By October 31, 2007

Hit and Run (Combat Shotgunning, Part Two)

Warning: this is a long entry.

One of the first things I noted about the shotgun course was that it stopped raining as soon as I parked my car. I had read conflicting reports of either 10% chance of rain, or 80% chance of rain throughout the day. The sky appeared to be breaking up. At least I didn’t have to put on my rain gear, I would have been extremely hot even under the GoreTex. Like I said in my part one post, my spirits started to lift.

One of the second things I noted was that there was a pigeon flapping around the setup area. One of the guys joked if it was the land owner’s pet pigeon, and Frank replied that it was. He then proceeded to stick his hand out so that the pigeon could nuzzle him. Apparently Frank adopted the pigeon as a young bird and had semi-domesticated it. I expected the pigeon to fly right in front of the firing line and get atomized, but amazingly it stuck around both days. It was gracious enough to hop around to different cars and shit on all of them.

Five students with over a thousand rounds of ammunition between them, zombie headshots, and a domesticated pigeon: we were ready to start blasting stuff.

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Why yes, she is perched on my brand new Mazda3SPEED station wagon.

The first part of the course covered basics that everyone already knew but we had to go over anyway. Jack, the instructor, went over range rules/safety and the differences between pump shotguns and semi-automatic shotguns. Pumps rely on the operator to chamber a fresh round after every time the trigger is pulled, and have a slower rate of fire than semi-autos. Semi-automatic shotguns load a new shotgun shell after every trigger pull, have a faster rate of fire than pumps, but are susceptible to failure. Semi-autos are also picky about ammunition, as Jake inadvertently demonstrated as his shotgun choked twice during an initial exercise.

We next “patterned” our shotguns, which meant that we lined up and blasted our targets with buckshot at varying ranges. We shot at five, seven, ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty-five, fifty, and one hundred yards throughout the course, but the VAST majority of our shooting was done between five and ten yards from our targets. I’ve mentioned it on Gibberish before, but most civilian shooting incidents occur at seven yards or less. Anyway, what was interesting about the “pattern” exercise is that it really demonstrated how different shotguns will launch pellets differently. Markie and I had the same ammunition, and it was really interesting to see how my Mossberg 590A1 pump patterned more tightly than his FN pump. There isn’t a “preferred” pattern out there, but it is good to know how your shotgun performs with different ammunition.

We moved on to slings after the patterning exercises. I have never used a sling on any of my rifles or shotguns. I think maybe my semi-auto AK clone has a sling on it, but the rest of my longarms don’t even have slings. I told Jack, and he said not to worry about it. He was right: we went over the four major ways to carry a longarm and he explained everything very well. American carry is what you may normally think of — longarm slung over the dominant hand shoulder, barrel pointed up. African carry features the longarm on the off-hand shoulder, with the barrel pointed down. The biggest difference between these two carries is the mechanics for presenting the weapon. In order to draw a shotgun from African carry, you put your off-hand on the pump/foregrip, and then “draw” the shotgun forward as if it were a sword, twisting the shotgun right-side-up, and then shouldering it. American carry requires you to reach around the front of your body, grab the pump/foregrip with your off-hand, lift the shotgun up and over your dominant side shoulder, and then mount the weapon.

I forget the name of the third style, but it’s your typical over-the-back-diagonally carry. This position’s strong point is that it allows you the most freedom to do other things while remaining close to your firearm. Slinging and presenting a long arm this way is a big pain in the ass. You grab the rear of the sling with your dominant hand, and then feed your off-hand through the sling and drape the firearm over your head while you duck underneath it. You drop the firearm once your left arm has cleared the sling. I am doubtful most people (myself included) could easily pull this off during an actual civilian shooting incident. We practiced it later in the afternoon, but it felt clumsy to me.

The last style of carry is “tactical” carry, with the weapon secured by a special sling to the front of the operator. It is super, super, super fast to secure and present the firearm, but it puts the user at a greater risk if their targets close to melee range. Jack grabbed one of our students with a tactical sling and showed how easily he could steer the student around. Suarez doesn’t advocate being stuck to your weapon for any reason, he explained. Jack then demonstrated how a different type of carry would allow him to easily escape from his sling and draw and fire his handgun before the target could bring the shotgun to bear. Tactical carry has some strong advantages that I’ll discuss later.

Okay, on to the shooting. Yes, we murdered a fuckton of paper people during the two day course, and we started with presentation drills.

I used African carry almost exclusively during the course. I found it very comfortable, and easily translated with my martial arts experience from a long time ago. The students stood in a straight line, about three feet apart. We waited silently for Jack to yell, “FIGHT!!!” Step forward slightly with the off-side foot, draw the shotgun forward, transition the weapon to the dominant shoulder, ruin the bad guy’s day, and cover your target. We practiced without shooting at first, but moved quickly to live fire. “FIGHT!!!” The shotgun slid easily off my shoulder, flicked off the safety while I transitioned to my dominant side, BOOM, round on target, center-mass. I chambered the next round, covered my target, and awaited Jack’s command to return weapons to safety and sling. We repeated this drill about five times, and then worked on the same thing with the shotgun across our backs. It was clumsy, but I expected as much and wasn’t too sad about my performance.

