Regular readers of this blog have seen, over the last two years, how John and I have written more and more “shotgun articles”. We have both been enjoying an increasing interest in the “scattergun” over that time, leading to articles about shotgun modifications, buckshot reviews and patterning, and reviews of some classes we have taken along the way. I have made it a point to take a shotgun class each of the last three years in order to learn more about this firearm as well as increase my proficiency with one in my hands.
Last weekend I was able to finally take a class featuring Tim Chandler as the lead instructor. I first met Tim in this class in 2016 (he was a fellow student like me), and over the years I have run into him in other classes and at the Rangemaster Tactical Conference as both a fellow student and as an assistant instructor. Though I have seen Tim shoot a variety of weapons to a high degree of proficiency, his affinity for–and skill with–the shotgun is probably what he is most known for. Knowing Tim just a bit from these various meetings, and knowing his credentials, I was eager to see how he would run a class of his own.
Tim has his hand in a few different training companies, including FPF Training, Justified Defensive Concepts, and 360 Performance Shooting. This particular class fell under the FPF Training banner, and was held at the super-secret FPF range in Culpeper, Virginia. Tim was assisted by/co-taught with Ashton Ray of 360 Performance Shooting, another aficionado of “the gauge”. Cost of the class was $200, which I paid in full. Insert the usual disclaimer here about my lack of affiliation with any of the above-mentioned companies except as a satisfied, paying customer. There were a total of 12 students in this class.
Experience with so many classes over the years has taught me to always bring two similar guns. Experience with prior shotgun coursework has taught me that this is probably even more necessary in shotgun classes, as shotguns have a tendency to “shake things loose”. It is always a lot easier to grab a spare gun than it is to effect repairs on the range. Accordingly, I brought my typical Mossberg 590A1, set up as per this article. It has served me well for about ten years and through two prior shotgun courses. However, on this occasion, it would serve the backup role.
My primary choice for this class was something long-in-the-coming. In June of 2018 I purchased a similar Mossberg 590A1, only this one would be a factory short-barreled model (14 inch barrel), thus requiring a tax stamp and approval from BATFE. My check was cashed by BATFE in late June 2018, and I received my tax stamp in May of 2019! Firearms and other gear subject to National Firearms Act rules and regulations are not for the impatient!
Since receiving this shotgun, I had put various buckshot and slugs through it, but it had seen less than 100 rounds total. I mainly wanted to make sure that in functioned correctly and that my preferred buckshot load hit to the sights (from the factory, I found that I had to adjust the sights to bring the point of impact down a bit….one of the advantages of ghost ring sights over some other systems is the ability to easily adjust them).
As far as modifications, they have been primarily in keeping with the shotgun modifications article linked to above. Short length-of-pull Hogue stock and Velcro on the left side of the receiver to accommodate a sidesaddle shell carrier were the primary mods. I also added a second generation Surefire forend. I had had a similar model on my 18.5 inch Mossberg, but had since sold it off. As my hope has been to make this short-barreled shotgun (SBS) my primary bump-in-the-night gun, a light to me should be mandatory, and the Surefire forend, while expensive (I scored this hard-to-find model on eBay for a great price) and a bit bulky, is still, in my opinion, the best option (there is a third generation model available now, but I am fine with this model). The light itself is not particularly bright compared with current standards, but it is “adequate” for now and can be upgraded with a higher-lumen aftermarket head.
I did not keep careful track of the shotguns in use by the other students, but I definitely saw some Mossberg 500s, Remington 870s, and Beretta 1301s, some set up “better” than others (having a receiver mounted UTG rail with nothing mounted on it with a short bead sight at the muzzle was not conducive to high accuracy).
Other equipment for me was minimal. I reloaded from either the sidesaddle or my pockets; cargo pants help! A number of students used dump pouches, and there was at least one chest rig set up to accommodate spare shells, but these were not in any way necessary to get the most out of this class.
Students were instructed to put all ammunition and other gear on tables that had been set out for us, but all shotguns were to be kept cased in the vehicles until after the safety brief. I appreciated this. Tim and Ashton tag-teamed on the safety brief which was one of the longest I have been through in all of the classes I have taken. “Long”, however, should not be understood to mean boring or unnecessarily verbose. Mention was made that we choose a shotgun for self-defense due to its destructive capabilities; at close range, even loaded with birdshot for portions of this class, a mistake could have devastating consequences. Emphasis was made on handling our shotguns (and all of our firearms) with intention and attention. Indeed, Tim and Ashton suggested that we make these gun-handling rules for life rather than simply used as “range rules” for this class.
