Using a shotgun effectively requires that you know how it works in all scenarios. Clint Smith, President and Director of the world-class Thunder Ranch training center, shares his knowledge of the practical application of shotguns. Despite popular belief, shotguns should be treated as precision tools at close ranges. This drill will let you know what your gun’s pattern looks like at various distances and, therefore, how precisely you need to aim at your intended target.

At actual self-defense ranges of 3-7 yards where shotguns are used for home defense, shotguns need to be aimed like a rifle; the gun shop commando mythology of “point and pray” simply does not work. Shotguns must be aimed like a rifle.

This particular shotgun firing a specific 00 buckshot load at 3 yards creates shot pattern roughly the size of a silver dollar.

When the distance increases to 5 and 7 yards (shown below top and bottom, respectively), the pattern wasn’t much larger than the palm of your hand.

You’ll also note that Smith’s hand is pointing to a large hole in the target that most people don’t think a great deal about, caused by the wadding/shot cup of the particular load. The wadding is typically made out of plastic these days, but has been made of cardboard or even wood.

One thing I’d never considered before watching the video was how wildly erratic and inconsistent behavior of the wad/shot cup was from shot to shot. While it isn’t likely you’d ever been in a position where you might have to use a shotgun to “take out” a hostage taker, it’s a little disconcerting to think that you could put every pellet on the bad guy, but still seriously lacerate or even or blind a hostage with the wadding, which can leave a nasty shallow wound.