By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters
In many regards, shotguns are probably the best implement of personal defense and in fact are probably the single most-useful class of firearms. However, this comes with a boatload of caveats, yeah-buts, provisos, addendums and quids pro quo that may not be made readily apparent.
Especially if you’re a newbie buying your first gun from a gun store that just wants to move product. Those guys will tell you more whoppers than ammo companies at SHOT Show. But one digresses.
The worst of the lies about shotguns is less need for marksmanship. Nothing could be further from the truth, both at short and long range. Anyone who says anything like or related to the concept of “you don’t need to aim” is either lying or an idiot. Well, maybe if it’s a starter pistol and you’re signaling the start of a foot race.
In fact, competent use of a shotgun requires as much, if not more, knowledge, experience and preparation than other firearms do.
You have to know your pattern/point of impact for any practical load at multiple ranges, including close distances out to, say, 10 yards (typical home defense range) but also well beyond, for whatever purpose you might have in mind or indeed for all purposes.
Just like with a rifle or a pistol, you need to know what the ammunition you’ll use is going to do at the range you’ll likely use it at. It is not the case that you can just buy buckshot and not have to worry. That means putting in time at the range, and patterning your gun at regular intervals (5 to 10 yards) from the closest range to the maximum range you anticipate ever using it.
Buckshot clusters tight at close range (all shot does, really) but spreads out considerably the farther it travels. The old saw is one inch of spread per yard, which isn’t actually true but is oft-repeated. The truth is more that it depends on your gun and the load you pick; some will pattern tighter than 1 inch of spread per yard and others much more.
The pattern is tight at close range, but opens up the farther it goes. Spend a bit of time on the range, patterning your gun on cardboard and you’ll get the idea.
Then we have simplicity of operation. Yes, a pump action shotgun sure is simple, but does that necessarily mean it’s easier to run? Not so fast.
Bear in mind that you might have to shoot a second time, either to put down a threat or to engage a second target. You might even have to reload. A pump-action shotgun, like a bolt-action or lever-action rifle, or a single-action revolver, has to be manually operated to make the second shot.
Granted, it isn’t exactly a fine motor skill requiring the greatest amount of dexterity, but it is an action you have to perform under the stress of a lethal threat. Unless you’ve done the necessary repetitions to ingrain it in muscle memory, it’s something you might not be able to do or won’t remember to do.
Many a waterfowler or turkey hunter has switched to a semi-auto because they chronically forget to cycle the action for a follow-up shot on a wounded bird. That’s hardly the same level of stress and certainly doesn’t have the same consequences for not putting your target down, but if people in that situation don’t always run a pump-action correctly, a total gun noob is even more likely to botch it in a fight for their life.
Then we have the issue of fitment. A selling point for AR-platform rifles is that you can just adjust the stock, since just about everyone and their brother installs an M4-style (or derivative) stock on their rifle, rather than the original stock (which is/was of fixed length) on the M16.
That way, the user can set the length of pull (the distance from the trigger to the butt, more or less) so the rifle is comfortable for the user. This also helps the shooter get a sight picture a bit faster, and helps the user properly absorb the recoil.
Most shotguns, you see, have a fixed stock with an industry-standard length of pull of about 14-ish inches. Now, if you’re a male that’s about 5’8″ to 6’2″ (i.e. most of the male population) that’s probably not such a big deal. However, if you’re a female that’s 5’2″ – that’s going to be a bit of a problem.
Granted, you can cut the stock down, or install aftermarket stocks with a shorter or adjustable length of pull, but the issue there is A.) not everyone knows that, and B.) that means you have to invest money and time into the gun before you can even really competently use it.
You might get lucky and buy a shotgun that fits you right off the rack, but if not, well, you get the idea.
Oh, and pistol-grip or birds’ head/club grips? They make the shotgun handier, but don’t necessarily make the shooter faster or more accurate when it comes to placing a shot on target.
Then we have the recoil.
Most people will buy a 12-gauge, or perhaps a 20-gauge in some cases. These are the most popular bore sizes for shotguns.
Now, light target loads of 12-gauge and 20-gauge in a relatively light shotgun (say under 8 lbs unloaded weight) produce anywhere from 15 ft-lbs to 19 ft-lbs (depending) of recoil energy, broadly the same recoil generated by rifles chambered in .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester or .30-06, which are generally held to be the upper limit of tolerable recoil for most shooters.
A 12-gauge shotgun firing heavy buckshot, depending on the gun and the load, can produce anywhere from 35 ft-lbs to 50 ft-lbs of recoil force, broadly in the same class as heavy game rifles such as a .375 H&H Magnum or .416 Remington Magnum. In other words, at the lower end of the recoil force generated by dangerous game rifles.
Now for a seasoned shooter, it’s not that big a deal. For the total newbie? It’s gonna be a rude awakening.
On the other hand, a pistol caliber carbine or rifle in the AR-15 or AK-47 category is far gentler in recoil and, since they are commonly semi-automatic (though some bolt-action and a number of lever-action PCCs are on the market, because the concept is not new) a lot easier for the total novitiate to handle.
With that said, be in no doubt that shotguns are, as Bill Jordan put it, the queen of personal defense weapons. No other gun can put the same amount of lead into a threat other than an elephant gun, which is why they are still a preferred long gun by law enforcement and by militaries for close quarter combat.
Like Clint Smith is fond of saying, pistols put holes in people, rifles put holes through people, and a shotgun with the right load and at the right range takes chunks of meat off people.
But, for all the (seeming) simplicity and ubiquity, they are not necessarily for everyone.
Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.