(As so many have been, this article was predicated on a conversation with a very dear friend recently. Said friend, a fellow veteran, albeit not SOF, has been a “prepper” since 2008, and has a very significant retreat set-up and arms room. We were discussing how he has the opportunity to help influence the choices of new preppers he meets, as they ask him for advice and guidance on purchasing their first weapons, and other equipment. He told me that he always recommends a shotgun for their first long-gun purchase, because of the ease of handling, devastating effectiveness, and its point-and-shoot nature. I promptly tried to correct his, all-too-common misconceptions about the role of the shotgun as an anti-personnel weapon. That conversation led me to consider the prevalence of those beliefs in the civilian gun world, so we’re going to dispel some commonly cherished myths about the streetsweeper. -J.M.)
One of the most commonly voiced reasons for selecting a shotgun for the home defense long gun is the perceived ease of operation. Most people of course, are referring to the pump shotguns when they use this argument, although I’ll discuss it in relation to semi-automatic shotguns from the Benelli M4 to the Saiga as well.
First of all, one of the most commonly induced malfunctions in a riot-gun is operator error, in short-stroking the slide. In essence, the operator, under stress, jerks the slide rearward, and shoves it forward again, but fails to move it rearward enough to actually pick up the new round. This obviously, results in a click when the shooter expects a boom…sometimes referred to as “the loudest sound in the world.” I’ve done it myself. In a properly functioning semi-auto scattergun, this is not going to be an issue, anymore than it would be in a semi-automatic rifle. However, the ease-of-operation theory is blown completely out of the water when you consider the layout of operator controls on pretty much every shotgun manufactured today. Safeties tend to be either in front of the trigger well, which is fine for preparing to fire, but requires removing the firing grip to put the safety back on (which we ALWAYS do when we move….ALWAYS!….except when we use the shotgun for breaching….), which is far from simpler than running the safety on an Stoner or Kalashnikov, or pretty much any other weapon originally designed to be used to kill bad people. The other most common place to find a safety on a shotgun is on the tang, at the rear of the receiver. This, granted, is a far more ergonomic location, but is still no simpler to operate than on a decent fighting rifle.
Recoil on any 12-gauge, while far from horrible, is far greater than a .308, let alone a 5.56 or 7.62×39, and many shooters, men and women (whether those shooters will admit it or not) are incredibly intimidated by the perceived recoil of the “mighty twelve.” I’ve watched grown men, weighing far more than my 210 pounds, who were physically much stronger, clench up in anticipation of the recoil in an 870 or 500. As any moderately good marksmanship instructor will gladly inform you, anticipating recoil this way is a sure way to shoot like shit. The idea that a shotgun is simpler to operate than a fighting rifle or carbine is, to put it simply, wrong. Anyone who argues otherwise either A) does not know how to run a fighting rifle properly, or B) has not actually thought about what they’re preaching in a rational manner.
A well-placed load of double-0 buckshot, or even a slug, IS going to have a devastating effect on the recipient. As a former 18D brother pointed out in a conversation on this subject the other day, “Put a load of number nine shot into a dude’s chest, and ain’t no 18D in the world fixing that!” Arguing otherwise would be the height of stupidity. Nine .30 caliber holes in close proximity is going to cause a metric shit-ton of musculo-skeletal damage. However, you have to consider a couple of other factors as well, before declaring it THE most devastating.
First of all, how many of those holes were actually necessary to kill the bad guy, or stop his threatening activities? Did it require nine holes? Or would two or three have been sufficient? Did it really require a .57 caliber slug to stop the dude in his tracks? Or would two rounds of 5.56 or .308 have done the trick just as efficiently? How fast can the shooter recover his sight picture following the recoil cycle, while cycling the action, and put a follow-up shot into the bad guy, or his accomplice(s)? A moderately well-trained shooter, running an M4, can, at shotgun ranges, reliably put 4-6 rounds, per second, on target. Properly mounted to the shooter, there is virtually no muzzle-flip to an M4, or even an SR-25/FAL/M1A, because the gun is run in such a manner as to direct the recoil straight into the shooter’s shoulder, and he’s got the gun mounted to maximize his shot-to-shot recovery (I realize running a shotgun should be done the same way, but there’s still MORE recoil). On a SLOW day, I can put multiple (2-4) rounds into three upper thoracic cavities in less than 3-4 seconds, with my M4. Can I match that with one round per target running a pump gun? Maybe. Maybe not.
What is the maximum effective range of a load of 12-gauge double-0 buck? 20 yards? 35 yards? 50 yards? Let’s call it 35 yards, to be generous, and call 100 yards the outside for most people running a slug-loaded gun. Even if you think the M4 is a “poodle-shooter” and limited to 200 yards….yeah, you get the point. It is inarguable that a hit from a shotgun is going to create a far more devastating wound than 5.56…But, before you decide to write off the “.22 varmint round,” let me ask you this….Will you stand there and let me stab you in the chest with a fucking ice pick? I didn’t think so.
Shotguns, in the modern forms we know them, are based on sporting shotgun designs (with the obvious exception of the Saiga, and perhaps the KSG, although since I’ve only seen two, and neither ran worth a fuck, I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to it, so it’s hard to say definitively). They are just fine for shooting rabbits sprinting through a field, or birds on the wing. They are not ideal in the role of killing bad people who are trying to kill you.
