Manufacturer of Custom Firearms and Suppressors
P.O. Box 225 Elliston, MT 59728
SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT: In times
past, or so the legend goes, a fathers old double-barreled scattergun sufficed to
dissuade many a false suitor or fortify a faltering groom, lest misfortune soil his
daughter's reputation. Staring down the twin tubes of a firearm with bores
approaching three-quarters of an inch in diameter is no doubt a behavior-altering
experience. This effect is no less true whether confronting unwelcome intruders in
the home, convicts in a prison yard, or enemy combatants on a battlefield. Despite
its limitations, the shotgun, perhaps more than any other handheld weapon, possesses an
intimidation factor that makes its application in many close quarters life-and-death
situations highly desirable. Over the past century this has led to many descriptive
terms such as riot gun, trench gun, combat shotgun, home defense shotgun, security
shotgun, entry gun, breaching gun, and tactical shotgun. In recent parlance the
relatively sedate idiom"social shotgun has come into vogue, much as
"modern sporting rifle" has replaced "assault weapon" in the war of
words between opposing political philosophies. But
for our purposes the social shotgun in all of its
forms is essentially the same, the only real difference being the intended application. For example, the riot gun is a police weapon used
to intimidate unruly crowds or to deal with armed suspects.
The combat shotgun is the same firearm used by soldiers to break an ambush, enter a
building, or guard prisoners and vital facilities. By
extension, a home defense or home security shotgun
is any privately owned shotgun used to protect life and property. A tactical shotgun is all of the above. Each version may differ in some important details, but at
the heart of it all they remain the same firearm.
To better understand these similarities, differences, and applications, we will explore the historical development, terminology, and operation of various types of modern social shotguns, along with their functions, strengths, weaknesses, and proper employment. We leave it to the readers to decide which (if any) of these guns are best suited to their needs. The good news is that the field of options has never been better. The bad news is that it is impossible to evaluate them all, as the list keeps expanding. Therefore, consider this monograph to be more of a running guide rather than a definitive work on the subject (that would require volumes), so check back periodically for updates.
TACTICAL APPLICATION: In this first installment we will examine some facts, fallacies, and misconceptions regarding the practical defensive or offensive use of pump, double-barrel, and semiautomatic shotguns. Realizing that any modern, unaltered, long-barreled shotgun loaded with buckshot might suffice in a pinch, we will illustrate why a customized, multi-shot, short barrel shotgun filled with low-recoil defensive ammunition generally is preferable for close-in protection. In a later section we will address the history and development of repeating shotguns, including the first practical multiple shot designs such as revolvers, lever actions, and the still popular side-by-side (SxS) double barrel guns. Aside from historical development, we will forgo most discussion of the single-shot, bolt-action, and black powder shotguns, as they are poor candidates for these roles due to their slow and awkward mode of operation and loading. The same can be said of most current production lever-action and revolving shotguns, either because they are based on very old, somewhat weak designs, or are limited to the insufficient 410 bore (more on that later).
Be it myth, magic, or simple math, defensive shotguns are traditionally thought of as area weapons capable of stopping multiple threats with a single blast. But this is an illusion. There is insufficient mass or spread in the largest shotshell to cover more than a few inches of space within the confines of a room. Therefore, shotguns, like all other firearms, should be aimed. This aim need not be as precise as that of single projectile arms, but it must be reasonably close because shot spreads slowly in a rough cone shaped pattern. For buckshot, the rate of spread is about one inch for every yard, so at 7 yards (bedroom distance), the group size would be approximately 7". Such a small amount of spread is not likely to hit more than one assailant, and if it does, its effectiveness is mitigated by the reduced amount of shot striking multiple targets. Factor in the prevailing lighting conditions, adrenaline rush, and probability the target is not remaining stationary, and one can see how easy it is to miss an attacker altogether.
