The Scattergun. The Shotty. The Boomstick. The Shotgat. The Street Howitzer. The Gauge. I suppose it makes sense that a firearm that is so ubiquitous and carries so many nicknames would be, as Tom Givens says, “the least understood…..weapon system.”
After my first one-day shotgun class I was confident I would never take another. I recognized the power and utility of the platform, but I was beat up. After I took Givens’ one-day shotgun class, I felt like “ah, now I understand this platform much better”. But it wasn’t until I took “Shotgun Skills” with Tim Chandler and Ashton Ray about a year ago that I finally started to “get it”. “Home Defense Shotgun” with Tim (solo) cemented it (these latter two class were presented under the FPF Training banner). And, as I have said before, if our readers see that I have trained with someone more than once, that should be a clue.
So confident was I that Ashton and Tim would “deliver the goods” that I signed up for “Shotgun 360” in mid-November of 2019, immediately after taking “Home Defense Shotgun”. Clearly, I did not want to miss out.
Here is the course description straight from the 360 Performance Shooting website:
The 2020 Annual Shotgun 360 is our flagship shotgun event; it is a comprehensive program that pushes you past proficiency and drives toward mastery.
It gives law enforcement and defensive minded shooters the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively and confidently wield one of the most powerful tools available.
This is NOT a beginner level class.
$25/day range fee ($50) due in cash on day 1. (READER NOTE: THIS WAS REDUCED TO $25 TOTAL due to a venue change…..cost of the course itself was $450, which I paid in full)
Instructors: Ashton Ray and Tim Chandler
After refreshing the fundamentals of shotgunning we will briskly proceed to more advanced material, including:
Use of Cover and Concealment.
Close quarters techniques
Movement and shooting on the move.
Ammunition design and performance including patterning and slug performance.
Shotgun gear selection for specific applications, eg. home defense, property/business defense, and law enforcement.
In depth discussion of shotgun maintenance
NO STEEL SHOT!!
At least 300 rounds birdshot or buckshot
At least 200 rounds of quality buckshot
At least 50 slugs
50 rounds of pistol ammunition
More ammunition is better, feel free to bring more as class size and pace can easily allow for more shooting. If you plan to use birdshot, ensure your firearm operates reliably on low recoil ammunition.
Suitable defensive or duty shotgun.
Eye and Ear Protection-Filtered/powered ear pro required, you must be able to hear range commands
2 Point shotgun sling highly recommended
Suitable issued duty rig recommended for law enforcement
Outside the waistband holster highly recommended.
Bring a lunch, we will have working lunches.
Does that sound like a class that a dude with 32 hours of previous class time with the shotgun would want? Hell yes! Plus, as if Ashton and Tim were not already known quantities to me, their 2019 iteration of “Shotgun 360” was heavily vetted by a bit of a “who’s who” in the firearms industry, including Rob and Matt Haught of Symtac Consulting (see John’s review of their two-day shotgun class here), John Johnston (Ballistic Radio), Annette Evans (Beauty Behind the Blast), and Jeff Bloovman (Armed Dynamics and Practically Tactical), among others. Never did I read a negative word.
I brought the same shotguns I have brought to the last two shotgun classes I attended, which consisted of both of my Mossberg 590A1 shotguns. The older one has an 18.5 inch barrel, a two-shot magazine extension and high visibility follower from S&J Hardware, a short length-of-pull Hogue stock, and Velcro side-saddle (recently updated this to the excellent Vang Comp model). This would serve only as a backup, and saw no action during this class. My primary shotgun for this course would again be my factory short-barreled 590A1. This has the same high visibility follower, Velcro side-saddle, and Hogue stock as its larger cousin, and both models are equipped with factory ghost ring sights. Shotgun ammo would be a mix of Fiocchi #7.5 birdshot and some Winchester #7.5 I had left over from past classes. For buckshot I mostly used Federal Flite Control 8 Pellet 00 Buckshot (#13300), but also used some Rio Royal 9 Pellet 00 Buckshot as well. The slugs I used were all Federal TruBall 1 oz slugs.
