“Don’t get stuck on stupid!”
– General Russel L. Honoré to a reporter after Hurricane Katrina.
As shooters we do indeed tend to get “stuck on stupid” sometimes. Case in point, the continued dominance of the pump action tactical shotgun.
We left the revolver behind decades ago and in modern times semi-auto handguns predominate with LE, military and serious civilians. The bolt action battle rifle is so WW I. Again, semi-auto rifles are the overwhelmingly top choice for anybody expecting trouble. But when it comes to our shotguns, we remain stuck on stupid while we stubbornly cling to 19th century technology in our fighting guns of choice.Why?
Because the bad guy will hear you rack the action and it will scare him so much he will wet his pants, curl into the fetal position and placidly suck his thumb while he waits for the police to rescue him from the badass homeowner? Did you ever consider that maybe you are watching too much television?
Sure, the good guy in every show will rack his pump in every scene, just to make that cool noise. But do you seriously think it’s effective? Or intelligent for that matter? It’s a myth perpetuated by Hollywood and lazy gun guys who keep repeating it without actually thinking it through.
First off, this guy has entered an occupied dwelling in the night and has advanced, looking for prey. Do you really think he will give up because he hears a shotgun pumping? This is not some wimpy NPR commentator you are dealing with; it’s probably a hardened, dangerous and aggressive criminal. One who is probably also armed. I don’t want to give away my position by “racking” my pump.
The best way to survive this thing is to use stealth and surprise. Don’t rack the action, yell out, “I have a gun” or even think about a warning shot. The first time he realizes you are there, your gun should be pointed at his center of mass and your finger should be on the trigger.
Racking the shotgun gives them an audible target location and just might invite a swarm of hot, angry bullets to a party at your place. Racking a pump shotgun alerts the bad guys that you are armed, which I suspect might make them more cautious and faster on the trigger when you encounter them. It also tells me that you didn’t have a round in the chamber before your problems started. Bad tactics all the way around.
Forget the “sound” of the pump shotgun as a tactic. That’s stuck on stupid.
Reliability? That’s the same argument that the wheel gun guys used against semi-auto handguns back in the day. They actually had a point for a while. But that changed when technology improved the guns, and at least the handgun guys were smart enough to recognize the change and move on the more effective choices.
When I started shooting Bulls-Eye with handguns competitively back in the Pleistocene Epoch I watched with horror as Gold Cup after Gold Cup jammed on the shooting line. I was well aware of the fact that there are no alibi runs in real life and it turned me off to semi-auto pistols for decades.
But technology progressed. Today’s semi-auto handguns became incredibly reliable. There is not one bit of doubt in most modern shooter’s minds that a semi-auto handgun in the hands of a competent operator is superior in every way to the revolver.
It’s the same with the semi-auto shotgun. Technology has moved way past the old “Jam-O-Matics” of your daddy’s era. We now have options on the operating systems that are far superior to the stoppage-prone early semi-auto shotguns.
Just as with the handguns and rifles, a modern semi-auto tactical shotgun is extremely reliable. In some circumstances, they are more reliable than a pump action shotgun which relies on human interaction to cycle the action.
Of course, not every semi-auto on the market is reliable, some suck. But the same might be said about rifles and handguns as well. For example, my son in law bought a new carry pistol from a well-known company a few years ago. Despite our best efforts, it simply would not run. So he sold it and bought a GLOCK, which runs 100%.
It’s the same with semi-auto shotguns; some work, some don’t. One good clue is to look at the guns being used in 3-gun competition. If a shotgun stands up to serious 3-gun competition, you can be sure it’s tough enough for defensive use too. No sport in the history of the world stresses a shotgun more and those with inferior capabilities are very quickly left behind, shattered, broken and sobbing with shame along the muddy road of progress.
I shoot a Benelli M2 for 3-gun competition. In the past four years, with practice and matches, I would guess conservatively that I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 payloads down the barrel of one of my guns. It’s digested birdshot, buckshot and slugs and never had a single jam with factory loaded ammo.
Just as with handguns, the technology has improved the reliability to the point where it should no longer be an issue.
More recently, the Remington Versamax Tactical Shotgun has impressed me a great deal. This shotgun uses a unique operating system that is self-regulating and just about foolproof. It’s gaining a lot of popularity with 3-gun shooters and is one of the new breed of semi-auto shotguns that make sense for a fighting gun.
On the other hand, pumps are operator dependent. Time and time again I have witnessed shooters, particularly shooters under stress, short stroke a pump action shotgun. I have done it myself and I love pump shotguns and shoot them often. (I never said they were a bad idea, just that there are better options.)
The human is the weak link, a pump action shotgun is operator dependent and when things are happening fast it’s very common for a shooter to short stroke the gun and jam it up, but a semi-auto is not dependent on the operator working the action correctly and so are not as subject to stress induced operator errors.
Speed? Semi-autos again have the advantage here. Many of the big 3-gun and tactical shotgun matches will run a side match where everybody competes head to head and winner takes all. Usually the side match uses multiple targets which are all shot from one position. Nobody has to run or jump or reload the shotgun on the clock. So, it’s not about physical fitness or hand coordination, it comes down to shotgun speed only. The fastest gun to shoot all the targets wins the match and the semi-autos always win. Pumps can come close, but they don’t win.
Price? Well I concede that the pump action will win that one. You can pick up a Remington 870 on sale at one of the “marts” for a few hundred bucks. Add an extended magazine and you are in business for a fraction of the price of a good semi-auto, even before you accessorize it. But, I would refer back to my days racing motorcycles and the catch phrase we had regarding helmets. (Remember, it was many inflation-filled years ago.)
“If you have a ten dollar head, then buy a ten dollar helmet.”
The implied message was that if you value your head and its contents; you must buy the best helmet you can find. I would offer that the same applies to fighting shotguns. If you value your life and there is even the slightest chance that you will need to protect it with a shotgun, doesn’t it make sense to buy the best fighting shotgun you can find, regardless of the price?
Trust me, once you perform an intelligent analysis of all the variables, that gun will be a semi-auto.
A Book Every Gun Guy Should Read
Guns Across the Border
The Inside Story. How and Why the U.S. Government Smuggled Guns into Mexico.
By: Mike Detty
It’s looking more and more like we will never learn the truth about the Fast and Furious gun running operation conducted by the government. The sad truth is that those in power are doing all they can to make sure the people responsible stay hidden and never answer for their crimes.
Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed with one of those guns, but our government has decided he is an acceptable loss on the path to their goal of disarming the American people.
When this topic is discussed, those arguing for the liberal point of view will always point out that “it started under Bush.” (Of course, everything has always been Bush’s fault. Now, five years into the Obama administration, that argument is getting stale.)
If you want to learn about operation “Wide Receiver” which is what happened under Bush’s watch, check out this book. It details the entire thing from the gun dealer who was working with the ATF on the program.
Mike Detty is a gun writer and a gun dealer. I know him, have squadded with him at 3-gun matches and can tell you he is a good guy. He wanted to do the right thing, he put his ass on the line to help our government and they betrayed him in the end.
I know Mike is a good writer, but to be honest I approached this book like most books of this type. I wanted to learn so I planned to read it, but I expected it to be dry and a challenge to finish. That didn’t happen. I started this book while on the plane headed home from SHOT show and did not put it down until I read it cover to cover. The flight was a nightmare, with delays and missed connections, so it took a long time to make it home. But it passed quickly, as I had my nose in this book the entire time. I actually finished the last chapter sitting in my truck in the airport parking garage!