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Shotgun Loading Basics for Defense or Sport

There are few guns as classic as the shotgun. From its use in the Wild West to tactical and hunting applications, it is a diverse firearm. One of the downfalls of this platform though is its low capacity and need for regular reloading. Fear not my friends, I’ve got some help for you. Mastering the loading and reloading techniques for different types of shotguns is essential for both safety and efficiency. Whether you’re a seasoned shooter or a novice, understanding the nuances of loading and reloading various shotgun models is important. Today, we’ll delve into the step-by-step process of loading and reloading pump-action, semi-automatic, and break-action shotguns.

Shotgun Loading Basics

Pump-Action Shotguns:

Pump-action shotguns remain popular for their reliability and simplicity. Loading and reloading these shotguns require a straightforward process:

  1. Safety first: Before handling any firearm, ensure it is unloaded and the safety is engaged.
  2. Open the Action: Press the action release button located near the trigger guard to open the action fully. Once you press the release, pull the pump grip to the rear. This will open the chamber.
  3. Load the Chamber: Insert a shell into the open chamber and close the action. This is accomplished by simply pushing the pump grip all the way forward.
  4. Load the Magazine Tube: Insert shotgun shells into the magazine tube located underneath the barrel. Ensure the shells are oriented in the correct direction, with the brass end facing towards the receiver.
  5. Check for Chambered Round: This is also called a press check. Verify visually and manually that a round is chambered. For pump action guns you will need to press the action release. Once done, slowly bring back the pump handle and partially expose the chamber. Verify there is a round in the chamber, then firmly pump the action forward to close it.
  6. Fire and Cyle the Gun. Firing a pump shotgun is a manual exercise. After each press of the trigger, you will need to “pump” the action. Do so firmly and with a complete motion.
  7. Repeat as Necessary: Continue pumping the action to load subsequent rounds into the chamber. Most pump-action shotguns have a capacity of four to eight rounds, depending on the model.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns:

Loading shotshells into a semi-auto shotgun.
(Photo by Sophonnawit Inkaew (iStock))

Semi-automatic shotguns offer faster shooting capability. Loading and reloading these shotguns involves a slightly different process:

  1. Safety first: Always ensure the shotgun unloaded and the safety engaged before handling.
  2. Open the Action: Pull the charging handle or press the bolt release button to open the action. The action will lock to the rear.
  3. Load the Chamber: Insert a shell into the open chamber and close the action. On most semi-auto shotguns, there is a release button below and just forward of the ejection port.
  4. Load the Magazine: Insert shotgun shells into the magazine tube or detachable box magazine. Again, ensure proper orientation with the brass end facing forward.
  5. Check for Chambered Round: Also called a press check. Verify visually and manually that a round is chambered. Some semi-automatic shotguns feature a chamber indicator. If not, grab the bolt handle and gently bring it back slightly. Look inside the chamber to make sure you see the shell. Once you have that confirmed, let the bolt go so the spring can close the action completely.
  6. Fire and Cyle the Gun. Firing a semi-auto shotgun is simple. After each press of the trigger, the gun will automatically cycle a fresh round into the chamber. Once the magazine tube is empty, the action will lock to the rear.
  7. Reload as Needed: If additional rounds are required, repeat the process of loading shells into the magazine.

Break-Action Shotguns:

The Weatherby Orion 20-Gauge shotgun series.

Break-action shotguns own a reputation for their simplicity and reliability. From double-barrel classics to over-under shotguns, they require more reloading.

  1. Safety First: Always start ensuring the firearm unloaded and the action is open.
  2. Insert Shells: Open the action and place the shotgun shells directly into the chambers located in the breech of the shotgun. Most break-action shotguns have two barrels, so insert shells into both chambers if needed.
  3. Close the Action: After inserting the shells, close the action by raising the barrels until they lock into place.
  4. Ready to Fire: With break-action shotguns, there is no need to chamber a round manually. Once the action is closed, the shotgun is ready to fire.
  5. Reload: To reload, open the action again, extract the spent shells, and insert fresh shells into the chambers.

Loading and reloading shotguns are fundamental skills for any shooter. Whether you prefer the reliability of a pump-action, the rapid-fire capability of a semi-automatic, or the simplicity of a break-action shotgun, understanding the specific procedures for each type is essential.

Loading a break-open shotgun
(Photo by Scharfsinn86 (iStock))

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