By Jeff Johnston, Shooting Illustrated
Over the years I’ve picked up various tips from shotgun masters, and I’ve also discovered a few of my own. Try these four simple hacks to increase your effectiveness with the shotgun.
Extended Spring Tension Maintenance
Probably the weakest part of a shotgun is its magazine-tube spring, especially if it’s an extended magazine. People who depend on their shotgun for home defense should be aware that this thin, malleable spring must be maintained periodically, especially if you keep the magazine fully loaded for extended periods. If the spring is compressed for years on end, it can lose its tension and fail to load the last round or two onto the loading gate due to its lack of power. They also wear out with copious use. To prevent magazine-spring failure, measure a brand-new spring from your new shotgun, or, if yours is no longer new, an identical model with the same-size extended tube and spring.
Periodically—depending on how often you shoot your shotgun—pull the spring out of the gun and measure it to compare it to the new spring’s length. (Jerry Miculek checks his spring before every match; most home defenders who do not shoot much can get away with an annual checkup.) If it’s a little short, carefully stretch the spring out as evenly as possible. Return the spring to the gun, then fully load the tube.
Remove the spring and measure it again. If it has already returned to its shortened state, it may mean the spring is weakened beyond repair and you need a new one. If it’s the same as it was new or after stretching it, you’re good to go. Guns are machines that need periodic maintenance. You wouldn’t run your car’s tires until they wear through and pop, would you? No, you check them regularly and buy new tires before they fail. Do the same with your home-defense guns.
Letting One Ride
For many defensive shotgunners, the number of rounds a shotgun holds is a big deal, because when you’re only talking about five to seven rounds in a magazine of most guns, one more or one fewer actually is a big deal. In fact, I bet some folks make the decision not to buy a shotgun due to its low capacity. But, what if I told you there is a way to make many shotguns hold one more round without adding anything or altering the shotgun in any way? Now, you’re probably thinking I’m some kind of snake oil salesman, but this magic is real. I call it “letting one ride.”
On many semi-automatic shotguns—Remingtons, Mossbergs and others—you can manipulate the gun into holding one more shell by loading the magazine fully, then opening the bolt just enough to manually place a shell into the receiver. Using your finger, push it under the bolt so that the shell rides on the carrier/lifting gate. Now, insert a shell into the chamber and let the bolt ride over the shell on the carrier so that the bolt comes fully into battery. At this point, common sense suggests that you have just set up a double-feed scenario and the gun would surely malfunction—but it won’t. The shell on the gate tricks the gun into thinking it has already released a shell from the magazine (actually the shell just blocks the release lever).
Then, when the gun fires the chambered round, it will eject it and chamber the riding shell just like normal. To see if your shotgun can do this, try it—obviously using dummy rounds at first. It takes some practice to learn how to set it up, but it can be done. Clearly you wouldn’t use this trick while shooting the gun, but rather before staging it securely in your house for use in an emergency.
Safe Trigger-Finger Location
NRA’s Number One gun safety rule says: “Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.” And, American gun culture has done a great job of letting folks know if they transgress. These days, it seems if you put your finger anywhere except alongside the receiver, there’s a good chance you’ll be chastised by some self-righteous person. The “finger alongside the receiver” technique was borne from newer handguns, many of which do not have manual safeties.
As such, the receiver is a great place to put the finger because it keeps the finger in contact with the gun so it has a reference and can easily find the trigger, and it tells everyone else at the range that the shooter knows what they are doing. However, the NRA rule just says to “keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot,” and not “keep your finger on the receiver until ready to shoot.”
For plenty of guns, such as Remington shotguns, for example, that have trigger guard-mounted crossbolt safeties, the place to keep your trigger finger when your sights are not on target is on its safety so you can access the trigger and fire the gun in two moves, not three. Besides, in a defensive situation, you don’t always want to tell the bad guy you are not ready to shoot the gun. With your finger on the trigger guard ready to press the safety off, it’s often tough for onlookers to tell.
Shotgun Fit Test
To see if your shotgun fits you correctly, bend your gun hand 90 degrees at the elbow. Place the for-sure-unloaded gun’s buttstock in the crook of your elbow, then place your finger on the trigger. If you can reach the trigger comfortably, the length-of-pull of the shotgun is likely good for you. If you can’t reach it, it’s too long. If you have to bend your wrist to touch the trigger, it’s too short.
To check drop-at-comb and cast fit, hold the unloaded shotgun in a high-ready position as if you were about to mount it. Focus on a target 10 yards ahead of you, like a clock on the wall, a bush or anything that’s safe to point at, and hold that image in your mind. Now, shut your eyes and mount the gun. As soon as you mount it, open your eyes.
Your eyes should be looking straight down the gun’s rib (or barrel if it doesn’t have a rib) and not down onto the rib. If it is down on the rib, you likely need more drop-at-comb. If you find yourself looking at the back of the receiver, you need less drop-at-comb. If you are looking at either side of the gun and not directly down the rib, you need either cast on or cast off. Try this drill a few times to discover a trend before adjusting the gun. A properly fitting shotgun will generally be easier to shoot and help ensure accuracy.