Friday, April 10, 2009

A follow-up post about shotguns and idiot instructors

Yesterday's article about shotguns, ladies, and idiots who don't teach the latter to use the former properly, attracted a number of e-mails (most from ladies agreeing fervently with me!) A number of questions were asked, which I'll try to address here.

First, some asked where they could get basic training if they didn't know a shooter like myself. I addressed this in Part 3 of my series on 'Firearms For Home Defense" (see the list of posts on firearms and self-defense in the sidebar). Local ranges should offer an NRA course in shotguns, or the equivalent: or, if they don't, they (or your local gunshop) should be able to tell you where they're offered. You can check online with the NRA to see where their courses are available. Also, check out the video and DVD resources available. If all else fails, e-mail me (my address is in my profile) and I'll be happy to guide you.

Second, some said that in the present economic climate, they simply couldn't afford to spend a lot of money on a weapon, and asked what solution I could offer for low-income families or individuals. Well, a shotgun isn't all that expensive: my most-often-recommended weapon, a Mossberg 500 Bantam (a youth model), catalog #54132 (see Part 1 of 'Firearms For Home Defense' in the sidebar), currently lists for under $250 at a nearby Academy Sports. That particular model isn't shown in their online catalog, but Academy lists the Mossberg Maverick in 12ga. or 20ga. with a full-length barrel for only $169! That's pretty hard to beat, although the long barrel isn't ideal for home defense - a shorter one is much more useful.

Another option is to buy a used weapon, although given the very low prices for brand-new ones mentioned above, you won't save all that much. Here's an example that I'm currently preparing for one of the disabled students I teach. She doesn't have much money at all, so I kept my eyes open for a real bargain for her. I found this beat-up old Mossberg 500 in 20-gauge at a local pawn shop. The previous owner had spray-painted a truly ghastly 'camouflage' pattern of his own invention on it - so ghastly that it had sat on the shelf for over six months, with everyone refusing to buy it! I wasn't worried about cosmetics, only functionality, and it proved to be perfectly sound mechanically. I offered the pawnshop a straight $100, including tax, to take it off their hands. They took it.

I had its 26" barrel chopped back to 18½" by a local gunsmith, who charged me only $30 to do that and put a new bead on the shortened barrel (he helps out my disabled clients by charging rock-bottom prices). Next step will be to shorten the stock. I usually specify a length-of-pull (the distance between the center of the trigger and the center of the rear of the stock, including the width of the recoil pad) of not more than 13" (sometimes even less for very small-statured shooters), whereas most factory stocks are 13¾" to 14½". I know a man with a band-saw that can cut it cleanly. He'll cut it to 12¼", and I'll add a slip-on recoil pad from Pachmayr (shown below) to cushion the recoil and take its total length out to about 13". Such a pad will cost less than $10 from an online retailer like Cheaper Than Dirt.

Total investment will thus be about $145, by the time postage on the recoil pad is included. This is very low-cost, but it's only $50 or so less than the price of a brand-new Mossberg Maverick (including sales tax, of course), which would in turn cost a total of about $240 after performing the same modifications. She's thus saved a total of just under $100 by getting a used gun like this. She'll have to live with the ghastly home-brewed camouflage paint, unless she gets a can of flat black spray paint and covers it: but that won't be expensive, and is easy enough to do.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that in the USA, according to Federal law, a shotgun barrel may not be shorter than 18", or the overall length of the shotgun less than 26". Breach these limits and you'll incur very substantial legal penalties, including probable jail time, which may mean the permanent loss of your right to keep and bear arms. One needs to register the weapon to make it shorter than these limits, and pay the relevant tax. Fail to do that, or fail to measure your trimming correctly, and you can land up in very hot water indeed!)

If you shop around, you should find it perfectly possible to get a serviceable used shotgun, suitably modified for home defense, for $150 to $200 in total. I don't think that's unaffordable for most people. After all, what's your life worth? What about the lives of your family? It's a small investment that one hopes one will never have to use - but if ever you need it, you're going to need it right now. Spend the money for greater peace of mind!

As for ammunition, a small stock of buckshot and slugs (say, four 5-round boxes of each) will cost you less than $50 from Wal-Mart or another major outlet. A box of 100 rounds of low-power birdshot for practice will cost about $20-$30 from the same store. Let's say that for less than $100 you can buy enough ammo to become familiar with your shotgun, and have a stock of suitable defensive loads in case of need. (If local stores don't stock what you need, check out online retailers like - in alphabetical order - Ammoman, Cabela's, Cheaper Than Dirt, Midway USA, Natchez Shooters Supplies, Sportsmans Guide, and many others like them. I've used all of those I named, and found them reliable.)

So, including ammo, your total costs go up to $250-$300 - still pretty much of a bargain. You can add some form of secure storage (see my articles on that in the sidebar), or lock the gun in an existing cupboard or closet - very important if you have kids in the house! Just make sure you can get to it in a hurry if you need to.

Finally, please remember that it's not good enough to buy the gun, but never practice with it. You need initial training, and then you need ongoing, regular practice. This doesn't have to be ultra-intensive. My standard minimum recommendation to most of my students (many of whom are disabled, and on welfare or Social Security income, and who can't afford lots of ammo or range trips) is to put a box of 25 rounds of birdshot through the gun at least once per quarter.

