The 12-Gauge Shotgun, King of the Jungle?

shotgun tracker

Shotgun in Thick Forest High Noon on a cloudless sunny day in the Great North Woods. This is as light as it gets beneath the dense forest canopy. In jungle-like environments like this, the shotgun has several advantages over the rifle that can make it an excellent choice Here I am holding a Mossberg 12-guage Pump Action with 18-1/2 inch barrel. Shortened barrels (shotguns) and carbines (rifles) are good choices where easy movement is restricted. As this thickly grown forest demonstrates, a longer barrel on a firearm can be a disadvantage. An often overlooked but excellent hunting and defensive / offensive weapon can include the venerable shotgun. Depending upon the characteristics of the area you intend to travel, the 12guage shotgun can be your best firearm choice. In this article I will attempt to explain not only why a shotgun is often a good selection over a rifle, but also cover some of the shotgun loads that are especially valuable in the defensive or offensive role while tracking a dangerous man or beast in thickly vegetated areas such as deep forest or jungle. Before I go further I want to be sure you fully understand that the following only expresses my

opinions based on my own experiences in the environments I have lived and worked in. Your opinions may vary depending upon your own preferences and experiences in the types of landscape you frequent. Everybody has their own ideas on just about any topic, and especially when it comes to firearm selecton – and this is a good thing, it's what makes the world go round! Thick Forest and Brush Land In the Field is NOT the same as on the Practice Range. Extremely important considerations in the proper selection of firearms are the conditions the firearm will be carried and used in. Going out into heavily forested and brushy areas such as where I live in the White Mountains of Northern New Hampshire (also known as “The Great North Woods”) is often like plunging into the dark mysterious depths of a remote jungle. Take just a few steps off the road or trail and you are suddenly in a world that is far different than that which exists in “civilization”. The land is uneven and highly variable in slope, often exceedingly steep and rugged. Dense vegetation, both woody and herbaceous, obscure the view and prevent the long clear lanes of fire that favor a rifle. Past glacial activity has churned up the landscape, leaving behind a maze of hills, ledges, ravines, glacial rocks and boulders, often cut by swift running streams that can be difficult to cross especially after rains or during periods of high snow melt. The Great North Woods also has some of the greatest weather extremes in the world. Summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees F with more than 100% humidity. Winter temperatures routinely drop to between zero degrees F to minus 40 degrees F. High winds bring the wind chill temperature much lower. In the warmer months the vegetation is often dripping wet, either from morning dew or after frequent rains as water makes it way down through layers of dripping forest canopy. In winter blizzards are common. Accumulated snow cover can be many feet deep, with snow laden vegetation constantly releasing loads frozen white upon the forest tracker as he moves through and around it. Snow on clothing and equipment frequently melts due to the increased release of body heat during exertion or by solar radiation, refreezing during periods of rest or when approaching darkness leads to a drop in air temperature. Walking off-trail can be exceedingly difficult. Creating a myriad of ways to trip you up seems to be the delight of the forest. While a days travel on foot via maintained trail with a full pack may be fifteen miles, just half that distance or less through wild forestland can tax to the limit even a skilled bushwhacker or tracker in excellent physical shape. For these reasons weight and bulk of gear is an extremely important consideration. In short, an environment such as the Northern Forest will play havoc with your body, mind, and your gear. Limited Line of Sight The overhead canopy of a thickly grown forest allows only spotty patches of sunlight to filter down to the forest floor. Even on a bright sunny day, within the womb of the forest it can be quite dark. The interplay of dappled light and dark areas mixed with a random interconnected mix of tree trunks, branches, leaves, and other plant materials both living and dead, (as well as snow in winter) make it difficult to quickly and precisely locate the position of an animal or man even if the creature is close by and you know roughly where it is. In thick forest conditions a 50-yard shot can be an uncharacteristically long one. Realistically, in scanning the area around me as I track my quarry, I often expect a maximum clear view of only just a small a portion of the target. That means a shot of 50-yards or less through a very narrow window amongst the thick vegetation – and often only 50 or 75 feet! Even when the tracker can see the target through the masses of wood and leaves (or more likely just a portion of the target) there remains the problem of bullet deflection. Flying rounds are lucky not to clip small branches and other vegetation between exiting the rifle and reaching the target