I brought a pair of Glock 19s as well. They are both set up as per this article. I brought Federal American Eagle 124 grain FMJ ammunition for use in the handguns. I used my standard concealment gear for the Glock. Many others did the same, despite the course description above. As every student was a known quantity to either Ashton or Tim (or both), they seemed confident there would be no issues with this.
I should note that the shotguns used by other students included several Beretta 1301s, Remington 870s, one Mossberg 590A1, and one classic Winchester Model 12 made a brief appearance. Several students utilized red dot optics on their shotguns.
The course was held at the Castle Pistol Club just east of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The range could be described as Spartan, but it was fine for our purposes. The range itself was grass, but key for us was that there was a sizeable pavilion there, necessary for getting out of whatever elements mother nature might throw at us.
While it was nice to get out of the 95 degrees with high humidity that I was enduring at home for most of the two weeks prior to class, we unfortunately faced a lot of rain. Significant rain fell beginning about half-way through the AM session of Day One, and continued on and off for the rest of the day. Day Two was better, with just a few brief cloudbursts with the sun even making an occasional appearance. High temperatures were probably only around 80 degrees.
Civilian Gunfighter co-founder John took the course with me (he will be writing his own AAR of the course which I will link here once it goes live). There were only six other students in the class. I recognized at least two from prior courses I had taken with other instructors (the pool of people out there training regularly is quite shallow, unfortunately). We had several combat veterans in the class and one police officer from a major east coast city in the class.
Instructors were Ashton Ray and Tim Chandler (I would regard them as co-instructors, as neither seemed to be the “lead” instructor in the classic sense). In addition, acting as an assistant instructor was a “Joe Cool” character named Chris, combat veteran from an elite U.S. Army unit. While he admitted to being no expert with a shotgun, his insights and additions when it came to things like moving while shooting and mindset were very helpful. Also present was another gentleman, Bob, who is an accomplished competitive shooter and friend of Ashton and Tim. He acted primarily as an extra set of eyes and a “minion”, doing some of the grunt work for Ashton and Tim (putting up targets, etc.).
Day one began at 0800 under the pavilion on the range. We began with introductions of ourselves covering name, profession, prior coursework, and, different than any other course I have ever taken, we were asked what else we enjoy doing. The purpose for this was so that the instructors might be able to utilize language from that other interest area to explain things related to this class. I thought that was a great idea.
We spent most of the rest of that first hour going through one of the most comprehensive safety and medical briefs I have ever witnessed. Ashton and Tim’s favorite expression, that we always handle firearms with attention and intention, were covered in depth. With shotguns, at the proximity we would find ourselves with other students, even birdshot would prove devastating. Mistakes would not be acceptable or tolerated.
After the safety and medical brief, Ashton and Tim covered standard ready positions, primarily the low and high ready and when each might be best (imagine not just sticking to one ALL the time!). We also got to “arm” ourselves with a toy shotgun (yes, they use a toy in lieu of a blue gun, which is considerably cheaper and makes a really cool “KaBoom” sound!) and practice maneuvering through the pavilion among the instructors and students. We would be moving the muzzle up, down, or around in order to get some dry practice in how to walk through a crowded area and adjust our ready position accordingly. I got the impression that this was a relatively spur-of-the-moment exercise, but whether it was spontaneous or not is immaterial: it got our heads in the game early.
I am going to note here that I did not keep track of every drill we did nor the order in which we did them. Frankly, it should not matter very much to the reader, as “Shotgun 360” is a class that looks very different from year to year. I will mention that, due to the rain on day one, we ONLY shot steel targets that day.
Pretty much the entire morning of Day One was a revisit of the core elements of the “Shotgun Skills” class I took last year. This means we began with careful explanation and demonstration of the push-pull recoil mitigation technique. This must be taught first so that the students do not get beat up. If the students get beat up, they will not get as much out of the class, as they will be focused on their own misery rather than learning new skills. I will note here that, from the get-go, with two lead instructors and only eight students in the class, there was a TON of individual coaching taking place. And with multiple instructors, one instructor might notice one thing that needs adjusting (e.g., Ashton had to correct my stance a bit) while another might notice something else (e.g. Tim catching that I was tightening up and doing the “push” part of push-pull too early). In thinking through the over 600 hours of coursework I have gone through over the last 7+ years, I don’t think any class I have taken offered this much individual coaching. Note: I asked Tim what the maximum number of students is for this class, and he said they consider it full at ten students. Such is their stress on that coaching.
