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Competition Shotgun Loading Techniques

Shotgun Loading Techniques

One of the keys to success in most 3-gun matches, not to mention shotgun-only action matches, is being able to load the gun quickly and consistently.

Most shotguns used in competition use standard tubular magazines, although they are often extended to hold a maximum of about twelve rounds in the tube. With courses of fire that may include twenty or more targets, you can imagine that the shooting part still takes a lot less time than the loading part, especially when some of the targets may need to be engaged with different kinds of shotshells, such as buckshot or slug.

This stage required loading an empty shotgun and using both birdshot and slug
Competitors in modern matches usually use either the “load 2” (also known as “dual load”) or “quad load” technique to allow them to insert two or four rounds into their shotguns at a time. Both of these methods require some minor modifications to the shotgun both so that the techniques will work as well as to allow the shooter to get the best possible advantage out of them.
Shotgun loading ports modified for load 2 / quad loading

Special carriers are also needed to hold the shells in the orientation needed to load 2 or quad load. They vertically align two shells together allowing the shooter to grab a stack of two, or a pair of stacks, at once with either their shooting or non-shooting hand, so that the shells are held in the fingers with the thumb along the primer end.

A few shell carrier options that can strap around the chest/stomach or attach to a belt

The shotgun is positioned with the loading port facing up either over the strong-side shoulder for weak-hand loading, or under the strong-side arm for strong-hand loading. The hand holding the shells then sweeps forward and across the loading port, while adding just enough downward pressure to drive each column of two shells into the shotgun’s magazine tube.

Step by step quad loading

While load 2 and quad loading are common now, especially because they are relatively simple to learn, you still might run across shell caddies that stack three to four shells horizontally on top of each other. With this style, the entire stack of shells is pulled out of the carrier together, then inserted one at a time into the loading port. Rather than try to describe it, I recommend these short demonstration videos for strong hand and weak hand variations.

A 4×4 shell caddy

It’s helpful to learn all of the shotgun loading techniques that you can, as different ones can be better at certain times. For instance, putting the shotgun over the strong-side shoulder can make it easier for a right-handed shooter to keep the muzzle pointed forward while moving from right to left across a stage.

And remember how I mentioned that different targets might require different shells? Not only might that be necessary in order to successfully engage the target for score, using the wrong kind of shell can lead to penalties or even disqualification. This is most common when slugs are part of a stage, because engaging relatively close steel targets with slugs can cause ricochets and injury. In those cases, I often like to put each type of shell into a different kind of carrier or location on my body.

A variety of shotshells used in matches

There are a few strategies to making sure you use the right ammunition with the right target. One is to plan your stage so that you do not mix the different kinds of targets back to back. For example, shoot all of the slug targets first even if it might not otherwise be efficient.

If you are allowed to preload your shotgun before the start signal, you might load the tube with a “candy cane” of shells in a specific order and engage targets accordingly, counting to ensure that you are using the right ammunition at the right time.

You can also “candy cane” loads during a stage by setting up your shell carriers in a specific way, or simply load what you need, when you need it, keeping in mind the round that is in the chamber of your shotgun. When doing that, you will want to be very careful to differentiate between the different kinds of ammunition you are carrying, such as by using a specific carrier for specific shells or color-coding your ammunition.

Sound complicated? It can be! Fortunately, shotgun loading is something that can be safely practiced at home during dry fire, by using dummy shotgun rounds. What kind of loads will you practice this week? Make sure you share you shotgun reloading technique in the comments below. Have you had a chance to check out Gun Carrier’s Facebook page yet?