MODULE 9.1: Magazine Change – US-119652

Rapid Reload for a Shotgun

Rapid reload refers to magazine change and cylinder refill, and this is a skill that needs to be practiced over and over until it becomes second nature to the shooter who must be able to do this without looking at his hands

  • Maintain a safe muzzle direction and keep your finger off the trigger.
  • Keep looking at your target.
  • After firing the last round in the magazine, the slide will stay open.
  • With the thumb of your strong hand, press the magazine release and with your support hand remove a loaded magazine from the magazine pouch. You must be able to do this without looking at your hands.
  • Use the index finger of your support hand to help you to guide the magazine into the magazine well.
  • Insert the magazine into the magazine well and ensure it is fully seated.
  • Cock the firearm and continue firing

Traditional rapid reloading

Whether the shotgun is loaded with buckshot, slugs or less-than-lethal projectiles, there needs to be a reliable plan for when the officer runs out of ammunition before the threat has been neutralized. A spare round can be taken from the pocket and dropped directly into the ejection port, bypassing the magazine tube entirely and hopefully concluding the situation with one more shot.

A rapid reload differs from a top-up reload, in that it begins only when the shotgun is empty and concludes when one further round is loaded and fired to stop an immediate threat.

In many agencies, the traditional way to rapid reload a shotgun for the right-handed officer was to maintain the shooting grip with the right hand and retrieve a spare shell from a left-side pocket with the left hand. The shell is held curled in the left hand, with the rim of the shell touching the little finger and is then rolled into the ejection port from underneath. (See photo 1.)

The officer then re-establishes the grip with the left hand on the pump; the shotgun is shouldered and fired. If necessary, these steps can be repeated until the situation is resolved.

On the surface, this seems like a fairly reliable way to rapid reload a shotgun and seems to work effectively on the training range. It even has an apparent bonus in that the shotgun never leaves the shooter’s strong hand; ready for immediate action even at waist level.
Unfortunately, the term “immediate action” is pretty loose, considering we are dealing with what is essentially an empty shotgun at this point. Worse yet, this method violates every rule about gross versus fine motor skills that we have learned in the last thirty years.

When the weak hand is forced to depend on fine motor skills such as in this method, the inclusion of the stress of a real situation almost guarantees that the officer will fumble hopelessly with the shell while retrieving it from the pocket or will accidentally toss it over top of the receiver. Some shooters have even been known to try to chamber a shell backwards during the panic of a real encounter.

Due to the unreliable nature of this first method in real life encounters, a further variation has been tried where the shotgun is held in the right hand, tilted to the side, and the shell is dropped into the port from above. (See photo 2.)

Unfortunately, this method suffers from the same loss-of-fine-motor-skills problem as the first method, complicated by the tilted nature of the ejection port making for a much smaller target. (This method may work well with reasonably ambidextrous left-handed officers.)

Test either method on the training range under tight time limits and the reliability of either one quickly deteriorates. To be considered effective, a shotgun should be rapid reloaded with a maximum of three seconds from shot to shot.

The Modern Rapid reloads

So how do we resolve the loss of fine motor skills in high stress situations with the need to drop a shotgun shell directly into the ejection port of an empty shotgun? The solution is actually quite simple – and not really all that revolutionary either.

The shotgun is held flat in the left hand at its natural balance point, with the open hand cupping the receiver right at the ejection port. At the same time, a spare shell is retrieved from a right-side pocket with the right hand. (See photo 3.)

The spare shell is simply dropped into the ejection port with the right hand. The shell does not need to be fed carefully; the only thing the shooter needs to worry about is getting the front of the shell towards the front of the gun. (See photo 4.)

Once the shell lands inside the port, it will chamber as soon as the pump moves forward. (See photo 5.) The shell lifter straightens the shell out and guides it directly into the chamber, the shotgun is transferred back to the shooting grip as the pump is racked forward and the sight aligned with the potential threat. If necessary, the shot can be immediately fired.

While it might seem counter-intuitive to switch hands while rapid reloading, the fact is that this method is the only one that emphasizes gross motor skills for holding the shotgun and fine motor skills for dropping the shell into the chamber. Any officer who has ever been late for work and suffered a severe case of “the dropsy’s” will understand the rationale for this technique immediately.

To illustrate how instinctive this method is, simply watch the average right-handed officer loading a shotgun into the magazine tube when they are not under stress. You will notice that the vast majority of people hold the shotgun in their left hand and feed the shells into the tube with the right hand.

The reason they do this is because it is the most comfortable way of doing it with the least amount of fumbling.

So now one must ask why we have traditionally trained officers one way to load a shotgun when not under stress and a completely different way of loading when they are under stress. This can be a recipe for disaster.
For those agencies still teaching the old way, all I say is try both methods under stress. The older methods of training tend to fall apart quickly when a timer starts running and speed really starts counting.

For the ultimate test of shotgun ability, try my “five-in-five drill” where the shooter faces five reactive targets at seven yards, with four shells in the shotgun and one in their pocket. They have five seconds to knock down all five targets.

This test is tough, but if it can be accomplished within the time limit, then you know speed, accuracy and rapid reloading ability have all be tested to near their maximum potential.
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