I was remarking to an acquaintance a couple weeks ago that “I’m not a shotgun guy”. And it’s true. I have shot zero rounds of clays/skeet/trap in my life. I respect the shotgun as a weapons platform, especially in close range capacities, but I’m a pistol guy when it comes to home defense. Most of my shotgun shooting is in 3gun, where it’s definitely not my strong suit, Yet, when I look in my safe, I’ve got six shotguns in there. To your usual non-gun-ethusiast normie, this would make me the shotgun king.
While I have to admit I’d probably most benefit from a competition-oriented shotgun class, I always make a habit of taking shotgun training when I can. I was really excited when Green Ops announced that they’d be getting into the shotgun training game, and signed up for their class as soon as I heard about it.
Disclaimers of Sources of Bias: I received a slight discount ($27) as a returning student and AAR writer. I am also one of the admins on their Facebook alumni group, which is more of a job than a perk, but I suppose has some influence on my perspective.
Class Title: Introduction to Shotgun Clinic
Class Description: From the website: An introduction to using pump or semi auto shotguns for self defense/home defense, a highly effective defensive tool. Learn how to run your shotgun as if your life depends on it. Discussion and lessons on pros and cons of the platform, setting up the gun, sights, ammo selection, patterning for your needs, controlling recoil and loading the gun under pressure.
Cost: $180, but with the discount, total cost was $153
Round Count: 175 was the listed number, but I believe we exceeded that slightly… or at least I did. You only needed about 5 rounds of buckshot, the rest being birdshot, but you could have shot all buckshot the entire time if you really wanted to. No slugs were used.
Instructors: Luke “Brooks” (lead instructor) and Brian Christian (AI). Luke is a civilian shooter… USPSA M-class in Carry Optics, so he’s pretty squared away. Brian is an active duty military guy who served (serves?) in the Rangers. He’s pretty good with a gun himself. Bios on the Green Ops website.
The instructors demonstrated all of the drills very competently throughout class, and were able to do what they asked the students to do… and then some.
Location/Date: The class took place on December 5, 2021 from 9AM to 2:30PM. It was held at the Stone Quarry range, which is some privately owned land with a backstop that is an old quarry face. It’s a huge backstop, which is great, but has a tendency to toss chips of stone back at you once in a while. There are some various tables and benches, along with a pair of porta-potties.
Weather: The weather was clear but cold when class kicked off, somewhere in the upper 30s (f). The weather gradually warmed to about 50f. For December, that’s good weather around here.
Equipment Details: I brought my trusty “old Remington” 870 as my backup gun, but I hauled along my new SDS S4 (made by Aksa in Turkey) as my primary gun for the class. The SDS S4 is a copy of the Benelli M4, and has nearly universal parts compatibility – and what little compatibility there isn’t, you can generally fit and make work. This gun cost me a whole $400, excluding transfer and sales tax. If you’re thinking that taking a $400 M4 knock-off to a high-ish round count shotgun class is a little crazy, I would tend to agree with you, but I wanted to see how it would run and hold up in difficult circumstances.
However, to give myself the best chance of success, I did make two changes to it before class. First, I installed a genuine Benelli extractor and extractor spring. During my test firing of the gun before class, I had noticed extractor slip issues with certain birdshot shells. People tend to get very insistent about gas/pressure issues being the source of issues with extract/eject issues on autoloaders, but the reality is that an inadequate extractor setup is often more of a culprit.
Second, I threw a Mesa Urbino stock on it, since the original stock was far too long for me. This was a drop-in fit, and simply required a new, shorter screw from Home Depot. I prefer Magpul field stocks for shotguns when possible – they make manipulation for reloads easier. But the Urbino (with Limbsaver pad) was extremely comfortable throughout the entire class.
I’ll talk about this later, but across my mix of random birdshot shells (1200-1290fps, various sizes and brands) and Federal buckshot (mostly Estate, a few Fed Flit Control), I had zero failures. Not “oh, a failure, but I didn’t shoulder the gun well”. Zero failures. There were Beretta 1301s in the class that couldn’t claim the same!
I used Aridus side saddles for reloading, and stashed extras in my coat pockets and HSGI Tacos. I’ve got thoughts about that, too.
Preparation Drills: For a shotgun? Get real. I re-familiarized myself with the controls of my guns, and that was it.
Author’s Previous Experience: Civilian with no military or LEO background. Have shot some competition, but no accomplishments worth bragging about. Training junkie since April 2018, and have averaged a class a month since then. I am OK with a carbine, pretty good with a pistol, and just average with a shotgun.
Class Demographics: The class was all guys, but a good mix otherwise. Almost everyone in the class had trained with Green Ops previously. Experience levels were all over the place, but everyone shot safely.
The guns were mostly Mossberg pump guns and Beretta 1301s. Other guns I saw were a Kel-Tec KSG, a Remington 11-87, and my own Turknelli M4. There might have been an 870 in there, too. Most of them had side saddles of one sort or the other. Equipment (and operator?) reliability was less than stellar; during some of the longer drills, I saw frequent equipment malfunctions, even with the 1301s. I don’t think anyone’s guns got deadlined, but the instructors had to be on their toes when diagnosing the guns.
