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AAR: Sentinel Concepts Practical Shotgun

Sentinel Concepts Practical Shotgun
6/6/2021
Culpepper, VA

Instructor: Steve Fisher

Class Outline: “An entry level course where students are familiarized with their shotguns”

Intro: I have taken several firearms classes from nearly as many instructors, but this is my first real shotgun training class.  I went in with an open mind, a good quality shotgun, full hydration, and a notebook.  I wanted to come away with better understanding of the shotgun, its role, and what I need to work on in order to be more proficient.  Outside of familiarity fire blocks of instruction in police and military training, I had never taken a formal shotgun class.

A word of caution:

Training in the summertime is a challenge.  It was sunny and in the mid 90’s at our range in Virginia, with typically high humidity.  It was also one of the first truly hot and sunny weekends in our area of the state.  Proper preparation is vital to being able to physically and mentally perform in such conditions, especially if you’re not acclimated.  I work in a climate controlled office all day, but had worked outside much of my earlier life, and knew that I had to start drinking a LOT of water the day before class.  I also drank about 64 ounces of water in the morning before the class began. Bringing a pop up canopy, a couple of things to sit on, and appropriate clothing is vital to get the most out of yourself and to not slow the class down, which can negatively affect others. 

Things to bring above and beyond what the instructor normally recommends (plan on bringing enough for yourself and maybe two other people, too, because people forget stuff!):
Portable shelter like a pop up canopy to keep the sun and rain off of you and your gear
Cooler with extra water, electrolyte tabs or sports drinks, snacks, lunch food
Sun block spray
Bug spray
Extra case of water (or two)
De-leading wipes for cleaning your hands before eating
Ice bags or towels you can soak in cold water to help cooling

You may have the coolest gauge on the block, but can you run it as good as it looks?

Equipment used:
Shotguns:

  • Beretta 1301 with Aridus CROM mount, Holosun 503R, X300U light, Magpul stock and forend with Aridus Industries adapters, two point sling
  • Remingon Tac14 with Vang Comp barrel, wood furniture, Magpul RLS sling, bead sight

Ammo:

  • Two cases of 7.5 birdhot from Winchester
  • Remington #1 Buckshot
  • Fiocchi 00 Buckshot
  • Federal LE FliteControl 8 shot 00 Buck
  • Federal LE slugs

Load carriage:

  • Esstac shotshell cards (4)
  • Blue Force Gear SSE pouch for loose shells  (more on this later)

Random comfort stuff:

  • It was a hot day in the mid-90s.  A pop-up canopy with multiple thins to sit on (folding stool, cooler, tailgate) was useful for many students.  Plenty of water and electrolyte drinks (Nuun tabs), salty snacks, peanuts, fruit.  Plenty of bug spray and sun block applied throughout the day.
A super short shotgun may seem like a range toy, but they fill a specific niche very well

Class startup:

Steve began the class with an introduction of himself and his experience.  Then he had everyone introduce themselves.  There were students from all walks of life and ages.  Class objectives were reviewed, however, as Steve stressed, classes are fluid environments that need to be adjusted to meet the needs of the class.  As such, some parts of the class could be shifted around, added, or eliminated to suit the abilities of the students.  This was a basic class

Safety brief – Steve went over the basic safety rules that everyone should be familiar with, but can never be overstated.  The emergency medical plan was shared with the class as well, in case any severe injuries happened.  If it seems like I’m hitting on the high heat of the day a lot, you’re right.  Steve repeatedly brought it up as well, urging students to stay under canopies when able, to hydrate, and ensure they stayed sharp.  He encouraged anyone not feeling 100% to step off the line at any time, get some shade and fluids, and return when they were ready. 

Class host setting up gear and a pop up canopy to keep the brutal sun off our heads on a hot day

Steve then went over the three things to concentrate on with a shotgun:

1: Patterning – how various loads actually impact the target out of particular guns at various ranges.  Not every gun patterns particular loads the same way.  Fliers, pattern density (pellets impacting the entire area of the hit vs leaving large open areas and only impacting the periphery), and pattern size were all discussed.   The advantages of tight patterns vs more spread out patterns was also discussed. 

