This past weekend, I made the long trek out to Arizona to attend Rob Haught’s “Shotgun Skills” course. This was one of those grail classes for me… I don’t remember exactly how I became aware of Rob Haught and his push-pull shooting technique (probably either from reading his article in Surefire’s “Combat Tactics” or perhaps a class review in “SWAT” magazine), but it was probably at least 15-20 years ago. With my renewed interest and investment in the shotgun as a defensive tool, making it out to this class was a priority and opportunity that I couldn’t ignore.
I don’t exactly consider myself a neophyte when it comes to the “Gospel of the Gauge,” but there is still much I want to learn and improve on. Prior to this class, I had taken or at least observed shotgun coursework from both Tom Givens and Darryl Bolke. Still other courses offered by Tim Chandler and Ashton Ray are definitely on my radar for next year, as is Tom Givens’ shotgun instructor course, but I’m going to quote Tim Chandler here, “Rob Haught’s shotgun class goes right up there with Tom Givens’ shotgun instructor class as a mandatory stop for someone who truly wants to be a master of the defensive shotgun. They are both a mandatory stop on the shotgun hajj.” High praise indeed. Appropriately in context of the quote above, this class was held in the vicinity of what could arguably be considered the mecca of American firearm training and culture.
I’d been to the Arizona high desert before, but it had been a long time. Back in 2004, I drove out to Hans Vang’s old shop to drop off my Winchester 1300 barrel while I was attending Gunsite. Vang Comp Systems has grown since then, and I mention this because the Vang Comp crew were the hosts for this class.
The class was held at the ProForce Tactical Law Enforcement Range in Chino Valley. Tuition for the class was a very reasonable $425 plus range fee, which I paid in full. For this class, both Rob Haught and his son Matt were on the range teaching as “00 Haught!” (Double-aught Haught.) The range is an awesome facility, with 360° berms around a 100 yard range, covered picnic tables, and clean portable toilets. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the weekend, with clear skies and cold mornings warming to the low 70s during the days.
Rob started class with the obligatory safety and medical briefs, emphasizing the four rules and the destructive power of the weapons we were handling. A negligent discharge with a shotgun can have far more devastating consequences than a negligent discharge with a pistol. For the safety of all involved, he requested that we only load on the firing line and otherwise keep actions open and magazines empty, with muzzles down. As is typical, absent any doctors in the class, I was designated as a primary medical responder, along with another gentleman, in case of a medical or traumatic emergency.
He next explained his background and the history of his push-pull technique. (If you’d like to hear about this, listen to this episode of Ballistic Radio. You can also listen to a more recent interview on Civilian Carry Radio.) Rob explained his goal of giving us a system of shotgun manipulation skills that allows for a 50% reduction in felt recoil. This promised reduction in felt recoil gives students the ability to successfully complete a multi-day course involving the hundreds of rounds necessary to ingrain the fundamentals of his system without pain or discomfort. This is in stark contrast to the traditional doctrine of annual qualifications involving only a few rounds and academy classes that left students with black and blue marks that discouraged further training and proficiency. He also observed that today, in his experience, we are truly at the zenith of shotgun and ammunition development, despite the fact that shotgun has largely remained unchanged in concept since the times of Leonardo Da Vinci.
We then moved downrange and Rob spent the morning teaching us the fundamentals of his push-pull technique. In the photos below, notice the difference in muzzle rise. On the left, he is using a conventional mount with the gun pulled into the shoulder. On the right, push-pull. Note the muzzle blast in each photo and note how push-pull keeps the muzzle on target.
Over the course of the morning he ran us through several drills presented in a building block format, covering loading methods, malfunction clearances, ready positions, and pivots and turns. Regarding emergency loading, Rob personally prefers loading over the top, but is relatively agnostic on the issue, teaching that it depends on how the shell winds up indexed in your hand. (Below, the photo on the left would suggest loading over top, while the shell on the right would lend itself to being loaded from below.) Later in the course, an interesting tangent was brought up in that emergency loading an auto shotgun is easier and quicker from below since your hand can then immediately actuate the bolt release. Context matters! Rob also suggested that those who rely on the shotgun as a primary long gun should have spare ammunition available ambidextrously on the belt line to allow efficient loading to be done regardless of whether the gun is in position on the shoulder or not. He favors the Safariland Shell Holders and The Wilderness Belt Mounted Shell Holders.
Rob prefers simple and robust techniques and teaches only two ready positions. Both made sense after hearing his rationale. The point was emphasized, demonstrated, and practiced that using push-pull allows for shooting from almost any stance or position, including standing on one foot only or with the shotgun out of position from the shoulder. In short, the threat will dictate your shot, not your stance!
During a working lunch, Rob shared his thoughts and opinions on appropriate shotgun modifications. He covered stocks and length of pull, side saddles, other ammo carriage methods, sighting systems, and followers. The takeaway from this discussion is that the shotgun is a personal weapon, but if you do nothing else to your gun, get a stock that fits. The MagPul SGA is the easy button here.