But, let’s move on, and look at the “point-and-shoot” argument. How many times have you heard some Hillbilly claim that he prefers a shotgun, because he doesn’t have to aim it, he can just point and “BOOM! That there shot will jes’ spread out and hit him, even if my aim ain’t perfect.” The ironic part is, most of the time when I hear this, it’s from some yahoo who claims to be fucking Dead-Eye Dick in the flesh, and can make 1500 yard shots, with a .30-06, holding two inches above the point-of-impact (seriously, I had a dude claim that once, with a straight face….go check out a ballistic table for .30-06….ANY load…). Interestingly, there was an article on shotguns recently, in SWAT magazine. The author showed a photograph of a head shot, on a hostage taker target, taken at something like 15 yards (not feet)…So, if the shot pattern is tight enough to get a head shot, without any pellets hitting the “hostage” at that distance, exactly how imprecise can you be and still get hits? Yeah…. It’s a point-target weapon. You need to aim it, and unless you mount some sort of optic on it, or at least a ghost ring type sight, the stock sights on shotguns are seldom designed for close-range accuracy. If you’re shooting birds or trap/skeet/clays, you can use just the front sight bead (theoretically, that would work at extreme close ranges also, just like it does on a rifle. It’s that intermediate distance we’re concerned with though, and if it works with a rifle, how does that make the shotgun an advantage again?).
Let’s say you count the 9 .32 caliber pellets in a load of double-0 buck as nine individual rounds. Let’s assume you’ve got a 9 round tube magazine under the barrel. So, you’re carrying 81 “rounds,” but you can only kill, at most, 9 bad guys with those 81 rounds. An M4, even with a 20-round magazine, and assuming it takes two rounds per bad guy to kill them, can match that. How long is it going to take you to reload that shotgun? How long is it going to take me to reload my M4 (hint, less than 5 seconds on a slow day, in the dark, with gloves on)? That’s presuming of course, that every single round you fire actually connects with, and kills a bad guy. What if you need to provide suppressive fire for a buddy to move?
Another common argument I hear, especially in the home defense argument, is the over-penetration issue. The reality however, is that one of the major reasons law enforcement agencies switched over to Stoner platforms from shotguns was the fact that 5.56 actually over-penetrates and punches through walls less than shotgun rounds do. This is NOT to say that you can’t shoot through an interior home wall with 5.56, just that the rounds are less likely to smoke your kid in the other room afterwards, than a load of 00 Buck is (before you start piling on about how this proves 5.56 is an inferior combat round because it can’t shoot through light cover, don’t waste your breath. Doing so will serve no purpose other than to illustrate a complete lack of understanding of the requirement of fire-and-maneuver in small-unit combat). I’ve shot through a lot of walls with 5.56. In my experience, it’s sort of a half-and-half thing, depending on the load more than anything else. I’ve also witnessed field tests of penetration and seen buckshot blow through a sheet-rocked interior wall without slowing down or changing the pattern noticeably.
Finally, let’s discuss the equally ludicrous redneck concept of “the sound of a shotgun being racked can turn a criminal into a quivering puddle of utter terror and piss.” Bullshit. Bad guys who come into houses where they know people are, expect the possibility that the occupants might be armed. That’s why home invasions are all the rage. They come in with overwhelming violence-of-action and force, and bring the occupants to the ground before you can even lunge for the scattergun behind the couch. Further, I would argue, if the sound of the shotgun being racked is enough to make him run away like a scared bitch, A) the bad guy wasn’t very dedicated to what he was doing anyway, and B) the sight of a rifle barrel pointed at his face is going to be equally discouraging. If I point my weapon at someone, they’re getting shot. If they’re not enough of a threat to shoot, I have no business pointing my weapon at them. I will also point out, if you pointed a shotgun at me, and then racked the slide, it would convince me of two things. One, you weren’t smart enough to already have the fucking gun loaded, and two, this means there’s a pretty good chance you don’t have a fucking clue what you’re doing. I’m going to feed the weapon to you.
I’m not bad-mouthing shotguns. In their place, they’re great guns, and do their jobs better than anything else available. Unfortunately, the reality is, whether home defense, or in combat, that place is not the anti-personnel role. If you want to recommend an ideal long-gun for a novice, and they’re willing to get even a little bit of training, point them at an M4, with a 14.5″ or 16″ barrel, and a red-dot optic, and white light. If they’re a novice and refuse to get any training….point them towards a Kalashnikov, then beat them over the head with it until they decide to get some training. Either weapon is easier to use, more effective, and will perform far more functions than the shotgun. All that having been said, if all I could pick up was a shotgun, I’d not feel unarmed. I’d be more than willing to go towards the sound of the guns, knowing I would be working on getting a better weapon as soon as possible.
Now, in that ever-present interest of intellectual honesty, I don’t currently own a shotgun. If I WAS going to purchase a shotgun, it would be either a short-barreled (18″ of course. I don’t break federal firearms laws) pump gun (870 or 500 variant), with a regular buttstock, solely for breaching purposes, or it would be a short-barreled coach gun in 12-gauge, or a black-powder, short-barreled coach gun in 10-gauge, solely for the coolness factor. Since I don’t currently need to breach doors, and I refuse to ask permission to have a shotgun with a short enough barrel to make a good breaching gun, and I can’t afford to purchase guns simply for the coolness factor, I don’t own a shotgun. If I need a breaching gun down the road, I’m pretty sure I can come up with one easily enough.
Carrying the Shotgun
Once upon a time, I regularly carried a very short Remington 870 attached to my body armor by a bungee cord. It was always loaded with 3-rounds in the tube, the chamber empty, and the safety was never used, because it was never carried in movement, with a loaded chamber. It was used solely for breaching. You move up to the door, rack a round, blow the lock, drop the gun as you transition to your primary, and follow the rest of the team through the door.
Three years ago, I shot clay/skeet/trap, for the first time in my life (I honestly just don’t know the difference between the three, so I really don’t know which it was). It was a shitload of fun, and I did okay, but it was the first time in my life, that I had ever fired a shotgun for anything other than breaching or simple familiarization.