Shotgun Training

Dave Brown
September 26, 2011
By Dave Brown
Every police officer in Canada should have a good double-action-only pistol on their hip, a loaded shotgun in an overhead rack and fast access to an accurate patrol carbine. There is no room for failure, and out there on the street there is no such thing as a fair fight. When human life is at stake, officers need the best gun they can bring with them, the proper training to use it safely and effectively, and enough power to stop the threat quickly and efficiently. Within its design distance, the shotgun is one of the most versatile and powerful weapons one can bring to bear in a defensive situation. With one pull of the trigger, it can put the energy equivalent to half a magazine of 5.56mm rounds into a threat. At typical police shooting distances, that impact can stop threats quicker and safer than almost any handgun or rifle on the market.

Every police officer in Canada should have a good double-action-only pistol on their hip, a loaded shotgun in an overhead rack and fast access to an accurate patrol carbine. There is no room for failure, and out there on the street there is no such thing as a fair fight.

When human life is at stake, officers need the best gun they can bring with them, the proper training to use it safely and effectively, and enough power to stop the threat quickly and efficiently.

Within its design distance, the shotgun is one of the most versatile and powerful weapons one can bring to bear in a defensive situation. With one pull of the trigger, it can put the energy equivalent to half a magazine of 5.56mm rounds into a threat. At typical police shooting distances, that impact can stop threats quicker and safer than almost any handgun or rifle on the market.

So, what’s the problem? Why are some agencies looking at reducing an officer’s firepower options by taking away the shotgun?

Well, simply put, one of the biggest reasons is training.

While police handgun training was dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century, with modern techniques and a much better understanding of the performance of the human body under stress, a lot of that thinking never trickled down into shotgun training. Many agencies did rudimentary training or reserved shotguns for the use of supervisors, dispatching wildlife or – for some insane reason – crowd control. They made the training so complicated or painful that many patrol officers today don’t even like shooting the shotgun, and fewer still understand the versatility, simplicity and speed of a good police shotgun.

While a patrol carbine is an excellent option for the patrol officer, it should not come at the expense of the shotgun. The police-issue semi-automatic or pump shotgun is a simple firearm; easy to handle, easy to train on, and easily and quickly fired accurately under stress by almost anyone with some degree of minimum training.

Training: What Didn’t Work

Mistake Number One: Overcomplicating the training

A patrol shotgun is not a rifle and should not be treated as such. When that gunfight happens, you need to stop it now. You shouldn’t waste valuable training time on techniques more appropriate for carbines or more appropriate to SWAT. One should learn the basics of safety, loading and unloading, shouldering, firing, multiple shots, shooting while moving, shooting from cover and speed reloading. Practice these basics over and over until they become automatic responses.

Don’t waste time teaching things like rollover prone shooting or switching hands to shoot around a weak-side barricade. Stuff like that just hurts, discourages officers from ever shooting that shotgun again, and has little practical application. Trust me; in the middle of a gunfight, if your only option is to shoot from prone, you will find a way to do it. A shotgun is a simple weapon; practice simple basics.

Mistake Number Two: Training with duty loads

“We need to train with the same loads that officers carry on the street.” I have heard that myth many times. Have we not learned anything about the physiology of the human body in a life-threatening situation? Do we not teach tunnel vision, auditory exclusion and the inability to count our rounds during a gunfight in handgun training? So why do we not also reinforce that in shotgun training?

When that gunfight happens, officers will not feel the recoil and or hear much noise, so therefore a better way to recreate a real situation is to train with the lightest loads possible. For the price of five slugs, we can fire 50 rounds of inexpensive birdshot … and we will get far better reinforcement of the basics with 50 repetitions than with five.

Mistake Number Three: Equipping shotguns with folding stocks

Ordinary citizens are quivering, sensitive creatures who quake at the mere sight of a gun in a police car and run to hide under their mothers’ skirts. Or, at least one would think based on how some police administrators believe. Shotguns with foldable stocks were trendy years ago when some administrators (who had never even fired a shotgun) felt they were necessary to keep shotguns out of sight of the general public.

Well, guess what. It’s a police car. Police officers have guns. Get over it. Don’t be a lethal threat and you will never have anything to worry about. Folding stocks are almost the invention of the devil. They made training a painful experience to avoid at all costs, and many officers today still recall the pain and discomfort of their shotgun training.

With the availability of good-quality overhead racks for patrol cars, there is no longer a need for folding stocks. (Nor was there ever.)

