they are loaded from the breech an opening at the rear most part of the barrel.The three basic parts of a shotgun are the lock (action or receiver), the stock (where your hands go), and the barrel (the end is the muzzle where the shot comes out and the rear, near the breech, where the shot shell is fired) called the chamber.
Shotguns by their action types:
Shotguns are made with hinge actions (single shots, side by side doubles, over and unders, and drillings (combination rifle and shotguns), semi-automatic or self-loading shotguns, pumps, bolt actions, and lever actions.
It is interesting that because hinge actions don’t require a device to lift a shot shell into the chamber a 28” hinge action is shorter than a semi-auto, lever or pump with a 28” barrel. Hinge actions also allow barrel inserts which, for example, will allow a twelve gauge to shoot other gauges or even rifle or pistol cartridges. Hinge actions can be the cheapest and also the most expensive of all shotguns.
Semi-automatic or self loading shotguns fire once for every pull of the trigger unit the magazine is empty. The semi-autos are of two basic types: those that are recoil operated (use the recoil of the firearm to compress a spring to move a new shot shell into place) and those that are gas operated (uses some of the gas build up in the barrel to operate the action and move a new shell into the chamber). Because these shotguns use a spring or gas to reload themselves, they recoil less hard than other shotguns do, but weight is usually higher.
Pump action shotguns use a pumping motion of the forearm to move a new shot shell into the chamber. If you have been privileged to watch Tom Knapp, a professional shooter for Federal Ammunition shoot, you know how fast these guns will shoot accurately. They are usually lighter in weight than a semi-auto. These are the “Mr. Reliable” of shotguns.
Bolt actions are sort of the “meat and potatoes” guns. Mossberg made a ton of them. For the most part they were inexpensive, reliable, and slower on follow-up shots. The bolts built specially for slugs are not cheap and they are accurate when used with sabpts.
Lever actions were once available in 12 ga. and - - -. Levers are still made ,however, it appears they are built for the .410. At the risk of making someone mad- t hey, are cute!
(At one time there were revolving shotguns. These looked like a very big single action handgun with a cylinder for a magazine.)
Shotguns and Shooting:
Shotguns are patterned at 30 yds. traditionally. Why, one of the basic forever rules has been, shotguns spread one inch per yard. To make shot spread more we use more open chokes like improved cylinder and cylinder bore instead of full or modified. Another way is to use spreader shot shells, these have a plastic core in the middle of the shot in the shot cup. Back to basics, all of this means that if you shoot across a 21’ room usually most of the shot will be in a 7” circle, a little more with a full choke less with a cyl. bore.
Normally shot going down a barrel may become distorted in shape and will not fly true. This is much less common now because of plastic wad cups and buffered shot. Shotgun chokes are a constriction inside of the barrel are determined by what percent of the pellets strike in a 30” circle at 30 yards. To make shot spread more or less we use more open chokes like improved cylinder and cylinder bore instead of full or modified choke.
Because a 20 gauge shot shell can slip part way down a 12 gauge barrel and hang there out of sight and a 12 will still slip into the chamber and fire causing a disaster, please don’t carry both a 20 and a 12 gauge shot shell at the same time; 20 gauge shot shells are almost always yellow.
Shotguns and Slugs:
Slugs are a single projectile instead of multip[e shot. Slugs are for big game. You may see a standard slug called a Forester slug and a slug that is smaller than the gague and held in place by plastic a sabot.
I’ve spent time with my Remington 1100 with an Imp. cyl. barrel and it keeps standard slugs into 4” circle at 75 yards with a 2X 7 Vari-X II scope. Twenty plus years ago, I bought an 870 WingMaster with a cantilevered scope mount and a rifled barrel. It puts three solid copper sabots into three inches at 100 yds. I was happy.
Last year, I was asked to sight in a new 20 ga. 1100 with a rifled barrel with cantilevered scope mount. I walked away from my bench grinning at the group size, a little less than 4” with copper solids with only 9 slugs through it. Although it was light weight, between it being a twenty and a semi auto there was very little recoil.
If you want more accuracy stick with a rifled barrel and sabots (worth the cost) and if you need more accuracy try a bolt action from Browning, Savage, or Tar Hut. (Remington did make some slug guns that used a screw to firmly fix the receiver and barrel together to gain accuracy.
Using the Shotgun for defense:
The Hard Part: Once a trigger is pulled it cannot be undone!
You are NOT a cop! You don’t have a duty to enforce the law.
Remember rule number 1- Take care of you. While I’m not an attorney, I am old! Hopefully, the “rule of law” will return. Should you need your shotgun merely pointing it at someone means that, if at all possible, you should report it to authorities. The first person reporting an incident is the victim on initial reports. After that initial report you may become the “perp”. Under the “rule of law” plan on dealing with or being held to account by: 1) law enforcement 2) a county or city attorney 3) a possible grand jury 4) a criminal court (dependent on #1-3) 5) possible civil court action.
