Shotguns – most people either love ‘em or hate ‘em, especially in action shooting sports like 3-gun. It’s not so much the blasting away that bothers folks so much as having to load them.
In most cases, shotguns have the most limited capacity of any gun used in an action competition. At most, they’ll usually hold no more than 12 shells at a time. That means that it’s likely that competitors will need to reload their shotguns with at least a handful of rounds in most stages. Some competitors complain that their favorite multigun matches have become more of a shotgun reloading contest than anything else.
Load-Two and Quad-Loading
The most common way to load shotguns in modern action shooting is either the load-two (or duaload, or twin-load) or its close relative, the quad-load. As their names imply, they are methods of loading two or four rounds into a shotgun at a time. Load-two in particular is relatively easy to pick up even for new shotgunners and is a great place to start if you’re not sure what technique you should choose.
The equipment needs are fairly basic: a shotgun that has a loading port that supports load-two or quad-loading, and an appropriate shell carrier.
Shotguns not made for competition often have narrow loading ports that are good enough to get shells into, but not at the speeds and with the movements required to make these loading methods work. You’ll need a gun that has a larger loading port with the edges smoothed and chamfered a bit like a magazine well on a pistol. It’s also often a good idea to have the notch at the end of the lifter welded closed to avoid pinching your thumb.
Load-two and quad-load carriers are designed to hold two shotgun shells end to end so that you can grab shells stacked together to be shoved into your shotgun one right after another. With load-two, you’ll need to go back to the carrier after each pair of shells; with quad-loading, you put in two pairs of shells at a time.
Quad-load carriers simply stack up load-two type mechanisms right next to each other. They can often be used for load-two as long as you can avoid accidentally grabbing extra shells. Popular brands for those include Invictus Practical ($98) and Safariland ($85), as well as the Taccom and Carbon Arms quad setups.
Whatever loading system you choose, you’ll also need to pick between a belt-mounted option or a chest rig. Belt-mounts are convenient because you’re probably already wearing one and carrying other gear on it. Chest rigs are helpful if you need to carry a lot of shells or if your belt is already full.
To actually perform the load, you need to decide which hand you want to use to grab your shells.
Using your shooting, or strong, hand has the advantage of allowing you to use your (usually) more dexterous hand to grab shells. Start by flipping your shotgun upside down over your shoulder, so that the loading port faces up, using your non-shooting hand to control the gun as you move. At the same time, you’ll grab two or four shells and slide each pair of shells into the loading port with a “petting” motion pushing the shells down and in.
Weak-hand loading is nearly the same. Instead of flipping the gun up, roll it down and support it under your arm with your shooting hand. Otherwise, the load is the same except with the other hand. It’s a great option if you’re running your shotgun with your non-dominant hand.
The old-school way of loading a shotgun, which you still see, uses caddies that stack three to four shells side by side. The shells sit horizontal on the belt, and all three or four are grabbed at once with the strong or weak hand.
Caddy loading requires a lot more dexterity and is a little bit slower than load-two and quad-loading. Even with a lot of practice (and it’s needed!), it can be difficult to master.
Just One More Round
The best tip I can give you to load shotguns like a pro 3-gunner is to minimize reloading in the first place. That’s because misses are so costly in terms of the time needed to reload. If you hit your targets one for one, you’ll be able to avoid spending extra time loading over what your competitors are doing on the same stage.
In most modern, semi-automatic shotguns, the single-round reload is just a matter of getting a shell into the ejection port in the correct orientation and dropping the bolt. The fastest way to do that is to use a MatchSaverZ or Stage Saver.
Other One-Off Loads
Sometimes, the reason you need to load your shotgun is because different kinds of ammunition are needed in a stage. You might need to shatter some clay targets with birdshot, hit some paper targets for score with buckshot, and whack a piece of long-range steel with a slug. There can be penalties, or even disqualification, for using the wrong shells on the wrong targets, not to mention the frustration of trying to hit a 50-yard steel plate with birdshot instead of slug.
One strategy is to “candy cane” load the rounds you need in the order that you’re planning on shooting the stage. You’ll just need to keep count to make sure you’re using the right shells on the right targets.
Normally, though, you’ll load what you need as you need it. It’s a good idea in most cases to segregate your “special” ammunition into a different carrier so you can remember to use that carrier to load those rounds. You might also buy shells that are color-coded in some way – such as clear slugs and red birdshot.
In order to avoid switching back and forth too often, it can be wise to shoot all of the targets in a stage that require one type of ammo before going to the next type even if it might otherwise not be the most efficient stage plan.
Shotgun loading might seem difficult and confusing, but it’s simpler than it seems…especially once you practice a little. Dummy shotgun rounds ($30) are readily available and perfect for dry fire, so that you can learn the best way to keep your shotgun fed during a match without even going to the range.