After practicing the push-pull live, we went through a block of instruction on the their preferred reloading techniques. Though taught them before, I had gotten lazy in some of my own practice. Also, the Velcro side saddle card I used to use prevented me from staging my spare shells brass down, limiting how I could load. With my new cards from Vang Comp, I can now set them up brass down, so I am going to start practicing my reloads from that direction. Dummy shells are good to have!
Another note on coaching. There were a number of occasions when I or others were performing drills where we found ourselves subconsciously “racing” each other. This is pretty common in classes. Ashton had to tell me and others, MULTIPLE times, “this is NOT a competition. This is a class. You are here to learn, not compete.” While there were some drills we performed on the clock or against each other to add some stress, these were clearly delineated and were done separate from skills acquisition. I and others needed that reset a few times, to remember why we were spending money on this class. I wish more instructors would remind their students of this.
With the different loading and reloading techniques covered and some practice with those techniques live, we got to visit an old friend: “rolling thunder”. Rolling thunder is always a fun drill and one that is covered in many shotgun courses, but of course Ashton and Tim had to have us do it “their way”, which forced us to do some extra thinking and stay on our toes. We were told repeatedly, “this is an advanced class. You guys can handle this.” I am not going to give away what made it different than most other versions, and the difference was only subtle, but it was enough to screw with us a bit!
I cannot remember where exactly lunch fit into the syllabus, but lunch, as always with Ashton and Tim, is a “working lunch”. In this case, Ashton used the time to cover firearms lubrication. Ashton just happens to be a certified lubrication specialist, so when he delivers this information, students should be much more accepting of it than from the morons at the local gun shop or show. I had heard most of this presentation when I took “Shotgun Skills”, but it was worth hearing again, as I picked up a few things I had missed before. Value added!
Back to the range, we finished with the “review material” from “Shotgun Skills”, covering target transitions and short-stocking the shotgun. Target transitions was all about moving the eyes before the firearm and, for those of us running pump-action guns, doing that work during the target transition, so that we would be ready to fire the moment the sights said so. One note: a few times, Tim caught me falling in love with my sight picture, something I sometimes catch myself doing with other platforms as well. Tim’s mantra: “Sights tell us two things: send it or fix it. If you have an adequate sight picture, SEND IT!”
Short-stocking was also covered in “Shotgun Skills”. Even though I had been able to perform that technique over a few rounds successfully in that course, I still had some trepidation about using it (I suppose the fact that the guy standing next to me in that class did not execute the technique properly and suffered a gash to his lips had something to do with it!). Ashton and Tim demonstrated two slightly different techniques for short-stocking, and I came to find that I preferred Ashton’s technique just a tad more. Oddly, despite my qualms about trying short-stocking again, this was probably the thing I did best during this entire class! I am now quite confident in my ability to deliver quality hits from the short-stock position. Thanks guys!
Ah, but my confidence was short-lived as we moved into bilateral work (weak-handed, wrong-shouldered, whatever term you prefer). I can shoot with my support-side hand pretty well with a handgun and even with a carbine, but something about doing so with a shotgun—something I had never done before—just felt hopelessly awkward. Part of it might be the fact that the strong hand needs to DO something (i.e., operate the forend), whereas it is a bit more passive on a carbine. Whatever it was, suddenly my short-barreled shotgun felt like a telephone pole in my hands. Luckily, the ubiquitous coaching was present to get me through this segment, but there is plenty for me to work on here.
