Although I am an NRA certified instructor for basic shotgun, I am not a "shotgun guy." I've shot plenty of them, but most of my shooting in my adult life has taken the form of self defense training. As a result, most of my range time has been devoted to handguns and AR rifle platforms.
I have a number of License to Carry (LTC) students who do rely upon a shotgun as a home defense weapon. I'll be honest: until Saturday, I had not spent much time learning about the utility of shotguns for such applications. I suspect that's in large part because the rifle and, to a lesser extent, the pistol, provide sufficient means for self defense.
But as an instructor, I really owe to my students to learn more about shotguns and their self defense utility. Many of them may own a shotgun but not be in a position to buy another firearm. If a shotgun is all you have, what's the best way to get as much defensive utility out of it?
Nationally recognized firearm instructors like Tom Givens have been teaching defensive shotgun classes for quite some time, and so my recent interest in this doesn't put me on the cutting edge. In fact, I freely admit I am always one of the last people to migrate to whatever is the "it" thing within the firearm instructor community. I carried a .40 S&W until 7 years ago this month when I migrated back to 9mm for my carry gun caliber choice, long after most instructors had gone back to 9mm. I'm no pioneer.
A few other factors increased my interest in taking a defensive shotgun class, including:
Lee Weems of First Person Safety provided his Social Shotgun/Levergun Manipulations course this weekend at Karl Rehn's KR Training. Although you had to pick whether you were going to run the class with a shotgun or lever action gun, you got the benefit of learning about how to use these guns in defensive situations.
The obvious limitation on shotguns and lever action guns - limited ammo capacity - can largely be addressed in the following ways, according to Lee:
The class had a relatively low round count for an all day class - 110 rounds - but after firing 110 rounds of 12 gauge, that's sufficient for all but those who are gluttons for punishment.
We spent much of the morning learning rapid reload techniques and practicing that on the range. After the morning session, I was pretty convinced that while I appreciated what I was learning, the AR platform would remain my go-to choice for a defensive long gun.
After the lunch break, Lee went through the classroom portion of the class. This is where my attitude started to shift as he filled in the knowledge gaps and answered the questions I and others had about the wisdom of relying on a shotgun or lever action gun over a modern sporting rifle like the AR-15. Unlike many firearms instructors who will insist their way is the best way and everyone who disagrees with them is an idiot, Lee was quite objective about the pros and cons of using such guns for self defense.
One of those cons stems from the fact most shotguns and lever action guns were not designed for self defense usage. Most of them serve as either hunting guns or sporting clays (trap and skeet) shotguns. They are not as ergonomic as an AR, nor do most of them have the ability to add accessories such as lights or high speed optics. Yet for the citizen who does not own a modern sporting rifle but who does own a shotgun or lever action gun, they can utilize that firearm as a solid home defense tool.
The highlight of the class for me - and the thing that continues to challenge my preconceived notions the most - was when Lee had us take our shotguns out to 25 yards and fire three rounds at a small target using Federal brand Low Recoil 00 buckshot with FLITECONTROL wads. From my brand new, off the shelf Mossberg 590a1 with no mechanical modifications, I was able to keep every pellet within a 12 inch by 24 inch box at 25 yards. Since I was using 9 pellet shells, that meant 27 pellets - each of which is roughly the same size as a 9mm round - within the box. I had heard this ammo was good, but I had no idea it was capable of holding such a tight pattern at that distance. I became a big believer in FLITECONTROL wadding and the viability of a shotgun in home defense applications.
A side note: many believe the "you don't have to aim a shotgun" mantra that so many others have said over the years. You most certainly have to aim a shotgun. And it's not as easy as aiming an AR-15, given the additional recoil of the shotgun. Using any type of firearm for self defense requires training. Shotguns are not magical boom sticks that you point in the general direction of the bad guy and pull the trigger. This is especially true if you want to get the full benefit of the high quality defensive shotgun ammo now available.
Is the shotgun (and the lever action gun) the future of self defense? As ammo technology gets better and as political pressures mount to restrict access to modern sporting rifles, we may likely see more people turning to them as their primary defensive long guns moving forward. While shotguns make up a smaller portion of the overall number of firearms sales in America these days, the total number of shotguns sold in the U.S. continues to increase.
If you own a shotgun or lever action gun, plan on learning more about how to most effectively use these guns for self defense. As always, seek out the help of a qualified professional like the ones listed above.
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