area, which can deflect the bullet in random ways. There are often small tree saplings between yourself and the target that are large enough to absorb the entire force of a single bullet. The deep forest favors stealth and concealment. There is real possibility of unexpected sudden ambush. Encounters can be quick, brutal, and at very close quarters. This makes gear selection (including your firearms) very important. This is potentially excellent shotgun country. Shotgun Advantages In the sort of territory described above, the shotgun has a number of distinct advantages over a rifle. Relatively Easy to Operate and Maintain I cannot place overemphasis on the value of simplicity and reliability of your equipment when your life is one the line. Being simple and easy to operate and maintain is a vital factor in firearm selection for the tracker. While tracking through thick forest and brush, especially off-trail, your firearm will be exposed to dirt, vegetation, heat, cold, or wetness for extended periods of time. In these adverse conditions a simple, reliable pump action shotgun will usually continue to function whilst a highly tuned complex rifle or shotgun may fail you. This principle favoring simplicity and reliability is frequently shown during wartime in many areas of the world. Oft cited are experiences on the Eastern Front during World War Two. During this war, firearms manufactured to high precision for the German army often failed at inopportune moments due to the less than pristine conditions of actual field use. Meanwhile, Russian firearms with looser tolerances were much more easily maintained and functioned at higher levels in these same conditions. Choose a good quality pump action shotgun over an autoloader – the mechanics of the pump action shotgun are simpler and more reliable when conditions are less than ideal. Remember, while in the deep forest you are not on the home Shooting Range where everything is neat, clean, and you have all the time and equipment you need to make repairs, clear jams, or the luxury of choosing another firearm from the trunk of your vehicle. Imagine your chagrin while being stalked or fired upon at close range to discover your expensive complex firearm is malfunctioning due to dirt, extreme weather, lack of proper maintenance in the field (complex firearms require more complex maintenance than simpler models), a broken part, or some other reason. More often than people realize, a less expensive, less complex firearm with looser tolerances will be a great advantage when field conditions are less than optimal. And in the deep forest conditions are nearly always less than optimal. Quick to Deploy and Fire with Result While you can quickly point and fire your rifle at a nearby opponent who is ensconced in thick vegetation, you are much more likely to miss than if you were to use a shotgun. A rifle fires one bullet at a time. Firing a semi-automatic rifle to send out multiple rounds requires you to press the trigger multiple times in quick succession. Attempting to send out a number of rounds quickly has some drawbacks including: * Exposing you to return fire. * Revealing your position - it can be difficult to ascertain exactly where a first shot came from – but fire two or more shots and your opponent(s) can more easily zero in on your exact location. * Increasing inacurracy of fire. * It is unlikely that while you are emptying the magazine of your rifle your quarry will remain in

an open target position, each subsequent round must be re-aimed. * Laying out a spray of rifle lead like this is a fundamental mistake of the tracker. Ammunition is bulky, heavy, and often more valuable than gold when lives are at stake. Running low on ammo during a fire fight is not a good idea. It is vital that as much as possible you increase the odds of your first shot scoring a devastating wound. The Shotgun: Hail of Lead shotgun at 25 feet Shotgun Blast at 25-Feet Double Ought Bushshot fired about twenty-five feet from the target left this pattern of nine .33 caliber balls. Little doubt a devastating wound. Each square is 1-inch x 1-inch. Note the lowest penetration, likely a piece of wood blown off from a woody plant Let’s instead of using a rifle, send a shotgun blast at your foe using, for example, a typical load of #00 (double-ought) buck - with one quick barely aimed shot you are sending out a spray of nine .33 caliber balls at something like 1250 feet per second. These balls fan out in an ever increasing diameter hail of lead – depending upon the ammunition used, shotgun barrel length, and choke, this spray of bullets will cover an area something like the size of a dinner plate by the time they reach your target area. Firing the above mentioned load from my particular short barreled Mossberg 500 shotgun with 18.5 inch barrel, the pellets tend to form a pattern of about four-inches in diameter at 25-feet and six or eight inches in diameter at 50-feet. The further away the target, the wider the area that the pellets cover. When compared to the tiny area covered by a single rifle bullet flying downrange to the target, you can easily see one very important advantage of a quickly fired off-hand shotgun blast over a quickly fired off-hand shot from a rifle at close quarters. An important addition: should even just half of the shotgun pellets hit the body of this enemy, he will likely be put out of action. However, with a single hit with a rifle shot, especially the lighter calibers and at close range the bullet may penetrate right through your opponent without doing enough physical damage to immediately knock him out of the fight. Deflection Problem Less of a Problem As an individual bullet travels through thick forest or brush, there is a good chance it will intersect with leaves, twigs, and other objects located between the barrel of your gun and the man or beast you are aiming at. The lighter the bullet the more it will likely be deflected from its desired path. Sometimes the deflection won’t matter much and the bullet will still hit its mark. Sometimes the deflection is enough to cause a miss or slow the bullet down enough so as to do little damage. It’s a crap shoot. This problem of frequent bullet deflection in thick forest environments is one reason I prefer the heavier 7.62 x 39 AK round over the 5.56 x 45 NATO (.223) round in my forest rifles. Heavier bullets tend to plow through vegetation and suffer less from deflection. But when you are sending out nine .33 caliber lead balls with each shotgun blast, deflection is less of a problem. Like a swarm of angry bees, some are likely to get through and on-target even if they are being bounced around a bit. shotgun tracker Shotgun Blast at 50-Feet Double Ought Bushshot fired about fifty feet from the target.

