How to Shoot a Shotgun [Beginner’s Guide]

Here we’ll go over major parts of pump and semi-automatic shotguns.  We’ll then cover stance and how to safely load and unload.

12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)
12ga Shotgun Shells, Opened (L to R: Bird, Buck, Slug)

But before we do, now is another good time to review our safety rules.

  • All guns are always loaded
  • Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy
  • Keep your fingers off the trigger until your sights are on the target
  • Be sure of your target and what is beyond it

Table of Contents


Parts of a Pump Action Shotgun

Here are the typical parts of a pump action shotgun.

Mossberg 500 Parts Diagram
Mossberg 500 Parts Diagram

From our Types of Guns article, you know that you have to manually pump the fore-end to load each shotgun shell. 

Here is a great video that goes over how everything in a pump action works.  The reviewer is using inert aluminum snap caps to demonstrate loading and unloading

Parts of a Semi-Auto Shotgun

Here are the typical parts of a semi-automatic shotgun.

Benelli M2 Parts Diagram
Benelli M2 Parts Diagram

Semi-automatic shotguns use the energy from shooting to automatically load the next shell.  The Benelli M2 uses an inertial system while other semi-autos may use gas or other systems.

Here’s a quick look at the inertial system with a creepy voiceover (just watch the first shot).  You’ll see it’s a lot like the other semi-autos in pistols and rifles.

Here’s a quick video of loading and unloading a similar Benelli:

How to Shoot a Shotgun

Now that you know the major parts of both pump and semi-automatic shotguns, as well as how to load and unload, here are a few tips of how to shoot them.

  • Hold the standard grip with your firing hand and place your weak hand on the fore-grip.
Hold Shotgun, Wikihow
Hold Shotgun, Wikihow
  • Keep your feet shoulder width apart with slightly bent knees.  I would recommend being a little more square with the target and leaning forward a little to mitigate recoil.
  • Place the shotgun firmly in the pocket of your shoulder.  This is important since if you don’t have a firm plant, you’ll end up really feeling the shotgun as it hits you.
  • Get a good cheekweld on the stock
Shotgun Cheek Weld, Wikihow
Shotgun Cheek Weld, Wikihow

Here’s a quick primer on how to load and shoot a pump shotgun:

With some more details on how to reduce the recoil with some tension and stance:


These just begin to skim the surface of getting proficient at the shotgun.  For more in-depth info, I would recommend signing up for a well reviewed course near you, or at the very least, picking up Magpul’s awesome DVD, Art of the Dynamic Shotgun.


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