Fighting Shotguns: Alive or Dead?

Just recently I spent three days at Gunsite Academy outside of Prescott, Arizona focusing intently on the fighting shotgun. Weatherby firearms the prime sponsor of the event and we would use their PA-459 12 gauge shotgun the entire time.


Selling cops a fighting shotgun today must be like selling vinyl record players in the age of the iPod.  There is no doubt that the modern vinyl album can produce quality sound, but can you convince enough consumers of that fact to stay in business?

The current crop of young officers are “semi-auto” guys.  Most young twenty-something rookies have never fired a double-action revolver and the old pump-action shotgun looks rather antiquated when compared to the sleek black M4 in the gun rack.  Is the fighting shotgun a viable tool in the police arsenal or is it soon to go the way of the DA revolver?

Fighting Shotgun

When you consider the track record of the 12 gauge shotgun through the last two centuries it’s tough to argue about the lethal fight stopping capability.  Rarely does the officer behind the shotgun lose the fight.  If that’s the case, why has the shotgun become a tough sell and why do so many officers fail to grab these guns out the cruiser?  Worse yet, why do some Chiefs and Sheriffs mandate the long gun be stored in the trunk out of immediate reach of the officer who might need it?  I actually worked for one Police Chief that ordered us to store the shotguns at the station, ala Old West jailhouse.  “If you need one drive back and get one.” Was the actual quote he gave me when I asked “Why?”  This wasn’t thirty years ago, it was 1999.  

In my humble opinion, the police shotgun, despite its stellar reputation, is still one of the most misunderstood fighting tools in the arsenal.   A couple of potential reasons come to mind.  First and foremost is the fact that to a non-gun person, and many new officers fall into that category, the hard kicking shotgun is a bit intimidating.   Their first introduction to the shotgun is during the academy and they rarely practice with it after that.  These folks simply don’t have the experience to appreciate the shotgun’s potential.  

I’m reminded of Officer James Niggemeyer who put down the killer of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott of Pantera.  Responding to a “shots fired” call Officer Niggemeyer grabbed his Remington 870 shotgun and entered the scene.  The deranged killer, Nathan Gale, had already shot several people including Abbott and was attempting to continue his rampage.   Niggemeyer, mindful of the innocents, moved to angle his shot.  Shouldering the 870 he fired a single round of 00 buckshot into the head of Gale.   It was reported that 8 of the 9 pellets impacted Gale’s face and he immediately ceased further hostility.

In the aftermath of the investigation one fact that came out was that James Niggemeyer was an outdoorsman and hunter and was infinitely familiar with the use of a shotgun in and out of work.  I have to believe that this fact contributed to two critical factors; 1) he thought to actually grab the gun out to the patrol car, 2) he shouldered, aimed and triggered a single killing shot within seconds of entering the venue.   Officer Niggemeyer justifiably received awards and accolades for his bravery and quick action.  There is little doubt that lives were saved by one well-trained man and his shotgun.

Practical Training      

Just recently I spent three days at Gunsite Academy outside of Prescott, Arizona focusing intently on the fighting shotgun.  Weatherby firearms the prime sponsor of the event and we would use their PA-459 12 gauge shotgun the entire time.   This, however, was no dog and pony show, it was an intensive training program.   

Fighting through below-freezing temperatures and blowing snow my compatriots and I were put through numerous training exercises and finally put on the clock (shot timer) and our skills tested.  During the long weekend of training I had ample time to consider the fighting shotgun and how to best employ it.     

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