Safety and Training

Shotgun Drills: Semi-Automatics

Bob Campbell shooting a shotgun through recoil

The shotgun is well suited to gunfights at close range, in fast moving situations of short duration. Pump-action shotguns have been the mainstay of both law enforcement and civilian shooters for many years. Automatic shotguns, such as the Remington 1100, Mossberg 930, and Browning Auto 5 have also been used by the military and police.

The Browning Auto 5 was recommended—in a study around 1931—for use by FBI agents. The shotgun, according to the study, should be an automatic, loaded with buckshot, and feature a 21-inch barrel. As it turned out most of the FBI shotguns were pump-action shotguns, but the Browning Auto 5 saw some use. The type was also used by railroad police and by special British units in Malaysia. My personal Auto 5 has proven completely reliable and handles well. Since the Auto 5 is recoil operated, recoil is more than the gas operated Remington 1100, but the piece is always reliable nonetheless.

shotgun target
At close range, the shotgun must be aimed carefully.

The automatic shotgun (I know they are semi automatic, but automatic rolls so much easier) demands different drills for speed loading and keeping the piece in action than the pump-action shotgun. The self-loading shotgun uses a tubular magazine, the same as a pump-action shotgun, but the action—either recoil or gas operated—differs. When loading the shotgun, the shells are pressed into the magazine one shell at a time. Some shotguns require the bolt release be pressed in order to load the magazine.

Next, the bolt is racked in order to load the chamber. All that is required is to press the trigger and the shotgun fires and cycles without any manual manipulation. After the shotgun is fired, you may then load another shell into the magazine to keep the piece in action and topped off. This is done by reaching for the shells, while the firing hand keeps the shotgun steady.

The shell is held nose forward, and the thumb controls the shell and presses against the base to load the shotgun magazine. The forefinger is used to guide the shell into the magazine. In this manner, it isn’t difficult, if needed, to fire a couple of shells and then quickly reload the magazine.

Shotgun drills long range
Moving to longer-range speed is important.

Safety should be your prime consideration. The muzzle should be pointed downrange at all times. Practice not only loading the magazine but also practice unloading the magazine. This is accomplished by turning the shotgun upside down and pressing the bars that hold the shells outward. Never simply run the shells through the chamber, this is more dangerous and may even damage the shells.

If the shotgun is fired completely empty, there are fast drills for getting the shotgun back into action. With the pump shotgun, the standard drill is to open the chamber, and quickly reach over with the non-firing hand and drop a shell into the chamber. The action is then closed and the shell may be fired if needed.

With automatic shotguns the drill is even easier. The shotgun will lock open on the last shot queuing you it is empty. The shotgun is stabilized with the firing hand, as the support hand grabs a shell and drops it into the chamber. The fingers are curled around the shell as the shell is moved into the chamber, and the fingers lift the shell up and into the chamber. The support hand releases the bolt and the bolt slams forward. This is a very fast drill.

Shotgun lubrication
Keep your shotgun well lubricated!

When firing the automatic shotgun for speed, it is important for the shooter to realize that you can fire the shotgun faster than you can hit. The advantage of the automatic shotgun is an instant second shot. It is easy enough to jerk the second shot and send a shot high or worse into the air. The shot must be controlled. The first shot is fired and then the second shot will be fired only if the shooter acquires the bead again and the shooter is on target.

I use a number of drills in training with any shotgun. The first is possibly the most important and may be the only action needed. I have the shotgun at low ready, magazine loaded, chamber empty—as it would be at home. I reach over the top of the receiver and rack the bolt. Then, I bring the shotgun to my shoulder. I do not lower my cheek to the shotgun but bring the shotgun to my cheek to fire.

The target is placed at seven yards. As soon as the bead breaks the plane between my eye and the target, I fire. If the load is not centered something is wrong. I use Winchester #1 buckshot at present, as a compromise between 00 and #4 buckshot. If I am traveling, or using the shotgun for area defense, I load Winchester 00 buckshot for its greater penetration. I recommend the shooter practice this drill before moving to another.