The safety brief was followed by a separate medical brief should the unthinkable occur. Although this turned out to be one of the few classes I have taken that lacked someone from the medical field as a student, there was at least one student with some sort of combat life-saver experience, and Tim and Ashton were otherwise prepared with several blow-out kits, the evacuation vehicle (Ashton’s truck) sensibly parked with keys in the ignition, and roles (and back-ups) assigned. Thankfully, the students did a great job adhering to the rules outlined above, and so none of this preparation was tested. I will note here that we shot all drills during the day in two relays of six students each, which allowed Tim and Ashton to provide a lot of individual feedback and keep excellent control of the line.
Before covering the nuts and bolts of what we did during the day, I would like to first focus on the philosophy of instruction of the shotgun that Tim and Ashton presented, as these would inform how we would be instructed throughout the day. To my mind, there were two key points around which everything else was based. First, recoil mitigation. This is first for a reason. So many people buy shotguns for “home defense” but never achieve proficiency with them because training with the shotgun can be…well…painful. Readers may recall that, after my first class, I was pretty sure I would never take another shotgun class, primarily due to this very factor. Tim and Ashton feel that, if they can get the students to properly mitigate the stout recoil of the shotgun, the students will focus more on the training and less on pain. With more training comes more proficiency, so it becomes a ball rolling downhill.
Their technique for mitigating recoil is what is known as “push-pull”. For those who prefer fancy terminology, the term “isometric tension” would fit well here. At the moment of the trigger press, the shotgun operator pulls rearward with the firing hand on the pistol grip while simultaneously pushing forward with the support-side hand on the forend. This needs to be done with enthusiasm; the mental image is of trying to literally rip the shotgun in two. I had heard of this technique as taught by shotgun “guru” Rob Haught, but had never before been instructed in this technique in a class. Let me just say right here that, when done correctly, the shotgun operator is rewarded with a beastly firearm that barely moves even when heavy loads or slugs are fired. This allows for rapid follow-up shots as well as the side benefit of a bruise-free shoulder. I will say that there were a few occasions during class where I was too focused on some other tasks (reloading, target transitions) and did not fully utilize the push-pull. As one might imagine, this resulted in more muzzle rise than I would have liked as well as knocking my little body around a bit.
The second part of their philosophy revolves around why the shotgun might be chosen for self-defense. As noted above, we choose the shotgun for its destructive capabilities. As Tim said in class, in order to use something more devastating, we would have to be using something better described as “ordnance” than a firearm. The shotgun has long been lauded as the ultimate fight-stopper at close-range. Much was made during this class of the recently revealed British SAS operator who “neutralized” five terrorists in seven seconds with a Benelli M4, proof positive of the capabilities of the shotgun in competent hands.
Though the carbine is currently in vogue (largely because of America’s involvement in wars over the last 18 years as well as the number of combat veterans who have returned to the U.S. and now provide training), the shotgun has much to offer over the carbine’s perceived advantages. For example, it was pointed out that most veterans—particularly those from special mission units—who engaged in close-range gunfights utilized 3-5 carbine rounds per bad guy, meaning that a 30 round magazine was good for 6-10 bad guys. Likewise, pistol bullets are notoriously poor fight-stoppers, often requiring 5-7 rounds to neutralize a threat. With a fully-loaded modern service pistol like a Glock 17, that might mean a single magazine is good for about three bad guys. With a shotgun, few adversaries will require more than a single shell, so that a shotgun loaded with ~5-7 rounds is good for ~5-7 bad guys. Looked at in terms of “servings”, the shotgun does not really lack compared with these other platforms.
Please note that, per Tim and Ashton’s philosophy, we do not choose a shotgun for self-defense due to the spread of its shot. Unless you are defending yourself against flocks of doves or mass human-wave attacks in Southeast Asian jungles, spread of the shot for civilian or law enforcement self-defense is contraindicated. As always, we are responsible for every round we fire. When each round we fire out of a shotgun might unleash 8 or more pellets “into the wild”, it is of vital importance that we know where those pellets will hit. Hitting Mr. Bad Guy with 7 pellets while pellet number 8 hits three-year-old Sally next door does not do us any good: legally, morally, or financially. This is a philosophy I adopted long before this class, but it was great to see Tim and Ashton articulate it so well. Once so articulated, it would inform what and how they would teach throughout the day, from techniques to setting up the shotgun for success to ammunition selection.
