With the help of my gun-loving husband, I have been exploring the world of firearms lately. Just for you, dear reader, I fired a shotgun for the first time yesterday.
Shotguns come in pump action, break action, and semi-automatic. Less commonly you will find revolver action and bolt action shotguns. Today we focus on pump action.
A pump action shotgun works by cycling the action forward and back to load the gun. You load the shotgun shells or slugs into the magazine tube one by one by feeding them into the bottom of the receiver.
The Benelli Supernova
I shot two pump action shotguns: the Benelli Supernova and the Benelli Nova Tactical. The Supernova has a 26 inch field barrel but you can also get a rifled slug barrel. Other lengths are available in the field barrel. It holds 4 rounds of 2 3/4 inch, 3 inch, or 3 1/2 inch shells.
The Supernova has a recoil mitigation system built into the stock. The field barrel has a standard intermediate bead and front red fiberoptic sighting system. You line up the brass bead with the red sight on the front to acquire your target.
The Supernova is available in several calibers, but I shot a 12 gauge. A 20 gauge would have had a softer recoil.
The slug barrel is 24 inches long and loads with slugs, creating a kickback that would have been more than a beginner would want to experience. Unlike the #8 shot I used, a slug is a solid mass that leaves a single hole in the target.
The Supernova is primarily a hunting gun. Shotguns are more often used for bird hunting than game hunting, but with a slug you could hunt small animals.
The Benelli Nova Tactical
The Nova Tactical has an 18 inch barrel and ghost ring sights. Ghost ring sights have an aperture at the back with a post at the front. There is a brass bead at the top of the post. You look through the circle and put the bead on your target to line it up.
The Nova Tactical is designed to be used as a home defense shotgun. It is shorter and more maneuverable for turning corners in a house. Some field shotguns have up to 30 inch barrels.
The Nova Series shotguns do not have the recoil mitigation in the stock that you will find in the Supernova Series.
Both guns I shot have a safety at the front of the trigger guard. The release for the slide is also located at the front of the trigger guard. Both guns use a synthetic stock rather than a wooden stock.
How a Pump Action Shotgun Works
- You load the shells into the magazine
- You press the slide release at the front of the trigger guard to release the slide
- You pull the slide back toward the buttstock, which releases the first shell
- The magazine spring pushes the shell out of the magazine
- At the same time, the bolt unlocks and moves to the rear, extracting and ejecting the empty shell from the chamber. The bolt houses the firing pin and holds the shell in the chamber.
- The shell slides onto the elevator, which is the mechanism that lifts the new shell from the magazine tube up to the level of the chamber
- Pulling the slide back cocks the internal hammer
- As you push the slide forward, the bolt moves forward
- The round slides into the chamber
- When the slide is fully forward, it locks the bolt into position
- You pull the trigger
- Pulling the trigger releases the internal hammer
- The hammer hits the firing pin
- The primer ignites, setting off the powder charge
- As the gases expand, the shot cup is forced down the barrel. The shot cup holds the pellets of the shot.
- When the shot cup reaches the end of the barrel, it exits
- The shot expands as it flies out the end of the barrel
- The farther you are from your target, the wider the pattern will be when it hits the target
The Parts of a Pump Action Shotgun
The stock, also called the buttstock, is the part you put against your shoulder when you shoot. The recoil pad is attached to the back end of the stock.
The receiver houses the internal action: the bolt, the elevator, the firing pin, the hammer, the ejection port, the loading gate, and the trigger.
The Magazine Tube
The magazine tube is under the barrel. It holds the shells.
The barrel is where the pellets exit when the round is fired. A smooth bore barrel shoots standard shot shells. A rifled barrel shoots slugs. Rifling is the spiral grooves cut on the inside of the barrel to impart spin. The spin stabilizes the slug as it makes its way to the target.
The forend, also called the slide, is the part that you slide back and forth to cycle the action.
Shotguns can use three types of ammunition: birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. Handguns and rifles, in contrast, use cartridges that contain a single bullet, creating a single hole in a target.
A 12 gauge shotgun has a larger diameter bore than a 20 gauge shotgun because the number refers to how many lead balls the size of the bore will add to up one pound.
Shotguns are also called scatterguns, because they scatter pellets in an arc rather than hitting one specific spot.
Slugs are the exception to the scattergun rule, because they contain a single piece of metal that acts like the bullet.
The difference between birdshot and buckshot is the size of the pellets. Shot is measured from 000 to 12, with smaller numbers indicating larger pellets.
A #8 shot is .089 inches in diameter. There are approximately 410 #8 pellets in one ounce.
I shot a 12 gauge shell with 1 1/8 ounces of #8 shot. This released 461 pellets toward the target with each pull of the trigger.