Speed-loading a shell into the chamber
Speed-loading a shell into the chamber.

The next drill is firing at multiple targets. I place two targets at 10 yards about 10 feet apart. I begin working from right to left, then work left to right, firing at each target twice. I alternate speed loading the magazine and firing to empty, and running a shell into the magazine.

Firing while moving is difficult, and should be practiced, dry fire until you have a good idea of the step and cadence. With a target at 10 yards, begin stepping to the target and firing slowly, hitting the target in the center with each pull of the trigger. When you reach the target at two yards, it should be riddled with buckshot.

Do a speed load, dropping a shell into the chamber and loading the magazine as you back up. Load two shells in the magazine, firing as you back up and keep the target riddled and the shotgun firing. This type of drill makes for good familiarity with the shotgun. If there is any real problem beginning students have, it is a lack of familiarity with the firearm. These drills will build familiarity with the shotgun and may be a lifesaver.

Do you have a favorite shotgun drill? Share it in the comment section.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (5)

  1. Why do you upgrade to 00 when traveling? I have 00 in my very solid home, and would be more worried about over-penetration in a hotel, or staying with friends in their flimsy drywall houses.
    Also, “area defense”? I have the mental image of a Vickers gunner in 1917 spraying rounds across an open field… I’m sure you don’t mean that.

  2. A short video illustrating loading the chamber and magazine and releasing the bolt using the support hand and how the shotgun is positioned would be useful.

    As a hunter, I am used to using my shooting (right) hand to load the chamber and magazine, while holding my semi auto shotgun with my support (left) hand by the hand guard.

    One concern with releasing the bolt with the support hand is the danger of the bolt handle wapping the support hand, if you’re not careful to keep it out of the way of the rapidly traveling bolt. There mays be some tricky wrist action involved here.

    That being said, I can see where a rapid reloading method would be of advantage in waterfowl hunting, where one is necessarily limited to the number of rounds in the magazine.

  3. Well Bob, the article addresses good repetitive practices to build both skill and confidence. I, however, being an “older” guy, bypassed alot of that with the purchase of last shotgun I’ll ever need to buy. I purchased a Catamount Fury 2, which has external magazines that slide in, just like an AR. There are also drum style, but it makes the weapon “odd” in your hands. After installing a Kushnapup, bullpup conversion kit, it is so damn sweet. Adjustable gas powered so it eats most anything. The recoil, because of the Kushnapup kit, is minimal and concentrated closer to your shoulder, making it very, very easy to rip off 10 rounds extremely fast and keep all the pellets center mass. Drop the mag, slide in another and 10 more heading down range. At first I did have some cycling issues, but after a quick gas adjustment. I’ve fired hundreds of rounds without a hitch. It saves these old fingers from having to do all the things you covered quite well in your article. It is very good info for anyone with that style of shotgun and should be re-read and practiced.

    As always
    Carry on

  4. My drill/s.o.p. for shot guns is :action closed/chhamber empty,safety off,magazine loaded.When in use eiither pull trigger[action then unlocks]or slide release[again action opens.The sound of both the trigger and the sliide being cycled ought t[??]deter dome miscreant.If not….
    The same drill ought tobe applicable to automatic shotguns.
    My”house” loads are magnum[3″]charges of #2 or BBs,even #4s;lo
    onnger loads=#4 buckshot-patterns better than 00)
    Does anyone put a bayonet on a Mossberg 590 12ga?,which make/model bayonet?
    I sincerely that you aren’t in New York State..Cuomo is EVIL!

  5. Great article, I only have one problem with it and that is the basic premise that a 21 inch shotgun has the utility for modern environments. I would choose an AR pistol in 300 BO with 10.5″ barrel. Highly flexible in CQB and with IR laser and NVG you win the shoot outs at night. And in the day time you still can reach 250 yards accurately and effectively. For indoor defense the frangible ammo solves the home safety issues. Ammunition capacities, diversities, and cost enhances the choice. Suppressor capability drives it home in one on many gunfight scenarios especially at night IMHO.

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