You could blame this on the catch-as-catch-can nature of sourcing ammo for the class. Everyone – including myself – is pretty much just buying what they can buy to keep their guns fed. I will say that if that’s your modus operandi, a pump gun might be something you want to keep around in case you guess wrong on what’s going to cycle your semi-auto.
TD1: We didn’t have a real lunch break, and it was only a five hour-ish class, so I’m going to write this in single session format.
Class began with instructor and student introductions. As is unsurprising at an introductory class, none of the students proclaimed themselves as shotgun gurus, and a fair number were like me and had bought their primary shotguns on a lark.
The medical and safety brief was similarly as expected. We were lucky to have a firefighter EMT on hand, so that made me feel a little better. While I’m not saying that taking a 9mm bullet is a pleasant day in the range, I’m going to guess that shotgun wounds are a lot worse. The instructors were VERY careful to emphasize the muzzle/”laser” rule. Thankfully, all students were very safe – and as someone who’s almost been muzzled by a shotgun during a reload at a different event, I have a lot more appreciation for that muzzle discipline than you might think.
With that out of the way, Luke went over the goals of the course. Given the short time frame (roughly 5-6 hours), there was going to be a limit to what we could get done, but he promised we’d be executing the full planned syllabus even if it meant we finished a bit late. The class was oriented towards a home defense shotgun role; thus the focus would be on side saddle and pocket reloads, not belt or magazine reloads.
This was followed by a discussion of equipment and ammunition. I appreciated that the instructors didn’t seem terribly dogmatic about this. I didn’t get any big new insights, but it’s always worth repeating: Federal Flite Control 00 8 pellet buckshot is awesome in nearly everything. Personally, while I think it’s good to tell people about certain things that work (Benellis, Berettas, FFC, VangComp shot cards, Aridus gear, etc.) and warn them off from using birdshot for self-defense, people learn the most from watching their setups succeed or fail during a hard-use class.
The shooting kicked off with some patterning a 5, 10, 15, and 20yds. We got two go-arounds with this; the first time I used Federal Estate 00 (which patterned acceptably to 15 yards using an IC choke), and the second time with the aforementioned FFC (which patterned tight and awesome the whole way out). Not all the students had such great results; not sure if this was due to a lack of a choke (which was not discussed to my recollection; area for improvement?) or just terrible ammo.
With the patterning (and let’s be realistic: zeroing) exercise out of the way, it was time to talk shotgun manipulation, such as using your safety, high ready, low ready, and so on. We also got a discussion of shooting technique. I thought Luke did a really good job of showing how to shoot a shotgun effectively, and, again, he was realistic about it. We got a demonstration of the traditional hard shoulder tuck and the more effective push-pull techniques. Push-pull is where you put the gun into your shoulder – but not so terribly hard – but at the time of firing, push forward with your support hand and pull back with your primary hand, like you’re trying to stretch the gun out.
Push-pull works better for recoil control. No doubt in my mind. But what Luke commented on, and I thought was insightful, was that most people who don’t run shotguns daily are going to push-pull while they’re thinking about it, and then revert back to the hard tuck when the stress gets on, because that’s how we shoot rifles far more frequently. He’s not wrong.
For my part, I noticed during our drills of hard shoulder vs push-pull – and throughout class – that my stance was a major contributor to being able to shoot quickly even ignoring push-pull. When I leaned into a hard, aggressive stance with knees slightly bent and positioned forward, I could shoot much more quickly with acceptable accuracy. But when I got lazy, I could literally be pushed back by the sixth shot. Perhaps something to practice in dry-fire in my copious spare time.
After learning to fire our shotguns, it was time to learn to load them from high ready. We started with port loads, which we subsequently drilled. I make no bones about it: I hate port loads, and went as far as installing a lightning lifter in my primary 3gun shotgun to never have to do them on the clock. But my Turknelli M4 had no such modification, so it was time to suffer. I constantly screwed up the whole going over/under the shotgun when pulling shells. I am sure there’s video out there of me going the wrong way. Again… dry-fire. (If I cared.) Luke’s technique was good, so I think others may have gotten more out of this.
Chamber loads were better. Here, we went over doing it from the shoulder (aka, 3gun strong hand reloads) besides just high ready, and that’s something I’m alright at. You also don’t get your sling fighting you like you often do with a high ready reload tucked under the arm.
However, I did find myself fighting with my Aridus shell carriers, because they did a little too good of a job holding on to the shells. I was literally coming close to pulling the gun off my shoulder because of how hard I had to grab them out. The fix, in the end, was to orient the shells much further down in the carrier, so that the spring had less resistance. The shells stayed in it fine even in this position.
Now, on the positive side, the QD-Cs were fine in my pouch with the shells in the better position. And I also found that slapping a new QD-C on my shotgun from the pouch was super fast when I spent the time to put it in just right (you have more options than an AR mag). I wish Dark Star Gear would sell their custom pouches…
Anyways, enough of my product improvement suggestions. The next drill we did was a “shoot X reload X” drill, which is sort of a classic for shotgun classes like this. This built upon the instruction we had just received to tie together these concepts. The instructor would call out a number, and we’d have to shoot that many rounds, and then reload them. This put a little time pressure on you, but not so much as a timer would. It also forced you to port load and really explore your side saddle usage, since you were most likely going to run through what was in your gun AND your side saddle. For me, those Aridus QD-Cs made side saddle replacements quick and secure, which is not nothing in a class like this. I did no pocket loads throughout the class.
