With most guns used in 3-gun competition, the challenge lies in unloading them very quickly and very accurately into the indicated targets. Reloading isn’t really an issue thanks to detachable magazines and Surefire’s big-ass contraptions. With shotguns, though, it’s exactly the opposite. The challenge lies in keeping the gun loaded, and the stages are designed to force you to empty your magazine as quickly as possible. There are a couple ways to reload your gun, but one of them I wrote off as an absolute gimmick. Until, that is, I found that it cut my reload time in half.
First, there was the sidesaddle reload method. It worked, and it was cheap, so people liked it. Then there was the 4-shell caddy reload, which took a ton of practice but was quicker than the sidesaddle. The latest craze to hit the competition shooting world is the “load two” method of shotgun loading, and now even the “load four” load.
There are a ton of snake oil salesmen in the competition shooting world. People like to think that you can throw money at the sport and make yourself go faster, and manufacturers are more than happy to indulge the less frugal tendencies of that type of shooter. I’ve seen everything from specially designed 3-gun shoes to people who swear that a certain compensator shaves a tenth of a second off their time. And in every case it seems like the solution never truly yields any visible results. I still managed to beat them running my bone stock Mossberg 930 with some well-used shell caddies.
I first saw the “load two” method in action at a local match where an older gentleman was running a load two rig and running it poorly. He was hesitating at the loading gate, and it honestly looked like the load two thing was slowing him down instead of speeding him up. I wrote off the concept right there as another gimmick that was just the flavor of the month would soon fade into obscurity.
But that all changed when Larry Houck from Team FNH USA gave me some one-on-one instruction. It turns out he’d been just as skeptical as I had at first, but when he had his 12-year-old son running the technique in under 15 minutes and zipping along faster than he ever could with the old methods, he was sold. And after another 15 minutes, so was I.
The idea, of course, is to slam as many rounds in the shotgun as possible as quick as possible. What takes the most time in a shotgun reload is finding the loading gate and lining up the rounds. Even with the (now standard) shell caddy reload, it takes a relatively long time to get the next round in place before your thumb slides it home.
The idea behind the “load two” method is that you basically cut the time it takes positioning the rounds in half, since you only have to position your hand once to load two rounds at a time since the second one slides right in behind the first. It’s also a maneuver that requires less fine motor skills to execute than the caddy reload, meaning that the skill it takes to align the rounds is much less than with the shell caddy method. Instead of requiring hours of practice with your shotgun, you can master this technique literally in minutes and perform it more easily under pressure.
What ultimately sold me was when we put Larry on the clock and he showed me the difference between the two loading methods. You can see it (and the load two in slow motion) at the end of the YouTube clip up top.
Now, the newest iteration is the “load four” maneuver. The idea is to grab two sets of shells at the same time (four rounds total), loading one pair and then the other. It takes a lot more skill and practice, but since you don’t have to go back to your belt for the next pair of shells, it slices the reload time almost in half again.
There is, however, a downside to the load two and load four methods.
First, it’s an “all or nothing” kind of load. Either you get it right, or it all goes to hell and you’d be better loading the standard way from shell caddies. But take heart: even a dunce like me can master it in a few minutes. The trick is staying slow and smooth to get it right the first time.
The second issue is that this is a “low density” loading system. You can’t stack shells like you can with caddies, and the holsters that are currently available take up a lot of space on your belt or your chest. The power in this system is that the shells are pre-positioned on the belt in the way that you would pick them up, so it takes more space to hold fewer rounds.
As soon as I realized how fast and easy this system is, I decided to make the switch. But the way I’m planning on running it is two holsters with 8 rounds in “load two” configuration on my right side, and standard shell holders on the left. Because while this new system seems like it’s the real deal and the “wave of the future”, I’m not putting all of my eggs in one basket. Just yet, anyway.