After-Action Report: The Thunderstick Summit

A historic gathering of some of the top defensive-shotgun instructors created a unique training opportunity.

posted on October 4, 2022
Thunderstick summit

Shotguns are so prevalent in our society that even “non-gun” people might own one. Also, possibly because of their sporting heritage, shotguns have fewer state-level restrictions on ownership. Shotguns offer unparalleled and devastating stopping power at appropriate distances, and this power and general availability make shotguns great self-defense tools for the majority of people in the United States.

However, shotgun knowledge continues to be plagued by myths, misinformation or outdated knowledge. Furthermore, though competent shotgun instruction can be found in isolated pockets throughout our country, defensive-shotgun training is still not as commonplace as reliable instruction for using a carbine or pistol. This was the reason for bringing together a handful of experienced defensive-shotgun instructors and organizing the first Thunderstick Summit, which was held in north Texas on September 9-11, 2022.

“A Firearm In Common Use“

Thunderstick InstructorsThe Thunderstick Summit was a three day weekend comprehensive shotgun symposium hosted and staffed by some of the foremost defensive-shotgun subject matter experts in the United States: Darryl Bolke from Hardwired Tactical Shooting hosted Tom Givens from Rangemaster,  Erick Gelhaus from Cougar Mountain Solutions, Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts and Rob and Matt Haught of Symtac Consulting. Together, these men have decades of experience using shotguns personally and professionally as either law enforcement officers or instructors, or in many cases, both. Students from different walks of life participated in this sold-out event, in addition to industry representatives from shotgun-focused companies like Vang Comp Systems, Aridus Industries and Wilderness Tactical.

Day One Recap

Tom Givens kicked off Day One of the event with a comprehensive lecture about tactical shotguns. The lecture covered the historical context and use of shotguns, and he was able to convey how these firearms are still viable and relevant today for defensive uses. Besides covering shotgun basics, the presentation also covered the different types of shotgun ammunition and included video footage of shotgun ammunition being fired and penetrating common barriers like interior structure walls or vehicles. This footage was useful because a lot of misinformation concerning shotguns comes from a lack of understanding shotgun ballistics.

Givens also explained the reasons why modern tactical buckshot loads evolved from their Old West roots and how defensive loads such as the Federal Flite-Control 00 buckshot loads or Hornady Versa-Tite loads are game changers. These modern buckshot shells not only increase the shotgun’s effectiveness over a given target, but also curtail excessive pellet spread which can pose many serious and undue risks. In addition, the lecture reiterated how shotguns stand out as defensive options because they are typically legal in locales where it might be more difficult to legally possess semi-automatic rifles or pistols. 

The later part of Day One was an instruction block headed by Erick Gelhaus. Demonstrating each concept with his slick and broken-in Remington 870 Police shotgun, Gelhaus taught his students how to pattern their individual shotguns with buckshot and slugs at various distances. He also took the time to stop in between patterning at each distance to explain what the column of pellets was doing as it spread over time. Gelhaus covered the different ways to hold a shotgun in low ready and the advantages and disadvantages of each position.

Thunderstick Summit Day Two

The first half of Day Two started with a classroom lecture by Darryl Bolke which added to the things which Givens covered the previous day. During his lecture, Bolke stressed that it was critical to escalate force only when no other options are available and what the repercussions of doing so might be. Anyone interested in defensive-shotgun proficiency must master quick and efficient reloading, so Bolke stressed to always “feed the pig,” and top off a defensive shotgun as the opportunity allows. Bolke also talked about the shotgun’s effectiveness by telling students, “The shotgun is my favorite thing to bring to a pistol fight.” This is because the shotgun’s peak effectiveness coincides with what shooters might consider “pistol distances,” from the muzzle to approximately 25 yards.

Daryl BolkeBolke started the shooting portion of Day Two with some shoot or no-shoot scenarios with your shotgun, depending on the type of threat, in order to help them think critically before applying lethal force to each situation. He also made students do a “box drill, where students had to move in the appropriate direction while also managing their muzzle discipline and shot shell supply.

Steve Fisher took over in the afternoon, and his block also involved movement drills. Fisher wanted to show students how critical it is to be able to properly and safely navigate a world full of persons and objects with a loaded shotgun, as the same features that makes the shotgun an excellent defensive firearm is the same thing that makes it extremely dangerous if carelessly handled. Fisher’s drills provided for a great experience for the students, as many ranges do not allow this type of dynamic movement with loaded shotguns within a 360-degree environment. Tom Givens then finished off Day Two by running an informal shotgun drill and awarding a challenge coin to the student with the best time.

Day Three Recap 

Day Three of the Thunderstick Summit belonged to father-son duo, Rob and Matt Haught, along with their assistant-instructor, Mr. Bob Mefford. Rob Haught is best known for teaching his recoil reduction technique known as push-pull. Because shotguns are designed to fire powerful buckshot or slug payloads, failure to properly mount these guns to the shoulder or hold them correctly will result in the shooter getting bruised, battered or otherwise pushed around. In essence, push-pull mitigates recoil by applying pressure with the body and tension with the arms in order to better absorb felt recoil. Rob began Day Three with a presentation elaborating on this technique and also introduced the art of short-stocking. Short-stocking a shotgun involves applying the push-pull technique and then bringing a shotgun on top of the shoulder using three points of contact to unconventionally shorten a long gun on the fly. Rob Haught first attributes this field expedient trick to GIs during World War Two in Italy who used this technique with their M-1 Garand rifles to get around tight spaces.

Rob, Matt, and Bob spent the rest of the morning on the firing line coaching students through the practical applications of push-pull and short-stocking. The Haughts implemented a crawl-walk-run approach. After the initial introduction of a drill, they added more complexity. Watching Rob Haught shoot a Remington 870 pump action shotgun using his own techniques is something of a treat, as he makes it seem like he is shooting a semi-automatic shotgun instead. The lack of proper recoil and mitigation techniques are another series of problems that plague the shotgun and hold back defensive-minded shooters from making the most of out these firearms. The Haught’s push-pull lessons are a great antidote to this. Their techniques are effective for any shooter; someone does not have to be built like a linebacker to take advantage of push-pull. A 120-pound ballerina could also shoot the same shotgun as effectively as this theoretical linebackers when using the Haught’s lessons. 

After lunch on Day Three, the class finished with a quick shotgun drill assessment administered by Gelhaus. Afterward, students congregated in the classroom for a final lecture and interactive Q&A session with the panel of instructors. Topics like favorite accessories and what their opinions on ideal placement were discussed. There was also a brief show-and-tell segment where instructors shared some antique “tactical” shotguns and pointed out the differences and similarities to fighting shotguns of today.

The Best Defensive Shotgun Training Available

The Thunderstick Summit is a great immersive opportunity for those interested in better learning how to employ the shotgun for self-defense or are thinking about taking those first steps. The event itself is skill-agnostic and there are no pre-requisites other than showing up with an open mind but more importantly, having a safe-gun handling mindset. A valuable thing about this event is the fact that it conveniently bundles qualified instructors who teach their specific area of shotgun expertise—all under the same roof.

After speaking with Bolke, he explained to me that plans are in motion for setting up the next event during the second half of 2023 in Las Vegas, NV, at a larger venue that will be able to hold more students. Event organizers are also looking to improve or tweak the curriculum as needed in order to remain relevant to today’s gun owners. Please stay tuned for more information from Mr. Bolke and his training company, Hardwired Tactical Shooting for the next iteration of the Thunderstick Summit.


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