(L to R) Tom Givens, Eli Miller (DIRECT PRESSURE LLC), and me.

This has been a very shotgun year for me, with Chief Lee Weems’, “Social Shotgun,” last month, and Tom’s shotgun class this month.  I have more shotgun training coming up later this month, and even more in the Summer.  So, my 870 is getting some mileage!  My exposure to shotgun training began some 27 years ago as a police cadet, continued through my work in the armored truck service, and is still rolling along today.  I really appreciate the virtues of the shotgun for defensive purposes, and like all of Tom Givens’ other training, this class puts a very fine point on the student instructor’s skills and knowledge, when it comes to the ‘ole scattergun.

I found that the BROWNCOAT TACTICAL 2 round sidesaddle, when used with the shells, “brass up,” allowed me to quickly pluck a round from the midship receiver mount, and directly put it into the chamber through the ejection port for a quick emergency load.  This type of sidesaddle mounts with vehicular-grade velcro from the hardware store.  After the elastic in the sidesaddle wears out and no longer retains the shells adequately with enough tension, you simply throw the card away and buy another one.  Most ammunition carrying devices are expendable items!

My last essay on Tom’s Pistol Instructor Course was LONG.  Although I took pages and pages of notes in this class, I’m not going to disclose as much information.  You’ll have to take the class yourself.  While pistol training is everywhere, shotgun training (that is to say, quality shotgun training) is fewer and far between.  There are shotgun classes out there that are either adapted versions of carbine classes, with a shotgun substituted for said carbine, or shotgun classes using techniques adapted from wingshooting or sporting events.  Neither of those classes are particularly well adapted to defensive use of the shotgun.  Thus, to fully understand the WHY (Tom, like all quality, learned individuals, places a strong emphasis on the value of WHY a particular tool, tactic, technique or procedure is valuable or not.  IF you don’t know the WHY, you can’t claim that you really know much about the aforementioned TTTP’s!)

The shotgun list of, “WHY’S,” was really interesting to me, and much of it was first-pass information; the first time I’d heard it (and I’ve taken shotgun training with Tom before…although not at the instructor level).  I’ve included a few of them here, because the reasons that people choose to rationalize their defensive mindset, tactics, skill and gear algorithms are often poorly hatched, and ill-conceived.  Many people mimic things they see other instructors (or internet personalities) do, without the least inkling of WHY that choice was made.  This is a bad practice to undertake, and can also be expensive!  Many folks THINK that they need this widget, or that training, when what they really NEED is something far less sophisticated.

On this side of the shotgun, you can see the five round, again, velcro attached shotcard I have affixed to the MAGPUL stock.  Also visible is the MAGPUL forend, which I plan to change to the standard OEM plastic 870 Police forend.  While I understand that MAGPUL has to make a forend to, “match,” the stock, the forend with its prominent edges and thin construction, I found to be abusive on my offhand finger’s under recoil.  Not horribly so, but a marked decline in handling from the OEM forend.  Also, the thin plastic construction allowed the forend to twist more than I like, which didn’t cause me any malfunctions, but also wasn’t awe inspiring to feel the forend twist so freely.  The OEM forend is much less likely to torque and impede the movement of the actions bars.

So, in no particular order, I give you Tom’s SALIENT SHOTGUN SCHOLARSHIP AND SERMON FOR CIVILIANS:

  • “THE MAIN ADVANTAGE of the shotgun as a defensive weapon is its unmatched destructive capability at close range.  On drunk, drugged or crazed assailants, few tools exist with the wounding power of the shotgun, when loaded with buckshot or slugs.  This is a two way street though, as there isn’t such a thing as a, “minor wound,” with a shotgun.  Thus, safe handling and lifestyle practice with the shotgun is paramount!”
  • In Tom’s extensive investigation and research experience, he has not found a shotgun shooting that involved more than two hits…
  • Shotguns aren’t dropsafe…the, “safety,” in a shotgun merely locks the trigger in place (to keep it from moving).  If you have a round in the chamber, with the gun in battery and you drop it, it could go off.  So be wary.
  • Treat the shotgun safety like a switch…when you pick up the gun, ascertain it’s condition of readiness (“clear the gun”) or prepare to fight with it (if it is loaded).  Turn the safety switch off when you pick it up, reapply it when you put it down.  Vang Comp (the big round ball) 870 safety buttons can inadvertently deactivate when a large-handed user picks up the gun in a firing grip.  If you have big mitts, you need to know that!
  • The safety on the shotgun is a safety for the other guy (the bad guy).  If it’s on, and you need to shoot, you’re going to wish it was OFF!  It is a hazard to the user because it is a pain in the butt to disengage and can be left on inadvertently.  Therefore and again, when you pick the gun up, disengage the safety, keep your finger in register, and you’ll be fine!  Do you worry about inadvertently touching off a round with your striker fired pistol when your finger is in register?  The shotgun is no different.
  • SLUGS are used when the situation requires either deeper penetration (dangerous animals or vehicles in a police context) or when accuracy is required at ranges outside the usable envelope of buckshot.
  • “In a civilian self-defense scenario,  whether in the home or business, the shotgun is the weapon of choice for repelling home invasions or gang hold-ups.  The range will always be short (within two car lengths) so buckshot (either 0, 00 or OOO size) is our preferred primary load.  There is no need for extended range or penetration, so slugs are largely superfluous in this role.  You don’t need a sling, as it can hang up on door knobs and other things (if you use it on the badguys, you’ll either hand it over to the police when they get there, or put it back in the closet/rack/safe from whence it came.  No need to sling up since it is outside the purview of the civilian to handcuff, hurdle fences, etc.  A light is optional and situationally dependent for civilian use.  You need a short, light, fast-handling weapon for close-in work.”
  • The first inception of the shotgun was utilized by horsemen (aristocracy) against groundlings (pikemen) as a multi-projectile weapon was more effective since it had increased hit probability at close range (greater than or equal to eight feet away)
  • Anyone using a shotgun for defensive purposes will benefit from having a length of pull less than 13″ (unless they are exceptionally tall…I’m 6’4″ and I prefer a 12″ LOP, although I can use longer).  Even small statured individuals and women can use short LOP shotguns (in 12 gauge) comfortably.
  • Pistol grip only shotguns provide no index of deflection, and are very limited in use (I fully admit I have a PGO 870 TAC-14…which I’m waiting on a tax stamp for to turn into a SBS!)
  • The Wilson Combat/Scattergun Technologies, “PLUS ONE,” magazine extension provides one extra round with a minimum amount of bulk.
  • BOLT ON ammo carriers (based on the original, “Adventurer’s Outpost Sidesaddle,” require the action pins to be replaced with threaded screws.  Under recoil, these screws can untighten, and the sidesaddle will fall off.  On some guns, this will tie up the action, rendering your combat capable shotgun into a very unergonomic boat oar.  Velcro attached sidesaddle cards are preferrable since they don’t interfere with the action, nor will they loosen with firing.  ALSO, sidesaddles can (if overtightened) can tie up the gun completely, by compressing the receiver.  Again, congrats on the unergonomic hammer!
  • 28 gauge shotguns were invented for sporting shotgunners that could clean skeet matches with the 12 and 20 gauges. So the 28 gauge was invented to make a hard game harder.
  • Double barrel coach guns are useful for one purpose…they are shorter than pump guns because the action isn’t as long.  In every other way, they are technologically inferior to pump or semi-automatic defensive shotguns.
I love these XS Express sights on a shotgun.  They are aligned very much like rifle sights, but they are very high-visibility and easy to pick up.  One thing I’d recommend though, is to Loctite the heck out of them, as even with a few drops of Loctite (as the manufacturer suggests) recoil from full-power 12 gauge buckshot and slugs will cause that sight to bump right out of there and nearly fly off into the grass.  I’m hard on shotgun sights.  I’ve lost barrel mounted beads, epoxy on XS Big Dots and Ghost Ring rear sights.  I THINK I have enough Loctite on the sight now to prevent it from ever moving again!


Many folks fail to grasp the importance of patterning their shotgun. As Tom says, “Each shotgun barrel is a special snowflake!” The NIJ Standard for 12 gauge shotgun barrels is .725″ to .745″. That is a HUGE disparity which doesn’t lend itself to scientific analysis, uniform accuracy or even trueness of bore (when analyzed in context to the long axis of the barrel). In addition, the bore can be off center, or not concentric, which will throw odd patterns with some (and sometimes all) popular defensive loads. Bearing these eccentricities in mind, testing every shotgun intended for defensive or duty use is crucial! Would you field a hunting or sniping rifle with an unzeroed scope? Patterning your shotgun should be considered just as critical!  Also, if you are unlucky enough to find yourself saddled with a poorly patterning shotgun, get rid of it all together, or get a new barrel.