During a much needed afternoon break, Tim started talking about one of the most well-known and studied shootings that involved—among other things—shotguns: the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami. Ed Mireles, the man who would ultimately be regarded as the hero of that gunfight, was grievously wounded during the fight, shot in both the head as well as in his left forearm, leaving his left arm useless. Armed with a Remington 870, he fired and ran the action one-handed, hitting the bad guys and their car with numerous loads of buckshot before ending the fight with his revolver.
Tim and Ashton studied that fight, and I know that Tim discussed the fight at length with Ed Mireles himself. One thing that occurred to Tim was how Mireles was anchored to one place in order to operate the 870. Tim and Ashton, being smart guys, started looking at how to run a shotgun one-handed (strong OR weak) while moving. After much trial and error, they came up with a system—based on some things they already teach—that could work in such a scenario. Honestly, this would get incredibly wordy if I tried to explain it, and I could never do it justice. Also, there is the element of “hey, if you want to learn how to do this, take ‘Shotgun 360’ and find out.” I will say that they have presented this material to other shotgun gurus like Rob and Matt Haught as well as combat veterans, and they universally found it groundbreaking (Chris, the assistant instructor in this class, found this segment particularly awesome!).
After Ashton and Tim demonstrated how to do this, we got to practice it in pairs with dummy rounds (one person watching/coaching while the other performed the tasks). Now, I will say that I did not find these methods particularly easy. However, as Ashton and Tim said several times, this represents true worst-case-scenario stuff. IF you can do it like this, you can certainly do it easier ways (such as by decking the shotgun or using some available piece of cover to assist). We only did this with dummy rounds, as it was all about manipulations rather than shooting, so why risk using live shells?
We finished Day One with a roundtable discussion for questions and comments, and left the range at 1700. I fired 189 rounds of birdshot on Day One.
Day Two began at 0800. Ashton led the group in a quick check to see if anyone had any questions from Day One. The weather was looking better at this point (no rain yet!), so we grabbed some birdshot and went out to the line. We began with a review of concepts and techniques from the day before, such as shoot one-reload-shoot one drills, some support-side work, etc.
We then moved to the first module of new material, shooting on the move. Ashton, Tim, and Chris took turns giving us their take on how best to accomplish shooting on the move with the shotgun. Each had subtle variations to demonstrate, as they understand that no two bodies move the same and so we might need several “solutions” to this “problem”. We then got to practice moving left and right dry in order to try to figure out what methods work best for each of us. We then loaded up and the instructors worked with the students two at a time (one student with an instructor at one end of the range, another student and instructor at the other, with the third instructor watching both pairs to make sure no one ended up in an unsafe situation). Chris worked with me and gave me some valuable tips. He ran a tight ship and when I missed with one or two shots I had to make them up. And if my shotgun was empty at that moment, I had to execute a fast load and then get my hit. Good stuff.
Now, I must be honest. While I am confident I remember the modules of instruction for the rest of class, I do not remember the full order. So if something seems illogical in how it is written here, it is probably because of my faulty memory/incomplete notes.
The weather started to cooperate enough where we finally got to put away the birdshot and steel targets and work with some buckshot on paper. We began by grabbing whatever subpar buckshot we might have and patterned it at 5 and then 15 yards. I used my Rio Royal 00 buckshot for this, and it patterned about how I would expect (fine up close, but drifting dangerously wide at 15. We also got to experiment with whatever our preferred buckshot load might be. For me, as I have used in most other classes and in my own patterning experiments, I prefer Federal Flite Control 8 pellet 00 buckshot. I found throughout the rest of the day that it was patterning a little high for me (and I recall that being a bit of an issue at my last class, so next time I hit the range I am going to spend some time getting the sights adjusted just right). Despite the POA/POI issues, which are easily fixable, my patterns were solid. Indeed, on one of my longer shots I pulled a shot a little to my right, but all 8 pellets still were in the scoring zone of the paper target. As Tim pointed out, here was a case where I made a mistake, and yet despite that mistake, because of the tight pattern of my ammunition of choice, there were no errant pellets off to hit unintended targets. As I learned in past classes with Tim and Ashton, the tighter pattern gives more room for error, which runs contrary to most peoples’ thinking when it comes to shooting shotguns (most people seem to like a greater spread to ensure a hit on the bad guy with something, forgetting that the pellets that don’t hit the bad guy will hit something/someone else, possibly with dire consequences).