2: Zeroing – This seems to be a simple idea, except when you factor in that different loads will impact in different places, and deciding to zero for buckshot or slugs.  Also, different sight systems will allow you (or not) to zero differently.  The most versatile system is the red dot sight, and allows easy zeroing on the load that you find patterns best for you.  I had previously zeroed my red dot equipped Beretta 1301 with Federal LE Flight Control 8 pellet, and was happy to see that the zero was maintained from my last time shooting it.  Adjustable iron sights of some type are also relatively simple to adjust to your load of choice.  Bead sighted shotguns are another animal entirely.  We found out we truly are at the mercy of the bead when choosing buckshot.  I ran into this issue on my Vang Comp barreled Tac-14.  While one of Steve’s preferred loads, the Remington No 1 buckshot, and to a lesser extent the Federal Flight Control, impacted high and left even at close range, the Fiocchi 00 buckshot I bought for range use hit dead center out to 15 yards and beyond.

3: Reloading – It seems a life spent with shotguns is a life spent reloading shotguns.  Various techniques were reviewed and various ways to carry spare ammo were reviewed.  It was greatly stressed that carrying more ammo on the gun was important.  Steve reviewed various types of side saddles from Aridus Industries, Vang Comp, and others.  Common failure points of some types of side saddles were also reviewed.  Other modes of ammo carry such as Speedfeed stocks, butt cuffs, chest rigs, and pouches were also reviewed.  The strengths and weaknesses of different brands of magazine tube extensions were also touched on.  The importance of carrying spare ammo was highlighted in a story about a police officer during Hurricane Katrina using an oversized purse to carry as much shotgun ammo as he could when he left his home to go on duty.

After going over these universal concerns for shotguns, Steve discussed the various types of shotguns along with their advantages and disadvantages.  Pump shotguns, semiautomatic shotguns, double barreled shotguns, and even pistol grip short “firearms” like the Mossberg Shockwave and Remington Tac-13 and Tac-14 were discussed.  Specific shotguns like the Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590, and Beretta 1301 were talked about specifically, as they are the most common home defense and duty shotguns currently seen.  In particular, Steve addressed the different types of safeties on these guns.  Oddball guns were also talked about such as magazine fed guns that Steve generally did not like and bullpups.  Steve did mention specifically that many smaller shooters found the Kel Tec bullpup shotguns easier to use, even though they were hard to reload. 

Taking a break between drills to reapply sunscreen, hydrate, and get some one on one time with Yeti

Steve then went over various accessories on shotguns.  Different types of light setups were reviewed, with a heavy favor toward the Surefire integrated light forends available for Remington and Mossberg pump action guns. Slings and proper sling setup were discussed next.  Ensuring a shotgun sling is set up to allow the gun to hang correctly and not cause the gun to muzzle sweep others unintentionally is vital to safe operation and carry.  It was pointed out that many people set up their shotgun slings like they would a rifle, and this leads the shotgun to hang incorrectly, raising the risk of muzzling others.  He also brought up ways to secure the sling in order to keep it from interfering with reloading or racking the gun.  Different stock options were also discussed.

Barrel enhancements such as Vang Com system and chokes were also talked about.  Steve mentioned that with advancement in ammo such as Flite Control wads, much of the Vang system is less advantageous.  Additionally, the Vang system can cause things like Flite Control to behave oddly.  The bottom line is that along with any other shotgun, the user must put in the time to get to know their particular gun and how it handles different loads of ammo at different ranges.

Soon we were up on the line to actually ensure our zeroes were correct and that we were able to see the pattern our guns were shooting at 5, 10, and 15 yards.  This was not a class where Steve held our hands as we did every step.  Steve gave us the tools and drills to take with us without the need to shoot the same course of fire over and over, wasting time, ammo, and money.  Steve also made sure to give us time to pattern a second gun if we wanted to. 

Next up were a couple drills where we could practice port loading the shotgun over the top and from underneath the receiver.  At the same time, Steve had us practice a few round using different recoil control techniques such as leaning hard into the gun and the push-pull technique.  There were three things I discovered quickly. Where my hand gripped the forend of the shotgun affected how the muzzle moved during push-pull.  The sights settled back on target much faster with push-pull than they did when leaning into the gun.  Finally, my smaller hands and shorter fingers did NOT like to port load the gun from underneath the receiver.  My fingers just weren’t long enough to ensure proper feeding without overextending my arm and hand up on the far side of the gun.

