This article, "'Worst. Advice. Ever.," appeared originally as a Shotguns column in the October 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
It’s been said that shotguns are the world’s most versatile small arm, and also its least understood. I happen to think that’s true, and I think it’s the reason for the great number of defensive shotgun tips floating around out there that are just plain lousy. Here are a few I’d like to call out:
Myth No. 1: Just rack the pump’s action and the bad guy will run off.
My Take: Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. Perhaps he’ll dance a jig, or maybe he’ll shoot and kill you while you foolishly load a gun that you should be shooting. Point is, you don’t know what a home invader will do, and that’s why you shouldn’t go into any gunfight with an unloaded firearm if you can help it. And if he or she is not a druggie, but rather an adversary with some skill, that’s even more reason to have your gun loaded; someone with any experience and motivation to do you harm will seize the opportunity the moment it’s known that you are holding the equivalent of a trombone. Whatever the case, keep your shotgun fully loaded in the face of danger and rack its action for a purpose, not a bluff.
Myth No. 2: Square up to the target to correctly shoot a shotgun.
I’m sure to raise the hackles of folks who have more experience fighting with shotguns than I, but I’m not convinced that standing completely square to the target is the best fighting stance for ordinary folks. For most people in defensive situations, I believe a somewhat bladed stance is superior, and here’s why:
First, the military and law enforcement personnel who were taught the squared-up stance are trained to go forward to attack, using exactly the same technique they use with their carbines. Trouble is, a carbine and a shotgun are vastly different creatures.
These guys stand with their feet and shoulders square to the target so they can move in forward to clear houses. Civilians looking to defend their home will likely not be moving forward, attacking. Home defenders are more likely to be shooting from around a corner. Second, seasoned gunfighters are taught to square up so counter fire will strike the frontal plate in their body armor. Civilians usually don’t have body armor, and a bladed stance presents a smaller target.
Third, shotguns recoil quite significantly, and most people handle recoil better and get off faster follow-up shots by using a more staggered stance with their weight slightly forward over their front knee. This allows the shooter to drive the gun forward, throwing weight into the gun to counter its recoil with each shot. Lastly, shotgun stocks were designed to fit the shooter while in a staggered stance. This is a position gained when the feet are staggered like a boxer’s stance and the body is bladed. This allows the cheek to weld perfectly upon the stock and the eye to flow down the barrel without canting the head so that peripheral vision and depth perception is maximized. This makes the shotgun easier to shoot accurately and with less felt recoil. In the end, try both stances, and see what works for you.
Myth No. 3: Slugs are Awesome.
My Take: Slugs suck for all but killing deer at 150 yards, breaching doors and pounding you with pain, if you’re into that. If you routinely load your shotgun with slugs in anticipation of a fight, you’re better off with a rifle instead, because most AR-style rifles have longer range, are easier to load, easier to carry, kick less and hold a lot more rounds. Sure, slugs have their niches, but extremely few of them are for home defense.
Myth No. 4: Pumps are more reliable than semi-automatics.
My Take: With all being equal, pumps likely break less than semi-automatics simply because they have fewer parts. But as you know, seldom does not mean never. There are several factors that make some semi-automatics just as reliable, and in some cases even more reliable than pumps—in certain people’s hands.
First, if you are not well practiced with a pump, the tendency to short-stroke its action is great. If this happens, the gun will almost certainly jam by way of a double feed, and that could be a nightmare in a defensive scenario. A modern semi-automatic is often better than a pump in non-expert hands.
Second, your home isn’t Vietnam where a Soldier might slither through mud and blood and rain for a week without having the opportunity to clean his firearm. In your home, your bedside shotgun damn well better be sparkling clean and lubed like a BMW on the ferry over. And when modern, top-end semi-automatics are clean, they very rarely malfunction.
Lastly, semi-automatics have come a long way from the days of recoil-operated and standard gas-operated actions. Modern semi-automatic shotgun actions like Benelli’s inertia action and Remington’s Versa Port gas action are simply more reliable than your old Model 1100 was. The Benelli, for example, has been used by militaries, law enforcement agencies, 3-gunners and hunters for 25 years for a reason: It’s incredibly reliable with full-power loads. And, it’s also faster, has less felt recoil and can be fired with one hand, if necessary.
Myth No. 5: You can’t miss with a shotgun.
My Take: This is definitely untrue. I know because I’ve missed turkeys, steel poppers, stationary targets, cardboard boxes, tin cans and various other critters and targets that should have crumbled. But, in a lifetime of shooting shotguns, percentage-wise I don’t miss much. Fact is, a shotgun’s pattern only opens to a diameter of around 3 inches at 10 yards, depending on your setup, so it’s not the hall sweeper that Dwayne Johnson pretends it is in his latest shoot-em up.
You must focus on the bead and follow through or you most assuredly can miss. That said, it’s certainly harder to miss with a shotgun than it is with a rifle and there’s no comparison to a handgun. As a bonus, it’s easier to hit a target—especially a target that might be moving—with a shotgun as the range to the target increases.
While masters of the shotgun arts are deadly by simply focusing on the target and intuitively pointing the barrel and slapping the trigger, less-experienced shotgunners should consciously aim at the target, or else they’ll see just how easy it is to whiff. And that’s just plain embarrassing.