Fighting Shotguns: Alive or Dead?

Just recently I spent three days at Gunsite Academy outside of Prescott, Arizona focusing intently on the fighting shotgun. Weatherby firearms the prime sponsor of the event and we would use their PA-459 12 gauge shotgun the entire time.

An issue I encountered with law enforcement shotgun training was that essentially it didn’t exist after the academy.  We had to pass an annual qualification that consisted of a whopping 15 rounds of shotgun ammo fired.  Again, qualification programs are not training.  For most officers, Qual. Day was the only time they fired a shotgun all year or even held it.  I distinctly recall a patrol sergeant having an ND before annual Quals began.  “I didn’t know a round was chambered.” was all he could say for himself.   Luckily the shot bounced off the blacktop range surface toward the berm.   He was one of several that only touched a shotgun once a year.

Police officers must “train and practice” not simply “qualify” with any firearm with which they are armed, shotguns included.   The best target for shotgun training is steel.  During the Gunsite course the only time we shot a paper/cardboard combination was to pattern buckshot loads and while we were using solid lead slugs.

Training and practice breeds familiarity and confidence in the shotgun.  Officers properly trained with the 12 gauge will stop looking at it as a pain-inducer and view it as the most effective close range fighting tool available.  This doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and effort.

Another myth and misunderstanding that is easily addressed during professional training is that as far as the fighting shotgun is concerned you need to learn to aim not just point.  Inside of five yards most modern pump guns with quality ammunition will throw a pattern smaller than your fist.   The new reduced recoil, 8 pellet 00 buckshot loads will more often than not cluster all their shot in a large ragged hole when fired at less than five yards.   You can indeed miss with a shotgun.    

It takes more than 15 rounds a year to maintain proficiency and skill with a pump-action shotgun.   A shooter must learn to smoothly manipulate the action for rapid follow up shots and be able to feed the hungry beast from whichever spare ammo source they have available.

Parting Shots

Every year, 12 gauge defensive ammunition keeps getting better and better.  The big ammo makers; Federal, Remington, Winchester, and Hornady all have reduced recoil, buckshot loads that offer both power and consistently tight patterns.  Pre-fragmented and frangible slugs are available to reduce the chance of over-penetration while extending the effective range.  I haven’t even touched on the myriad 12 gauge specialty ammunition available to law enforcement.

Despite the advances in modern rifles and carbines, the patrol shotgun remains one of the most versatile and powerful fight stopping tools in the police arsenal.  Officers must be thoroughly trained and then undergo supervised practice sessions to truly realize the full potential of this weapon.


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About The Author:

Mr. Markel is a former United States Marine, Police Officer, and has worked as a professional bodyguard both in the U.S. and overseas. A Subject Matter Expert on Small Arms and Tactics, Markel has provided instruction to law enforcement and U.S. Military troops.

As a recognized author and writer, Paul has penned several hundred articles published in numerous professional journals and trade periodicals. Topics include firearms training, use of force, marksmanship, less-than-lethal force options, product reviews and evaluations, emergency medical care, and much more. Sought after as a public speaker, Mr. Markel is at home in front of an audience large or small.


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