The final drill before the 25 minute pseudo-lunch-break was Rolling Thunder. Rolling Thunder is a fun shotgun drill where people shoot in a “wave” down the line. Person 1 shoots 1 shot, Person 2 shoots 1 shot when Person 1 is done, Person 3 shoots 1 shot when Person 2 is done and then calls “OUT!”. The drill continues with Person 1 shooting 2 shots, Person 2 shooting 2 shots, and so on. The drill finishes with Person 3 shooting 6 shots. Since you don’t want to hold up the line, you have to constantly be loading.
Where you run into trouble is when shotguns aren’t functioning reliably. Most drills, if someone else’s shotgun goes down, you aren’t impacted so much. In Rolling Thunder, it can bring the drill to a screeching halt. I sorta think a variant where someone could shout “MALFUNCTION!” and keep the wave moving would be appreciated.
Anyways, following Rolling Thunder, we took a more extended break to hydrate, eat a bit, and talk about malfunctions.
After the break, we picked up with a bit of competitive shooting. As a class, we ran the following drills three times each on a timer:
- El Prez – three steel targets equally spaced, start with six in the gun, 2 hits each, reload, 1 hit each
- “Lucky Luke” – three steel targets (array of two with the third target a few yards away), start with three in the gun, 2 hits each, moving to the further target
I did pretty good on El Prez, coming in roughly third in the class (10.35s). I did less great on Lucky Luke, but still turned in a respectable time (12.27s). The LL did have a trick to it that could improve your times – but I’ll leave that for you to figure out. I did try to load twins off the belt, but the S4’s factory loading port is kinda bad for that – sharp edges and a narrow mouth. But on the last run of the LL, I literally shot the last target twice while in a full sprint, which was a new one for me – it makes me wonder if there’s performance I’ve got with a shotgun that I’m just not using due to lack of willingness to operate slightly out of control. Something to think about.
The day ended with a second round of Rolling Thunder. It was a great way to finish up the day.
Class Debrief: We took a class picture, put away our gear, and did some shell pickup. Shotgun shells can be raked up, so this wasn’t the ordeal that brass pickup tends to be.
After cleanup, we had a proper debrief and talked about our thoughts regarding the class. Feedback was universally positive, even though the instructors were insistent that we lay it all on in terms of both positive and negative feedback – this was a first run class, and they wanted brutal honesty. Patches were handed out to the winners of the competition, and everyone packed up to go home.
Conclusions: The class was a well-executed amalgamation of previous shotgun classes I’d taken with FPF, JDC, and Sentinel Concepts (especially the latter), and the instructors were not shy in sharing where they were pulling material from. The high quality of the instructor cadre and students kept the class moving and productive even when guns weren’t cooperating. The clinic format is convenient, and the instruction covered the high points of what I think a shotgun class should. As part of the writing process, I reviewed my notes from the other classes, and I didn’t see any gross deficiencies. The twist that Green Ops put in with the competitions was very well received, and in some ways, caused the class to maybe even be better than the classes it paid homage to. I look forward to taking another iteration of this class, perhaps more advanced with further movement and barricades.
I strongly recommend the class, in other words.
Equipment Thoughts: And, on that note, equipment and ammo matters. My shotgun ran great, but I struggled with my side saddles until I figured out the trick to making them work reasonably well. You could also argue that I got exceedingly lucky that my S4 just ate whatever random ammo I threw at it; it was a calculated risk that might not have paid off if things had gone differently. As it was, I noticed a wandering rear sight elevation that I’ll need to deal with somehow. But on the positive side, I do know my gun can run with even weaksauce 1200fps loads, and that is some useful knowledge. The SDS S4 is a heck of a shotgun for the $400 I paid for it, and even with ~$150 of upgrades (stock and extractor), it represents 95% of Benelli M4 performance at 1/3 the price. Even if I were to swap the rear sight assembly out entirely, it would still be under half the cost. I’m not saying to buy one instead of a 1301 or real M4, but, man, you could do a lot worse. I’d certainly buy one before buying a Mossberg 930.
I’m deeply invested in the Aridus ecosystem, but as noted above, I had some issues performing with the QD-C on the clock with a strong hand reload style. Better shell positioning resolved those issues, but it does bring up the point that sometimes you’re going to have trade-offs. Is ultra-tight retention and very secure side saddle replacement really worth it if it slows you down slightly? The answer may very well be yes. I certainly still feel that way. If I were going to make a recommendation to Aridus for improvements to the QD-C, it would be:
- Give us some springs that do not death grip the shells. If elastic can hold them, I feel comfortable saying that there may be a little room to let up.
- Give us a top cover (or bottom cover, for people who do brass up) so that shells don’t get over-inserted – something that can happen while they’re riding in a pouch and get banged around.