We also did some work shooting slugs. Past experience has shown me that Federal Tru Ball slugs hit to similar point of aim as my preferred buckshot load, so that is what I used. We shot slugs from back around 25 yards and mine were definitely hitting pretty well. Naturally, we discussed what situations might warrant the use of a slug (basically, some variation of distance/target size and also whether or not some sort of cover might need to be penetrated). And, of course, no instruction on the use of slugs would be complete without showing us (and having us practice) the “slug changeover”. How to execute such a changeover with both pump action and semi-automatic shotguns was covered in great detail, and we got plenty of practice doing this on our own.
At some point we broke for another working lunch. This time, the discussion was more centered around mindset, with Ashton, Tim, and Chris all contributing different elements to the discussion. I found this discussion particularly engaging because the students were also able to share their own experiences (we had a number of combat veterans in the class along with several other people, such as police, who have a lot of experience dealing with violence).
It was also around this point that we were presented with an option. With time ticking down in the course, it was suggested that we drop long gun to sidearm transitions. I was cool with this, as was the class as a whole. For me, if I have a shotgun in hand, chances are I scooped it up because something was afoot. In such a scenario (perhaps in the dead of night), I probably will not have my pistol on me anyway, and I’ll have to solve whatever problem I need to solve with the shotgun and whatever ammunition is in it or on it. Plus, as was pointed out, most well-practiced concealed carriers have a (roughly) 1.5 second draw to first shot A zone hit at 7 yards, and that would be without first having to deal with the shotgun in hand. When I was timed on Day One of this class, I was able to execute an emergency reload in 1.79 seconds. So, would I rather transition to a handgun or fire another 12 gauge shell in roughly the same amount of time? You do the math on that one. I cannot imagine there is anything overly “shotgun specific” about executing a transition to a sidearm vis-à-vis a carbine, and I have plenty of practice/training doing that anyway.
The afternoon mostly consisted of challenging drills including the targeting of specific human anatomy, the shooting of moving targets, the “Shotgun 360” version of the “Shotgun Casino Drill”, and the final evaluation.
Regarding targeting, the key takeaway for me was to always remember that we are not training to shoot at two-dimensional beings, but rather trying to hit critical structures inside of three-dimensional bodies. Our point of aim must adjust depending on the angle at which our projectiles are likely to impact the person. Thus, if a person is turned at an oblique angle, we do not still shoot at the sternum, but instead at a spot closer to their armpit.
The shooting of moving targets was tough for me, and I probably performed the worst of anyone in class. We shot what the instructors call the “Crossing Dog” drill, and it was tough. A 2 liter bottle of seltzer had a line tied to the neck, stretched across the back of the range to a pin placed in the ground as a pivot point, with the rest of the line extending at a right angle and attached to Chris’s belt. On a signal from the instructor (unseen by the shooter……we did this drill one student at a time), Chris would take off running, dragging the bottle across the field of vision of the shooter at about 7 yards distance. Chris was truly sprinting, so the effect was the 2 liter bottle represented the vital zone on a person moving as fast as a fast human can move. We had only a narrow window through which to shoot, so that those of use using pump guns could only really get off two shots.
I struggled a bit due to my shots hitting high vis-à-vis my sights (as mentioned previously) and because I just kinda sucked. I think I finally hit the bottle on my fifth try (ninth round total). Some students hit the bottle on their first or second shot (kudos to John! He hit with his second shot!), while others had to go up, like me, more than one time. We were instructed to use our best patterning buckshot for this exercise, and the point was to show that you do not need a wide spread to hit a moving target. Obviously, I had some issues here, but my shots were always quite close to the bottle, and on a real human would have certainly hit meat, just not the small vital zones. Work to do.