I found that my barrel patterned adequately with the Federal Flite Control 8 pellet OO loading, but patterned SUPERBLY with the Hornady version of the Flite Control 8 pellet loading. Thus, for this particular 870, I will put a laminated card onto the buttstock with the gun’s preference, and that’s what I will feed it!


I’ve used a shotgun in an official capacity for two decades PLUS now. And while I can shoot one and run it well, there were still, “scars,” and personal idiosyncrasies that I had to overcome to be successful in this course. In my years of armored truck service, I got lazy with my unslung shotgun, and I would simply rest the toe of the buttstock, muzzle up, on the front of my pistol ammo carrier on my gun belt. I found myself defaulting to this position a few times in class, unconsciously, and Tom would tell me, “That isn’t a ready position.” I admit that my ready position wasn’t ready for much of anything! Although my strong hand was on the pistol grip, it wasn’t really in a position to do much at all immediately. That required conscious thought and effort to repair that weakness, and use a proper ready position.

I also found that shooting a high pedestal bead, ghost ring, or Express type sight, as I had become accustomed to, made shooting a gun with a barrel mounted bead very difficult. I felt like I couldn’t get my face low enough on the stock to get a good cheekweld. I eventually found that, “sweet spot,” but I can say with absolute certainty that barrel-mounted-beads are not my favorite!

I also (prior to the course) felt that the wide patterns that a typical police shotgun would make with EXPRESS OO buckshot at 20-25 yards was an asset, as the wide (round) pattern would most definitely hit, at least partially, the threat I was aiming at. I never gave much thought to the stray pellets that fly off into the great unknown, only to strike an unsuspecting innocent. Tight patterns with high-tech wads keep their patterns constrained to the threat, with no stray pellets (as long as you are within the effective range of your target).  Judging that distance, by eye-balling, is necessary so you can tell in an instant if you’re within your effective range.  If you are too far out, either keep moving away from the threat, switch to a slug, or wait until the threat moves closer to you if no avenue of escape exists.


If the game show, “Jeopardy,” had a, “SELF DEFENSE SHOTGUN,” category, this course would prepare you for sweeping it! In addition to busting myths, correcting police and media folklore, and helping Instructor-candidates truly UNDERSTAND the intricacies of the shotgun, Tom’s class is both fun and challenging.

One of my favorite quotes from the course, and what really sums up shotgun effectiveness in general is: “You know what birdshot is for? Shooting BIRDS! Hell, half the time birds don’t even die from the shot, they die from falling out of the sky, and sometimes that doesn’t even kill them! So if a 4 ounce bird won’t die from getting hit with a load of birdshot, what do you think an angry man is going to do when you hit him with it? Exactly whatever he was doing before you shot him! Some other experts out there will recommend birdshot for home and business defense because they say it lacks the penetration capability to over-penetrate interior and exterior walls. My answer is that buckshot, when aimed properly, will neutralize a threat with no more than two good hits. And the bad guy’s body will contain the buckshot and keep it from hitting any of your walls, as long as you aim it. As Paul Howe says YOU CANNOT SEW UP HAMBURGER!”

Get to this class. It’s not commonly offered, but for two to three times per year. And the more folks we have instructing sound curriculum that truly utilizes the shotgun’s many strengths, the longer this friable knowledge will remain in the gun culture’s collective intelligence!

Thank you for reading!

-Dr. House

May 2018 Rangemaster Certified Shotgun Instructors!  The Chosen Few!  Nearly everyone in the class used a Remington 870, save for a few Beretta 1301’s, Mossberg 500 or 590’s, and one Benelli M4.  Mossberg users found that the safety could become lodged halfway between, “on,” and, “off,” tying up the gun until it could be disassembled.  The Mossberg kids also found that on emergency reloads, a round could be dropped into the ejection port, and actually fall through the shell lifter (it’s open) and tie up the gun.  Not GOOD!

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