For those interested in testing this theory in the home without perforating the bedroom wall, an adjustable beam flashlight or adjustable laser pointer will suffice. Determine the room distance involved and calculate the required beam width. For example, if the distance is six yards (18 ft) this would equate to a six inch circle. Place a man-sized target on the wall or door and mark a six inch circle in the center of it. Stand 18 feet away and aim the light at the center target, adjusting the flashlight beam accordingly. If the beam cannot be made small enough, tape a cone shaped piece of heavy construction paper to it (a turkey baster works well for forming the cone). This will concentrate the light into a small circle. If the circle is too small, simply enlarge it by trimming a small amount of paper from the end of the cone. Ideally, the light or laser should be attached to a shotgun and aligned with its bore. If the light or laser has a pressure switch, activate it as soon as the gun is brought on target, and notice where the light strikes the target in relation to the center circle. For greater precision, you can use a shotgun cartridge laser bore sighter. These cost about $15-20 on Amazon (circa 2016) and won't require searching for a turkey baster. The only problem is they must be turned on before inserting them in the shotgun, so a light will always be visible during the aiming, which may skew your results by inadvertently aiding your aiming. If you plan to train regularly indoors, it would behoove you to purchase one of the laser ammo training kits available online. These tools can cost over $100, but the ammunition saved by using them more than makes up for this expense. The advantages of the laser ammo are that it can be used in your personal firearm, only activates a light beam when the trigger is pulled, and can be used with reactive targets so you know when you've made a solid "hit".
Whichever approach you try, run a variety of drills based upon different scenarios to test your reaction time and response effectiveness. For greater realism, use a dummy shotgun with a pressure activated light attached. One practice scenario would require laying in bed under covers in the dark with the dummy shotgun resting by the nightstand. Have someone record or time the event as your "intruder" enters the room. To make the test more interesting, include multiple intruders and family members. This way you will not know what to expect in each trial as you quickly try to distinguish friend from foe, assailant from hostage, etc. You may find you react too slowly, shoot too quickly, or misjudge your intruder's intentions. But in the process you will come to better understand the limitations of your shotgun and therefore, its proper employment.
The accuracy of a shotgun at close range, even when firing buckshot, is a double-edged sword. Just as it is easy to miss if not aimed properly, the accuracy is good enough at close range to make a precise shot in a hostage situation. But this too takes practice. You must know in advance your shotgun, your ammunition, and your own ability. This only can be achieved through live fire on the range at various known distances, using a supported rest. Record and examine your results at each of these distances. Be sure to include the brand of ammo and load chosen, the particular shotgun and barrel used, and the size choke installed (if applicable). Once you know the performance capabilities of your gun(s) and ammo, determine which combination best suits your needs. Now you can test your skills using hostage targets you have purchased or made yourself. Metal reactive targets that swing back and forth are another good way to hone your shooting, and they're fun! Indeed, trying various target systems and shooting regimens helps keep you from becoming bored and complacent. Repeated practice is the only way to maintain the decisive edge you will need if a crisis occurs, so follow the motto, "He who trains, wins".
Bedroom accuracy is not the only skill required when mastering a social shotgun. Iron-sighted shotguns loaded with slugs have been used successfully to engage targets at ranges exceeding 200 yards, though such use in a tactical or hunting situation is not justified unless no other option exists. A more practical engagement range for buckshot is 25 yards, and for slugs, 50 yards. With practice, these ranges can be doubled if the right ammunition, sights, and choke are used. Just remember that the further away a target is, the less of a threat it likely is to be. This is situational dependent, but if in doubt about your shotguns effective range, or whether you should attempt that shot, follow the 18" rule. This diameter equates to the average width of a man-sized silhouette. Try to keep all your shot within this zone, if possible. Otherwise, you may be placing innocent victims at undue risk in the event some of your pellets miss the target.
another factor to consider. At close range (under 25 yards) the buckshot fired from
a shotgun is superior to handgun ammunition in terms of energy distribution to the target,
as well as being less likely to overpenetrate and strike somewhere else. One can argue the rifle or carbine delivers more
energy on target, but how well this energy is absorbed by the target is debatable, and the
overpenetration issue is even more severe. What
isn't debatable is the increased probability of striking a vital organ or blood vessel
when using nine 00 buckshot pellets, as opposed to a single rifle bullet. These advantages are nullified if you are firing
slugs. This point is of particular concern
when operating indoors or in crowded areas where accidentally striking an innocent victim
is a possibility. Slugs have their place, but not in the typical home defense
Felt recoil and the noise level of a shotgun are valid concerns, the latter in particular when firing indoors. These problems are exacerbated as barrel length is shortened, making the gun lighter and placing the muzzle blast closer to the shooter's ear. Reduced recoil loads help offset both factors, as well as limiting overpenetration. A reduced recoil 12 gauge buckshot load may be the closest thing available to an ideal self-defense load for use in the home. Failing that, a 20 gauge shotgun may suffice and offer even less recoil and blast.
