This article, "'You Won't Believe These 10 Shotgun Hacks," appeared originally as a Shotguns column in the September 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
Shotguns are fairly straightforward arms, but occasionally I’ll learn an easier way to run one. Here are 10 shotgun hacks that just might work for you.
10. Tubular Magazine Spring Mastery
If you’ve ever tried to clean a tubular magazine or remove its plug, then you know that dealing with that metal monster is akin to catching a greased cobra. And that end cap! Could it be a bigger pain? Regardless, here’s a trick to make removing and reinstalling the mag spring easier.
First, lay the shotgun on a table with the end of the magazine tube overhanging the edge. This way, if and when the spring escapes it won’t put your eye out or crash into your wife’s heirloom chandelier. If your gun is a Benelli or other kind that has a retaining cap with two bore holes in the end, use a pair of needle-nose pliers to squeeze the holes together so the cap will slide out easily. Wrap a rag around the spring as a safety net as you remove it.
Older Remingtons are tougher because their retention caps have no holes. Cuss Remington, then use a flat-head screwdriver to pry the cap out while maintaining pressure on the end of the tube with a rag to guard against the jack-in-the-box effect. (Mercifully, many new Remingtons have a plastic retaining cap that can be twisted to lock and unlock. This $1 part is light years ahead of the old one that must be beaten back into the tube with blunt force and hate.)
Once the cap is out, you can leave it out and torture it periodically, but you run the risk of putting an eye out if someone removes the end cap and is unprepared. (Better yet, consider buying a Benelli-style retention cap for the Remington from Midway.)
But here’s the hack: To reinstall the magazine spring, use any rigid dowel that will fit into the tube (a half-inch wooden dowel is perfect, but I use an old aluminum hunting arrow). Place the rod in the tube, then place the spring on the dowel and use it as a guide rod to force the spring into the tube. When you get down to the last inch, remove the dowel and slide a butter knife through the last couple coils to hold it there as you find the end cap and install it. Remove the butter knife just before the end cap contacts the tube’s threads.
9. Condition 3 Carry, Plus One
Many people know what condition 3 shotgun carry is—the shotgun has its magazine fully loaded, no shell in the chamber, but with the action uncocked so that all the shooter must do is rack the bolt without having to find the magazine-release button. But, carrying this way has one big negative, and that is the loss of one round. On first-generation Benelli Super Black Eagle shotguns, Remington’s new Versa Max and others, you can fully load the magazine, then drop a shell though the ejection port onto the shell carrier. Using your thumb, hold this “floating shell” below the bolt as you ride the bolt into battery. In this way, you’ll maximize the number of shells in the shotgun while still carrying on an empty chamber. And of course, if you wish to carry with a loaded chamber in condition 1, you can use this hack to add another shell to the gun’s overall capacity.
8. Hinged-Barrel Love
While closing the action of a break-open shotgun, thumb the action-release lever. This will make it much easier to close, it’ll make the process silent and it will significantly reduce wear and tear to your over/under, side-by-side or single-shot’s locking system.
7. Be Safe, Show Safe
When holding your shotgun at the range or anytime you want to make safe and show the world that it’s safe, simply gather a spent, bright-colored hull, place it perpendicularly in the open action and lower the bolt on it so that it’s held in place. This prevents the bolt from closing and the gun from firing while simultaneously informing everyone around you that the gun, and you, are safe.
6. Let There Be (Inexpensive) Light
I’m an advocate of installing a flashlight on your home-defense shotgun, but many older guns don’t have rails or attachment points. You can either search Brownells or LaserLyte for a small bolt-on rail that can be attached to the gun’s stock or barrels, buy an expensive custom fore-end/flashlight unit like that from SureFire, or you can do like African professional hunters have been doing for years when going after wounded leopards at night: That is, fasten a flashlight to the barrel or magazine tube with duct tape. Consider taping a piece of foam between it and the tube if necessary to ensure its beam runs parallel with the barrel. It’s not pretty, but it’s effective. And occasionally, attackers and even leopards will pause for a moment and say, “Is that duct tape on your barrel? Nice hack!”
5. Rapid Shell ID
If you use a sidesaddle or bandolier for holding spare shells and you like to keep a few slugs or birdshot rounds handy, use various color-permanent markers to mark the brass so you can tell what shell you should grab when time is of the essence.
4. Speed Bolt Release
When shooting an autoloader, practice finding and manipulating the bolt-release button with the ring finger of your support hand (if you are right-handed) rather than with your trigger hand. Simply slide your support hand down on the fore-end, smash the button with the ring finger, then slide your hand back up the stock as you prepare to shoot. This method is generally faster than taking your trigger hand off the grip, pressing the button, then finding the grip again.
3. The Ever-Handy Choke Tube Wrench
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people in the duck blind or 3-Gun field whine when they discover they’ve forgotten their choke-tube wrench. Newsflash: You rarely need it. Simply use a coin (such as a quarter) to turn the choke tube. If you don’t have that, the brass rim of a shell works beautifully, provided the choke isn’t rusted in place. For those instances, cry for the wrench.
2. Don’t Need No Cleaning Rod!
Cleaning rods are great, but one-piece models are cumbersome to store, and sections of multiple-piece rods stay lost more than they stay found. Make your own barrel cleaner by cutting an old T-shirt into about six, 1-inch wide, 16-inch-long strips. Take some stout string and make a slip knot in one end. Place the cloth strips in the loop and tighten it down. Then cut the string off to about a foot longer than your barrel. Now pull the tag end through the end of a faux-lead “bullet” fishing sinker. Knot the end of the string then take pliers and crimp the sinker onto it. To clean the barrel, drop the weight through the action, oil the cloth, then pull it through. If it’s too tight, remove some of the strips. Too loose? Add more old cloth.
1. Stash Your Stuff
Versions of Remington’s Versa Max and a few other guns have a removable, rubber cheekpiece. When removed, it reveals a perfect little cubby to stash a spare choke tube or two, a shell, or even a vial of cyanide if the jokes get really bad in the duck blind. Wrap whatever you stash in a small cleaning rag to prevent it from rattling and—abracadabra!—you’ll never be without your… whatever.