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SHOTGUN VS RIFLE

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This article was written by Greg Nichols, an esteemed member of our staff

The Shotgun or the Rifle

As we start 2017, SI is taking a new look at an old LEO standby, the shotgun. It goes by many names, the shotty, bitch, gauge, room broom, boom stick, among others. So as the title suggests, why would I choose one over a rifle? What are it’s envelopes where it shines over other platforms? Would I select breech load, box fed, or tubular magazine?

The current fashionable trend seems to be to take the shotgun outside of it’s envelope of operation and attempt to make it operate and perform as close to a rifle as possible (using the rifleman’s perspective), or turning it into an AOE (area of effect ) weapon for people (the wing/clay shooter’s perspective). In my opinion I see both of these view points as a bastardization of what a real fighting shotgun is purpose built for.

It's all about efficiency here gang, when it comes to the semi/pump argument there really isn't a huge gap in performance due to recoil recovery. There is a mild technique for working a pump action by using the recoil, or riding the recoil, to make it faster. I specifically didn't discuss actions but if you use the same thought process, I want a modern action. When I choose a fighting rifle/pistol there are criteria that need to be met the same goes for the shotgun. Semi or pump, it's the feeding system that's important to me, as stated below, I prefer tubular magazines for the reasons also stated below. I wouldn't choose a bolt/breech/lever action on a shotgun any more than I'd choose one on a rifle.

Feed the beast
There are 3 basic feeding styles of shot gun

Breech load: This will include over/under and side by side. These are relics when it comes to a fighting shotgun. Like a lever or bolt action rifle, my opinion is that they are obsolete in modern gun fighting. Can you still fight with one? Yes if you had too, but why where there are so many better tools out there. I wouldn’t select and M1 Garand instead of an M-4 for real fighting in the same way I wouldn’t take breech load over magazine fed shotguns. The only possible advantage I can even think of is that on dual trigger models I can drop hammers on both barrels at the same time, or have a slug in one and shot in the other.

Box magazine: I’m not going to rehash Gabe’s article on this topic, so let’s leave availability of quality magazines off of the table for the this article. The upside is, it’s fast. I can completely reload the weapon in a flash. From my perspective don’t see a huge advantage here and here’s my reasoning. We’ve already established that if you are in a position that you have to make a speed reload your tactics suck and you’re doing it wrong. I will also add that you don’t understand the weapon system you’re working with, not to mention the extra room and weight proactively reloading takes up on your person.

Tube magazine: Because of my understanding of the operation of a shotgun inside a fight this is my preferred feeding system. If you understand the shotgun as a fighting system, you know she’s hungry, with a big mouth, a small belly, and short memory. Once you begin to discharge a tube fed you have to begin feeding it. It requires familiarity, practice, and understanding. No repeating shotgun is designed for a mag dump outside of an AA12. You have to constantly be working, engage, load, repeat. As this feeding system is the most prolific and in this gunfighter’s opinion, the most useful form of the shotgun as a fighting platform it is the style I will reference throughout the rest of the discussion.

What can it do?

Breaching. The shotgun is a great tool for breaching a structure, it’s man portable and serves dual duty as fighting platform as well. Can a rifle breach a door? Well sure, but it can’t do it in 3 rounds or less in under 3 seconds. When it comes to a rolling gunfight in urban environments I don’t want to hump a ram or a sledge when I can just carry a few ounces worth of shells around that accomplish the same thing with less effort. Clearly this is one area that a rifle can’t even compete with a shotgun. A more in-depth article can be found here: http://blog.suarezinternational.com/...l#.U8xeqrHis08

Transferring energy (Gabe's Battle Axe Theory). Ok, I absolutely hate the term “knock down power” I think this is as ridiculous of a statement as saying “the tolerant left”. But I do want to talk about the transfer of energy because I know that one of the biggest arguments I’m going to get from riflemen is capacity. So let’s look at from a logic standpoint.

A human body is a biomechanical machine, much like an automobile. To take someone completely out of the fight you have to attack and disable any one of 3 systems, electrical, hydraulic, or air. As we know the hydraulic and air systems take time to fail, the more holes in the system the faster the result. The electrical system (CNS) is a fight ender, so let’s think about efficiency. With one shotgun round I can deliver eight to nine .30(ish)cal projectiles to a soft body and depending on the spread of the shot and angle of attack I mess up anywhere from one to all three of the vital systems (side note, it’s a dirty wound too because pieces of the plastic shot cup will be in there). As a bonus, even with armor the shot has the possibility of spinning or knocking down your target.