After running the over-the-back carry drill dry about five times and shooting it live five times, we worked on our first transition drill of the day. We were to unsling our weapon from whatever carry method we wanted (I chose African), fire a round, load a fresh round, sling the shotgun and then transition to our sidearms. We were directed to fire between three and five pistol rounds as quickly as possible. Students with tactical holsters were allowed to use tactical carry, the rest of us has to do the over-the-back monkey agility drill. This was the first drill of the course that would have been impossible at my normal indoor shooting range. We are not allowed to draw and shoot from the holster, and I really doubt they would smile on anyone flinging a loaded shotgun over their back. I was nervous, and had to keep my heart rate and breathing steady as we stood silently awaiting Jack’s command to strike.

FIGHT!!!

African carry was fast as lightning, and I was the first out of the students to put a round in the chest of my target, who looked a little like a thin Roddy Piper in a maroon hoodie from They Live. I calmly safetied my shotgun and snaked my left arm through the sling when I heard POPPOPPOPPOPPOP!!! from my left. One of the students with a tactical sling had released his shotgun, drawn his sidearm, and put five rounds near his target before I could finish slinging the Mossberg. Undeterred, I transitioned smoothly and place three rounds in Piper’s chest. I studied my target and RapidFire’s target as the rest of the line finished up. We ran the drill a few more times. RapidFire (and another student with a semi-automatic, magazine-fed Saiga shotgun) was consistently able to outpace us with their tactical slings. They had something else in common besides having tactical slings: they both fucking sucked with their pistols.

We were running the drill at five yards. That’s fifteen feet. I can probably pee fifteen feet. RapidFire and Mr. Tactical (the guy had probably $1000+ worth of gear on his firearms and his person) were only striking their man-sized target — ANYWHERE — with two or three out of their five rounds. This ran in stark contrast to Markie, who was much slower on his transition, but put every .45 ACP round from his 1911 pistol on target in nice tight groupings. Sure, the other guys were faster, but I would rather wait another second or two to transition more smoothly and shoot more accurately. The behavior of RapidFire and Mr. Tactical set the tone for the rest of the day. Guys with hot-shit gear versus guys with old school technology. Frank also put all of his 10mm pistol rounds on target. Guys with pumps put every round on target, guys with semi-autos burped ammo out but had a high miss rate. Frank was at the bottom of the tech totem pole, having literally cut the wooded pump of his Remington 870 so that it would operated without bumping his newly-affixed side saddle. Frank shot with a hunting-style shotgun, the rest of us had “tactical” people-killin’-specific models.

Anyway, with the transition drills out of the way we moved on to shooting and moving. Again, this is something I definitely could not do at my indoor range. We moved along the lines of a clock. Moving and shooting to the twelve o’clock (straight forward) was easy, but Suarez has a concept of “getting off the X.” Students are coached to move away from incoming rounds as quickly as possible. Moving straight forward is probably not your best tactical option. Move and shoot. Move and shoot. If you stop moving, you die. If you stop shooting, the hostiles won’t die and will keep shooting.

One thing we found out immediately during the dry-fire practice was that it is nearly impossible to move to our “off-sides” without turning the body. Turning the body when you’re being shot at can be a bad thing, especially if that means you can no longer point your weapon towards your attacker. As a righty, my off-sides were basically anything south of the eleven o’clock position all the way to the seven o’clock. I could move straight backwards (to the six) very easily, and to the eleven pretty easily. Everything else sucked, especially the seven o’clock. It is impossible to walk in that direction without either moving the weapon off-target or turning your back. At least, it was on day one of our training.

We ran through the clock face positions with live ammunition. Instead of lining up side by side, we ran the drills one at a time. I had been nervous about shooting in front of other people, but my performance from earlier in the day had given me confidence. We were to take three steps and shoot somewhere before we stopped on the final step.

I moved to the two, the three, the five, and the eleven with ease. I had to really contort myself to shoot on the nine. Every blast from the Mossberg landed on target, center mass. Jake readied us to move on the seven, the hardest position for righties. He said that until we learned Suarez’s technique tomorrow our only option was to shoot one-handed. We could do so by just letting our off-hand fall and shooting from our dominant shoulder, or by cradling the butt of the shotgun between our sides and bicep. I planned on doing the latter.

FIGHT!!!

I immediately fast-walked backwards. The good news was that I hit my target square in the face. The bad news is that I was unable to move the shotgun from my shoulder. My mind wanted to do something that my body would not do. I don’t expect to be a super-tactical-armchair-SWAT operator, especially after a two day course, but this was the first time I tried to do something and wasn’t able to do it. I shrugged it off, and looked forward to what day two would bring. I hadn’t learned anything earth-shattering on day one, but I got in a lot of good practice on things I couldn’t do at home. So far, money well spent.

And besides, who else here can say they’ve capped off rounds while in the company of a zombie defense pigeon?

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1 Comment on "Hit and Run (Combat Shotgunning, Part Two)"

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  1. Stomper says:

    Very cool. Is there going to be more about the second day? Just curious. It’s an interesting read!!