Also, shoot at targets over ranges representative of what you'll encounter in your home. If the longest range in your house (say, from your bedroom door to the front door) is only 10 yards, why bother shooting at 25 yards? If your practice time and budget are limited, use them to practice over the ranges at which you'll shoot in real life. If you have additional time (and money for ammo) to spare, by all means practice at longer ranges as well. Remember that in a cylinder-bore (i.e. unchoked) shotgun, buckshot will spread about 1" in pattern for every yard of range, so that at 10 yards, the pattern will be about 10" across. You still need to aim accurately to hit your target. Hollywood hype about the spread of the shot making it unnecessary to aim is precisely that - hype. Real life doesn't work that way. You need to practice regularly, to make sure you can center your shot pattern where it'll do the most good.

Another option is to buy a second, longer barrel for your shotgun (they can be had for surprisingly low cost if bought used from a gunshop, or from third-party suppliers such as Numrich Gun Parts Corporation). This may have removable chokes, or a fixed choke, or an adjustable choke. With it mounted to your shotgun, you're all set to take part in clay-pigeon sports such as skeet, trap or sporting clays, or even go hunting for birds and small game. All trigger time helps to make you familiar with your weapon, and understand its use under a wide variety of circumstances, ranges and targets. Even a short, cylinder-bore barrel can be used, if you can't afford a second one: however, your shot pattern will spread more rapidly than in a choked barrel, and you won't hit as many targets. I don't care - I want the practice anyway! You'll have to decide on this based on your own financial position.

I hope yesterday's article, and these thoughts, have helped you. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions. I can't promise to respond immediately, but I'll do my best.


(Edited to add: I'm obliged to reader Peter G. of Florida, who e-mailed me, suggesting the inclusion of links to the NRA's Web site [for training courses] and online ammo retailers, and the warning about shotgun barrel and overall length. Good points, Peter, and thank you!)


tooldieguy said...

Good pair of articles Peter. All too often women end up with incompetant instructors because their husbands/boyfriends talk smack but know nothing. I have seen similar situations often with handguns as well. Husband/boyfriend hands "little lady" his magnum revolver or .45 auto that he can't hit the broad side of a barn with and giggles when it hurts her. I guess it makes these morons feel all manly or something.
The other thing that I was glad to see you address was fit. Shotgun stocks generally are too long for anyone but trap shooters. Youth models are often available in the used rack and are a good option if you find one.

Jerry said...

I was married in June of 1978, and sometime around the end of July, I pulled my shotgun out of its case to clean it and check it out for the West Texas dove season (Sep 1). My lovely bride asked me what I was doing, and when I told her she said "You aren't going without me, are you?".

This led to a trip to the local toy store and the purchase of a Remington 870 in 20 ga. After a couple of trips to the range shooting clay birds she was ready for the season.

I got 2 birds on opening day, and she shot her limit. I still haven't lived it down after all these years, which makes me wonder why i am still amrried to her!

Peter said...

What's your opinion on the 11-87 Youth (20ga, 21" barrel, 13" LOP) for a small person's home defense shotgun? I know you said you prefer the simplicity of the pump, but I've read a lot about the tendency to short-stroke a pump under stress, and was wondering how you see that tradeoff.

Peter said...

Peter, I have several problems with trusting a semi-auto for defensive use.

1. They usually can't handle lower-power ammo, which is the cheapest, and is usually what people practice with. This means that those who use them often forgo frequent practice - and that can get you killed. Provided the owner is willing to invest in the higher-power birdshot necessary for practice, this won't be a problem.

2. They can be affected by any anomaly in ammo. A swollen case, a bulging primer, etc. can disable them, and clearing them and loading another round is time-consuming. A pump can normally whack the defective round out without a problem, and feed another one quickly. Also, semi-auto shotguns typically are finicky things, needing to be cleaned and oiled regularly. Failure to do this might cause malfunctions. A pump, on the other hand, can operate when dirty and bone-dry if necessary.

3. The 11/87 in particular has had reliability issues. Not all of them are a problem, but I've heard too many reports of it for my peace of mind. I actually prefer the older Remington 1100 LT-20 as a defensive semi-auto, as it's proved supremely reliable over the years.

4. Remember that if you shorten the barrel of a semi-auto for defensive use, you may have to modify the gas port in the barrel to enable it to function reliably. The gas ports are sized for the original length of that particular barrel (usually 26" or 28"). Knock that down to 18-20" and you may have to enlarge the gas port. This is a gunsmith's job, and very few gunsmiths do that sort of work on a routine basis. Of course, given that the 11/87 Youth model has a 21" barrel already, it's probably not worth shortening it.

5. Short-stroking a pump is something that can be trained around. I teach shooters to really slam the slide back and forward, not just pussy-foot with it. It won't hurt the gun, and once it's an instinctive action, the danger of short-stroking is much less.

All that said, if you already have an 11/87 Youth model, it looks as if it'll do. I'd want to test it thoroughly, keep it clean and oiled, and use quality ammo. Given those requirements, it should do.