(Personal Observation) When I took two rounds from an 11” 12ga, at 8’, the first round was a grazing shot to the wrist that spun me 180* and the second I took to the side split my lateral, broke 3 ribs, shredded my lung, and knocked me on the ground with a hole the size of a cantaloupe. I make mention of this because it bares mentioning that from my own experience it wasn’t a fight ender but it took me out of the fight for a second or two. Had it been any form of a repeating shotgun the third round would have been the end of that discussion.

So, the point. When speaking of close engagement with a .30 or less rifle, yes you have the capacity of 30ish rounds, but the real question is really how many bodies can you stack with that? Five? Six at most? And that’s taking you to an empty gun and only using 5 to 6 rounds a piece per adversary. What’s more efficient? Everything that makes a rifle the weapon of choice makes it less effective than the shotgun the closer you get. With a rifle I either have to load my enemy full of holes or get a good CNS hit, this is far more likely with multiple projectiles, as above, you get more chances with one pull of the shotgun's trigger than you do with one from a rifle.

Proactive loading. When compared to a box fed (either rifle or shotgun), the shotgun’s proactive reload is the least wasteful of any platform. Now it is slower, of course, to push in a few shells, however it is never wasteful. You will never download your entire tube to reload the gun, you’ll never put half a magazine of ammo into a pocket or dump pouch, you just keep feeding her constant small meals and topping off the system. You don’t have to wait for an empty gun, you don’t have to store and manage multiple partial magazines that can be heavy and take up a lot of space, you just push more food into her mouth and fill her up.

When does it shine?

CQB/OUT (Operating in Urban Terrain). We already talked about breaching so let’s look at other advantages. The shotgun is the Queen of the pistol gunfight. At close range I don’t need a perfect mount or sight picture to put lead on target (as illustrated by Gabe above), and at CQB distance, if unequipped with an RDS, I can index well enough to make devastating hits. Even if we are talking about someone leaving misusing cover, whatever they leave hanging out I can go ahead and take care of. If we look at PGO shotguns, they are extremely maneuverable inside a structure and pack devastation for people on the other end. Also as mentioned above, even if you shank a round, the odds of you taking a piece with you increases due to number of projectiles.

As I alluded to at the beginning, if I’m in an urban environment and need to either assault or displace through multiple structures I can pop doors/gates much faster than they can be kicked, demo’d, or rammed. Additionally with shot (I’m sure you’ve noticed I haven’t mentioned slugs at all yet), you have the benefit of skipping. This works as well on heavier gauge metal, concrete, blacktop, cinder block, and brick. This means that you can peel people off a sidewalk or away from walls and other cover/concealment if you know how and need to, you can also skip the shot under a pursuing vehicle’s engine compartment and into the feet/ legs of the driver’s cabin, this is an “outside the box” benefit of the lower velocity. Lower velocity and the shotgun shell’s efficiency at transferring energy is also a consideration in urban areas due to a lower likelihood of over penetration and collateral injury.

Every weapon platform is a specialty platform. For the same reasons I have 3 M-4s: 1 AR pistol with RDS (CQB/OUT), 1 16" with 1-4x variable optic (General purpose), and 1 18" with 1-6x optic (distance precision). I'm sure we can agree, that a pistol/rifle/shotgun platform each has different envelopes and in many cases can be pared to open YOUR envelope.

Inside, say, 35m or so the shotty is the queen of battle, it's far more efficient at damaging the 3 life systems but distance defines it's envelope for effectiveness, everything that makes it good up close (transferring energy and pattern spread) begins to hamper its effectiveness the further away you are from the target. The two real standouts between Rifle and Shotgun is distance and precision.

With an SI G-19 and RMR, with a shotgun, My envelope goes from zero to 100-150m without much problem. RMR with a Rifle My envelope is 0-300+, but the efficiency/effectiveness from 0-35m is less. Always keep in mind context, I know I can't do prolonged suppressive fire but that's not the shotty's mission, but dusting an enemy's general area is definitely going to keep their head down for a bit. Think about it, with the higher hit percentage of a pattern, do you really want to stick your head out for it? ya, it may not kill you but it can take you out of the fight.

