The bane of turkey, waterfowl, and home invaders everywhere, the ubiquitous shotgun is known and loved by hunters, farmers, law enforcement, and private gun owners all over the world for its versatility and power. While the rifle may be the king of long-range precision and nothing beats the pistol for practical everyday carry, the shotgun is the undisputed leader of short-range destruction. The spread and volume of a scattergun’s pellets are perfect for taking out rapidly moving objects both on the ground and in the air, which makes it great for hunting rabbit, duck, or pigeon. 

If you are picking up a shotgun for the first time, there are certain things that your new shotgun can do that a rifle or a pistol cannot. The shotgun’s aforementioned versatility lies in its ability to change rounds to suit a wide variety of situations.

In a pinch, a shotgun loaded with buckshot can be chambered with a slug. Similar to how a rifle or pistol magazine works, the first round loaded is the last round fired. To change ammunition types, make sure your weapon is not completely full. In this example, a shotgun with a capacity of 8+1 is loaded with 7 shells with one in the chamber. The empty space will allow your slug to be loaded into the shotgun, and after the chambered round is ejected by pumping your weapon, your slug will be ready to fire. 

In what situations would you ever want to change ammo? Well, let’s assume you’re bird hunting in Texas and you happen to come across a wild boar. A feral hog’s thick skin makes killing them with birdshot less than ideal. A certain sportsman was hunting for snipes but found a hog instead, and his birdshot barely made a dent on the creature’s tough hide. To ensure a quick, ethical kill, buckshot or slugs are preferred. 

For shotgun-armed law enforcement personnel in a tactical situation, changing out ammunition types could be vital for breaching doors, for example. Breaching shotguns are usually equipped with breaching barrels. These specialized attachments have vent holes and a crenellated tip, since firing a regular shotgun barrel sealed flat against a door would trap its gases and cause the shotgun’s barrel to warp and expand. The breaching barrel’s vents help dissipate gas, while its crenellated tip makes helps secure the weapon against a door. 

A breacher’s objective is to destroy the lock of a door to gain entry so he and his team can deal with whatever is in the next building. If buckshot is used on a locked apartment door, there’s a high chance some of the pellets will over-penetrate and potentially kill any innocents living in the adjacent room or the apartment next door. Instead, breachers have the option of using either slugs or special breaching rounds. Breaching rounds are made of powdered compressed iron and designed to destroy hinges at point blank range. Although drywall stops them by design, they are still quite lethal if used on a human target. 

For both hunters and tactical shotgun shooters, patterning their weapons is just as important as zeroing a scope would be for a rifleman. A shotgun may not be pinpoint accurate, but their spread isn’t so large to the point that the iron sights are a mere decoration. Every shotgun has a different point of impact or POI. On my own shotgun, for example, the POI is several inches above my aiming point on the sight bead. 

Shotgun shooters pattern to see how their accuracy is affected by different loads. Patterning is done by shooting groups at different ranges so the shooter can determine his point of aim at every range. For example, a shotgun’s POI at 40 yards might be different than its POI at 15. For situations like this, when you know you’ll consistently be shooting at a specific distance, it’s a good idea to invest in a dependable red dot optic instead of just eyeballing your point of aim on your weapon’s iron sights. The Mini Shot M-Spec M1 from Sightmark, for example, is purpose-made for shotguns. Unlike other red dot optics, the Mini Shot M-Spec M1 has a high recoil rating capable of taking the immense kick of a 12ga. Combined with its 30,000 hours of battery life, auto-off function after 12 hours of inactivity, 3 MOA red dot reticle and $199.97 price point, this red dot optic should be every shotgunner’s go-to for a sight that allows for fast target acquisition and point of aim accuracy. 

Patterning involves more than just going to the range and blasting targets. Just like bench zeroing, a gun vise is preferable to free-hand shooting, since the vise eliminates the fatigue of holding a heavy weapon and removes some elements of user error such as bad sight alignment and trembling. In lieu of a gun vise, a Kopfjäger rest or a monopod from Firefield can be used to hold the weapon steady. The target itself should not be a normal rifle target either. The spread of birdshot is larger than a typical sheet of A4 paper, so a 3×3 foot target made of cardboard should be large enough to determine how near or far a shotgun’s POI is from the shooter’s point of aim. 

How do you pattern your shotguns? Do you normally hunt with two types of ammo just in case? Tell us in the comments below.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Sneck

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