I was shocked the first time my 1100 went click instead of bang, just like I did when I found out Clint Eastwood wasn’t a real cowboy. Fact is, shotguns sometimes fail, and when they do you’ve got to identify the problem, fix it and fight on.
Like a carbine, the most-common solution is usually to re-rack the action, but if this doesn’t fix the issue, you’ll need to find cover and inspect the firearm quickly and get it back in the fight. Knowing what to look for and how to fix your shotgun is only half the battle, however. The other is performing the action reflexively, under duress and potentially in low light. Become familiar with common shotgun failures so you’ll know what to do if one happens to you. Here’s how:
Failure to Fire The most-common issue is the gun failing to fire when the trigger is pulled, and this can happen for a host of reasons, including a failure to feed, bad ammo, light firing-pin strike, failure to eject, etc. On a pump gun, simply pump the action without changing your grip on the gun. But, on a semi-automatic while keeping the gun shouldered with the strong (grip) hand, use the support hand to go over the receiver, catch the bolt handle with the index finger and hammer it to the rear. (You can also use the grip hand to work the bolt, if you prefer.)
For a live-fire drill, close your eyes when loading several live shells and a dummy round into your shotgun in random order. Alternatively, have a friend load the shotgun—with a mixture of live rounds and dummies—for you while you’re not looking. Then, shoot at a target. The gun will fail to fire when its hammer falls on the dummy round, so rack the action and fire again as soon as possible. Your goal is to clear the dud round and fire another live shell in less than a second. You can also practice this drill by dry-firing in your home.
Double Feeds The dreaded double feed comes in several varieties with shotguns, and most require manually removing or manipulating at least one shell with a finger. The first, and the worst, is when two shells are released from the magazine at the same time, causing both to jam in line on the floor of the receiver, locking up the bolt. After trying to re-rack, turn the gun up to view into the loading port. If you notice two shells in line, first use your right hand to hold the action fully open, thereby relieving pressure on the shells. Next, use the thumb of your left hand to press the rearmost shell down so that space is created on the forward shell’s rim. Then slide your thumb to the rim of the shell that’s poking halfway out of the mag tube and push it fully back into the tube. Then release the action, which should chamber the rear shell. You might break a nail during this maneuver, but it’ll grow back.
This malfunction can be artificially set up, but it’s tough. Load two shells in the magazine and open the bolt just far enough to release the first one. Then stick your finger into the port just enough to depress the shell-release lever on the side of the receiver to release the second shell. Practice clearing this jam several times so you’ll know the routine if the double-feed demon visits you.
The second type of double feed is when the two shells become stacked on each other. Many times you can turn the gun’s open action port down, rattle the action (on a pump) or work the bolt and let gravity do its work, but this may or may not clear the jam. So the surest thing to do is hold the action back with one hand to relieve pressure while hooking the most-exposed shell with your index finger and yanking it out. It’s easiest to see what’s going on and fix the problem, but with practice you can feel what’s happening and fix it, even in the dark. Try it a few times for yourself.
The third type is a stovepipe, named for when an empty shell gets trapped by the bolt so that it sticks out the side. Most times racking the bolt while rolling the shotgun on its side will clear this jam. Drill by setting up a stovepipe, learning to instantly identify and clear it. After many repetitions, you’ll know exactly what to do should your shotgun suddenly look like it’s smoking a cigar.
Failure to Eject Occasionally, and especially if your gun’s chamber is filthy, it’ll fire a shell that fails to eject. Trouble is, sometimes when you go to clear it, you can’t move the bolt back because the shell is jammed into the chamber. For this, you’ll need to forcefully whack the bolt rearward, and sometimes this takes momentum to overcome the inertia rather than just brute strength. So, if at first you find you can’t budge the bolt back with one hand during a normal re-rack, an effective method is to slam the gun’s butt on the ground while pulling firmly on the bolt handle. This move is not without risks though, because it can crack your buttstock if it doesn’t wear a good recoil pad. But in an emergency, you should know how to do it because it works.
On a pump, while depressing the bolt-release button with the grip hand, go to a knee, then use the fore-end hand to forcefully pound the gun onto the ground evenly across its buttpad. All the force should be delivered downward onto the forearm. Be sure to keep your head and body below or well to the side of the barrel—safety is paramount. You don’t want to go full John Henry here, but rather just a good, solid whack. For a semi-auto, hold the shotgun loading port facing you with your left hand and place the back of your right palm just below the pinky finger on the bolt handle. When you strike the butt onto the ground, let the force travel with your right hand, thereby placing all the downward momentum on the bolt as the gun meets the ground. Practice a few times on grass or carpet to perfect the technique.
On all types of shotguns, if the bolt opens but you see the shell is still in the chamber, you’ll need a knife blade or a flathead screwdriver to pry it out. In both of these cases, you should practice transitioning from the shotgun to your handgun.