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When firing long guns — rifles and shotguns — the way that you grip and shoulder your weapon determines, to a significant degree, how well you aim, control the recoil, and transition between targets.
The Importance of Proper Grip
When firing long guns, proper grip, shoulder position, and stance are vital for accurate, controllable fire. However, shotguns are highly powerful weapons, often propelling a payload of one ounce or more at or above the speed of sound. This shot charge or slug, especially in a relatively lightweight firearm, can deliver a significant recoil impulse.
Shouldering a rifle or shotgun increases stability and recoil absorption. When you fail to shoulder a shotgun or other hard-recoiling firearm properly, you allow it to accelerate rearward before it strikes it. When you assume the proper grip and shoulder position, you can effectively manage the recoil and fire repeatedly without incident.
Proper Grip and Shoulder Position
What is the correct way to shoulder a shotgun? This question is important for a number of reasons. As with shouldering rifles, the correct shoulder position for a shotgun improves stability when firing, reduces sight recovery time, and avoids discomfort or fatigue.
Shotguns have a variety of different grip and stock designs. The shotgun, traditionally, has a rifle-type one- or two-piece stock, depending on the action type. Break-action shotguns, whether single- or double-barreled, tend to have a one-piece stock, where the fore-end and butt stock are one unit.
Pump-action and self-loading shotguns, however, typically have a two-piece stock consisting of the fore-end, also called the fore-stock or forearm, and the butt stock.
In these types of stocks, the part you hold with your firing hand may be called the wrist or the small of the stock.
You should place your strong hand on the stock or pistol grip, holding it firmly. Modern tactical or combat shotguns often feature perpendicular pistol grips, not unlike modern tactical and sporting rifles.
Pay careful attention to the position of your middle finger on the small of the stock. It shouldn’t be close to the trigger guard. Under recoil, the trigger guard could strike and injure your middle finger.
Furthermore, when you place your firing hand on the small of the stock, your thumb should either be on the side of the stock or straight and away from your nose.
As with rifles, you should press the butt of the shotgun firmly against your shoulder, securing it in the pocket and away from your biceps muscle. Apply rearward pressure with the firing hand to keep it in place. This firm shoulder position can help your body absorb the recoil when you fire.
The comb is the top of the stock on which you rest your cheek. You should place your cheek on the same part of the comb each time to ensure that your stock weld is consistent from shot to shot.
You may be thinking that consistent stock weld is less critical when firing a shotgun than a rifle. However, this ensures that you’re able to achieve consistent eye relief when using rifle-type sights on your shotgun. A rear aperture or peep sight, especially a ghost ring, paired with a front post is a popular and effective sighting system for shotguns.
You’ll also often find a front blade paired with a rear “V” notch rear sight, which is also highly effective when using rifled or sabot slugs.
In many modern tactical shotguns, the need for a compact weapon that is both maneuverable and portable has resulted in the increasing use of folding stocks. A typical folding shotgun stock attaches to the receiver on a locking hinge and folds vertically or horizontally.
When firing a shotgun, many shooters new to firearms will lean to the rear, which is not conducive to proper balance. You should keep your feet approximately shoulder-width apart, leaning forward on the foot opposite to your dominant hand.
For example, if you’re right-handed and brace the shotgun against your right shoulder, you’ll lean forward with your left foot ahead of your right. Leaning forward and into the shoulder stock ensures you can manage the recoil more effectively.
Shotgun Fit and Recoil
The question “What is the correct way to shoulder a shotgun?” can be resolved by instruction and training. However, it’s also worth investigating proper fit.
Adjustability can increase your ability to achieve a proper shoulder position. If the shotgun stock is too long or too short for you, you will be unable to control the weapon.
The simplest remedy is to select a shotgun with a collapsible or telescoping shoulder stock. Butt stocks like those of the AR-15 pattern that offer length-of-pull adjustment allow you to lengthen or shorten the stock to suit your physique.
In shotguns with fixed stocks, you can often install butt plates of varying thicknesses or add spacers. This will lengthen the length of pull; however, you may need to find a way to reduce this distance. You can find short stocks to more effectively accommodate a smaller build.
In addition to assuming the grip, shoulder position, and stance, you can mitigate the recoil of shotguns and other firearms in other ways. One is by using a suitable muzzle device, such as a compensator or muzzle brake. Choke tubes, which screw into the muzzle, can also be ported to exhaust gases, reducing the recoil impulse.
Aside from muzzle devices, your shotgun should also have an appropriate recoil pad. This is a butt pad made from hard rubber or another shock-absorbing material that will compress under recoil, decelerating the shotgun’s rearward movement.
A recoil pad can help dampen the blow to your shoulder. An alternative solution is to wear a shooting jacket with a recoil pad sewn into the shoulder.
The gun itself and the ammunition that you’ve chosen can either increase or decrease the recoil. A heavier shotgun, all else being equal, will recoil less. The Remington 870, using a steel receiver, is heavier than a Mossberg 500 of the same class and gauge, which has an aluminum receiver.
The ammunition also plays a role. If the shotgun shells you’re firing are too powerful, consider selecting less potent loads. Many shotgun shells loaded with buckshot are highly effective for home defense — unless you’re a hunter, you don’t necessarily need 3” magnum loads.
The Bottom Line
Every shotgun owner or rifleman should understand the best way to grip and shoulder their long guns. Not only does grip and shoulder position affect how accurate and stable you will be, but it also protects you against injury from the effects of recoil.