The Casino Drill, when shot with handguns, is a drill with which I am intimately familiar, and I have written about it before in numerous “random day at the range” and Rangemaster class review articles. DT2A target, three magazines loaded with 7 rounds each, shot from 5 yards. Shoot the #1 with one round, #2 with 2 rounds, etc., reloading when you need must. The shotgun version we would shoot would be shot entirely with slugs from either 5 or 7 yards. The differences were: chamber empty, magazine tube loaded with 5 slugs, spare slugs wherever you normally keep them. On the buzzer, we would have to shoot odd numbers with one slug and even numbers with two, reloading whenever we would like. One second penalty for each miss, lowest total time wins. I missed my first shot, costing me one second, and lost track of when I would be empty and so wasted time clicking on an empty chamber. I finished firing my 9 total slugs in a middle-of-the-pack 27.89 (I think I remember that right…..might have been 29.79). The winner (who got a very nice prize!) of the drill completed it in a blazing 17 or 18 seconds, so I was not even close. Tough drill!
The final exercise was the “Shotgun 360” evaluation. This included almost everything covered throughout the day. This meant shooting a photorealistic target with invisible scoring rings at distances from 25 yards (slug changeovers!) to headshots at 5 yards with buckshot. I had a little trouble following directions during this course of fire (guess it was good we stopped right after this, as my head just wasn’t quite in the game anymore!), but despite my errors I still kept everything on target.
With the shooting complete, we had a nice roundtable about takeaways from the class, and I am happy to share them here. First, push-pull is critical, and there’s a reason why it is the first live-fire thing that is taught in Tim and Ashton’s classes. Without push-pull (speaking from experience here!), the student gets beat up. A beat up student will not learn as well, will not be able to get in the repetitions, and is less likely to practice on his or her own. It is truly absolutely critical to get this skill down early. Second, the level of individual attention I (and every student) received in this class was considerable, and perhaps more than I have ever received in any two-day class (on any topic) before. Someone was always watching, tweaking, correcting, etc. Third, I had some trepidation about short-stocking coming into this class, but left quite confident in my capabilities in this area.
I fired 44 rounds of birdshot on Day Two along with 25 cheap buckshot, 30 Federal Flite Control 00 buck, and 19 slugs. Total round count for the class for me was 333 (my round count was significantly “off” compared with John’s and not totally attributable to my poor performance on the moving targets. So I think I might have started with a less-than-full box of the Rio buckshot and just not realized/remembered that. Thus, my round count might be off by about 10 buckshot shells).
Anyone reading this review who compares it to the syllabus posted at the top will see that we covered some things in class that were not on the syllabus and also did not cover some things that were listed. Some of this was weather-related, some of it was time constraints, and some of it is that every “Shotgun 360” class is different. This is only the third time Ashton and Tim have taught this course, and while there are core elements they like to cover, there is also a little bit of go-with-the-flow with the class as well.
I cannot say enough good things about Ashton and Tim. They are excellent teachers in terms of the planning of the material, excellent presenters of the material, and excellent coaches one-on-one. The amount of thought and preparation that went into everything was abundantly clear throughout. And it goes without saying that they are masters of “the gauge”.
One final thing: it is also quite clear, at least to me, how sincere these guys are. They do not claim to be experienced snake-eating man-killers. But they can make anyone much more capable. Indeed, Tim told me afterwards, and I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this, that “you’re at a level of skill with the defensive shotgun very few people have ever really bothered to achieve. A little consistent practice will cement that. At this point, you can do anything it is reasonably possible to do with a defensive shotgun.” And almost all of that I owe to Ashton and Tim.
Ten students is the maximum allowed in this class. Ashton and Tim like to keep the class size small in order to allow for that tremendous amount of individual coaching. Plus, with so many drills done solo, there would be too much standing around for everyone else. This is an advanced or even “master” level shotgun course. If you are ready–and considering they only, at this point, teach one of these courses per year–I would advise you to sign up sooner rather than later for the next one.
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.
Disclaimer: I received no compensation for the course or for the writing of this review from the instructors or their companies. I paid all tuition and fees, for my own equipment, my ammunition, and all travel expenses myself. I write this merely as full-price-paying, satisfied customer.