Training: What We Did Learn

Not every shotgun trainer was satisfied with teaching techniques that should have gone out of favour in the days of Al Capone. We have learned valuable lessons in the past few decades, and this has even sparked renewed appreciation for the versatility of a good shotgun in certain circles.

Shorter Lengths-of-pull

Police shotguns are equipped with shorter lengths-of-pull these days, and most older shotguns can be made shorter by reducing the stock length.

Correct length-of-pull (the measurement from the trigger to the center of the butt pad) is critical for a consistent cheek weld, but police officers need much shorter stocks than target shooters and hunters. For one reason, soft body armour adds bulk and this can make shooting a regular length shotgun a painful experience. For another, police shotgun shooting stances have gone away from the bladed angle stance and more toward the square-on stance of a handgun. This is primarily for more mobility and the ease of swinging, the lack of which for a duck hunter might mean a missed bird but for a police officer under the effects of tunnel vision could mean a missed lethal threat.

Another reason stances are less bladed today is also related to the most vulnerable part of a patrol officer’s body armour being the armhole. SWAT trainers like to talk about a so-called ‘fatal funnel’ in entry training, but any stance that conditions an officer to stand sideways, exposing their armhole to a threat, could result in a tragic new meaning to the term ‘fatal funnel.’

Keep it simple

There are literally thousands of ‘combat-style’ accessories that one can hang off a shotgun but the more likely a shotgun will be needed in an instant, the fewer accessories it should have on it. Some aftermarket parts tend to fail just when you need them the most and what looks good hanging on some mall-ninja’s basement wall is not what is going to be simple and reliable when human life is a stake.

This means good sights, a quality (and thoroughly tested) magazine extension tube and a high-visibility magazine follower are about the most that the average patrol officer is going to need.

Shotguns are versatile, and applications vary, so for rural or tactical use, a combat-tested light in a solid mount often helps, and some officers appreciate a good two-point sling while others find it just gets in the way.

A simple bead sight is still the easiest and fastest sight to acquire. Many modern ‘tactical’ shotguns come with ghost-ring sights but some shooters don’t like them as they are not much faster to acquire than rifle sights. A good bead can be both fast and accurate out to and beyond 50 meters.

Combat-tested electronic sights such as the Aimpoint Micro or the EOTech are fast, accurate and rugged. They are also expensive but if an agency is going that route, they need a proper mil-spec sight, not a cheap Chinese-made ripoff.

That’s about it. Spare shell carriers on the receiver or the stock are rarely needed for the average urban patrol officer. If the gunfight is not stopped after six, it will probably not be stopped after 12. Sidesaddle shell carriers add weight, get in the way of a good speedload and sometimes drop their shells out onto the ground at the most inopportune time. Spare shells can be carried in the pocket and if an agency issues buckshot duty rounds, a box or two of slugs within easy reach will take advantage of the versatility of a shotgun to put out an awful lot of power downrange at short and intermediate distances.

The bottom line is that the best accessories one can buy for a brand-new police shotgun are a good training course and two dozen boxes of shells to break it in.

Police semi-automatics

The pump action shotgun is simple and fast into action. It can be handled by nearly anyone with good training and it can shoot a wide variety of loads. The police semi-automatic, on the other hand, is more expensive and will only fire a narrower range of duty loads. The loading and unloading of the semi-automatic is also more complex than a pump. But with the right ammunition, a police semi-automatic shotgun is reliable, fast and accurate. And honestly, if an officer cannot be trained to manipulate one extra lever or button under stress, then they shouldn’t be allowed to drive cars.

Yes, a good shooter on a pump can keep up with an average shooter on a semi-automatic, but given good training, the modern semi-automatic is unbeatable for speed. Electronic range timers have proved conclusively that a good pump shooter can get off two shots with shot-to-shot times under .30 seconds, but a good gas-operated semi-automatic such as the Remington 11/87 Police can easily get under .25 seconds. I have even seen a gas-assisted, inertia-operated shotguns such as the Benelli M4 Tactical get shot-to-shot times at an incredible .18 seconds.

Now, I was never very good at math but according to my calculations, that means a good semi- auto shotgun can fire off five slugs - the equivalent energy of 30-rounds of military 5.56mm rifle rounds - in under one second.

Hopefully, no one would ever need that speed but it is comforting to know that your agency has your back with quality weapons that will work when you need them and the power to stop a threat instantly and accurately. The acquisition of patrol rifles are a good two steps forward in Canada, but let’s not also take one step back.

After all, the best gun in the world is the one you have in your hand when you need it the most and the training to back it up. At typical police gunfight distances, that may very well be a shotgun.

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