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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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3 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    A good cheek weld doesnt matter ? Yeah i mean a real cheek weld, not barely touching your face. Ive seen so many bad cheek welds in two of these videos.

    July 12, 2019 3:53 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    I'm cross dominant with dominance of right hand and left eye. Please guide what doe's and don'ts I should keep in mind while buying a shotgun and a rifle Semi Auto as well as Bolt action. How to overcome this problem. Though I close my left dominant eye while shooting right handed air guns but now I wanna go for real ammo.
    I read here that the Remington 700 bolt action is good for accuracy is appreciated but wanna know which ONE caliber is the best when keeping in mind the price, availability, recoil, choice, efficiency, long range etc. Please suggest the best one. Thank you so much.

    November 20, 2017 1:05 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Eric Hung

      When I shoot shotgun I open both eyes and if I use only one eye...I go with the right even though it's not my dominant. Same thing with rifle with scopes...right eye. I like .308 for the best mix of everything.

      November 20, 2017 12:56 pm
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