Understanding that the shotgun can make or break your 3-gun game is paramount. If you do not learn to work with your shotgun, it will become your weakest link. When I first started competing, I saw a distinct divide between those who accepted the challenges of the shotgun and adapted accordingly and those who did not.
Competitors tend to focus on how to improve their pistol and rifle. While it is important to improve those firearms, it is also equally important to pay attention to the third gun for 3-gun. There are not many competition shotguns that are ready for a match straight out of the box. To be match-ready, the shotgun should be modified for easy reloading and have a higher capacity magazine tube.
There are several companies that sell extended magazine tubes; most competitors utilize a tube that will hold 10 to 13 shells. I prefer a 10 round magazine tube because I like to tailor my load plan to even numbers. The magazine tube spring will get worn from repetitive reloads that happen during matches and practice; keep a spare spring on hand. But if you are in a pinch and do not have an extra, you can stretch out your old spring until you replace it. You should be able to load the tube to maximum capacity without resistance, if it is too difficult to get that last shell in, you can cut the spring down. To test if the spring is worn and needs replacing, load the tube, turn the gun upside down, press the action release and pay close attention to the speed that the shell is released onto the lifter. Then clear the shell from the lifter and ensure the chamber is empty. Continue checking the speed each shell is released from the magazine tube. If you notice that the last shell seems to be released slower or is more sluggish than the first shell, you should consider replacing the spring before your next match.
Modifying the shotgun loading port is relative to how you reload the shotgun. I load two shells at a time with my right hand, which is my strong hand. I had the loading port modified so that, when flipped upside down, the right side of the loading port has more material cut away and is smoothed out. Doing this enables me to load quickly and easily. The way the loading port is widened for a shotgun can be compared to putting an extended magwell on your pistol, both modifications serve the same purpose: quicker, fumble-free reloads. For the way that I reload, there is no reason to modify the lifter.
Learning which choke to use and when is an oversight many competitors unfortunately often make. The most useful knowledge I learned that helped improve my shotgun game was at an all-shotgun match. I had a crash course in chokes, and the importance of patterning a shotgun. The chokes I use are: diffuser, improved cylinder, and modified. When I patterned my shotgun, I tested the limits of all the chokes. For measuring the distance, I used my own paces instead of standard yards. When I’m unsure if my choke of choice will work during a stage, I walk the distance from the target and know immediately if I’ll make the hit. The other important part of patterning a shotgun is to know how different brands of ammunition perform. Use paper targets to pattern your shotgun, you will be able to see the shot spread. Slugs hits are one of my biggest areas of weakness. I steadily improved my slug hits once I accepted the fact that my improved cylinder and modified chokes cause a different point of impact and that there is a large difference between ammunition brands. I have three brands of slugs and they each have a unique point of impact, I need to be cognizant of that fact when loading my shotgun. One upgrade on my “to-list” is to get a rear sight for the shotgun, this will also help make those far slug hits.
You can only be as strong as the weakest link in your game. For many 3-gun competitors, the shotgun is a continuous struggle. Anyone can excel once they understand several crucial aspects of the shotgun as they relate to 3-gun success.
Originally written for: GunUp the Magazine