Look at the end of the video at 12:12 and notice that the target is covered with thousands of tiny holes from less a dozen shots. Hunters use shotguns to shoot flying birds because the scatter pattern will provide more coverage for moving targets.
Buckshot is bigger for shooting larger game such as deer. Buckshot starts at 000 and goes up to #4. 000 is pronounced “triple ought.”
A 00 pellet is .33 inches in diameter, approximately the size of a 9mm bullet. One ounce of 00 buckshot contains about twelve pellets.
You can mount an ammunition holder on the stock or the side of the receiver.
A sling helps you carry the shotgun over your shoulder like a purse handle.
You could mount a light on a tactical shotgun but not a field gun.
You can replace the sights that come with your shotgun with red dot sights.
Scopes are uncommon but possible for a shotgun.
You might take a belt-mounted bag to hold your shells.
Using a Pump Shotgun Safely
Shotguns are not drop safe. Handguns have built in features to keep them from shooting if you drop them. See my article for details.
If you drop a shotgun it is likely to shoot. To help mitigate the danger, keep the safety on until you are ready to aim and shoot. The safety blocks the trigger to keep the gun from shooting.
On the two shotguns I used, the safety was located just in front of the trigger and required pushing a button from side to side. The safety is built into the trigger guard.
Other shotguns have the safety elsewhere, such as on the top of the receiver, so familiarize yourself with the operation of the model you choose before you load it. As with any new skill, have someone with experience demonstrate and supervise your first use of a shotgun.
Store your guns unloaded as a general rule. If you have a shotgun for home defense, keep it in the cruiser-ready condition. This means you have the magazine tube loaded but there is not a shell in the chamber.
When you store your shotgun in a safe, store it with the barrel pointing up. This keeps it from falling over because the butt is wider and heavier than the barrel.
How to Load a Pump Shotgun
Activate the safety. Remember to point the gun in a safe direction even when it is not loaded. To load a pump action shotgun, the action has to be closed. Otherwise the slide is in the way of the loading gate.
Hold the gun upside down on your lap. Find the elevator in the bottom of the receiver. Depress the elevator and push the shell into the magazine tube. Push the next shell in behind its predecessor and continue until the magazine is full. For the guns I shot, the capacity is four rounds.
How to Unload a Pump Shotgun
Activate the safety. Keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Turn the gun upside down on your lap and look down into the loading area. Some guns require you to press the elevator down to get a good view into the magazine tube.
In some shotguns there is a button you can press to release the shell from the tube so that you don’t have to cycle the action to unload the gun.
If you don’t find that button, turn the gun right side up. Press the action release and pull the forend back. This will eject the shell in the chamber. Continue to cycle the action until the magazine is empty,
What It Feels Like to Shoot a Pump Shotgun
Shotguns have serious kick. A small or powerful handgun might sting the hand a bit, but the backward motion generated by shooting a pump action shotgun raises kickback to a whole new level. Some larger caliber rifles have an even bigger kick than a shotgun.
I shot the smallest shell that works in the two guns I used. My husband informs me that a 3 1/2 inch Magnum would “knock you on your butt.” As with handgun ammunition, the word magnum refers to extra gunpowder.
I am a left handed shooter, but I like to shoot both left and right handed just because you never know when you will face a situation that requires flexibility. That propensity came in handy.
I broke my left collarbone five years ago. That should be long enough for the bone to have healed completely, but I wasn’t interested in testing that theory, so I shot right handed.
I did not find it easy to deactivate the safety without looking at it.
Holding the shotgun against my right shoulder was not a problem, and my left hand supported the forend. It was heavy, so I did not want to hold it very long.
For a longer shooting session I would have opted for a seated position with a bench rest to support the barrel. The bench rest would not have been ideal because it would have interfered with cycling the pump action.
Racking the action was easy. I did not have difficulty with the firm motion needed to pull the action backward and then forward, and there was nothing that would have pinched me.
I rested my cheek against the stock and looked down the sights. I have no idea how well I did at aiming because I closed my eyes before I shot. The Supernova was loud, and it did move me backward a little, but I could get used to it.
There is a fear factor in shooting a shotgun for the first time because experienced shooters like to tell stories about the bruises they earned from their guns.
The Nova Tactical had a bigger boom and a great deal more recoil. As you can see in the video, I was a bit taken aback.
I am happy to report that I woke up the next morning with all parts intact. I have no bruise on my shoulder and I am not sore. My legs feel like I ran several miles yesterday, probably becaused I tensed up in anticipation of the big boom.
To learn what it is like to shoot a handgun for the first time, read my blog post about what it feels like to shoot a gun. To read my experiences and watch me shoot a bolt action rifle and a lever action rifle, read my blog posts.
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