Low light/No light. Due to a shotgun’s low flash signature, spread of pattern, and natural pointability, I love a shotgun in low light conditions. As I demonstrated in Sua and my Wilderness Weekend in Texas earlier last year, I used another instructor's 870 (that I’d never even handled before), with unknown ammo, and engaged five separate black steel silhouette targets with nothing but moonlight and went 5 for 5 while maintaining my night vision. This was done at about 20-25 meters, very few of our students could go 5 for 5 on the same target, aided with night vision and rifles. This also lends itself to engaging muzzle signature more effectively in a LL/NL environment

Moving targets. Again due to the pattern, multiple projectiles, and pointability a shotty’s hit percentage over that of a rifle is through the roof. This is why you don’t see wing/clay shooters using .410s or rifles for these activities. Not a whole lot I can expound on, this is pretty self-explanatory.

Ammunition selection:

For my final topic of this discussion let’s look at ammunition. When looking at rifle rounds there are selections but the basics are the same and have a window of effect on soft tissue. Now let’s think about the shotgun’s commercially available options.

Slugs. I don’t consider a slug the really be antipersonnel ammunition as much as I consider it antimaterial, and this ghost loading business is think is just a flash move to show coolness factor. In the time it takes a trained person to ghost load a slug and make a precision shot I can transition to pistol and make the same shot and be back on the boom stick. Now back to slugs, these are a great option for shooting through walls and other semipermeable cover like vehicle skins and glass. My recommendation here is that 3-5 of these be carried but not loaded when running a shotgun.

Bean bags. Not a whole lot to say about this. Considered a less than lethal alternative they can still kill and since non LEO don’t have use of force restrictions I see no real value for anyone other than LEO

Powdered lead. This is mainly used for breaching due to the reduced debris blow back from the metal of hinges and locks. Like a bean bag I’d consider it a less than lethal round but if you’re close enough it can penetrate clothing and tissue. This has a bit of the FU factor as causes a super dirty wound the doctors are going to have to spend a ton of time cleaning out (or so I’ve heard). This is a specialty tool and breaching can be done with shot as long as you don’t get too close to the door when you do (that can sting). On top of that the last time I checked they are insanely expensive, I wouldn’t recommend anyone outside a dedicated breacher to use these rounds.

Shot. By far the most common of shotgun ammunition, it is in my estimation the best for antipersonnel and offer a wide variety of options. My favorites include 00 buck, 000 buck, and a personal favorite #4 nickel plated Magnum Turkey loads. As already discussed Buck loads give 8-9 .30 cal projectiles at 12-1400 fps. I like the turkey load as more of an activity arrestor, yes it has the ability to kill, that’s for sure, but 2 oz. of 3.2mm projectiles at 1500 fps. will stop what you’re doing. More projectiles increases my hit percentage and they are still large enough to transfer a ton of energy to soft tissue, but depending on hit location and distance may not have enough mass to penetrate to the organs. I’ve also used these rounds as breaching rounds, because “F” that door and “F” anyone behind that door. I’ve mixed combinations of all 3 as a sh*tbag eliminating cocktail of sorts, which I would also count as an advantage of the platform and tubular magazine.

That concludes some broad brush strokes concerning the shotgun and it’s envelopes. I have specifically avoided addressing brands, actions, upgrades/accessories, sighting systems, and ammunition brands. These discussions can either be had or found in other articles.

Every weapon platform is a specialty platform. For the same reasons I have 3 M-4s, 1 AR pistol with RDS (CQB/OUT), 1 16" with 1-4x variable optic (General purpose), and 1 18" with 1-6x optic (distance precision). I'm sure we can agree, that a pistol/rifle/shotgun platform each has different envelopes and in many cases can be pared to open YOUR envelope.

Inside, say, 35m or so the shotty is the queen of battle, it's far more efficient at damaging the 3 life systems but distance defines it's envelope for effectiveness, everything that makes it good up close (transferring energy and pattern spread) begins to hamper its effectiveness the further away you are from the target. The two real standouts between Rifle and Shotgun is distance and precision.

With an SI G-19 and RMR, with a shotgun, My envelope goes from zero to 100-150m without much problem. RMR with a Rifle My envelope is 0-300+, but the efficiency/effectiveness from 0-35m is less. Always keep in mind context, I know I can't do prolonged suppressive fire but that's not the shotty's mission, but dusting an enemy's general area is definitely going to keep their head down for a bit. Think about it, with the higher hit percentage of a pattern, do you really want to stick your head out for it? ya, it may not kill you but it can take you out of the fight.

 

Train with Greg Nichols

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