The shotgun is aimed primarily by a good natural point. A shotgun with the original-style stock and a bead front sight can be a deadly performer on game, predators, and our protein-fed ex-con criminal class. But many of us fit modern combat-style stocks to the shotgun and expect more performance.
We also have to properly sight the shotgun. Having only a rough idea of how the shotgun is sighted isn’t best. The shotgun can be a formidable tool to 50 yards and beyond given a user who is familiar with its attributes. There are situations in which the shotgun must be carefully aimed. Remember, shotguns are for short range and long range! At short range the pattern of the shotgun has not spread very much and it must be aimed as carefully as a rifle.
The shotgun must be sighted so as to deliver its payload where it will do the most good. At long range, buckshot has spent its lethal potential, so the slug is used. In either case, the shotgun must be carefully aimed. I will admit that a very long shot may be made with a shotgun with a full choke and the proper buckshot, but this discussion covers the typical open cylinder choke personal defense shotgun.
For many of us, the bead front sight is all that is needed for home defense. Just the same, we must be certain that the payload is delivered to the point of aim. Some loads will fire a little high, others a touch low. Occasionally, the shotgun will place a load of shot to the right or left of the point of aim. Range work will confirm the zero.
We need to place the shotgun load where it will be effective. There is the possibility of firing at a felon behind cover. We need to know what type of pattern the shotgun holds at typical ranges and what the consistency of this pattern is. A modern combat stock is often a great aid in storage and accurate fire, but be certain the point of impact isn’t changed when you fit this stock.
In beginning to sight the shotgun, I stand at 7 yards. I only shoot standing. Recoil is amplified by firing from a benchrest and the shotgun may not strike to the same point of aim with a bench-rested firing position. I place the bead on the center of the target and fire. I check the pattern to see if it is high or low and check radial dispersion. Oddly enough, while I used man-sized silhouette targets for practice when sighting-in, the best choice is often the same target used to sight a rifle in at long range.
With a bead sighted shotgun it isn’t possible to raise or lower the sight in order to change the point of impact of the shot load. However, it is possible to change the way we hold and fire the shotgun. If the head is held high off of the shotgun, it may shoot high. We need to get the cheek on the stock and use the proper stock weld. Confirm the zero at 5, 7, and 10 yards. 15 yards is about the limit with most shotgun buckshot loads and the riot gun length barrel.
When firing be aware of the twists of buckshot. The shot doesn’t travel with equilateral radial dispersion as some think. The shot travels in strings. In other words if you are firing at a running target the first buckshot may miss and the string behind the running target catch the target. That is part of the awesome effectiveness of buckshot.
For the majority of personal defense needs, reduced recoil buckshot works best. A shotgun slug, in my experience and according to all research, is more likely to produce immediate cessation of hostilities than a load of buckshot. The reduced recoil slug is a good alternative to full power slugs. The modest loss in velocity means little at combat ranges. However, if the likely threat is a large animal, then the full power or even a Magnum slugs should be used. This means mastering brutal recoil.
If you are using the shotgun as the only weapons system and intend to switch to slugs as needed at longer range be certain you know where the load strikes in relation to the point of aim. As an example my old iron-sighted Remington 870 is a smooth bore with 18-inch barrel. Just the same with typical reduced recoil slugs the Remington will group 3 shots into 4 inches at 50 yards. The problem with using reduced-recoil slugs for substitute rifle shooting is drop. The slower, reduced-recoil slugs drop significantly more at longer range. Take time to consider this and calculate the expected drop. After all, sighting the shotgun in with slugs is not the most pleasant of time spent on the range.
The shotgun is our most effective personal defense weapon. The shotgun is powerful, versatile, and reliable. Do your part, and be certain you know where the load is going!
How does the shotgun fit into your self defense strategy? Which shotgun do you prefer? Share your response in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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