By Ross Marshman
Ever since the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq plastered the news media’s canvas with portraits of valiant deeds done by brave men and women, any viewer could not help but notice the modern lance these soldiers hefted into combat. Whether black or tan, long or short, optic or irons, the AR15 or M4 carbine was propelled into common, everyday language and into more than one gun enthusiast’s home. But not into mine. This blasphemer decided long ago to stick with what he knows and what works and has fought the urge to purchase an AR15 ever since. Frankly, my grip on the shotgun’s stock has only tightened in recent years . . .
To commemorate my college graduation, my parents gave me a Remington 870 Express Tactical Shotgun. It came with an extended magazine tube, rail with an integrated ghost ring sight, and a breacher’s choke. The extractor was MIM. The trigger guard was plastic. The safety hid itself somewhere behind the trigger. The stock’s grip lacked any sort of useful texturing. And I could not have been more pleased.
When the first round of buckshot announced its departure to my shoulder and tore an angry fist sized hole into the target at seven yards, I was elated. At the range, I could mount the weapon and stalk backwards and forwards, strafe side to side, crouch, use simulated cover and concealment, practice reloading on the move, and even go prone. Anyone with an AR15, however, could only watch with envy while their weapons sat unused in their cases.
No matter where I have lived in the past decade, there has never been a range within five hours of driving time that would let its members unleash their AR15 from the bench and let them roam free. The best I could find were ranges that would allow their members to take their AR15s and use them like a proper weapon only while they were being instructed in its use. So, at best, a member would be allowed a couple hours every other month to use their weapon like it was supposed to be used. What about practicing what you learned? What about sustainment training? Nope. These same ranges, though, would allow members to use their shotguns as the gods intended: unleashing violent, loud, and angry swarms of projectiles.
Every change I made to my shotgun had to be because it would make it do its job better and make mine a little easier. Over time, not only did my shotgun transform, but so did my take on what I could use to defend myself. Plastic parts were replaced with metal ones. MIM faded away and forged steel proudly took its place. Even the barrel and sights were replaced.
And I kept practicing. My time at the range was evenly split between various handguns in various calibers and with the same shotgun. All the while wondering what would I use to defend myself in my home and would that be enough? The obvious answer, of course, to the first part of that question is I would use what I would have on hand – the oldest rule in a gun fight, after all, is to have gun. The second part of that question’s answer was more elusive. Could I rely on a shotgun to get the job done when the AR15 world seemed to answer with a resounding, “NO!” That caused doubt. And that doubt began to infect my thoughts and, worse still, to drain my confidence.
Differences between the now-dominant AR15 platform and my seemingly retro shotgun would keep me up at night. Differences in capacity, length, split times, effective range, load types, and manual of arms – differences every reader of this site has grappled with in the past.
The AR15 is the weapon of the military and our country’s increasingly militarized police forces for a reason, right? For every professional shotgun training class, there are dozens more for the AR15. What was I missing? I started to worry that everyone else at the range would think of me as a child doing its best to mimic the adults in the room. But then I let all of that go and fell back in love with my shotgun.
Would I ever have to use the shotgun outside of my home to defend myself or others? Would I ever have to engage an enemy at over fifty yards inside my home? Even twenty five? Probably not. Are there scenarios in my head where I’d like to have a magazine fed weapon with less felt recoil? Of course there are – I am not blind the AR15’s advantages. In fact, I’ve tried my best to outfit my shotgun with some its brother’s accessories, among them a great sling meant for AR15s and the unequaled Aimpoint T-1.
Is there anything wrong with using an AR15 to defend yourself? Of course not! But isn’t there something inherently wrong and discomforting about only being able to practice with the AR15 chained to a bench or with its speed limited to one shot every couple seconds? There are no limits in a gun fight despite what the range dictates.
Even the staunchest supporter of “America’s rifle” has to admit that the sudden and forceful introduction of eight to nine roughly thirty-two caliber pellets into a bad guy’s chest sends a clear message. At this point in my life, I am unable to become as proficient as I want with an AR15 weapon based on my location. One day I will live next to a more enlightened range or at least one with taller berms. When that happens, I will have to sit down with my shotgun and have a long chat.
For now, all of my confidence is squarely rooted in handguns and especially in my shotgun. That confidence comes from training I’ve received and, more importantly, from my ability to go and shoot it the same way I’d shoot it to protect myself. My shotgun is not going anywhere.