The accomplished 3-Gunner must keep in balance the triad of Practical Shooting: Speed, Power and Accuracy. Since power is solely the result of our ammo selection, it is wise to know how to improve speed without sacrificing accuracy. The aim of this article is to share with you some of the techniques that will allow you to harness that speed with your shotgun.
First, let’s understand why we can shoot our shotguns fast. It has been said that it is the handgun that is the most difficult firearm to master. Given that it is hanging in our hands at the end of our outstretched arms I can only agree. Conversely, our long guns have us connected at two additional points, the shoulder and the cheek. That means we have more mass working directly against the effects of recoil and more muscle in control of movement.
With a proper cheek weld, we maintain sight alignment during the entire firing cycle, and that (if you are watching your front sight) gives you immediate feedback as to where each shot is delivered. To go fast you must (especially with our ever-empty shotguns) hit with every shot fired. Not only do make-up shots take time, but could force you to reload additional rounds on the clock. Note: if you mount your shotgun and you do not see a perfect sight picture (rib/bead or rear/front) you need to make some adjustments to your gun fit.
Ok, so we have our shotguns firmly connected at our hands, cheek and shoulder. We have a solid cheek weld so our sights are aligned even without looking at them. The next element is to improve our ability to get our Power Tools into a solid firing position and break the first shot.
In most instances we have only three or four start positions. Port Arms is generally described as “buttstock touching belt and muzzle at eye level.” Low Ready is “buttstock touching shoulder and muzzle depressed below the line of targets.” The third, At Trail, is one we USA’ers rarely see but can be found at IPSC events. Here the shotgun begins parallel to the ground hanging from the strong hand only. The remaining start positions I’ll call “Pick-ups”…off a table, out of a car, a trunk or what have you. Now let’s explore how to get the gun from wherever it begins into a solid firing position.
When starting Port Arms, I like to think of my front sight as the pivot point of a hinge that is attached to the aiming point of my first target. My eyes are on the first target and at the “start” command I swing the shotgun buttstock up parallel to and slightly forward of my shoulder and then pull it back into the shoulder pocket. It is important to note that during mounting your head should remain still as the stock moves to meet your cheek; you should not need to move your head and cheek down to contact the stock.
Low Ready has us reposition the aforementioned “hinge” to the buttstock of the gun as it contacts our shoulder. Be aware that there are two schools of thought on where your eyes should be looking during the Low Ready start. I would argue that the fastest way is to have your eyes focused on the first target and let your shotgun meet your face just as we do for Port Arms. Others would have you looking at your front sight and then move as a “whole” up to the first target. However, in every test I have performed, having your eyes on the target and bringing your rifle, pistol or shotgun into your vision is the fastest.
For At Trail I recommend that one simultaneously move the gun up and the weak hand down to make contact, and then pull the shotgun into the shoulder pocket. The stock should meet your cheek the same way as before. Done properly the sights of a well-fit shotgun will be right where your eyes already are, on the first target.
When working with “Pick-up” starts the goal is to get both hands on the gun before you move the gun into the firing position. Again you will follow the same movement “up and into” from grab to shoulder and cheek. While it looks cool, the one-handed shotgun grab “on the way by” is a bad idea. All too often guns manage to get hung-up on props and such. At the very least your fight to free it will result in lost time, at worst you break the 180 and get a trip to DQ! Now with that said, if you are moving a few yards before your first target a one handed grab at the balance point of the shotgun can save some time. Keep in mind that the gun should be fully retrieved from its position before you move your feet away from the retrieval point.
Now that your power tool is mounted and on target, it’s time to pull the trigger. To get the most out of our shotguns we need to balance its power output with our own. All of our guns release energy, and most of the time we only consider the force that is released at the muzzle. However, it is our ability to manage “recoil energy” that helps us to improve our speed “shot-to-shot.” Recoil expresses itself in several ways. We have Recoil Impulse (pounds per second), Recoil Velocity (feet per second) and finally Recoil Energy (foot pounds). Let’s put this into perspective using an 8-pound shotgun, shooting 1 1/8 ounce loads at 1,200 feet per second. At our shoulder we have a shotgun that is pushing on us at 3 pounds per second (Recoil Impulse). That shotgun is trying to move against us at more than 12 feet per second (Recoil Velocity) and the total force (Recoil Energy) we must endure is nearly 20 foot pounds. That is equivalent to shooting a .308 rifle of the same weight. Being able to handle that recoil package over and over and doing so at speed takes technique!
