In defense of the shotgun

     The shotgun has long been a mainstay in the arsenal of U.S. law enforcement. For many years it was viewed as a general purpose weapon: If you needed more than a pistol, the shotgun was deployed. But the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery...

     The shotgun has long been a mainstay in the arsenal of U.S. law enforcement. For many years it was viewed as a general purpose weapon: If you needed more than a pistol, the shotgun was deployed. But the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery — where officers with standard-issue shotguns engaged heavily armored criminals with automatic weapons — changed all that, and rifles began springing up in police service across the nation. In fact, the explosion of rifle usage since 1997 has overshadowed the shotgun and caused some agencies to consider getting rid of the shotgun altogether.

     This would be a huge mistake. While the rifle is a great addition to our law enforcement arsenal, the rifle should not be viewed as the shotgun's replacement. Rather, like the rifle, the shotgun is a specific tool for a specific purpose. Proper deployment of the shotgun requires knowledge of its capabilities and limitations.


     Patterning is how you determine the spread of the buckshot as the range increases. It is the first step in understanding how your weapon will perform with buckshot. To pattern, fire single rounds at paper targets from 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 yards. Knowing how the gun patterns is a very important part of training and should be the first thing taught to shotgun shooters.

     A shotgun has three levels of use typically referred to as zones. The A zone is where the shotgun is a truly devastating weapon. It's measured from the muzzle out to where the buckshot pattern stays together so that it makes one big ugly hole in the target; this hole can be covered with your open hand. Depending on the weapon/ammo combination, the A zone is out to around 7 to 10 yards.

     The B zone is where the pellets have had time to spread out and develop a pattern but are still on target. This is the zone where the shotgun is most effective and can be exploited to the fullest. The weapon can be fired quickly with a flash sight picture and still make good hits. The B zone goes from about 10 to 20 yards. Inside 20 yards, the shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot is king, but if you need to engage a target at more than 20 yards and you only have 00 buck, the rifle is the way to go.

     The C zone is the point at which the pellets spread out and some may be off the target. While still lethal, the loss of control of the pattern makes the use of buckshot unacceptable for law enforcement.

     Advances in modern ammunition have a huge effect on how a shotgun patterns. Simply changing ammunition can reduce the spread of the pattern by 50 percent. Each gun and ammunition combination will also pattern differently. It is important that the gun be patterned using the same ammunition that is carried on duty so that an officer can be certain of how the gun will perform in combat.


     Proper training with the shotgun is crucial. The most common cause of malfunctions with a pump-action shotgun comes from improperly working the action after firing, commonly referred to as "short-stroking." Short-stroking occurs when the shooter does not work the action all the way. It can often result in an empty chamber or a Type 2 malfunction. It takes training to work the action fully to the rear and then fully forward. This skill can be covered and practiced in dry-fire mode and used throughout live-fire training.

     A common complaint about the shotgun is the low magazine capacity, but this is also is a benefit when reloading because the shotgun can be topped off, one round at a time, as it is fired. With a semi-automatic rifle, you must unload by removing the magazine before you can top it off with a fresh magazine. With a shotgun, even a short lull in the battle allows time to top it off, so you can replenish the expended ammo while scanning for additional threats or while covering the adversary you just shot. Should another lethal threat appear, it can be engaged immediately, as the weapon is still loaded. In training, have your officers shoot drills referred to as "Shoot one, load one" or "Shoot two, load two."

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