Something I’ve been mulling over for the past week or so were Tim Chandler’s comments on shotgun selection at the class I took with him. The advice he gave about avoiding detachable box mags seemed hard to understand to me at the time. Like, I get that you need a reliable gun, but people run guns with mags all the time for defense, so it had to be more than that. I think I now see where he’s coming from… and I think it stems from not really understanding that, much like a rifle, expecting one shotgun to do it all is not reasonable or viable.
My 870 (currently) has a bead sight. Why does it have a bead sight? Because a bunch of people on the Internet told me that, hey, you don’t need precise aim with a shotgun. Putting that to the test in class, though, it was clear that aiming a shotgun is pretty damn important if you’re trying to keep all the pellets on the target. Further, beads suck for aiming. You need a very tight, repeatable cheek weld to make it happen. If you are shooting clays from a static position, no big deal, you have all the time in the world to shoulder up and shoot. If you are shooting in a less-than-perfect situation, that time for perfection won’t exist.
Why did all those people on the Internet recommend bead sights and give me bad advice? Because their typical method of shotgun employment is shooting clays with #8 birdshot, and that’s a game of pointing and leading, not shooting the clay with your bead right on it. They don’t care about where they hit, because they’re launching a big cloud of birdshot at the target, not 8-9 pellets of 00 buck or a slug. Missing with some – even the majority – of the pellets is part of the game!
Compare this to a home defense or “tactical” scenario. In those situations, the consequences of missing with any of your pellets can be pretty dire – you are essentially tossing a 9mm round down range, somewhat randomly, for each one. Further, you are trying to place as many of those pellets into a relatively small triangle representing the CNS or brainstem triangles. You need more precision without losing (much) speed – and that means ghost rings and reflex sights. But, of course, the Internet crowd recommending beads doesn’t understand this at all, because they don’t think of shotguns being used like that.
This leads me to what I couldn’t previously understand – why would anyone prefer tube-fed (with a saddle or card) over box mags? The difference is preparation.
In a personal defense scenario, indoor or outdoor, you are basically picking up your shotgun and using it as it is. You’re in your street clothes, pajamas, naked, whatever – you have no sure capacity to carry more ammo on you, so you’ve got whatever is in and on the gun. Without some mechanism to carry another box mag on your gun, you’re limited to whatever’s in your magazine on a box-mag shotgun. There’s also the specter of leaving plastic shells loaded in box-mags and having them deform, however overblown that concern is in reality (I’ve shot slugs that sat in mags for five years with no apparent accuracy or feeding issues).
But, in a competitive use case, you have time to get your gear on. You can put on a chest rig and/or war belt with those oh-so-sexy HSGI HCM tacos and be ready to run and gun effectively with a box-mag shotgun. While I respect people’s ability to quickly shoot-one-load-one on a tube gun, recharging the whole gun in a single reload is pretty hard to beat speed-wise, which is why you see those 3-gun guys running them. Therefore, in a competition situation, box-mag shotguns start looking like a very nice idea (provided the ergos and reliability are there).
Given all of these considerations, I’ve got some new appreciation for just how misguided those constant asks on forums for “good shotgun for trap and home defense” really are. The way you set up a shotgun for trap is pretty much the opposite of how you set it up for home defense! Can you use physically use your trap gun for home defense? Sure. Is it optimal? Absolutely not. Not raising this concern when recommending a shotgun to people is the gun enthusiast equivalent of malpractice.
To summarize, there’s no free lunch, and you are not going to find any single shotgun that performs best in every scenario imaginable. Your job is going to be understanding the purpose, the shotgun system (to include gear, or lack thereof), and your own limitations, and determining how they’re going to all work together to do what you need to do. The problem is that, as I mentioned above, the sheer amount of bad information out there about shotguns makes the situation far more confusing than it ought to be.
And, even when you think you’ve come up with a good solution, you still need to verify it. Take a class! Shoot a match! Do something other than stand at the static range and toss a few rounds down range. It’s only when you run a gun hard that you discover what works, and what doesn’t.