Drills and Skills
After demonstrating the proper application of push-pull, we did some dry work before loading up single shells to practice it live. We fired numerous single shells (I was using Fiocchi #6 dove loads) with instructors checking us out one at a time for push-pull, proper stance (this might vary a bit from student to student based on how their shotgun was set up—length of pull being one issue—as well as their body type). Afterwards, Tim and Ashton handed each of us one 00 buckshot shell and one slug so that we could compare the recoil from each as well as to cement, in our minds, that we could handle them all. I liked this, as—provided the students did everything correctly—they would be less likely to be apprehensive moving forward.
Once push-pull was appropriately ingrained, we moved on to see its main advantage: rapid follow-up shots. We did a drill where we were all on the line and allotted five seconds to fire three rounds. If we succeeded, we then moved it to four seconds, then three, then two, etc., checking to see where the wheels came off the wagon. I will note here that we were still shooting birdshot at B/C steel from a distance of 10 yards. Once we had the time worked down, we got to do it one at a time to see how quickly, from the ready position of our choice, we could fire three rounds. From the low ready position, my fastest was 3 rounds (all hits) in 1.46 seconds. I was very much pleased with that performance. Push-pull is a thing!
After a water break, Tim spent some time covering the various types of reloads as well as techniques to do each. One of the advantages of the shotgun (at least tube-fed types) is the ability to top them off without taking them out of the fight, something that is not an option with a box-magazine-fed firearm. The reload techniques demonstrated here were not significantly different than in other coursework I have taken (and they provided several options depending on how/where students carried spare shells), but they definitely had the finer points of these manipulations very much down to the tiniest of details. Back to the line we went to practice these techniques live under the watchful eyes of Tim and Ashton, who made tweaks to our manipulations along the way.
With these skills more fully ingrained, we moved on to “Rolling Thunder”. I have seen several different versions of the Rolling Thunder drill over the years. In this particular version, we would begin on the line with empty shotguns. When the student on the left got the command, he would load one shell and fire it. Once fired, the next person could load and fire one, and so on. Once each student fired his one shell, he could reload, only this time with two shells. When the last student at the end of the line fired his one shell, the first person to have fired would fire his two, and so on down the line. We continued in this way through one shell, two, three, and four. In the end, each student would have fired ten shells, all the while feeling the pressure on reloading of not wanting to be the guy holding up the line. Rolling Thunder is always a fun drill.
I would not normally have much to say about lunch, but this lunch would be a working lunch. We sat under some EZ-Up tents for a welcome respite from the sun (unpredictable Virginia weather had the high temperatures in the low 90s with strong sun and moderate humidity), and Ashton provided a fantastic lecture/Q&A on weapon lubrication. As it happens, his “day job” is as a lubrication specialist, and so he knows a thing or two about the lubrication of machinery. This was unexpected but truly value-added, and I really appreciated this bonus material.
During lunch Tim and Ashton also covered the high points of “shotgun setup”. Length-of-pull, preferred sighting systems, which side-saddles are to be trusted, etc., were all covered during this portion. I like the idea of the working lunch, as I have found it too easy, in some past classes, to get caught in the post-lunch rut if you just eat and stare off into space.
The afternoon consisted of three main blocks of instruction. With paper targets now up and in place replacing the steel we had used all morning, the first block of instruction was shotgun patterning. It was during the lecture/demonstration portion of this segment that much of the philosophy of shotgun use outlined above was covered. Tim started out shooting some cheap 9 pellet 00 buckshot (S&B, I believe), demonstrating how the pattern opened up relatively quickly, with pellets off the silhouette target at around 10-15 yards. He then fired Federal 8 pellet FliteControl 00 buckshot at the target (my preferred load for over a year now) and we got to see how tight the pattern still was at 15 yards. The lesson here was that—contrary to popular opinion—the tighter pattern actually gives you more leeway than an open pattern. While an open pattern might get some pellets on target, the user might also end up with several flying off downrange. The tighter-grouping buckshot allowed for some wiggle room in order to still get all 8 pellets on target.
Tim then demonstrating shooting slugs standing, unsupported, at 25 yards. The idea here, since we would probably typically be using some sort of buckshot for defensive purposes, is to find a slug that has a similar point of impact as our preferred buckshot load.
We then got the chance to pattern our own guns. We started by firing three slugs from 25 yards. I used Federal Tru Ball 1 oz. slugs, and other than me pushing one of the three a little high (into the collar bone area of the target), I was pleased with my group. We then moved up to 15 yards and fired 3 rounds of our preferred buckshot. My three rounds of Federal 8 pellet FliteControl 00 printed almost on top of the slug hits and very tightly in the center of the target. I was pleased with the performance of my ammunition choices as well as my skill in putting the hits where I wanted them. I also hope that any students in the class who expected my SBS to have a wider pattern due to the short barrel were disabused of that notion, which is mostly myth.