Lastly, there remains the perception that a handgun or pistol-gripped shotgun is preferable to any long gun because the latter is too cumbersome for indoor use. This may be true if one is armed with a long barreled goose gun or deer rifle, but when armed with a carbine length firearm, this problem is mitigated to the point of irrelevance. For example, an 18" barreled shotgun or 16" barreled carbine extends about as far as a properly aimed handgun, so indoor operations should not be impeded (see illustration below). A short barrel shotgun with a full stock may be ideal in this situation due to its more compact overall length, which, when shouldered and aimed, extends even less than a properly aimed handgun. Other advantages of a shoulder stocked firearm are its superior aiming support, better balance, faster recovery time between shots, retainability if suddenly grabbed, and its utility as a club (butt-stroking).
SOCIAL SHOTGUN FEATURES: The area where the most lively debate takes place is in regard to the features deemed desirable in a social shotgun. We will address this topic in greater detail in future sections, but for now the most basic requirements will be discussed. A social shotgun must be of practical use when you are under duress and operating in less than ideal conditions. This requires it to be reliable, powerful, controllable, reloadable, retainable, aimable, accurate, and compact. Only three action types meet these most basic requirements, the break action, pump, and semiautomatic.
Within the break action models, the side-by-side (SxS, double-barrel) and the over-under (O/U, superposed) are best suited to defense. Break action guns with more than two barrels might work, but at the sacrifice of good handling qualities. Break action shotguns should not have manually operated hammers, and ideally they should have auto-ejectors that only eject a fired round, and merely present any unfired rounds for manual extraction. A single trigger is not required, but if it is present it should be mechanically operated so it is still capable of discharging the second barrel in the event the first barrel fails to fire. By contrast, if an inertia operated trigger fails to discharge the first shot, the operator must resort to striking the buttstock on a hard surface to reset the firing pin. The safety should be mounted on the tang for quick, ambidextrous access, with a forward motion required to deactivate it. Ideally, this safety should not automatically reset when reloading. Some shotguns have a throw lever built into the safety that allows the operator to select which barrel fires first. This is an unnecessary complication in a defensive shotgun. Some shotguns have an inertia activated lock that blocks the trigger when the gun is held muzzle down at a 45 degree or greater angle. This feature should be avoided on a tactical firearm. The shotgun should have a full stock, preferably with a semi-pistol grip. Barrel length should be no more than 20", and overall length (OAL) no more than 36". Ideally, the gun should be no more than 32" in OAL.
Within the pump action category, focus should be placed on ease of operation and human engineering (ergonomics). Ideally, this means locating the safety and action bar release where they can be engaged intuitively. A tang mounted safety that moves forward for "fire" and rearward for "safe" works best. The action release button should be situated behind the trigger guard so it can be pressed upward into the receiver without moving the firing hand. The loading port should be free of ramps or gates that can bind a cartridge in the action, in case your fingers slip during reloading or you "short-stroke" the action. Twin action bar rails can help eliminate any binding when working the action. Movement of the bolt should be fast and smooth. Downward ejection is ideal, but not critical. Overall length should not exceed 36", and should be less, if possible. Best balance and easier reloading are achieved with magazines holding no more than five rounds, but longer magazines can be used if preferred. Each additional shell adds over 2.5" to the length of the magazine tube. "Compact" high capacity pump guns that incorporate such features as dual magazine tubes or detachable magazines are gaining popularity, but their utility in a tactical defensive situation remains to be proven.
Within the semiautomatic category, primary emphasis should be placed on reliable operation. No semiautomatic shotgun can be expected to handle any load fed through it. The gun must be test-fired with a variety of defensive loads to determine which one is the most dependable. This may require using heavy charges, as moderate or light charges may not generate enough pressure to cycle the action every time. Semiautomatics function best with longer barrels, but can be tweaked to work with shorter barrels (under 20"). Loading and unloading operations are a bit more involved than with a pump shotgun, therefore the placement of controls is important. A tang operated safety (pushed forward to fire) is desirable. The bolt release should be within reach of the extended trigger finger, or else situated so the firing hand does not leave the trigger group. The bottom loading port should be open or skeletonized to aid in clearing jams. A robust charging handle also will help when clearing malfunctions (Aftermarket "tactical" charging handles are available for some shotguns, but should be tested to ensure they do not interfere with operation). Gas operated shotguns are the softest recoiling shotguns, but must be kept clean for reliable operation. They also tend to handle a wide variety of loads. Recoil or inertia operated shotguns tend to be trimmer and lighter than gas guns, and foul much less, but they also kick harder. Where semiautomatic shotguns are concerned, there is no panacea, and individual tastes will vary, so use the type you find most reliable and comfortable.