Hitting your target consistently requires solid fundamentals. Check out these tips for building a strong foundation.
• Fit Unlike rifles and handguns, shotguns are meant to be pointed rather than truly aimed. The shooter focuses on the target as it moves through the air, and if all goes well, the shot column goes where the shooter is looking. Because of this style of shooting, proper gun fit is critical—if the gun's stock isn't sized so that the gun points where the shooter is looking, it won't hit the target. For more on proper shotgun fit, see this video.
Shotguns are generally divided by action into three primary groups: Semi-automatic, pump and break action. Semi-automatics fire one shot with each pull of the trigger and feed cartridges from a magazine. With pumps, when a shell is fired, the shooter must pull the pump back to eject the spent shell and push it forward to chamber a new one. As their name suggests, break-action shotguns hinge, or break, open at the breech and a cartridge is inserted into the chamber, then the action is closed, making the gun ready to fire. Break-action shotguns can be single-barrel or double-barrel; double-barrel guns are offered in over-and-under or side-by-side varieties.
• How to Load How you load a shotgun depends on the action. For semi-automatic and pump-action guns, push cartridges into the tubular spring-loaded magazine through the loading port at the bottom of the receiver. In break-action guns, simply open the action, insert a cartridge into the exposed chamber(s) and close the action.
• Grip & Stance When holding a shotgun, your non-firing hand should grip the middle of the forend, with your trigger hand on the grip behind the trigger. Hold the gun firmly, but do not squeeze it tightly. To bring the shotgun into firing position, pull the butt into your shoulder. Place your feet shoulder width apart, with your knees flexed slightly and your body turned roughly 40 degrees. Weld your cheek to the stock; this aligns your eye with the barrel. When shotguns are used to fire slugs or when shooting at relatively stationary targets like wild turkeys, it's best to use a stance and shooting fundamentals like you would when shooting a rifle.
• Sights Rather than sights common on rifles, most shotguns used for wingshooting or target shooting feature a single bead. Shooters should keep both eyes open while focusing on the moving target—not the bead.
• Recoil Management All firearms produce recoil. The challenge for shooters, especially newcomers, is managing it. This requires a proper grip and stance, as well as practice. It's important to resist anticipating the recoil and pushing the shotgun downward to counter it. Rather, concentrate on moving the shotgun with the target and pulling the trigger while following though.
• Chokes Constriction in a shotgun's muzzle is referred to as "choke." The three most common chokes are full, modified and improved cylinder. Lead, steel and tungsten alloy shot pattern differently in each of these chokes. To determine which load provides the best pattern density and most even pellet distribution, it is necessary to shoot a variety of loads into a large piece of paper at different distances. This exercise, called "patterning," lets hunters choose the best loads and chokes for their style of hunting, as well as learn their maximum effective range.
• Training Options Many new shooters are interested in shotguns for hunting. If you're among them, check out one of the many hunter safety classes available. To find a class near you, check out one of Federal Premium's education partners.