Tactical Shotguns on the Sod

by LF (5/98)

I just finished Louis Awerbuck's Tactical Shotgun course on Monday. I used my Beretta 1201FP, a recoil-operated semi-auto, and fired over three hundred rounds of heavy birdshot, buck, and slugs in three days. Several friends chuckled ominously or rolled their eyes when I mentioned this beforehand, but now I'm wondering what all the bad hoodoo was about. Sure the Beretta kicks a bit harder than a gas gun firing the same loads, but I made it through without even the hint of a bruise despite the fact that my weapon sported a solid recoil pad and I wore a T-shirt 90% of the time. I guess they just don't know how to mount their shoulder arms properly. The wusses.

Here's some of the stuff I picked up:


Fancy-schmancy sling attachment systems won't win you many points. As a matter of fact, two guys using tricked-out slings on their Remington 870 pumps experienced stoppages. The first had a big plastic doo-dad get caught once or twice between the fore end and the front barrel attachment point, which caused failures to go fully into battery. The second got web material caught at the same point more than once. These sorts of things are precisely why it pays to have an experienced observer at your side, because both operators assumed that they had caused the malfunction and almost immediately began to re-rack the fore end, which would have allowed the sling to drop free and thus escape blame unnoticed.

Another fella had an aftermarket copy of the HK tactical sling on his Benelli, and it also proved problematic. Seems that the clone manufacurers, for reasons involving either pride or patent, can't bring themselves to simply do a straight knock-off and instead insist on adding all sorts of bells and whistles to what appears to be a pretty slick setup -- to transition to your handgun, all you need to do is "drop" your primary piece. Personally, I think these rigs are best suited to subguns and other short entry-type weapons. On a full-length riot gun, this suspension method surely looks like a great way to trip yourself up, as the muzzle ends up right below and right between your knees.

Louie's preferred way of rapidly ditching the shotgun favors the traditional sling setup. The two guys with rear swivels mounted on the bottom of their standard stocks' pistol grips enjoyed some embarassing moments with this drill. Awerbuck sez that he is still waiting to hear one good reason for going to this arrangement on any long gun that does not have a folding stock.

Oh yeah, it definitely pays to check your sling and swivels regularly if you intend on employing them vigorously. We were warned about this again and again, and sure enough on the second day a dude flopped his gun onto his shoulder only to have it pop loose and dig muzzle-first into the wet soil. The swivel hadn't torn out of the wood or anything dramatic like that. The unchecked buckle had just worked it's way down the strap over time.


We had our night shooting drills on the second day. As darkness approached, I caught on to something new. About half of the guys with mounted lights were inadvertently tapping their pressure switches almost every time they grabbed or slung their guns. It'd undoubtedly been going on all along, I just hadn't noticed in the daylight. I'd actually managed to think of that beforehand, and placed my velcro-attached switch just beyond where I normally grasp the standard fore end.

I've bitched about the standard Sure-Fire replacement fore end elsewhere, so I'll just provide a summary of my findings here: It's heavy, expensive, and the Beretta model (#606) is a half-assed kluge that does not even take the placement of the front sling swivel into consideration. Just as annoying is the fact that the bottom-side hump into which the light is screwed wallops my support hand on firing if I'm not careful. The components for a much better alternative are now available.

I shot the course with an accessorized Sure-Fire 3P, their new little three volt pocket-sized unit which is almost as powerful as a three D-cell Mag-Lite. I added a spring-loaded shock-isolated bezel (#Z32), a pressure-switch end cap with an eight-inch tail (#S08), and hose-clamped the whole assembly to the Beretta's barrel via their Large Barrel Mount (#M13). Be sure to crank the clamps down tight, or the mount will creep under recoil. This bundle shifted the point of impact of my gun about three inches at 25 yards, by the way. The total damage is about fifty bucks cheaper than their one-piece, and it's much lighter, which allowed me to again use a TacStar Benelli Super 90 sidesaddle shell holder without harming the gun's functioning. An added benefit of this package is that, if arranged properly, it will perfectly illuminate the brass bead in the front sight.

Awerbuck is a proponent of on/off remote switches for mounted lights, and I can see why. His primary argument is based on the most obvious home-defense situation -- you hear a bump in the middle of the night and grab your shotgun just in time to illuminate a bad guy who's doing something impolite, and tell him to freeze. What next? If you take your primary hand out of position to pick up the phone or turn on a lamp, you won't be ready to shoot in case Mr. Creep decides to jump you. If you use your weak hand, your gun's light will go off. An on/off switch will free up your support hand without escalating the danger of another go-around, which might not turn out so well.

