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Browns Firearms Book Reviews


November 7, 2011
By Dave Brown

Magpul Dynamics – The Art of the Dynamic Shotgun, 

MSRP $39.95 DVD, $49.95 Blu-ray

Magpul Dynamics’ The Art of the Dynamic Shotgun should probably be better termed ‘the art of the dynamic instructors.’ This 3-disc collection features some of the highest production values of any firearms training video, and Chris Costa and Travis Haley are two of the most dynamic instructors out there. To paraphrase one of their principles, if Costa and Haley are not talking, they are demonstrating. They keep up a furious pace, which is pretty logical if you picture they distill three days of shotgun training down to a five-hour set of DVDs or Blu-ray discs.

In the video, Costa and Haley run a typical shotgun training course with a diverse group of nine students through the fundamentals of safety, zeroing, patterning, grip and stance, combat reloads, speed reloads, cruiser carry and slug changeovers. And that’s just day one.

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Everything they teach complies with their three main principles of: reality, efficiency and consistency. Some of the skills they teach are what they call the “lost art” of shotgun shooting, and they repeatedly point out and demonstrate the versatility of the modern shotgun. There are a lot of lessons here for officers and instructors alike. While the trend today is toward patrol carbines for police officers, Costa and Haley point out that the shotgun is unbeatable for speed and power at short and intermediate ranges. “It is the most violent weapons system out there. With one pull of the trigger, you can have 9 rounds flying at you,” says Costa. “That is a really big force multiplier.”

The shotgun is not perfect, however. It can run out of ammunition quickly and this is why a lot of the concentration in the video is that one is always shooting the shotgun or loading the shotgun. Costa and Haley are always trying to push their students to what they term the “failure point” so they learn to solve problems on their own.

They also have important lessons on shotgun safety. According to them, the traditional safety rules were often thought about as “range safety rules,” when in fact they should be better termed “life safety rules.”

They teach the more modern square-on stance that allows more mobility and ease of tracking potential targets side-to-side, and they explain the benefits of a shorter length-of-pull stock and how that can help the tactical shotgun shooter.

One thing to remember is that this is a lot of material to cover for the average street officer and they get into some pretty advanced skills. They also make the shotgun as complicated as possible. As Haley says, “This is one of the most complicated weapons systems out there.” Well, a lot of instructors believe it doesn’t have to be. One of the big advantages of a shotgun for a patrol officer is that one can bring a lot of firepower to bear with a weapon that is quick into action and can be handled with minimum fine motor skills by the average officer with minimal training. The basics of shotgun shooting can usually be covered in one good day; one doesn’t need three full days of training unless they want to perform at the high levels demonstrated by some of the students in this video. Magpul, of course, wants to attract students to their three-day workshop.

They also urge students to do all the skill manipulations their way, which of course, any good instructor will do. But many shotgun instructors teach the basics of the shotgun without making it more complicated than a rifle and without requiring the fine motor skills that an experienced instructor may possess but may not be there for the average police officer on the street. One example is their method of speedloading, which Costa calls a “combat reload.” While it can be quick and fast with a lot of practice, it also relies on fine motor skills and manipulating both shells and bolt release buttons with the support hand instead of the strong hand. This is fine for enthusiast shooters or perhaps SWAT officers who have time to practice, but the average street officer is probably better off using the strong hand to manipulate the shells. (In fact, at 1:03:14 into the video, one can see exactly what can go wrong with a support-hand speedload when one of the students tosses a shell onto the ground and needs to go for another round.)

But Costa and Haley both acknowledge that there are alternate ways of doing almost everything out there. While this video cannot, in any way, replace a good training course, it goes a long way to demonstrating the skills that one should be learning under experienced instructors.

I remember years ago, when I was a new – and certainly a naïve – practical pistol instructor, I attended a course taught by the great Rob Leatham. Leatham is perhaps one of the fastest and most winning pistol shooters on the planet. He is also a laid back instructor and shooter, and he has no problem picking up any random handgun to demonstrate an exercise to his students. He just plain loves to shoot.

I had a chance to chat with Rob that night and I asked him about one of the basic principles we had learned as new pistol instructors, which was to not pick up a gun in front of your students. It was felt that if a demonstration ever went wrong and you missed a target, it would impact your credibility with students. Rob looked at me with perhaps a bit of pity and said, “Dude, if you don’t have credibility in front of your students by that time, you probably shouldn’t be teaching.”

I have tried to follow his example even today and not every demonstration has gone perfectly, but I can sometimes hold my own. But Costa and Haley are perhaps way better examples of how to teach by doing. In this video, they love to shoot, and it shows.

Paladin Press – 
Combat Shotgun with Louis Awerbuck, MSRP 
$39.95 DVD

In shotgun training, two other names stand out for their common-sense approach to training and equipment: Gabe Suarez and Louis Awerbuck. Louis Awerbuck’s Combat Shotgun is one of the older shotgun videos on the market but it is still one of the best.

It doesn’t have the same production values as the Magpul Dynamics video (also reviewed in this issue) but it was also filmed years before DVDs became popular. Awerbuck is also not as dynamic an instructor as either Travis Haley or Chris Costa, but if you know anything about tactical shotgun training, you know that Awerbuck is a voice to listen to.

Unlike the Magpul Dynamics video, Awerbuck really concentrates on reinforcing the basics in this 90-minute video. He explains the many myths surrounding the shotgun, and demonstrates with a volunteer student what the shotgun is really capable of doing. He also explains how the shotgun is both a simple weapon and a complex weapon to understand and manipulate. His demonstrations using a typical student really help to show how easy the shotgun is to learn in a short period of time and how easy it is to shoot effectively.

While the shotguns he uses are more dated in their choice of accessories, and especially pre-date the prevalence of good quality electronic sights such as the Aimpoint that is found on many shotguns in the Magpul Dynamics video, the shotguns themselves are still the same and the necessary skills are similar.

He believes in simplicity in the shotgun. Too many accessories just get in the way. For example, lights on a shotgun can be very useful for home defense but can also fall off or break down when rattling around in the rack of a police car. Slings are essential for training courses or carrying shotguns for long periods in combat but for actual street use, slings often just get in the way. He believes in tailoring a shotgun to its intended purpose and not just hanging junk off it that happens to look cool. As Awerbuck says, “There are 15,000 things you can buy. Most, you don’t need.”

As I said, one of the most common-sense shotgun instructors out there. One forgets very quickly his bit of a monotone way of talking!

Awerbuck was also one of the earliest proponents of shorter length-of-pull stocks on a tactical shotgun. He uses a bit more of a traditional bladed stance than the Magpul Dynamics video, but he demonstrates how one can use that stance to its advantage to give almost the same mobility and field-of-fire. He also talks a lot about trigger control and how one needs to aim a tactical shotgun more like a rifle when it comes to focusing on the front bead. He emphasizes how the shooter must always try to keep the bead in focus right through the shot and the recoil.

There are lots of shotgun videos on the market. Many of them spend a lot of time discussing modifications and accessories, or try to convince viewers that a shotgun can be treated like a shorter-range patrol rifle. This is not the case with Awerbuck’s video. He may be a bit understated at times but he tells it plain and simple … much like the way he likes his shotguns.