I wrote this for a student who works for a police agency that he is trying to get to update their shotgun policies. The same info applies to everyone else who uses the scattergun.

Observations on shotgun stock length and buckshot selection.

Shotgun Butt Stock Length

“Length of Pull” (LOP) refers to the straight line distance from the trigger to the center of the shotgun’s butt. This measurement is critical for proper performance, and ideally, the LOP is fitted to each individual officer. Obviously, this is only practical where shotguns are issued to individual officers, or officers are allowed to use department approved, personal weapons. In agencies where shotguns are issued at each shift, the LOP needs to be standardized so that all officers can work at least acceptably well with the shotgun.

There are two primary factors to be considered when discussing LOP in a self defense or Law Enforcement (LE) capacity.
American shotguns were designed for sporting use, on live birds such as ducks or doves, and on clay bird sports such as trap and skeet. Shooting technique for these sports involves a more bladed body posture or shooting stance, and light clothing is generally worn. The standard LOP became about 14 inches.

In modern law enforcement, many current officers are of smaller stature than in the past. Add to that, body armor adds thickness to the torso, in effect shortening the arms. The shooting stance with the fighting shotgun is more squared up to the target, with hips and shoulders facing the threat. This provides commonality of training with the handgun or empty hand techniques. It also keeps the body armor oriented toward the threat. We do not want the arm openings in the body armor pointed toward an adversary.

With these things in mind, a LOP in the 12-12.5 inch range works far better. Shooters wearing body armor will be able to mount the gun properly and have a more secure grip on the gun, to prevent disarming attempts. A too long LOP hyperextends the support side arm, making it harder to reliably function a manually operated pump action shotgun, leading to malfunctions. It also makes it much easier for an assailant to take the shotgun from its user.

The standard factory butt stock on most shotguns can be easily shortened, or aftermarket stocks can be installed with nothing but a screwdriver for tools. This simple, inexpensive modification will greatly improve the officers’ comfort, make them better able to use the shotgun effectively, and reduce the risk of disarming attacks. Improvement in shooting skill breeds confidence, which leads to properly deploying the shotgun in circumstances that indicate its use, such as hold-up alarm response and felony vehicle stops. There is no downside to the modification. Even the largest officers will be able to effectively use a shotgun with a 12-12.5 inch LOP, whereas a smaller male or most female officers will be at a severe disadvantage with a 14” LOP.

Buckshot Selection

For over a hundred years, the traditional military and police buckshot size has been 00 Buckshot. This pellet size offers an adequate number of pellets, and sufficient mass to ensure adequate penetration to reach vital organs situated deeply within the body, from various angles. Reducing the diameter of a sphere reduces its weight/mass very quickly. Smaller buckshot sizes often lack adequate penetration for LE use, due to that reduced weight/mass. 00 Buckshot offers a combination of adequate patterning and adequate penetration.

For most of that same time period, the standard 12 gauge loading of 00 Buck has been 9 pellets. That number allows three layers of three pellets in a 2 ¾ inch standard 12 gauge shell.

A phenomenon that has long been noted with the standard 9 pellet load, is the “9th pellet flyer”. When fired, 8 of the pellets go into the same general area, with a 9th pellet taking off on its own at a tangent to the main pattern. This is believed to be due to the way the 9 pellet load is stacked within the shell. There is a lot of pellet to pellet contact, increasing the chances for a deformed pellet as the shot charge is blasted down the shotgun’s barrel, resulting in a flat spot somewhere on its surface. Once the pellets leave the shotgun’s barrel, air pressure is exerted differently on the curved surfaces of the round pellet and on that flat spot. That causes the pellet to fly off at an unpredictable angle.

I am personally familiar with two cases in which a 9 pellet 00 Buck load was fired at Person A, with most of the pellets striking person A. In both cases, however, a single pellet struck Person B, with fatal results. In one case, the person struck was a hostage, in the second, a law enforcement officer. Both died from the single pellet that struck them.

To counter this, most ammunition makers now offer an 8 pellet 00 Buckshot load. Eight pellets are stacked in the shotshell completely differently than are nine pellets, resulting in much less pellet to pellet contact. If an 8 pellet payload is combined with buffering (the granulated plastic filler between the pellets) and a modern wad like Federal’s Flite Control, the 9th pellet flyer issue is eliminated. This results in better patterns, more accountability for pellets fired in public, reduced danger to citizens or other officers in proximity to a person being engaged with buckshot, increased officer confidence in his equipment, and overall better performance.