Shotguns come in many styles. Whether you have a semi-automatic, pump or break-action shotgun—every gun owner should know how to load and unload common types of shotguns. Following the rules of firearm safety and working to understand how to manipulate shotguns is something anyone can do.
Load and unload semi-auto shotgun:
Semi-automatic shotguns are very common. They are outfitted with different controls (safety, shell stop, etc.) so knowing what you own and how they work is important. If you had to load a shotgun under pressure, but didn’t know that you needed to release a shell from the magazine tube with a button, you might not get it loaded very fast.
With the firearm pointed in a safe direction, bolt closed on an empty chamber, hold the shotgun in a manner that allows you to access the loading gate (the area in front of the trigger on the bottom of the gun where you see the lifter and opening of the magazine tube). Load rounds into the magazine tube by pushing the rounds into the tube past the shell catch. You should hear and feel the rim of the shotgun shell slide past the “foot” or protruding part of the shell catch that keeps shells inside the magazine tube. Slide shells in until your tube is full. *NOTE: When waterfowl hunting, load only the number of rounds legally allowed in your locality. Often this is 3.
Next, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, pull the bolt handle all the way back, and let it slingshot forward to close and chamber a round. Your gun is now loaded and ready to use.
If your shotgun requires you to first release a shell onto the lifter in order to chamber it, hit the shell release. (Look for the exact parts of your shotgun in the owner’s manual or search online for a video.) When you hit the shell release, you will hear and feel a shell being expelled from the magazine tube and it will pop out of the magazine tube and lay on the lifter, ready for you to pull the bolt back, and let it slingshot forward to chamber the round.
If your bolt was locked back and the action open, you could make sure your safety is engaged. Insert a round into the chamber, hit the bolt release to close the bolt, and then continue loading the magazine tube as described above. This means your gun has a round chambered and you must keep it pointed in a safe direction and your finger out of the trigger guard as you load.
To unload, ensure the safety is engaged and keep the firearm pointed downrange or in a safe direction, holding the buttstock of the shotgun against your hip or the table, cycle the bolt handle by hand and “rack” the shells out of the tube until it is empty. You will usually be able to lock your bolt back or it will automatically lock back when the tube and chamber are empty. Still INSPECT the chamber and look at the opening of the magazine tube to ensure that you see the follower (the part that covers the end of your magazine tube spring) and that all rounds are out of the magazine tube.
Load and unload a break-action shotgun:
With the firearm pointed in a safe direction, holding the shotgun in a manner that allows you to manipulate the release to open the action, activate the release and allow the action to open. Insert the round(s) into the chamber and close the action. Your shotgun is now loaded. *NOTE: some break-action shotguns are automatically on safe after loading. Learn where the safety is and how it works via your manufacturer’s directions.
To unload, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, activate the release that allows the action to open, when you “break” the action open, the gun generally ejects the hulls backward and to the right. If your gun does not have an ejector, simply pull the spent hulls out. Your gun is now empty.
Load and unload a pump-action shotgun:
With the firearm pointed in a safe direction, holding the shotgun in a manner that allows you to manipulate the release to open the action (see photo and the button I’m pointing to as an example on my Winchester SXP), activate the release and pull the fore-end backward to open the action. Insert a round into the chamber and close the action. Your shotgun now has a round chambered and you can continue to fill the magazine tube by pushing shells into it like you would a semi-auto shotgun.
You can also leave the action closed, load the tube, then hit the release to “pump” a round into the chamber.
To unload, keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, activate the release that allows the action to open, when you pump the forearm back toward you, the round in the chamber is ejected and you can simply cycle the rounds by cycling or “pumping” the action of your pump shotgun. Your gun is now empty.
Knowing how to load and unload shotguns is a simple skill anyone can master. Having a basic understanding of how these types of shotguns work is a worthy goal, especially for the new gun owner.