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Shotguns for the 21st Century cop

From training cycles to weapon configurations and ammo load selection, a variety of factors have adversely affected widespread proficiency with the police shotgun

Many law enforcement officers view training with the shotgun with the same degree of enthusiasm as a root canal or IRS audit. Somewhere along the line they have been programmed that training with the shotgun is an unpleasant, even painful experience that should be avoided at all cost. Consequently, these same officers lack the skill and confidence in this very decisive weapon system and overlook it, even when it may be the better tool for the task at hand.

Quite frankly, it doesn’t have to be this way, and I have met with a fair measure of success in getting officers — both large and small — up to speed with the shotgun.

By taking a systematic approach to shotgun training that places equal emphasis on operational skills and practical marksmanship, user proficiency and confidence are greatly enhanced.

Knowing the Basics
In order to be proficient with any weapon system, the user must be intimately familiar with the following procedures. First of all, one needs to know how to load and unload it. As fundamental as that sounds, many training programs do not provide adequate instruction in this critical area and instead, focus all their attention on having the troops meet the minimum marksmanship standard required to qualify. Considering that a significant number of negligent discharges occur when loading and unloading the shotgun, this situation is less than ideal.

Secondly, the proficient operator needs to know how to get into action. With the handgun, we often have our trainees practice drawing from the holster or working from the ready position. But let’s consider where the shotgun might be when the officer makes a decision to use it. More than likely, the shotgun is secured in a rack in the passenger compartment of the vehicle, or perhaps locked in the trunk. When was the last time you began a live fire exercise with the shotgun stowed in the vehicle?

Very often, officers may have the shotgun in hand, but there is no immediate need to fire. Does our training regimen include working from the various ready positions while searching or managing threats incidental to arrest?

Solid Mechanics
My approach to the shooting fundamentals is somewhat traditional. I favor a balanced fighting stance which is essentially the same as that used with handguns, rifles or empty hand defensive tactics. The buttstock is pulled tight into the shoulder pocket as the gun is brought up to the face to achieve a proper check weld. Never cock the head to bring the face down to the stock.

Get a reliable index on the target and make sure the finger stays in contact with the trigger throughout the firing cycle. Follow through consists of taking an additional sight picture on the threat in the event you have to fire again. If a pump action shotgun is utilized, “stroke the beast” to chamber another round, breathe and continue to scan for other threats. When time allows, feed additional rounds into the magazine tube to replace those fired.

Even the best of weapons go down at inopportune times. There may also be times when the shotgun is no longer the best tool for the job, due to a diminished threat, unsafe background or confined space. Transitioning to the handgun or less lethal weapon should be part of every training program.

Correct Configuration
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to widespread shotgun proficiency is improper fit and many negative qualities are directly related to stocks that are too long.

To cut right to the chase, shotguns must fit the end user. In my agency, we solved this problem by retro-fitting reduced length of pull buttstocks on the shotguns issued to small stature officers and the end result has been dramatic. Collapsible M-4 style stocks that can be adjusted over a wide range are yet another option. If slings are utilized, additional training also needs to be provided — from getting into it, establishing your read and firing positions, and firing rounds.

In recent years, shotgun ammunition optimized for law enforcement applications has appeared on the scene with performance qualities far superior to traditional hunting grade buckshot and rifled slugs. Many of these offerings are far easier on the shoulder and break down some of the barriers in training. Even if you prefer the full power buck and slug loads for duty use, consider the reduced recoil offerings for training.

Back to Training
I would also offer that incorporating reactive rather than paper targets into the training program, is a step in the right direction. Steel reactive targets that fall down or make noise when struck, provide the trainee with instant, positive feedback and help keep the mind off unpleasant aspects, such as felt recoil. If steel targets aren’t within your budget, consider bowling pins. Bowling alleys are typically more than happy to donate a quantity of tired pins which make great training aids.

As for the training itself, I strongly feel that the best results will be had in more frequent, moderate doses than a lengthy single session. Operational skills such as loading, unloading and downloading, could even be accomplished at roll call using inert, dummy rounds (no live ammunition in the room).

In live-fire drills, I prefer dynamic exercises where the officer may have to move, utilize cover and discriminate between shoot and no-shoot targets. Very effective training can be realized with only a few rounds being fired as officers are challenged with problems they might likely face on the street. I daresay, many officers find these drills to be “fun”, which by no means downgrades the value of the training, yet reinforces critical, life saving skills.

With just a little attention to the details, officers of all sizes and aptitudes can become proficient with ultimate police power tool.

Shotguns aren’t going away anytime soon, in fact, they are better than ever. In the future, the shotgun’s role will continue to change and ultimately, it may evolve into a tool reserved for the tactical specialist. But at the present time, it is the only shoulder weapon available to many patrol officers. In view of that, we shouldn’t neglect training with this versatile weapon system.

Captain Mike Boyle served 27 years with the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, Bureau of Law Enforcement. Mike was responsible for all aspects of pre-service and in-service training and also supervised the internal affairs section of his agency. Mike has also been an assistant police academy director and continues to participate in both recruit and instructor level training. He is a certified instructor in multiple uses of force disciplines including handgun, shotgun, rifle, SMG, impact weapons and unarmed self-defense.

Contact Mike Boyle