Remember rule #1! Take care of you! Give law enforcement your correct name. Be simple and general Do not try to give exact details like distances or shots fired, You have been through trauma. State you are the victim. State you were afraid for your life. Identify the perp and any witnesses. Ask for an attorney because of our litigious society. Now, keep your mouth shut.
Using the Shotgun for defense:
To begin with the only reason to fire at another human being is the fear for your own life or one close to you. You aren’t allowed to shoot to “kill” or “wound” an attacker only to stop an attack ( you are not being attacked if the perp is leaving)!
The number one rule: take care of you- you’re not bullet proof! So, you're going through the house 'cause the sheriff's dept. is sorta busy and there's a corner. If the corner is to the left, you're goin' to go at it ready to shoot right handed. (it will expose less of your body.) DON”T GO AROUND THE CORNER YET, go wide, you will see more of the room quicker and when you figure they have little space to hide, sneak a peek, DON"T leave your head stuck out. It has become a contest whether they can pull the trigger from a ready position or you can get your head back. When you withdraw your head and sort out what you have seen -is it a problem or the granddaughter downstairs to play with her cat, know what your’re shooting at!. If you think you're going to identify the target, get your gun up, on target, and slap the trigger - you have just lost your life! ( Deciding to withdraw your head before you stick it out- your brain is already programed, the perp must see you, recognize a threat, and squeeze the trigger.) Gun in low position. (It makes it harder to be grabbed and if someone does make a grab, it will be a contest- them reaching down and your gun coming up -to their legs or crotch. If you’re alined with any body part, pull the trigger! If the corner is to the right, please, go at it left handed and expose less of your body. This is why you practice right and left hand shooting. You are not bullet proof.
What happens if somehow someone grabs your barrel? Step into them, locking your forearm hand tight and push with the hand on your pistol grip just as hard and fast as you can- the butt stock aimed at the side of their head. Doing this the first time, I hit a friend in the jaw, we both thought I had broken his jaw and it was the result of him asking, “What would you do if - - -? He grabbed and pulled - between his pull and my push- Divine intervention is the only thing that saved his jaw.
The very best modification to your home defense shotgun is a tac-light held on the barrel with a clamp. The worst thing you can do is pull the trigger when you are unsure of your target!
The use of a firearm for defense is not to be taken lightly. To even point a gun at another could bring a charge of assault!
If you’re looking to eat a bird in a situation, sneak a little closer and wait a couple of seconds, you may softly whistle and when they raise their head aim slightly above the head. We are talking about eating not sport. If your target is squirrel or rabbit aim slightly in front , the eating is the along the back bone and rear legs. Use the shotgun’s pattern to get meat not render it inedible. (This is where patterning pays off.) Shot size stretches from #12 in .22 birdshot to a single slug. #8 shot is used for small birds and clay targets, If there is a wind, most shooters switch to #7 1/2 shot. Heavier shot isn’t blown around as badly. Some states limit the size shot that may be used for certain activities (here it’s #4 for turkeys and nighttime coyotes). All states demand that non-toxic shot be used for waterfowl as well as a maximum of 3 shells in the gun. Slugs usually work best tif you use as open a choke as possible.
Deer: For deer, Jack O’conner from Outdoor Life recommended, “Pretend they are holding a basketball between their front legs, aim for the center of the ball. If you hit low you will hit the heart, if you hit high you will hit the spine.”
if there is land you can’t hunt for one reason or another and you must stop the deer immediately the only way to guarantee it going down is to break one or both front shoulders. You will loose some meat ,but not the animal.
If you are interested in buckshot, our sheriff’s department has used #4 buck in warmer weather and switched to 00 buck in colder weather when people are wearing heavier coats..
Put up a paper target target 30 yds. away, use tape to make an “X” in the center, aim at the “X”, and pull the trigger. It will show you exactly what your shotgun will do with a particular load. You are patterning your shotgun. I’ve read where in years gone by a British bird shooter mounted a steel plate to the running board of his Rolls Royce and shot at the steel plate as his chauffeur drove by (shot patterns are three dimensional- height, width, and depth; not all shot strikes the target at the same time). Patterning will sow you how well your combination of shotgun, choke, and shot work. You don’t want to see any large holes where there is no shot.
My personal prejudices: They start with Remington Copper Solids (sabots) 2 3/4” for deer, (I will admit to liking the Winchester sabot too) they are are amazing. There is no reason to get beaten up by a 3” slug. I use #7 1/2 shot for trap and grouse. Pheasants, I have killed them with #7 1/2 shot, but #4s are good for distance especially when the dog and I get a runner. #4 steel for ducks and #2-3” for geese (they come in close on the river). The 12 ga. sits with #0000 buck and the 20 ga. with #000 buck.
