A little more than a week ago I taught my defensive shotgun class at Blackwing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio. I only do this class a couple times a year and usually learn as much from the students as they learn from me. In large classes like this one (21 students), I have a real-world learning lab to see what works and what doesn’t. It’s always enlightening. Here are some of the things I observed in class.
Gun issues- This class was incredibly unusual with only one real gun failure. Every other gun ran extremely well. I didn’t see nearly the problems that I usually do in class. The class was roughly half pump guns and half semi-autos. The pump guns consisted of a bunch of 870s, a few Mossberg 500s, a couple Mossberg 590s, 1 Mossberg Maverick, 1 Benelli Nova, and 1 KelTec KSG.
Some commentary on the individual guns:
– Surprisingly, the KelTec ran OK. My previous experiences haven’t made me a big fan of this model. I only saw it seriously jam one time when a shell got trapped between the magazine tube and the shell lifter. It took the student a couple of minutes to get the problem fixed. That’s a real problem with this model. When something goes wrong, it’s seldom an easy fix like it is for most other pump guns.
The bullpup design requires a little bit of individual instruction and a slight change of lesson plans if you (as the instructor) plan to teach port loading. Be prepared and give your KelTec users alternate courses of fire when you are practicing port loading.
– The most serious issue was with an older Mossberg 500. The wooden forend completely broke off. Fortunately, the student had a back up shotgun and finished the class easily.
– A lot of the Mossbergs and 870s had Magpul adjustable stocks. Highly recommended. The long standard length of pull on factory stocks is one of the more frustrating problems I see in most shotgun classes. The long stock forces students to blade their body. With heavy loads that seriously hampers recoil control and comfortable shooting.
– In previous classes, the new (post bankruptcy) Remington 870s have been problematic. I had one new model 870 in this class and it ran flawlessly. I hope Remington got their problems figured out.
– I didn’t expect the Maverick to do well, but it actually ran fine. No issues with the Nova either.
-As far as auto loaders go, I had one Mossberg 930, three Beretta A300 Ultima Patrols, and a handful of Beretta 1301s. All performed admirably. I was worried about the 930, as they seldom make it through my classes. It actually did great. I’ve only seen two of the 930s go through a full day of shotgun class without seeing numerous issues. I’m hoping that Mossberg has improved this model in the past couple years.
My demo gun- I usually do demonstrations in this class with my Beretta 1301. On the day before I left for class, I took it to the range and ran it hard, firing 100 rounds of buckshot in about 30 minutes. The gun ran perfectly. I fly my long guns in a compact Pelican rifle case. In order for the 1301 to fit, I have to remove the barrel. I got home from the range and tried to break the gun down to put it in my hard case. I couldn’t remove my barrel. There was so much carbon built up around the piston area under the forend that the barrel wouldn’t budge, even with liberal use of a rubber mallet.
I ended up just packing my old school SBS HK-marked Benelli M-1. Since that one hasn’t been a primary class demo gun or home defense weapon, I’ve slacked a bit on its maintenance. The recoil spring is long past being due for replacement. I had a couple feeding issues in class. Shotgun mag tube springs are pretty fragile compared with many other gun parts. I recommend you replace them every year or two.
When I got back home and had more time, I soaked the 1301 in KG carbon cleaner for a day and then rapped the barrel a few times with a mallet. The barrel finally broke free from the magazine tube. As best as I can recall, my 1301 had about 1500 rounds through it since I last detail stripped it and took the barrel off. Lesson learned. I’m going to do more frequent “deep cleaning” of the 1301 to make sure I never again have a barrel I can’t remove.
Optics- When I talk about shotgun optics, most of you are assuming I’m talking about red dot sights. Not always. I only had one dot optic in the class. That’s somewhat unusual these days. Usually about one third to one half of my students are running some type of optic on their scatterguns. The single dot optic in this class was a small Holosun and it worked just fine.
To keep me on my toes, I had a pair of students show up with their 870 deer hunting shotguns. One had a 4x fixed power magnified scope and the other had a 6x fixed power scope. While those may be fine choices for shooting slugs at deer 50-100 yards away, they were certainly sub optimal for shooting cardboard at 15 feet. I spoke to the students about the scopes at the beginning of class. They told me:
“This is our first defensive shotgun class. We don’t know what’s best for self defense applications and didn’t want to just guess and buy something we would regret after taking the class. We decided to bring what we have and use our experience in class to figure out what we should get in the future.”
While both students were a bit handicapped with their high magnification scopes, that’s actually exactly the attitude to have for any kind of new firearms class. They made it through the class just fine and now have a better idea of what they should purchase for better performance in the realm of home protection.
You still have to aim, even with a shotgun. I had one student who told me at the beginning of class that no one actually has to use shotgun sights in a gunfight. I informed him that he was wrong, but he didn’t appear to truly embrace my reasoning. Later in the day, I had the class compete in a team against team “rolling thunder” drill. The rules were that each person should shoot as fast as possible, but keep all their pellets on the silhouette target at 15 feet. I informed the shooters that if any of their shots broke the 2″x2″ wooden target uprights, they would disqualify their team in the competition.
The shotgun point shooter stepped up for his two-round string of fire. Without looking at his fiber optic bead, his first shot broke the left target stick. His second shot broke the right target stick. Both of those rounds would have been completely off a human torso at just 15 feet away. He and his team shot faster than the other team, but were disqualified in the contest. I hope folks learn their hard lessons about this topic in classes like mine rather than in actual defensive encounters on the street or in the home.
Ammo issues- In the last year or so, I’ve seen a significant increase in numbers of bad shotgun shells coming out of factory boxes. Ammunition plants are still churning out cartridges to meet unprecedented demand from consumers. Quality control is slipping everywhere. The round below is one I pulled out of a new box of practice ammo I was using in the class. I see a few shells that look like this in every class I teach. Closely inspect your ammo before loading it, especially if you are using it for self protection.
I had one other ammo related issue I hadn’t seen in class before. One of my students was using a 20 gauge pump for the class. On her lunch break, she picked up a new 12 gauge shotgun from the host gun shop. Towards the end of the day, she wanted to try shooting her new gun for a few rounds. She loaded up her gun, pumped it, and attempted to fire. She pumped it again. Still no bang. I noticed she was having problems so I walked over to help her.
She had loaded 20 gauge rounds into her new 12 gauge gun. The rounds cycled and slid right down the barrel. Two were jammed inside the barrel by the time I got to her to help her out.
That could have turned out very badly if one of her shells would have fired with the bore obstructed.
I’m from Gun Culture 1.0. I was hunting with shotguns at a very early age. All the hunter safety classes I took as a kid stressed the importance of not loading your shotgun with the wrong gauge of ammunition. Today’s Gun Culture 2.0 didn’t grow up hunting and shooting hand thrown clay pigeons since before they could legally drive. Today’s gun consumer is generally more self defense oriented and usually does not have a hunting background.
The things some of us take for granted often need to be explained better to an audience that comes to our classes with a differing type of personal life experience. Now I have a new topic to touch upon in my shotgun class safety briefings.
My next shotgun class is the Thunderstick Summit next month. I should have a lot of material to share with you after that epic weekend. Shotgun fans stay tuned!