Buckshot Patterning

My friend Mike took the course a few years back, and reported that a good chunk of time was spent mixing and matching buckshot brands to the individual guns, as tight patterning was critical for later drills. Surprisingly, all seven students in my class turned out to be shooting well with the loads they brought along, so we soon moved on. I'd guess that the popular gun press is doing its job, because almost everyone was firing the Federal "Tactical" (#H13200) reduced-recoil copper-plated 00-buck, with which I've always had good results.

Louis mentioned more than once that he has found that Federal will occasionally sneak rounds labeled "Low Recoil" on the hulls into the H13200 boxes, which for whatever reason do not pattern as well as those marked "Tactical" (it could be something real simple, like a different wad setup). He has also not been impressed with the Remington Reduced-Recoil 00 load's performance. As for Winchester, well, the man is just not a big fan of Winchester's quality control, citing several personal horror stories.


The TacStar sidesaddle shell holder turned out to be an extremely useful bit of kit. Awerbuck put us through several drills where we needed to transition from either birdshot or buck to slugs in a hurry, and it was important to know what was stored where for safety reasons -- you do not want to nail a steel plate that's only eight feet away with a slug, for example. Amazingly only a few guys thought to bring pouches. The rest ended up stuffing shells in any available pocket. This worked well enough when we were shooting only one type of ammo, but then Louis started having us load the magazine to match the target sequence we were given (e.g., shooting steel/paper/paper/steel required that I stick a round of birdshot in the chamber and then load birdshot/slug/slug into the mag, because the first thing placed in the tube will be fed last).

[Critical Tip: Sidesaddles meant for guns with aluminum receivers come with a lock nut, which must be used. The proper way to mount 'em is to remove the shell loop section, merely snug-up the main screw, crank down the lock nut, and replace the loops. DO NOT overtorque the main screw! This will cause the steel bolt carrier to gouge the heck out of the receiver, and might well inhibit proper functioning. Be sure that the carrier moves perfectly freely before firing.]

We ended up with two guys drilling steel targets with slugs at close range. The first "oops" happened because the student screwed up his loading sequence. The second event took place during a later drill, and was due to the vest-wearing operator constantly switching what load was in which pocket -- he ended up leaving a slug in the wrong place. The subsequent ribbing lasted until the course ended. In the latter case the problem could probably have been avoided if he'd thought to color-code his ammo. His bird, buck, and slugs all had red hulls, which made it tougher to rapidly ascertain which was which.

Most of the guys had sidesaddles attached, and several were varying their ammo load depending on the drill (two slugs and four birdshot, etc.). Now I see this all the time in gun magazines, but it sure seems like a bad idea to me. At night you'd have to confirm what load's what by feel, and even that option would be out if you were wearing gloves. Don't send me nasty e-mail saying that if you always train with three slugs up front and three buckshot at the rear that you won't have any problems or any such horseshit. Try keeping up a steady stream of fire while scrambling from position to position when some guy is grabbing you and shouting in your ear, and see how long it takes you to pop the wrong thing into the chamber by mistake. Personally, I'm going to stick with always having slugs in the receiver-mounted holder.


I had a total of three failures. The first happened when Louis called me up front to demonstrate how hard it was to shoot from the hip. I think I disappointed him by making the hits, but since I was shooting birdshot and did not place the gun in a Vulcan death grip, I short-cycled and had to run the bolt by hand. The second was also an operator error, when I used my right-hand thumb to jack back the action to roll a slug into the chamber with my left hand. On the Beretta, the cocking handle is fairly small, cylindrical, and turns freely, and my thumb simply slipped off it. Awerbuck recommended that I begin crooking my trigger finger around the knob in order to get a more secure grip on it, and the problem did not resurface.

The only true mechanical failure that I had occurred with a slug. It was the weirdest damned thing -- it hung up just shy of going into the chamber. A light tap on the back of the cocking handle was enough to complete the cycle. I'd peeked into the action to identify the problem, and caught that there was a dark purplish Federal shell on the lifter, not a red Winchester. I had stocked up on Winchester slugs especially for the class, so now I'm guessing that what might have happened is that I had picked the slug up off the ground during one of our breaks while scouring for empties (buck and slug hulls bring pretty good prices) and had boneheadedly gotten it mixed in with my stuff. It could very well be that it was stomped-on once or twice, which munged-up the mouth of the case. Or maybe not.

Final Bits

Up the spout