Shotguns, my friend Dale loved his Ithica 10 ga. for geese, it really makes a 3” 12 ga. look tiny. He would bring down geese I would refuse to shoot at. Dale’s favorite trap guns were a Winchester 12-Y and a Winchester 101. My friend, Mark, likes his Mossberg 500. Friend Mike loves his Bennelii, it is super light weight for tromping big fields in SD and some stack barrels for trap. Another friend, Mark, likes his “Humpback” Browning. i like my 870s, both the 20 and 12. The 20 carries better (lighter for grouse) and the 12 (for pheasants). I like my rifled slug gun so much I keep thinking about taking it into areas open for rifle. The 1100 is sort of the duck gun and serves for trap with its 30” barrel.. The wife has a LT. Wt. 20 870, she is happy. It is set up with a red dot and a tac-light. The son-in- law’s father has a Stevens 16 ga. with two sets of barrels, a 24’ and a 28 inch and i hope he’ll loan it to me for a day or two of grouse hunting. The point being there are many good shotguns.
With a shotgun, the NRA method is - first good position (legs spread about shoulder width, hands where they need be), swing to the target, swing through the target, slap the trigger, and FOLLOW THROUGH keep the gun moving. It really works! For shooting running deer , a shotgun slug is relatively slow- a shotgun and most hunting handguns have about the same velocity. The giant, Jack O Conner, recommended to shoot a running deer at 100 yards, swing through and when you get under its nose squeeze the trigger keeping the gun moving. He was writing about a rifle. Shotgun projectiles are slow compared to rifle projectiles, so if you do what I just wrote, you are likely to hit a deer in the butt. Instead, increase your lead to about a body length and keep your shotgun moving. Going to a range where they have a running deer target is educational.
Shotguns are useful tools. The larger the shot the fewer the pellets. Shot shells are heavy, each is at least i oz. and a 3” 12 ga is about 2 oz. If you put 50 rounds in a get home bag you will know. The heavier the shot, the more recoil you will get hit with.(Newton’s 2 nd Law). A good sling can free your hands, but a flushing bird doesn’t give you much time and in dense thickets a sling will “hang -up“ on anything available. A short smooth bore with open sights will work with slugs and close cover birds like grouse. Although I like Remingtons, the Express/ Sportsman’s models with their parkerized finishes seem less resistant to rust than the old WingMasters. A Cerakote finish, very tough and rust resistant, would help..
Because with a shotgun you normally have a front bead sight and maybe a small mid-rib bead, your eye becomes the rear sight. This means your eye needs to be in the same position every time so “cheek-weld” (placement) becomes very important. If you choose not to be be bruised, make sure the butt of the shotgun is firmly into your shoulder.
Shotguns are reliable. Keep them clean. For a model 1100 the two metal gas rings and one rubber ring are cheap and good to have on hand. The magazine tube works as part of the gas system so keep it clean and lubed (if you have to ‘borrow” a couple of drops of oil from your truck’s dipstick to free up your 1100- you need to up grade your maintenance schedule), and the tiny hole/ holes from the barrel to the gas rings need/s a paper clip once in a while. 870s and 1100s, well, sometimes the springs that keep the shells in the magazines come loose and it is difficult to align everything so the pins that hold the trigger mechanism don’t want to go in, Midway sells a really neat tool for re-staking these springs. If you are hesitant to pull your gun apart or worried about losing a small part in the action. Spray it down well with Gun Scrubber, let it sit for a while, spray it down a second time, and use a nylon brush. Most “gunk” will be displace and run out. Re-lubricate your firearm sparingly, many lubricants will gather and hold dirt and dust. There are ‘dry’ lubricants. Hesitant to go to a “bore snake” because I had read you throw them into a washer, my friend Brian, said simply spray it down with gun scrubber and use your air compressor (wear goggles). Barrels should be cleaned from the breech to the muzzle.
Weight: Firearms are heavy, some have written you need a shotgun, rifle, centerfire handgun, and some type of .22. Whoa! What about ammo? If you’re carrying it all , consider a Savage 24. A stack barrel , rifle atop a shotgun. At one time it was offered with a .22 atop a 20 gauge called the “camper’. If memory serves, it was also offered with a ,357 mag. Rifle barrel and a 20 ga. shotgun.
Home safety, if you don’t have a safe and are worried about inquisitive children/ grandchildren, you can make your shotgun inoperable by placing a padlock behind the trigger and locking the padlock, this will make the trigger inoperable. Be sure to try to see if the trigger is inoperable by pulling the trigger on an unloaded gun.
I haven’t covered everything. I surely hope someone can and will do it better. I hope you’ve learned a little and I hope I made some people think- one step further. Good Luck to you. d
Bonus: You may question my liking for the 2 3/4 inch shells. Firearms are ruled by the c.u.p. (cupric pressure units) , in other words , “the amount of pressure generated when the primer explodes and the powder burns”. Hopefully, there is nothing to stop this from exerting its full pressure on the bottom of the shot cup, but the heavier the shot the more pressure it takes to get it moving. There are a ton of factors that enter in , however, to prevent pressures from getting too high if the projectile weight increases, generally the velocity needs to go down. Lighter weight shot loads can be driven faster.