Accessories for your duty shotgun
|By Ralph Mroz |
Training Director of POSA
Unlike our handguns, the shotguns we use for police work will often benefit greatly from prudent accessorizing. Manufacturers of law enforcement-appropriate handguns have designed these weapons expressly for the purpose to which we usually put them—spontaneous self-defense in low light, high-stress situations, and thus the manual of arms, controls, ergonomics, and mechanical characteristics of our handguns are usually pretty much “good to go” as they come out of the box.
By contrast, the law enforcement shotgun market is a very tiny segment of the shotgun market, and with one arguable exception (the Mossberg 590 DA, which is no longer made), all "aw enforcement" shotguns are but minor variations of sporting shotguns, and are built on the same basic platform as their sporting cousins.
But as law enforcement officers, we don’t use our shotguns to shoot clays, hunt deer, or harvest game birds. We use them for the lawful and duty-bound task of interpersonal combat—again, often in spontaneous encounters occurring in low light conditions and almost always under high stress—and always in the context of the legal constraints that we as civilian law enforcement officers operate under. What follows is a representative list of suggestions of and commentary about the most common and the most necessary shotgun accessories for the traditional patrol shotgun, which is a 12 gauge, 18-inch, cylinder-bore, single-action shotgun, either pump- or semi-automatic-operated.
An oversize safety is often the first thing that someone wants to add to a shotgun, since many shotgun safeties—particularly the small ones on the very popular Remington 870—are difficult to operate in combat conditions. However, unless the extended safety helps an officer to put the safety on—not off, we suggest that it might not be the best investment. The easiest thing to do, even with the most inconvenient safeties, is to put them on. However, what we want to make sure we do—or that we train our officers to do if we are instructors—is to put the shotgun safety on whenever we are not shooting—just as we would with a 1911 pattern pistol. This is a neglected part of shotgun training in many agencies, and it can benefit from an oversized safety that helps the officer to put the safety on.
In the old days most shotguns came with a simple bead front sight (and no rear sight.) This was a carryover from sporting applications, but a skilled officer (usually one who had been familiar with sporting shotguns since childhood) could still do very good work with it. More common now are factory-option rifle sights and ghost-ring sights, often featuring a high-visibility front sight. Many factory-option sights are very good indeed, and need no improvement if you prefer the sort of sight that’s offered. But there is one old sight system, coming out of the big-game hunting tradition of Africa, that has made a resurgence lately and is ideal for the shotgun.
The Express sight system, which features a large white dot in front and a shallow, coarse “V” sight in the rear, was designed a century ago for guns expected to bring down close-range, dangerous, often charging, large animals. The sight was designed for extremely quick acquisition at close range under high stress in an often spontaneous situation in which your life was at stake. That is a pretty fair description of the police use of a shotgun, and the modern incarnation of the Express system by XS Sights is a strong contender for the ideal law enforcement shotgun sight. When the rear sight is mounted forward on the barrel, no acceptably accurate sight is faster or easier to use under stress.
All shotguns need slings for the same reason that all handguns require a holster. In most cases, something that requires the use of our hands will transpire immediately after we challenge or shoot a suspect with a shotgun. We will almost certainly be arresting him, and we will need two free hands for subject control, handcuffing, and searching, and we may have to perform these functions while the suspect is on the ground. Further, we may wind up climbing fences, transitioning to a two-handed handgun grip, or suddenly acquire another mission in the chaos of the moment (such as controlling an unruly innocent party.) Since we can’t just lay the shotgun down or ask a bystander to hold onto it for us, a sling is essential.
Slings come in a bewildering variety of configurations, and finding “just the right one” is a non-trivial activity for a rifle operator. But since shotguns tend to be cruiser-based weapons rather than individually owned ones, simplicity and versatility are probably the watchwords when choosing one that will be shared by many people. We suggest that a simple two-point sling, running from the buttstock to the end of the magazine tube, fits this bill well. While single-point slings are all the rage in the rifle community, they are not very practical for the heavier shotgun, especially considering the handcuffing, searching, climbing, etc. that we may have to do with the shotgun slung to us. Three-point slings can be quite practical for a shotgun, but they tend to be set-up specific to a dominant side—that is, one set up for a right hander will not work very well for the other 13% of the population. Finally, four-point slings are really variations of three-point slings. Blackhawk makes a very good selection of slings and they are widely available. Wilderness Tactical Products makes very high-end slings, custom-fitted to your particular weapon, and they are very, very good.