We moved on to drills where we loaded one, shot one, loaded two, shot two, loaded three, and shot three in order to practice port loading and feeding the tube.  It was easy to get behind fast with the relatively tight loading port on the bottom of my 1301 along with loose rounds in the floppy Blue Force Gear SSE pouch that I bought with me.  A more structured pouch would have been a better option.  A dedicated shotgun shell holder probably would have been better still.  Many students had shell loop belts and they seemed to be much quicker to reload than I was.  Another issue I found out with my 1301 is that when loading the shells into the magazine tube, I needed to ensure I fully inserted the shells into the tube.  If I was just a fraction of an inch short, the shell would be shot back onto the lifter, blocking my access to the magazine tube.  That left me with the option to either fire what I had and start reloading again, or rack the shell out of the chamber while the gun loaded the shell onto the lifter into the chamber, which freed up my access to the magazine tube.  Either would be a valid option depending on the circumstance. 

After a couple iterations of this drill, again Steve was trying to keep the instruction slick and efficient, Steve showed us another method to reload the gun that was initially intended to allow police officers to keep their weapon mounted lights pointed in an effective direction while reloading.  We learned to flip the gun and slide it over our shoulder (sliding was much more effective than picking the gun up off the shoulder, moving it back, and then bringing it back down, as I found out), and then reload the gun.  This helped support the weight of the gun with the shoulder, greatly reducing muscle exertion.  This reloading technique did require a couple changes from the normal loading procedure.  Spare ammo on the belt needed to be relocated either to the center of the body or to the right side because now the left hand was supporting the forend and the right hand was reloading.  Also, rounds in sidesaddles should be flipped to brass down for more efficient reloading.

We closed out the drills by doing versions of Rolling Thunder.  In this drill, five to seven students lined up with steel targets downrange.  The first student shot one round on target, followed by the next student, on down the line.  Once each student shot their round, they were to port reload one, and load one in the mag tube.  When the last student on the line finished their single round, they yelled, “out!”  This let the first student on the line know it was time to fire his two shots, then the next student, and so on.  This continued until we loaded three, shot three, loaded four, shot four, loaded five, and shot five.  During one run of this drill, my hands started cramping midway through, and I decided to pull myself off the line instead of risking an ND or other unsafe action.  I grabbed more to drink, took the glove off my hand to make things a little easier, and got back on the line.  During the next run of the drill, the charging handle began to walk out of my bolt.  At first I thought this was just the gun slowing down due to gunk buildup with insufficient lube.  The first couple times I was able to push the bolt forward, but it soon got stuck to the rear.  Again, I pulled myself off the line to check out the gun.  Once I realized what happened, I pushed the bolt handle back in and didn’t have the same issue pop up.  This will be something I need to keep an eye on.  Buying a spare bolt handle may not be a bad idea just in case this is caused by premature wear.  We also fired a version where we loaded five and shot one round on five different steel targets down the line.  This time, everything went smoothly, and I took a sigh of relief at being physically and mechanically able to complete a drill for a change.

One other mechanical issue that popped up during the day was early on.  During patterning, my red dot turned off.  Shotguns can be quite rough on optics, and running a more budget oriented Holosun 503R, it was very possible that the optic just wasn’t going to last long on the gauge.  Luckily, though, when I pulled out the batter and adjusted the contacts, the optic turned right back on and didn’t give me any more troubles.  I’ll have to look for a more permanent solution to ensure the contacts don’t flatten out again, or just take care to check them regularly. 

After we wrapped things up, we went around the class for lessons learned.  I had a few great takeaways.  Almost all of them centered on getting dummy shells and work on reloading night and day.  I realized that in order to maximize the shotgun, I could really use a couple more shotshell cards, as my fastest reloads were certainly from them, a better belt mounted shell carrying solution than a floppy SSE pouch, and a 10ga bore brush to occasionally clean out fowling and plastic wadding build up in the barrel to keep patterns consistent tight.

My biggest takeaway is that this was the shotgun class I needed.  I may have had a couple cool guns that were set up nearly exactly how they should have been, but I certainly didn’t look as cool running them as they looked laying up against the wall.  I may not be much better now, but Steve set us up with the tools, lessons, drills, and knowledge to change that and bring our shotgun skills up several levels. 

Pat Tarrant
Jack of all trades. Spent a decade in customer service and supervisory roles before enlisting in the Navy with a focus on joint operations and supporting counterterrorism operations in OEF and OIF. Split the last 15 years between uniformed service and contracting for various companies and in various capacities. My firearms training began with municipal police training in the early 2000's, through to military training, and professional training with Pat Rogers, Steve Fisher, Scott Jedlinski, Brian Canova, and others.

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