AAR of Tom Givens Social Shotgun

What can Tom Givens teach you about defensive application of the shotgun? A whole truckload.

What can Tom Givens teach you about the shotgun in 4 hours?….. Still a significant chuck of that same truckload.

My first exposure to shotguns was my dad taking me trap shooting on my 13th birthday (since that was the minimum age at his shooting club. It’s Maryland….they’re goofy about gun stuff). I knew about shotguns, I’d been exposed to them, I technically had one that was configured for a role in home defense, but I’d never had any formal instruction. The extent of my understanding of the gauge was very reminiscent of Antonio Banderas learning swordsmanship in that first Zorro movie: “Do you know how to use that thing?” “Yes, the pointy end goes into the other man!”. So I took this class fully expecting to be the most novice guy there. My goal was to identify everything wrong with my gear and assumptions, so that I would work on correcting and improving them, and be better equipped to employ my shotgun in its intended role.

Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t a soup sandwich. I experienced 0 gear failures or malfunctions. I’m sure that has very little to do with my skill, and much more to do with Tom’s ability as a teacher. He’s definitely a salty old cop insofar as he has no tolerance for grab-assy bullshit. He doesn’t yell or try and play drill sergeant, he’s just gruff enough to maintain the pace of his coursework. There’s a good amount of humor and levity as well to keep people engaged. 

This was a fantastic class for a complete newbie like myself. At no point did I feel lost, or like I was behind the curve. He started off covering the basics: manual of arms (separated out for the pump guns and autoloaders), ready positions, proper sight picture, preferred setups and ammunition, and patterning. In summary, here’s how he addressed each portion:

Ready Positions: 

  • High Ready = buttstock resting on your hip bone with a full grip on the forend, looking over the muzzle at your target (area), safety on. 
  • Mounted = shouldered, pointed down range, safety off, finger on trigger ready to fire
    • “The only thing the safety does is keep the trigger from working”

Proper Sight Picture: For a bead sight on a vent rib gun (which is how mine is set up), you don’t want to actually see any of the “table top” of the rib. You just want to see the bead sitting on a flat horizon to ensure the muzzle isn’t canted up. Red dots & rifle sights are pretty self explanatory.

Preferred setups:

  • Stocks: Adjustable is ideal. Generally a 12-12.5” Length of Pull is recommended.
    • Configure the gun for the smallest user in the household
    • Magpul is the hotness
    • You should be able to mount the stock into your shoulder without it hanging up on any clothing/gear. 
      • If needed (for longer stocks) punch up and out, then drive the stock back into your shoulder. 
  • Sights: Dots & rifle sights are generally better since they allow for a higher degree of precision. 
  • Ammo Carriers: “You’re only going to get to use what’s in and on the gun” so it’s a good idea to have an extra source of ammo physically attached to the gun somehow. 
    • Tom has fabric cards velcroed to the side of his receiver. Not because they can be reloaded quickly during a firefight, but because they’re easily replaced when the elastic wears out.
    • There was no appreciable difference between fabric shotgun cards, butt cuffs, or hard side saddles that I saw. YMMV.
  • Slings: Were never discussed. During the courses of fire we did, they only seemed to get in people’s way. 
  • Ammunition: Buck. 00, 0, or 1 buck. Tom commented that typically 8 pellet seemed to perform better than 9, since he’s witnessed 9 pellet almost always resulting in one “flyer” when patterning. 
    • Flitecontrol is your friend. 
    • Regardless of what’s the new hotness, your shotgun may only like certain ammo. Find what patterns best out of your gun, or send your barrell off to someone (read: Vang Comp) that can make it pattern for you.

Manual of Arms: 

  • For pump guns, the user is responsible for the entire function of the gun. 
  • Running of the pump should be an automatically conditioned response after pulling the trigger. 
  • Make sure your ENTIRE support hand is on the pump so you don’t mash/mangle/amputate your pinkie between the slide and the receiver. 
  • Loading:
    • Load the chamber first, then the magazine tube
    • Push shells past the shell stop
    • When loading/reloading, cup the shell in your ring/middle/index fingers, using the pinkie and thumb to secure it
      • This applies regardless if you prefer going over the top or underneath the receiver
      • I prefer underneath, since it affords slightly less risk of fumbling/dropping the shell. 
      • Butt cuffs tend to be more conducive to reloading from under the receiver
      • Side saddles can work either way, however the brass up layout is more efficient with an over the top reload
  • Running the Pump:
    • Don’t be gentle
    • Try and pull the gun apart

I left the class significantly more confident in both my ability with the shotgun, as well as my chosen setup. 

Shamelessly stealing the Short Barreled Shepherd’s 3×3 Model for AARs, here’s the breakdown:

The top 3 things covered in the class:

–          Manual of Arms for pump & semi shotguns

–          Presentation & manipulation during the cycle of fire

–          Dos/Don’ts, Pros/Cons

The top 3 things I learned from the class:

–          I could benefit from a shorter LOP

–          My setup isn’t nearly as suboptimal as I’d expected

–          The underneath shotgun reload seems to be the most intuitive/natural for me

Top 3 things I’ll do differently:

–          Re-stock/shorten my stock

–          Pattern my gun to find what load(s) it likes best

–          Improve the front sight & add some sort of shell carrier.

Shotguns are absolutely still a viable choice for home protection, and they do offer some distinct advantages over other long guns. That being said, they are not suitable for a novice, and have a much longer learning curve to master. The nice thing is that the gauge is seeing a resurgence of late, and there’s a bunch of great instructors offering shotgun classes these days.

Here’s some of those resources, in no particular order:

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