When I first started shooting 3-Gun, I thought that it would be fairly easy for me to make the transition. I already shot pistol and competed in Cowboy Action Shooting, so I had the basics down of using multiple guns during competitions. In some ways, the transition was OK, but in other ways I had totally misunderstood the challenges. My biggest underestimation ended up being shotgun loading. While the concept is the same, loading a pump-action shotgun with only 2 rounds at a time and loading a semi auto for 3-Gun are MUCH further apart than I thought. With a couple of years 3-Gun under my belt, here a few tips and techniques I’ve learned about shotgun loading.
The 4×4 or the 3×3 shotgun shell attachment is great because you can keep a lot of shells on your belt in a very small area. This is important if you are not very big around, because sometimes you need all the shells you can get. I tried loading the 4×4 method and had a decently good experience with it. I found that it was pretty simple if you knew a couple of tricks.
1. Use your pinky finger as a shelf and keep on the shells propped on it. This will keep them in a straight line and prevent them from slipping around and going wonky.
2. Keep your thumbnail cut short. This way you won’t catch it on the tube and rip it off — ask me how I know.
3. Be patient. I can’t claim to be an expert at this, but the most important things I have to remember are to be patient and deliberate. This way I wouldn’t drop shells all over the place.
The other thing that I found worked really well for me when loading 4×4 is using a pistol grip on my shotgun. The pistol grip means that when I reload, I can drop the gun down and reach for the shells at the same time, because I can manipulate the gun with one hand.
Loading 2 has become my preferred method of loading. I use Carbon Express loaders and have been having a great time learning how to do this. Sometimes it is hard for me to be deliberate and “smooth” when I am running hard. The load 2 method seems to be more forgiving when it comes to manipulating the shells. Usually, if I mess up, I am only dropping 2 shells instead of 4. Here are some tips for loading 2:
1. Keep your thumbnail cut short. Again, see above.
2. Push all the way through. Sometimes I get lazy and don’t push the second shell all the way in and it pops out.
For me, this loading method works really, really well. It is easy to learn, takes minimum manipulation and is great to do during dry fire and practice. The most difficult part has really been the loaders. Carbon Express makes great stuff, but the caddies don’t come assembled, so give yourself some extra time and always carry an Allen Wrench with you to make adjustments.
Loading 1 shell is where my background with Cowboy Action Shooting helped. Throughout the years, I have tried loading my old Winchester 97 several different ways, one of which is the load 1 method. However, with a semi auto you have the added challenge of hitting the slide release. My solution? Don’t let the gun run dry. Sounds simple, but it has actually been one of the hardest things to learn. It’s so easy to shoot fast and sometimes I lose round count. I am still learning to do this smoothly, but I have learned a couple of pieces of advice that I think might be helpful to anyone learning how.
1. Figure out an easy way to grab 1 shell. If you have a “match saver” Velcro attachment on your gun, or if you have a single pouch on your belt — make sure that there is a quick and easy way to grab just one shell.
2. Don’t throw the round. This is something I learned during Cowboy Action Shooting. If you throw the round at the gun, it’s not likely to go in. It sounds obvious, but you really have to take the time to place the round in the chamber of the gun.
3. Keep your hand flat while hitting the slide release. This is important because as that slide/bolt comes forward you don’t want it to hit your fingers or get a finger caught. If you keep your hand flat you can hit the release with your palm and be good to go.
Loading a shotgun during competition can be challenging to learn, but I have found it really rewarding. There is nothing as fun as going hard, shooting a bunch and then getting to shoot a bunch more after a successful reload. Happy loading!