I will briefly note here that some students struggled a bit here either due to their sighting systems, their chosen load, or “user error”. Several said that they planned to make changes to their shotguns/ammunition choices with alacrity. One student was asked if his shotgun typically prints to the right and he replied, “I don’t know. It’s the first time I fired it.” Generally speaking, using a firearm in class that you have never fired before is not the best idea.
We did a bit more work with buckshot, shooting singles, doubles, and triples on the timer (from about 10 yards, as I recall), then moved on to the next segment of the afternoon session: how to make our shotgun shorter (without a hacksaw!). The technique we would be taught and utilize is known as short-stocking, and it is best utilized when one wants to project a bit less of the shotgun forward, such as when searching a structure. Essentially, the shotgun is held sideways with the part of the shotgun stock that is normally against the user’s cheek laid flat on the shoulder/upper arm. Aiming is accomplished off the side of the muzzle (now oriented upward), and drawing an imaginary line from the eye to the muzzle to the crotch area of a target a yard or two away typically results in solid center mass hits. Push-pull is of paramount importance when taking shots using this technique (as the gentleman next to me discovered all too well after his upper lip was bloodied….thankfully his teeth remained in place!), and a quick, forward, stabbing motion is made at the moment of the trigger press. I struggled with the quick stab but otherwise did this pretty well. Though I had seen videos of the technique before, I had never tried firing with this short-stock technique. It was pretty cool and it is good to know I can perform it somewhat competently.
After blowing apart the paper targets using this technique, we sat through a relatively brief presentation on target transitions. Here, the importance of moving the eyes before moving the shotgun was emphasized, as was “aiming” one’s belt buckle to the target. It was also pointed out that the pump-action shotguns should not be any slower than the semi-automatics, as the working of the pump could occur during the transition from one target to the next.
With steel targets back up, we took turns moving from one target array to a second one. One had several targets with only a yard or two between each, while the second array had a wider gap between targets (several yards). Tim ran one array while Ashton ran the other, and we got some tips and pointers as we ran through each array several times each.
Class ended with the policing of the range, the awarding of certificates, and a quick round of the students’ takeaways from class. I fired 119 rounds of birdshot, 4 slugs, and 33 rounds of buckshot, for a total of 156 rounds sent downrange. I experienced no malfunctions of any kind with my SBS (a number of shotguns had issues, including some stovepipes, and one student did what I have now seen in every shotgun class I have taken: the loading of a shell into the magazine tube backwards.).
I went into the class looking forward to getting some shells through my new SBS, to learn and be coached in the proper use of “push-pull”, and just generally improving my skills with the shotgun. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I should probably keep taking shotgun classes, and one of the reasons is to just get some good range time. Where I live and shoot, I can only shoot buckshot at one range and only slugs at another. None of the local-to-me ranges allow any birdshot. Thus, if I want to get some quality trigger time with the shotgun and continue to learn about how to run one better and better, classes are probably the best venue for me (even more so than pistol or carbine classes).
I would recommend this class to anyone looking to improve their shotgun skills from basic to more advanced. In my opinion (and according to the course description), this should not be the first shotgun class a student takes. In this case, it was the first for a few students, and so some remediation was necessary for them from time to time. I do not know if this led to any on-the-fly curriculum adjustments by Tim and Ashton, but it is possible. A few students would probably have been better off starting with Tim’s “Home Defense Shotgun” class, which is his beginner level course under the FPF banner. I might even explore that course just to get more trigger time as well as hear some of his home defense lectures.
I would have liked to have gotten a few more rounds downrange, and I was a little surprised there was no discussion of other types of loads for self-defense (#4 buckshot, for example), but these were very minor issues. I will also note that a few days after class, Tim sent all the students an email article/primer on the different types of shotgun slugs and their pros and cons. Much like the firearms lubrication discussion, this was just more value added, which I appreciated.
I think it is safe to say that I would love to train with Tim and/or Ashton again, whether with FPF Training, Justified Defensive Concepts, or 360 Performance Shooting, as I would love to take my shotgun skills to even higher levels. I am sold on the ability of the shotgun in competent hands to “solve problems”, and these two guys are putting out a great product that can turn the layperson’s hands into competent hands.
As always, thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse. I can be reached privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.