Lights are an absolute necessity on any long gun. No officer would think of going on duty without a flashlight; in a low-light, violent or potentially violent situation, the small, high-intensity light is a necessary and synergistic partner to the handgun. Likewise, if you have to deploy your shotgun, it is likely—just like the majority of our violent encounters are—to be in low light. Clearly you can’t operate the shotgun with one hand and the light with the other, as you can with a handgun. Attempts to employ some hands-together technique, such as the Harries, with a long gun soon prove impractical. Thus the necessity of a weapon-mounted high-intensity light. Cobbled-together, on-the-cheap solutions to this issue usually perform as such. The best solution is to go with an integrated fore-end/light, such as the excellent units made by Surefire. They are not inexpensive, but they are the only practical solution to this very clear and liability-laden problem.
It is probably unlikely that you will run out of ammunition in an exchange involving the shotgun, particularly if you have a magazine that’s the length of your barrel. But the same reasoning applies to your high-capacity pistol...yet we all carry spare magazines of ammunition. It hurts nothing and costs very little to install some sort of extra ammunition carrier on a shotgun. Many manufacturers make nylon affairs that attach to the stock, and many officers are satisfied with them. But the “side-saddle” type units, made of polymer, and screw-attaching to the receiver, are perhaps the most functional. They come in capacities of both six and four rounds, and are ambidextrous while stock-attached carriers are not (a carrier on the right side of the stock will work well for a right-handed shooter, but not for a left-handed one.) Lyman Products makes the popular and practical TacStar side saddles, and they perform well.
While your shotgun will be sighted in to a particular range for—and loaded with—either buckshot or slugs, there may times when an officer will need the other round. Using your ammunition carrier for the alternative round may thus be a more practical use for it than loading it with unlikely-to-be-needed extra primary rounds.
Breaching Front End
Any shotgun used for breaching requires a stand-off so as to deliver its breaching payloads effectively and to avoid plugging the barrel with blow-back debris. While metal rods duct-taped to the barrel have sufficed for this job in emergencies, the better way to go is with a proper breaching stand-off which will be securely affixed to the weapon, have mechanical integrity, provide the correct stand-off, allow for gas venting, and will have teeth on the fore end to keep the shotgun securely positioned over the target area. Most stand-offs attach to the end of the barrel, either permanently via welding, or by a screw-in mechanism. A new device on the market, designed and manufactured by combat shotgun master gunsmith Hans Vang, is a stand-off that screws to the fore end of an extended magazine tube, in place of the magazine cap. This ingenious device installs in mere seconds and functions perfectly; it’s an easy way to transform a standard or cut-down shotgun into a breaching tool.
Note: While no breaching stand-off that we know of prevents the firing of standard ammunition from a shotgun, a breaching shotgun should ideally be a dedicated weapon. In general, using the same shotgun for different missions (lethal tool, less-lethal delivery system, breaching, and so on) isn’t wise since swapping out ammunition in the field—and certainly during a mission—is fraught with the obvious danger that some of the undesirable ammunition will remain in the weapon, which can lead to tragedy.
Shotguns are typically cruiser-dedicated weapons, and are thus used by many different officers. One of the things that makes the shotgun difficult to shoot for many officers is that the stock is too long. Combat shotgun stocks inherently should be shorter than the sporting stocks that come with most shotguns, and even shorter stocks are necessary for smaller officers and when wearing a vest. The best solution is to install an adjustable length stock on your shotgun, making it simply and quickly adjustable to the correct length of pull for every user. Knoxx Industries is the leader in this area, and they make a variety of adjustable length and recoil-reducing stocks for various weapon systems.
An appropriate mount
The shotgun is best mounted in its vehicle in a place easily accessible to the driver. Storing it in a case thrown into the back seat or trunk, or even mounting it in the trunk, reduces its use to long lead time events, and there are precious few of these. When you need a gun, you usually need it now! With cruisers getting smaller at the same time we are cramming more into them, a cage or ceiling-mount makes the most sense. Big Sky Racks in Montana is the leader in this field, and their mounts are in use widely.
Every shotgun will pattern different ammunition differently, and the results can often be dramatic, not just significant. If you aren’t constrained by purchasing contract to a specific brand of shotgun ammunition, you should determine for yourself the loads that perform best in your gun or your agency’s guns. Basic 00 buckshot and one ounce Foster slugs haven’t changed much in generations, with the exception of the new line of Federal Tactical Buckshot and Tactical Truball™ Rifled Slugs. These new loads incorporate a new approach to accuracy, and should certainly be included in any performance test that you perform.
Big Sky Racks
BlackHawk Products Group
Federal Cartridge Company
Knoxx Industries, LLC
Lyman Products Corporation (TacStar)
Wilderness Tactical Products
XS Sight Systems
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