Hold Your Shotgun Properly
Shotguns are known for having some of the hardest recoil of all firearms. Shouldering a gun properly is crucial for all long guns, but you likely want to get it right from the get-go with a shotgun
First of all, gun safety should be exercised before proper shooting techniques are even thought about. When you pick up a gun, always point it in a safe direction. This usually means down range. You want to check for yourself that it is unloaded. For a pump shotgun, simply pull the pump back and look into the chamber. On semi-automatic shotguns, pull the charging handle located on the bolt and check the chamber. You check the chamber on a break barrel shotgun by pressing the lever that “breaks” the shotgun. You should see an empty chamber. Whenever you are done shooting, make sure the firearm is unloaded before setting it down or handing it off to someone. Also, never place your finger on the trigger until you are about to shoot, even if you believe the gun is unloaded. For purely your own safety, make sure you have proper hearing protection.
The general rule when on the range is to treat firearms as if they are loaded. Be aware of your surroundings, engage in best practices, and everything should be smooth.
Don’t Hurt Yourself
The recoil on shotguns is significant, but it is manageable. If it isn’t managed correctly though, you can hurt yourself.
For a start, firmly rest the buttstock in your shoulder. The exact positioning will depend on what is comfortable to you, but in general you want it nestled in the fold where your shoulder meets
your torso. If you rest the stock on the top of your biceps, you can end up with bruised shoulders or arms. If it is not firm and stable, then the recoil will send it into your shoulder. Think of the principle like this: In boxing, MMA, and other combat sports, it is the punches you don’t see coming that rock you the most. This is because when you see a punch coming, you tense your body and brace for the shot. This allows you to absorb the impact better. When you don’t see it coming, your body is loose and is more readily knocked around which can cause unconsciousness.
It is similar here. You want your body positioned in a way to absorb the impact. Also, if the shotgun is not firmly pressed to your shoulder, it will fly into and smack your shoulder instead of being absorbed by it.
Make sure your hands are gripping it firmly. First time shooters will sometimes grip too loosely which can allow the gun to leave their hands. You don’t need to squeeze with all your might. Just make sure you have a firm and stable grip. It also helps with holding it if you get a shotgun that is sized well for you. When you go to the gun shop, feel free to try and shoulder different ones. Everyone has a different combination of height, arm length, and build, so it helps to make sure yours is a good fit. Also, pick a shotgun suited for what you need. If it is for home defense, you want something short and maneuverable. If it is for bird shooting, you probably want something long and steady. If it is simply for shooting on the range, it is basically up to what you enjoy.
This all may sound scary, and it may sound like shooting is a tight rope walk between safety and injury. It really isn’t so bad. You’ll realize how quickly you learn the right ways, and how quickly it all becomes second nature once you’re on the range.
Work on Your Skill
Learning to handle firearms safely and how to shoot with proper form are necessary steps but being able to hit what you’re aiming at is the real fun part.
Carrying on with the combat sports analogy, footwork is crucial. Your dominant hand will be holding the trigger and “pressing” the stock into you, and the other hand will be out in front supporting and controlling the front end. You also want to stand canted, with your dominant foot
behind your other, or “lead”, leg. Your feet should be around shoulder width apart, and your lead leg should be slightly bent at the knee. You want to lean on your lead leg, but only slightly.
Proper stance will make you stable. You can pivot your aim left and right and up and down while maintaining stability. When pivoting to change aim, try to keep your feet, arms, and upper body stable. Most of your movement when aiming at different targets should come from the waist.
Once the basics are down, it really comes down to practice. You can start with stationary targets. Try shooting at different distances. Eventually you can try moving targets, such as clay pigeons. Accuracy and speed will come with time and practice.
If you have friends who are experienced shooters, shooting with them can make learning more fun and a more efficient process. You can also take courses where you will learn form, safety, and how to become a better shot. Check in to our Concealed Carry class, NRA Basic Pistol training or our Weapons Craft for further courses.
Another tip is that you can start off with less powerful shotguns. You could try out a 20 gauge or a .410 where the recoil will be more forgiving, and then once you feel comfortable, move on to the 12 gauge or whatever you prefer.
Shooting is incredibly fun and valuable. It may seem like there is a lot to learn, but with the right advice and help, it doesn’t have to take forever to get there and you’ll have quite an enjoyable experience doing it.