Many gunstore employees often fall into one of two categories. The first is those who have a solid background with firearms use and operation – perhaps a long time hunter, someone with a military background, or law enforcement firearms experience. Their desire is to make sure you get the firearm that best meets your needs. On the other hand, are those employees,

the “cowboys” that are either only there brag about their exploits and prowess, to sell a product, and/or to take advantage or feel important by trying to demonstrate they know more than the customers they are talking with.

The problem for the novice customer, is they often won’t know who to believe. Either may sound authoritative, and both seem to be sharing their knowledge with the intent of helping to guide the inexperienced customer.

Some gunstore workers remind me of several people I have known who were fishermen. In addition to bragging about their skill and prowess – the fish I caught was “this big” – these fishermen never let the facts get in the way of a good story. If a small embellishment helped – a bigger exaggeration made the story even better. My personal pet peeve: the amazing effectiveness of the shotgun as a home defense weapon.

Two myths I want to put to rest today, the first – “all you have to do is rack the slide, and the criminal will be so scared they will runaway – often soiling themselves as they do so…” The second: You can’t miss with a shotgun, you don’t even need to aim, just point it at the criminal and you will hit him…”

Now before I start, let me share my own opinion about the shotgun. A very versatile weapon, the properly outfitted shotgun with the appropriate ammunition has uses from near contact distance to 100 yards or more. Although the length can be unwieldy in some home defense situations, the effect of a shotgun blast at short to medium distances creates absolutely devastating wounds. I have no intention of critiquing the shotgun as a weapon, only these incorrect myths.

The “You Can’t Miss With a Shotgun” Myth:

The Truth: Shotgun loads may expand as much as an inch for every yard they travel (most won’t even expand that much, and the type and length of the barrel has some effect on the pattern spread). Using that extreme rate of pattern expansion as an example, at seven yards (or 21 feet, about the distance across from one side of your living room to the other), your pattern might be as wide as seven inches. Firing the shotgun sighted directly at a threat at that distance, will likely create a large diameter wound. However, moving the shotgun only a few degrees to one side or the other, can let the entire load of shot to completely miss a human sized threat.

The spread of a charge of shot (containing multiple projectiles expelled simultaneously) is obviously larger, and has a greater chance of the multiple pellets expanding to a larger pattern than that of a handgun or rifle that expels a singular projectile. However, at realistic self-defense distances, it is entirely possible the entire shot charge can entirely miss a threat if not aimed and fired directly at the intended target.

It is a good practice to “pattern” any ammunition you choose to carry in your shotgun. Basically, you shoot your selected load at a target at increasing distances. When you do so, you now have a very realistic idea of how much that specific load will spread at measured distances in your specific shotgun and barrel combination. Do that a few times, and you will quickly see how much a shotgun load will or won’t spread, and how very possible it is to completely miss a target at inside house self-defense distances.

If someone tells you otherwise, you should probably consider the advice they give you in all firearms matters with a heavy dose of skepticism.

The “Rack the Slide” Myth:

The Truth: Bad guys who hear that noise now know you are armed, and may just go ahead and shoot blindly in your general direction – since that noise has told them where you are. If they were really afraid of encountering resistance, they wouldn’t be breaking into your house in the first place.

Some people will completely freak out at the presence or sight of a firearm. The problem with these people is they are so freaked out at the sight of the gun, they won’t listen to the direction you give then. Some I have seen will literally stay in place screaming, unable to hear directions, and requiring someone to approach them and physically “assist” them to the floor where they will then be restrained

Others are legitimately frightened when a firearm is drawn and pointed in their direction, and they are usually very attentive and interested in paying attention to anything you say, and are very anxious to quickly comply with any directions you give them.

Then there are others, several of whom I or others I worked with dealt with personally, who really don’t care if you have a gun pointed at them, even if that gun is a 12 gauge shotgun.

For further explanation, let me offer several other specific examples relating to the fear of having a firearm pointed at you – based on many, many instances of taking people into custody at gunpoint. Please see the entry titled “Racking the Shotgun” for several specific examples I have experienced in my career.