After lunch, we returned to the range to practice shooting while moving forward, backward, and to the sides. We then added loading while moving and finally put it all together with a torturous but instructive drill that Rob has nicknamed the “Shoot, Scoot, and Load Boogie.” If you’re not shooting, you need to be loading! I fired 209 rounds of bird shot on day one.
As will become apparent in this AAR, the Vang Comp crew were gracious hosts and a wonderful resource to have on hand. One brief example is that Cody Stewart from Vang Comp was able to quickly install a VCS Dome Head Safety in my 870P during a break. This is but one example of shotgun setup being a personal matter, and for me, it worked well for the rest of class. I did and still do what I first learned from Tom Givens. That is, when the shotgun is in my hands, safety off. If I put it down or let it hang on sling, safety on. The dome head safety simply allows me to prevent the dreaded “click” when I want a “bang.” With the dome head safety installed, it is virtually impossible for me to place my finger on the trigger without deactivating the safety.
By the end of day one, I had concluded that there are a few things that I consider to be PEARLS of surviving a shotgun class…
- Wear gloves… your hands will thank you. Even Rob Haught jammed his finger using a student’s shotgun during a demonstration, and I noticed blood on the loading gate of another student’s shotgun.
- Bring a sling, even if you don’t use one normally. Having a sling allows you to keep your hands free to take notes or photos, and can help manage the weight of the gun when standing around. I was dumb and didn’t bring one, so I wound up eventually decking my gun on the ground with the action open and ejection port up when my relay wasn’t on line.
- Double up your hearing protection with ear plugs under electronic muffs. Especially early on, there were a few times when mounting the gun dislodged my muffs.
- Bring good ammo… I had no issues with my ammunition, but one student had brought reloads and had to mortar more than one shell out of his gun.
Before we started shooting on day two, Cody Stewart was kind enough to loan me the needed sling plate, snap ring, and a sling to use for the remainder of class. This was much appreciated and just another example of our Vang Comp hosts going above and beyond. This experience also solidified my own personal preference for a single point sling on a short barreled home defense shotgun. I don’t normally keep a sling on the gun, but when I need it, it’s easy to clip on. Another student elected to have a MagPul stock installed and Vang Comp was able to accommodate that as well. Michael Novack from Wilderness Tactical Products, LLC was also on the range auditing the class over the weekend and was able to get that student’s Giles sling squared away on the new stock.
Once back on the firing line, Rob started by introducing us to the finer points of his signature CQB position where the shotgun is short-stocked over the shoulder. Using push-pull, this is a very successful method of shortening the weapon considerably, as well as quickly bringing the weapon to bear on a close range threat. He emphasized the point that there is really not anything new out there, as there are photos of soldiers in WWII short-stocking M1 Garands…
Once we had become familiar with the CQB position, we were put through a series of “school drills” that reinforced everything we had learned so far. These drills require only 25 rounds and require recoil control, multiple shots, reloading, and the CQB position. Rob suggested that we take our shotguns and a box of shells to the range every month or so to maintain proficiency.
During another working lunch on day two, Richard from Vang Comp gave us a virtual dissertation on failure points, preventative maintenance, disassembly and assembly, cleaning, and lubrication of the Remington 870 platform. With few exceptions, most of the guns on the line were 870s. Much of the material was equally applicable to the Mossberg and other platforms as well.
After lunch, we began working with slugs. This class marked the inaugural presentation of a new skills test that is the brainchild of Matt Haught. Deceptively difficult in its simplicity, the test only requires five slugs, but tests several key skills under significant time pressure. Only one student passed the test under par and was awarded a numbered metal challenge coin. Matt credited Todd Green’s F.A.S.T. test as the inspiration for his shotgun version.
Rob introduced the discussion of shotgun slugs with an explanation of patterning a shotgun and breaking it down into different zones. Basically, once your pattern spreads to the point that pellets will miss you intended target, it’s time to switch to a slug. Note that due to time constraints, we didn’t actually pattern our individual guns on paper, but that this decision was made as a group due to everyone expressing familiarity with the process. (Indeed, except for the skills test described above, we shot exclusively on steel targets.) We learned and practiced two ways to select slug that adhered to the mantra of “last in, first out” in the magazine tube. Suffice it to say that for a variety of reasons, there is much wisdom in downloading your magazine tube by one shot.
Also in the afternoon, Rob covered transitions to a handgun. Again, he keeps this relatively simple, showing us his preferred methods for guns not equipped with slings, for guns that are slung, and for guns that have slings that aren’t being worn. Next, the crew set up a series of box drills that we ran through in split relays, with each iteration becoming increasingly more complex.
