Where necessary, the defensive shotgun employs modern accessories in order to meet the needs of the situation in which it is employed.
In my last defensive shotgun article, I discussed some of the advantages that the defensive shotgun platform holds over handguns and rifles. That’s all well and good, but if we’re going to have a proper examination of defnsive shotguns, we’ll need to identify which aspects of a shotgun make it ideal for fighting, rather than for hunting or competition. A great way to do this is to examine how defensive shotguns have evolved over time in order to respond to different threats and situations.
The shotgun’s roots extend way back. In fact, the concept of shooting multiple projectiles in order to cause a greater area of damage or to increase the likelihood of a hit is as old as firearms themselves. Muzzle loading small arms loaded with shot were often used in centuries past as weapons of war, and even cannons were sometimes loaded with so-called “grapeshot” for use against massed troops. The defensive shotgun as we know it today first took shape in the old west.
Lightweight and Compact
It’s easy to think of the shotgun as a large and cumbersome weapon, but these big-bore powerhouses can, and should, be quite maneuverable, and the earliest uses of the modern shotgun demonstrate this. With relatively little law-enforcement infrastructure in the old West territories, bandits were a very real threat to those moving precious cargo. Naturally, armed guards were used as a deterrent, and the primary choice of firearm of these guards was a compact double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun. The “coach gun”, as they began to be called, was the choice for protection on these dangerous runs.
The use of a shotgun loaded with buckshot was not only devastating, but it meant hitting targets from a moving coach was much easier than with a rifle or revolver; and although the barrels were often sawed off to 20 inches or less, it wasn’t so the guns would shoot a wider pattern. The short barrels were actually preferred because they allowed the shotguns to be maneuvered easily within and around the stagecoach. This sacrificed a great deal of pointability usually desired for shotguns but had little effect on the power or spread.
Of course, the heavy-hitting shotgun was preferred by more than just coach guards, and the scatter gun played a key role in many famous shootouts. During the OK Corral shootout, Doc Holliday fired what many suspect was the initial blast of the encounter, sending buckshot into the chest of Tom McLaury and killing him on the spot. Wyatt Earp, another participant of the OK Corral shootout, reportedly used a 10 gauge double-barrel to kill Curly Bill Brocious in a different gun fight with rather gruesome effect. While fine Colt revolvers and Winchester lever-action rifles would become the more romanticized weapons of the era, nothing seemed to make people deader than a coach gun.
Quick to Fire and Quick to Load
Coach guns were largely made obsolete with the development of repeating shotguns such as the pump-action. The pump-action shotgun made substantial advancements over the earlier double-barreled coach gun by increasing shot capacity and streamlining the reloading process. While coach guns held only 2 shots and left their operator vulnerable during reloading, the pump-action made it possible to fire several shots and still be able to top off the magazine with a shell in the chamber ready to be fired if the need suddenly arose. One such pump-action, the Winchester 1897, went on to distinguish itself on the battlefields of WWI with its ability to quickly sweep a trench clear of the enemy.
The trench warfare of the time provided near-ideal circumstances for shotgun use in a combat environment, both offensively and defensively. The 20-inch barreled shotgun was much more maneuverable in tight quarters and could fire substantially faster than the bolt-action rifles used at the time, particularly since the 1897 was capable of being “slam-fired” — if the user kept the trigger depressed after firing the initial shot, it would fire again immediately after the next shell was loaded into the chamber by running the slide-action or “pump”. When used to defend a trench line against an attack, a barrage of buckshot from several shotguns could totally overwhelm charging infantry, and some sources suggest shotgunners were able to destroy or deflect hand grenades in mid-air if necessary.