I recently attended a three-day shotgun course and came away with a few lessons actually not related to running the shotgun. These are the things that we need to be thinking about before the class so that our experience in the class can be the best it can possibly be. While there is some cross-application to firearms training in general, there are also some points specific to the shotgun.
Make Sure the Shoe Fits
This is actually harder than it might seem. In most cases, the shotgun for the citizen defender is likely just a home defense tool. This is a very specific mission, and the training sought should fit the mission. If you need the shotgun to be more than that, then understand it, and seek that type of training. Understanding your mission for the shotgun is the critical puzzle piece here, then it is just a matter of finding the other pieces that fit it. If you don’t know what you want the shotgun to do, then start at the bottom and work your way up. Eventually, it will become apparent where the attributes of the shotgun go from advantages to be leveraged to limitations to be worked around.
Picking an Instructor
Many firearms instructors come out of the military or law enforcement. The experiences acquired in those fields are valuable but have to be properly translated to fit the context of the citizen defender. Finding people who have translated their experience appropriately can be difficult. Mostly because sometimes you don’t know until you are actually already in the class. Be sure to do a little digging before jumping on a class. Ask around, look for reviews from previous classes, things of that nature.
To offer a shortcut, Ashton Ray, Tim Chandler, Tom Givens, and Rob Haught are all instructors I would recommend without reservation. There are many other instructors out there teaching the shotgun that are capable, but my own personal experience comes with limitations. Accordingly, so do my recommendations.
Select Good Ammunition
This is really important and often overlooked. There is a literal mile-long list of shotgun ammunition manufacturers and types that run the gamut of quality. Add to that another mile-long list of shotguns that also run the gamut of quality, and it gets pretty easy to cross the streams and end up with a dud combination. This only causes frustration in a class and makes learning difficult. Sticking to brands with a reputation for quality is a good place to start.
Bring a Reliable Gun
The interesting thing about “tactical” shotguns is that they can run in price from as little as $150 to as high as $2,000-$3,000. Vetting the shotgun being brought to class is always a good idea. Most classes require more birdshot than anything else. Putting 50-100 rounds of birdshot through a shotgun is a pretty budget-friendly endeavor, even in today’s market. Ideally, that 50-100 rounds would be whatever ammo is coming with us to class. If the shotgun and ammo work well together, there is a good chance it will continue to. If the class is a higher round count class, or a multi-day class, using a shotgun known to generally be reliable is a good practice. Something along the lines of a Remington 870 Police or Mossberg 590A1 should be able to make it through most classes without issue.
Pattern Your Shotgun
The next part of making sure gun and ammo are good to go is function testing and patterning the buckshot intended to be used in class. Depending on what buckshot we plan to take to class, this can be a much more expensive endeavor, so a couple of handfuls of buckshot will have to do.
It can be important here to consider the nature of the class when deciding which buckshot to take. In higher-level classes that required attendees to meet certain shooting standards on scored courses of fire with the buckshot, high-quality buckshot might make it easier to meet those standards. If there isn’t a passing score resting on my performance in class, I might go with something a little cheaper, but that is still reliable. The biggest thing is to make sure the buckshot works in the gun and know what to expect beforehand.
Zero Your Shotgun
The same is true of shotgun slugs if the course requires them. Ensure reliability, and get some idea of zero. Shotguns with bead sights may require some sort of hold-off to get good center hits. It is best to know this beforehand and either be able to accommodate it or try to find a different slug load that shoots a bit better.
With the class picked and all the gear sorted, try to keep as open a mind as possible in the class. Many people have a lot of experience with shotguns, and we bring that experience with us into class. When what the instructor is trying to teach us conflicts with what we feel like we know, it can be tough to see through our own experience. Trust me. The struggle is real. Sometimes it will take some time and reflection to really understand something being taught. Accept it for the moment, and then circle back around if needed. See you on the range.