Over the last few years interest in the police shotgun has waned as more and more agencies focus on the patrol rifle. Although I am a firm believer in the benefits of the 5.56 carbine for police work, far too many agencies are removing the shotgun from cruiser racks and replacing them with rifle caliber carbines instead of providing both options. This, in my opinion, is a mistake and takes away a devastating piece of weaponry that has served lawmen for over a hundred years.
Whether the shotgun was a double barrel 10-gauge blaster carried for stagecoach security by the man "riding shotgun," or a modern pump or semi-auto 12 gauge, many bad guys have been taken into custody dead or alive with shotguns. Although stupid violent men have met their maker via a properly applied load of buckshot, many more have thought better of the idea and submitted after looking down the tubes of police scatterguns.
Pistol and rifles punch holes in bad guys with the result that they stop some time later due to blood loss. On the other hand, a shotgun's buckshot rips, tears and breaks things in its path. With most police armed encounters being measured in feet, not yards, a center mass shot with the nine pellets of a 12 gauge 00-buck shot-shell is a serious wound indeed (bigger wound = more blood loss = quicker incapacitation time). A 00-buck wound inside 10 to 15 feet looks like a big rat hole.
The premier load for modern police shotguns is the 9-pellet, 00-buck load. As an example, Federal's Premium Tactical Law Enforcement double ought is a reduced recoil load with something they call a Flightcontrol wad. According to Federal, this results in the tightest shot pattern in the business. At 1,325 feet per second at the muzzle, this means awesome ballistic performance on target.
Just because shotguns have been used by police for over a hundred years doesn't mean that we can't improve on the design, make modifications or add accessories that improve handling and performance. The 18-inch bead sighted shotgun that rode next to me while in uniform differed only slightly from the early pump shotgun carried in the trenches of WWI or the jungles of Southeast Asia. Manufacturers have caught on and shotguns fielded by our troops in Iraq and elsewhere show the signs of these improvements.
Worthy factory or after-market improvements include:
Over the last couple of years I've had the chance to see some excellent add-ons that improve a shotgun-armed officer's performance. They include:
I've had the great fortune to put rounds downrange with Wilson Combat Scatterguns Technologies 870 shotgun, a Nighthawk custom-modified Remington 870 and Vang Comp's 870, as well as new offerings from the fine folks at Mossberg. These are xcellent shotguns that in some cases allowed me to keep all nine .33 caliber 00-buck pellets in the target's head area out to 55 feet. The Vang Comp design was able to do so out to 25 yards!
This is where vast improvements could be made in all police firearms training, but especially with the shotgun. Most agencies have their officers shoot little more than a familiarization course each year with the shotgun. Such lack of training does nothing to ensure proper handling, let alone improve performance in armed encounters. Loaded with 00-buck in the magazine tube and rifled slugs in the spare ammo carrier, a trained street officer is good to go out to 50 yards.
Training areas covered should include:
Realistic courses of fire that incorporate "scramblers" wherein the officer practices most if not all of the listed skills as they move throughout the range area engaging targets from a variety of positions at varying distances.
American society tends to embrace and replace with the newest technologies. In firearms this has lead to a great movement toward the 5.56 carbine, but the abandonment of the shotgun. While the patrol rifle offers many things to LE, the police shotgun still has its place and within most armed encounter ranges is awesome. We can improve our performance with the shotgun by making some of the listed modifications or buying shotguns that are more properly outfitted for man-against-man engagements than the smooth-bore fowling piece our uncle carries into the field. Most importantly, by properly training our officers we can maximize their performance with the scattergun which will increase use and improve hit potential on suspect(s).
The devastating ballistic potential that led lawmen of the Old West to grab their double barrel Greener 10-gauge shotguns while working the streets of Dodge City and other rowdy towns still works today on the mean streets of urban, suburban and rural America against present-day violent desperados.