Who's afraid of the big bad boom?
By Diane Campbell, Firearms Instructor
Let's face it. Many officers, particularly female and smaller officers, may be just plain afraid of shotguns. Whether real or imagined, the shotgun has a reputation for being painful. Often this reputation comes from poor training, too heavy a load or just incorrect handling. This really is a shame, since the shotgun is such a versatile use-of-force tool for law enforcement as well as home defense.
As a female firearms instructor, married to a firearms instructor for several years, I've had plenty of experience with the "big bad boom." The truth is, most of the problems ladies and smaller officers experience with shotguns can be remedied with a little patience and some good training tips. Here are a few from my own experience:
Pull the shotgun close to your body.
The shotgun's reputation for kicking can often be diminished by simply pulling the butt-stock firmly into the shoulder pocket. Any gap between the shoulder and butt-stock will not only make the shotgun more difficult to hold, it will also allow movement and momentum which translates into a kick effect on the body. Additionally, the butt-stock should be held high, bringing the comb of the stock up to the cheek-weld-not the face down to the stock. This higher stance allows the force of the gun to pass more directly through the body into the ground, and not down into the gap of an armpit or into the face. (Bruising isn't pretty)
Don't be afraid to modify the shotgun for your use.
It's a fact; female officers are generally not as strong in the upper body as our male counterparts and smaller officers may not have as much physical bulk behind them. Our strength comes from our legs and lower backs. By shortening the length of the pull on the shotgun and shortening the length of the barrel itself, we can accomplish two things. We decrease the weight of the gun itself and we decrease the distance of the mass of the gun (which we have to hold erect while firing) from our shoulders. The more we shorten the length of pull, the more we bring the mass of the weight closer to our body where we can support it, without relying entirely on our arms and shoulders. A shortened barrel modification or one of the new collapsible AR-15 style stocks on your shotgun may make the weight much easier to handle.
Reserve your energy until you need it.
Many instructors demonstrate all manipulation with the shotgun in the high-ready position, and they demonstrate searching in the high-ready as well. The problem with this is, you're holding the weight of the weapon with your firing hand and ultimately getting tired while you're not actually using the shotgun. After all, there's no eyeball on the end of the firearm to help you find potential targets. I think it's best to use a low-ready position or drop the muzzle into the safety circle while searching or conducting administrative tasks. This allows you to conserve your energy so that when you do see a target and have made a decision to fire, you can snap the shotgun into a firing position and have the energy to use it properly.
I know this sounds redundant, but the only way to become proficient and comfortable with any weapon system is to use it often. Through dry-fire and live-fire practice, we build strength and muscle memory which ultimately leads to confidence and skill.
Trim your nails (mostly for female officers...)
Sorry ladies, nobody wants to hear this one; but seriously, can you feed a round into the loading port of your Remington 870 quickly with one-inch nails? Now I'm just as girly as the next chick, but I recognize that in the middle of a gunfight, my lovely painted nails are not going to save my life. Keep your nails trimmed to a reasonable length so that you are able to load and fire quickly. That way, maybe you'll be around for the next manicure.
There you have it--just a few tips for training females and smaller officers, from a female's perspective. With a little understanding of what causes us to have problems with shotguns, we can avoid issues and build confidence to use the most versatile of all law enforcement firearms. Now, who's afraid of the big bad boom?
About the author
Diane Campbell is a law enforcement firearms instructor, certified in several disciplines. She worked 11 years with American Firearms Training and Tactics (AFTT) and currently assists her husband, Bill Campbell, at annual IALEFI training conferences. She is currently communications supervisor for a large police department.