I didn’t grow up shooting shotguns. I didn’t consider them fun to shoot … and now I’ve been to two shotgun world shoots representing the United States. I realized that proper technique can make all the difference in enjoying a particular firearm.
Shooting a long gun like a shotgun requires that you do a few things consistently for an easier and more enjoyable experience.
Both shotguns and rifles fall into the category of long gun for obvious reasons—they’re long! Long guns have a buttstock and forearm that allow you to hold the firearm with two hands. This is one of the reasons long guns are easier to shoot than a pistol. Being able to hold the gun firmly means the gun will be more stable and easier to shoot accurately.
Holding a shotgun requires you to mount the gun firmly into your shoulder and grip it tightly. While a pistol requires you to grip with two hands, holding a shotgun involves more than just your hands. You need to seat the gun into your shoulder, pull it back firmly with both hands, and you need to establish a firm cheek weld.
How to Mount and Grip a Shotgun:
1. Grasp the grip on the stock, and place the buttstock into the natural pocket of your shoulder.
2. Hold the forearm firmly, and pull the gun tight to your body.
3. Plant your cheek on the buttstock so that you can look down the rib of the shotgun without seeing the top of the rib. You want to look straight along it, not down from above.
4. As you shoot, maintain your cheek weld, and do not pop your head off the gun. Think of it as if your cheek is providing downward pressure to keep the gun steady.
Tension—The Good Kind
A bit of tension in your upper body will help control the muzzle as you shoot and allow for faster follow-up shots.
To understand what this feels like, mount your shotgun with your face on the stock, and push down against a rest creating resistance. Something about the height of a high kitchen counter is ideal. Push down, feeling the tension in your muscles as they engage. That is what you should feel as you prepare to shoot. The muscles that you engage as you push down are the same muscles you will engage to control recoil. This upper body tension will keep the recoil from pushing you back and off the gun.
If you find yourself picking your head up after you shoot, train yourself to break this habit. You can shoot one round and immediately bring the gun back onto target and prep for the next round, but don’t fire. Pay attention to your face and keep it on the gun with your cheek firmly “welded” to the stock.
If you feel your toes rising off the ground as you shoot, it’s an indicator to be more aggressive in your stance. Some people like to imagine that they are grabbing the ground with their toes. Just trying that motion will help you engage your calves and leg muscles for more functional tension that will prep your body to manage recoil. But the easiest way to ensure your toes stay on the ground is to add depth to your stance by dropping your strong-side foot back.
Find Your Happy Place
My last piece of advice is to enjoy yourself! Once you’ve developed the muscle memory for shotgun shooting, you’ll have a blast!
If the shotgun you have is just not working, try something else! You can add a foam cheek pad to your gun or a recoil pad to absorb some of the kick. You can even try a different gun or gauge—.20 or .410 instead of a 12 gauge. Call a friend or join a local range to see what shotguns others are shooting. But don’t be afraid to give shotgun shooting a try, build good technique and enjoy some time on the range!