Near the end of the day, we repeated the school drills with buckshot. The difference in recoil between bird shot, buckshot, and slugs was readily apparent.
The final shooting exercise of the class was a man on man shoot off on an old school Gunsite “Flying M” target array. I was dumb enough to go first, so I got eliminated first! Such is life.
My total round count for this class was 311 rounds of bird shot, 21 rounds buckshot, 14 rounds slug, and 12 rounds of 9mm.
As I alluded to above, this class was a long time coming for me, and it was worth every penny to travel out to AZ to attend. Not only is Rob Haught an incredible instructor with an awesome program, he is also a genuinely good guy. I ran into him, his son Matt, and Mike Novack in the hotel lobby before class even began and was able to enjoy getting to know them over breakfast. That was only the first of several shared meals over the weekend.
If you see the class offered and if you keep a shotgun in the closet, or especially if you rely on one on duty, you need to get to this class! Push-pull works, and I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t endorse it. Rob Haught’s program very successfully ingrains the mechanics of the system over a few hundred rounds, and allows rapid progress towards proficiency with what is arguably the most efficient and effective weapon a home defender can wield.
Not that y’all want to see me with my shirt off, but check out the photos below. Left is my shoulder after 160 rounds in a prior one day class. Center is my shoulder after day one and 209 rounds in Rob’s class. To the right is my shoulder after two days of shooting a total of 358 rounds including buckshot and slugs. I didn’t feel any pain, at least not from recoil. I do need to do some upper body exercise though, as I will confess that my bicep ached after holding the gun up for two days!
For this class, I was able to get an approved ATF Form 20 back in time to take my 870P SBS out to AZ. I mentioned earlier the addition of a VCS Dome Head Safety and a two point sling during class. Although it was an oversight on my part to not take a sling with me, this experience allowed me to solidify my personal preference for a single point sling on my home defense shotgun. Prior to class, I had installed a VCS Detachable Side Ammunition Carrier. Of all the available designs, I think it is probably the best. Interestingly, when I had the opportunity to shoot Matt Haught’s shotgun M’Bogo (buffalo in Swahili…), I found that my support hand impacted on the Aridus Industries Q-DC mounted on the gun due to my relatively short wingspan. Earlier in the class, Rob had expressed a preference for cut down 3-4 shell carriers to allow gripping the receiver of the shotgun at the natural balance point. I had only been loading the last 3-4 loops on the VCS carrier, and this seemed to have the same effect. Ultimately, I’m still somewhat ambivalent about having a side saddle mounted outside of a training environment. I had brought a few bandoleer options to carry spare ammo on the line, but wound up simply using a Maxpedition dump pouch with great success. There were a number of other interesting guns on the rack, including more than a few shorties and a really cool old school Winchester Model 12 worked over by Vang Comp. I also got to look through a set of Sentinel Sights and VCS ghost ring sights on other guns. I’m happy with my low profile XS Sights, but the other options are intriguing. Rob brought his new Beretta 1301, but didn’t shoot it much. Only one other student had a 1301, so it was good to see most of the demonstrations done with a pump gun. (Since my gun wasn’t initially slung, more often than not, he borrowed my gun for demos.) For ammo, I had purchased Federal Top Gun bird shot, Federal LE Slugs, and Hornady Critical Defense buckshot. I had no ammunition related problems.
The lunchtime presentation on preventative maintenance and checks was prescient. I’m sure Robert will never let me live this down given that the part is user replaceable with a screwdriver on his Mossberg, but I discovered that my gun’s ejector spring was loose when I got home and cleaned it thoroughly. I had experienced several instances of weak ejection during class, but had been attributing it to user error. Maybe not… time for a trip to the gunsmith.
One other tangential observation is that Rob Haught considers Ken Hackathorn to be his mentor and that they taught a lot together over the years. Now that Hackathorn is fully retired, a Sym-Tac class may be the closest you can get to Hackathorn’s wisdom distilled over time.
For now, you can follow Sym-Tac Consulting, LLC on Facebook. In the near future, a new website will be debuted to list classes and such. There was also talk of an “advanced” class in the future, and if that is ever offered, I’ll be there!
Finally, I just want to share how good it was to get back out to Arizona and meet all the great people that made the class happen. I made some new industry contacts, and I’d like to think that I made some new friends as well. “00 Haught” are the real deal, and I can’t say enough good things about Vang Comp Systems. If you need shotgun work done, you don’t need to look anywhere else. Likewise, if you want to learn how to really run a shotgun, Rob Haught should be at the top of your list.
FTC Disclosure: I have no affiliation with either Sym-Tac Consulting, LLC or Vang Comp Systems, Inc. except as a satisfied full price paying customer. A few of the hyperlinks in the text above do link to our Amazon Affiliate site. Should you choose to shop at Amazon by clicking through those links, your purchases will support our efforts here at the blog at no extra cost to you! We appreciate the support.
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