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Gunsite, Col. Jeff Cooper And The Defensive Shotgun

Gunsite, Col. Cooper and the Defensive Shotgun

The guy on the phone was sincere and maybe a little embarrassed; he said he wanted to ask me a question about guns. I said “OK, shoot.” He gave me a polite laugh and said “Larry I know that you deal with guns a lot.” I told him that was true, more than some, less than others, and told him my standard line that I am not an expert on anything.

I figured what was coming but he proceeded to tell me that he is away from home a lot for work and he wanted to buy a firearm for his wife for her protection. Now there are gun experts out there who would debate this question for days and would take several volumes to answer that question.

I like to keep things simple so I told him “Get her a shotgun.”

With more and more of the citizenry wanting to defend themselves in their homes firearms sales are up and there is lot of interest in what has become known as the defensive shotgun. Those of you that grew up with firearms know that in reality we have always had defensive shotguns. The old double barrel or the Model 12 that Dad or Grandad kept in the corner was used when some varmint got in the hen house or something went bump in the night.

Having always had an interest in such things and if I am going to be writing about it I thought I needed to keep up with what is going on out there. So I signed up to go back to Gunsite Academy to take their shotgun class. (This wasn’t really a noble gesture, I would use any excuse to go back to Gunsite!)

I have talked about Gunsite here before. Gunsite is the firearms training academy near Paulden, Arizona. It is the creation and part of the legacy of Colonel Jeff Cooper.

Col. Cooper was an officer in the Marine Corp and served in World War II and Korea. He went on to create and teach revolutionary concepts of fighting with firearms that became known as the Modern Technique. His teachings, especially with the handgun have been the basis for training law enforcement and much of the military for the past forty years.

Cooper created the American Pistol Institute in 1976 and this became what is now known as Gunsite Academy, the oldest most prestigious firearms training facility in the world, this year is their 40th anniversary. The Colonel was very partial to the Colt 1911 pistol and a short, handy, bolt action rifle concept he called the Scout Rifle, but he was not blind to the merits of the shotgun as a defensive weapon.

So what is a defensive shotgun? Well, in essence any shotgun can be a defensive shotgun, one that you can defend home and hearth with when things go bad. What we want to talk about is a shotgun configured to be used chiefly as a defensive weapon. Here are the main points to consider.

  • A short barrel. No need to go “sawed off” below the legal barrel length of 18”, but a shorter barrel as many tactical shotguns come with today is much easier to control in the tight quarters you may encounter in a home defense situation.
  • Extended magazine tube. More is always better when it comes to ammo. You may not need a lot of extra ammunition if you are called upon to defend you and your family, but then again you might. A “side-saddle” ammo carrier on the gun is also very handy.
  • High visibility adjustable sights. For some short range encounters the plain bead on most shotguns will get you by, but remember this is a fighting shotgun and we may ask this weapon to do many things. I chose to put a red dot optic on the Mossberg shotgun that I took to Gunsite, the Trijicon MRO. The idea here is to get on target really fast and the Trijicon worked great.
  • A dedicated flashlight. If you can’t see you can’t fight. You can make do with a good handheld flashlight but a light mounted on the gun, either on the fore-end or on a side mounted rail (as on the Mossberg Scorpion I used) is best.
  • A sling. A sling on a shotgun is the same as a holster for a pistol. If you need to stow or take your hands off the gun for some reason, you need to be able to take it up again quickly. The sling allows you to do this.

OK, we could go on with more details about the defensive shotgun but that may take care of the basics. A big point to be made here is that whatever firearm you chose for self-defense, rifle, pistol, or shotgun you absolutely have to get some training with the weapon. You then make dedicated trips to the shooting range, fire the weapon repeatedly and become familiar with it and know where all the buttons are.

So what did I tell my friend to get for his wife? My stock answer is get her a 20 gauge. Ladies (and a lot of us men), do not want to endure excessive recoil and if we are afraid of the gun we may not pick it up. Spend some time at the gun store (who doesn’t want to do that?) and let them pick out the type of shotgun they like. A youth model pump gun or a little 20 gauge double barrel may be just the ticket.

Like I said, keep it simple.