Without getting to deep “into the weeds” with calculations involving our mass and movement in reaction to and resisting the shotgun’s recoil, let us say that the less mass you have personally the more force you must apply to counter the shotgun’s. In other words, lean into it! Watch some of the Top Lady Pro’s and you’ll notice that their center of gravity is biased way forward. So much so that if the shotgun fails to fire the balance between them and the shotgun is lost and they tend to fall forward. That is exactly how it should be.
This is a Power Tool and is not a tool to be held lightly. Long-time 3-gunner and master gunsmith Benny Hill is fond of saying, “Grip it and Rip it!” And that is, in the most basic terms, the method you need to use to run a shotgun at speed. Grip it firmly fore and aft with the recoil pad pulled smartly into the shoulder. With a self-loading shotgun I have both hands active in keeping the recoil pad planted. With the pump-gun it is important to have the “pump-hand” able to do its job, so the grip dynamic changes accordingly.
Once the gun is up and on target the idea is to maintain a consistent grip and pressure into the shoulder. We are not wrestling with our shotgun, just holding it firmly in place. The “steering” of the muzzle end is accomplished with our upper body and legs. In a static shooting scenario our feet are on the ground and pointing toward the targets. The hand that is on the fore-end is matched with the same-sided foot leading the other, by about the same distance as is between the hands (about 12 to 18 inches) This does two things: first, with our hands and feet matched we are not twisted at the waist, thus retaining lots of free motion to engage a widely-spaced array. Second, our foot position is set to allow us to bias our weight onto the leading foot, so we can lean into it!
It may sound funny, but when engaging targets from a static position I feel that I push up and into the shotgun starting from my rear foot and then down and into the ground on my front foot. Speed comes from control. The more aspects of the activity that you have control over the faster you can make things happen.
Shooting on the move with a birdshot slinger is mostly about timing. In general terms shoot when the leading foot (whatever one is in front at the time) has made firm contact with the ground, but while the rear foot is still pushing you forward. The “leaning in” for recoil management is a factor of your active application of energy counter to direction of recoil. You aid and abet this simply by moving forward.
The last piece of the puzzle (at least that I can share via the written word) is utilizing the BIG bullets that your pellet spreader throws. Let’s say the target is a 10×10-inch hunk of steel. If you are going to hit it with your 9 mm you’ll need at least a half a bullet on it. That means if you held your perfectly zeroed sights on the very edge and broke a shot, you’d get the hit. Your 9 mm bullet is 0.355 inches wide at 15 yards. In sharp contrast, your 12-gauge bullet (pattern) might be 24 inches wide! In both theory and in practice (as I am going to recommend) you can have your sights 6 inches off the edge of the target and still put 6 inches worth of pattern on it!
Now, I am expecting to get some push back on this as some will think I am advocating sloppy shooting. I am not. Most of us understand that shooting a flying clay at 15 yards is easier with a IC choke than with a turkey full. I am just asking you to consider the same when shooting the much easier-to-hit static target. We have the good fortune to be able to adjust our chokes and loads to fit most any scenario, so it would be wise to use them to our advantage.
Over the years I have been labeled as some sort of “Shotgun Guru” and I kinda like the moniker. Whether it is 3-Gun, Skeet, Sporting Clays or Practical shotgun matches, I love this Power Tool and all the games it plays. It is the most versatile gun in your bag, but that versatility demands your knowledge. A friend of mine, and long-time practical shotgunner and Rules Liason Officer for the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Council, Neil Beverley, said it best, the shotgun is a thinking man’s gun. I like that, and ask you to think about it as well.