Loading and Unloading the Police Shotgun

By Captain Marshall McDonald

I have been using shotguns for sporting and law enforcement purposes more than thirty years. During that time I have seen countless loading and unloading techniques, most of which are not appropriate or tactically sound for police officers to employ.

Many hunters and police officers load a shotgun with the weapon turned upside down or with the muzzle pointing to the ground or up on the air, and unload a pump shotgun by cycling all of the shells in the magazine through the chamber and out onto the ground. These techniques are not efficient and do not afford the level of muzzle discipline and tactical advantage that we require as police officers.

In this month’s column, I will attempt to describe the two basic loading techniques that are taught at our shotgun schools. We refer to these techniques as the “administrative load” and the “combat load”.

The administrative loading technique is used to initially charge the magazine under controlled circumstances such as when preparing for duty or while on the range. This can also be utilized to replace rounds as they are expended on the range, or during an actual deadly force encounter, when adequate cover is available.

This technique is initiated by first ensuring that the safety is in the “on” position, and then visually and physically inspecting the chamber and magazine well, to make certain that no ammunition is present. Once you are sure the weapon is “clear”, slowly close the action, making sure that no ammunition is loaded into the chamber.

Grasp the shotgun by the grip portion with the strong or shooting hand, and hold it parallel to the ground with the muzzle pointed down range or toward the threat and the butt stock close to your side, just above your sidearm. The butt stock can be placed under the forearm of the shooting hand to aid with support.

With the weapon parallel to the ground, just above waist level, load the magazine one shell at a time, using your support hand thumb to push each shell past the shell stops and fully into the magazine. Make sure that the brass end of the shell is facing away from the muzzle, as they can be forced into the magazine backwards.

With a little practice that can and should be accomplished by feel, without looking at the shells or the loading port of the shotgun; allowing you to practice the habit of scanning the environment for potential threats.

Continue loading one shell at a time until the magazine is full. The weapon is now considered “magazine loaded”. When the action is cycled, a shell will be released from the magazine and loaded into the chamber.

The “combat load” is used when you are engaged in a shooting situation or range course of fire and run out of ammunition. This situation calls for the weapon to be loaded immediately so that the threat can be addressed or the exercise completed. With the muzzle still pointed at the threat, you can combat load an empty shotgun by opening the action so that the ejection port is exposed. Cup a shotgun shell in your palm of your support hand and place the round into the ejection port by passing your hand under the bottom of, or over the top of the receiver. This will be determined by the direction the shell is facing in your hand. Make sure that you place the shell into the loading port with the brass end of the shell facing away from the muzzle.

Once the round is in the loading port, sharply close the action and continue to engage threats or range targets.

The safest and most controlled technique for unloading the shotgun is as follows. With the muzzle pointing in a safe direction and the safety in the “on” position, grasp the shotgun by the grip portion and hold the weapon parallel to the ground. Use your support hand to begin slowly opening the action. Your support hand thumb can be placed over the top of the barrel to assist in controlling the speed of the action.

Open the action until the nose of the shell that is being extracted from the chamber just clears the front of the ejection port and begins to be turned outward. The action should be almost all the way open with about 3/8” of the bolt showing. Do not open the action any further. Use your support hand to remove the shell and store it.

Without opening the action any further, reach underneath the receiver and into the loading port with your support hand and push the shell carrier to the uppermost position. Once the shell carrier is in the upper position, grasp the fore end with your support hand thumb and forefinger, with your palm positioned under the loading port. Move the action the rest of the way to the rear. This will cause the first shell to be released from the magazine allowing it will drop into your hand.

With the middle finger of your support hand find the left side shell latch. (It is accessible through the bottom of the loading port and is located at the front of the receiver just to the rear of the magazine tube opening.) Once located, press the shell latch onto the groove in the left side of the receiver. This will allow one shell at a time to be extracted from the magazine and into your hand.

Continue unloading the shells one at a time until the magazine is empty. Open the action the remainder of the way and visually and physically inspect the chamber and magazine well for ammunition.


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