The further out the load goes, the wider the net it casts. Even in very thick brush some of these pellets are likely to strike home Putting it to the Bad Guy Consider the following scenario; remember, this is just a story I have created in order to illustrate some of the advantages of a shotgun over a rifle in thickly forested or brushy areas: You’ve been tracking this particular bad guy for three days through some of the toughest forested terrain in these mountains. Trying to throw you off the track, he has gone through acres of blown down trees, into swamps, and up and over mountains. You are tired, footsore, and not functioning 100%. Your opponent is likely as tired as you are. Late this evening, as you laboriously follow his spoor through thick woods, something catches your eye off to the right as it slowly rises – a small patch of odd color just 75-feet away in a patch of thick, dark underbrush. In that same split second you recognize it as a silver colored watch band. Your quarry is raising his rifle! Instantly you drop, while at the same moment swinging your 12-gauge shotgun to point at the bushes that contain the watch band. You barely have time to aim as your body hits the ground, instinctively (yes, the practice has paid off) moving your weapon into position. Crack! Bam! Almost simultaneously two shots are fired. A .223 round zings a foot above you and smacks into the ground 7-feet away sending up a small puff of dry leaf fragments from the forest floor. The other shot was yours – a blast from your shotgun that sounded like a cannon in comparison to your opponents AR-15 rifle. You can no longer see exactly where your opponent is, but he is likely still in that clump of bushes. And the fear of God is in him! The forest is thick with leaves and woody plants, a little dappled sunlight penetrates down through the forest canopy, making the shaded areas all the more dark. In this environment it is difficult to see anything, much less make out the location of a highly camoflauged opponent only yards away. Several more shots come from the direction of your opponents hide, revealing roughly his position by the movement of leaves and twigs in the bushes around his lair as his bullets fly through. He doesn’t know exactly where you are either, his .223 rounds zinging around you, clipping twigs and smacking into trees. A green tree leaf is detached by one of his rounds and flutters down beside you. Meanwhile, you pump your shotgun five more times in quick succession, blasting a total of fifyfour .33 caliber lead balls into the general vicinity of where his shots are coming from. One shell is sent right down the line toward the blown back vegetation behind which he is firing. The next shell is sent a few feet to the left, the next shell a few feet to the right. Another shell is deliberately aimed a little low, sending up a shower of leaf litter from the forest floor as balls richochet low and into the target area. Smashed green leaves and broken bits of wood and twigs are sent flying all over like a giant salad shooter gone wild. A two-inch thick tree sapling is nearly cut in half. The firing stops. You reload the shotgun with six more double 00 buck shells and carefully circle around the enemy position, taking it from the rear. This takes some time, time allowing him to bleed out. You’ve got another fifty-four .33 caliber lead balls ready for him if that first batch of lead was not enough. You discover the threat has been neutralized. Later examination reveals the body is riddled with eleven lead balls and several grazes. The clump of bushes he was hiding in is much reduced to ripped up leaves and twigs with irregular shaped chunks of wood roughly hewn from small trees that were in the path of the action. It is likely the barrage of splinters and forest fragments that rained into him had an adverse effect on

his ability to clearly aim his rifle at you. The Shotgun: Submachine Gun of the Forest In some ways you can liken your shotgun to a submachine gun. One press of the trigger sends out a spray of lead that encompasses the diameter of a dinner plate (depending, of course, upon the range) that the typical rifle cannot compete with - especially at close quarters. Consider also, a single shotgun blast of nine or more pellets is typically more controlled than sending out nine bullets from submachine gun, which tends to rise as each round exits the barrel – making accuracy difficult. Which Shotgun Load to Use? Which shotgun load to use is an age old question that has many answers depending upon the conditions you are traveling through and personal preference. My choice for tracking in thick forest or brush, as you may have guessed, is something along the lines of the Remington 2-3/4 inch 00 buck with nine .33 caliber pellets. There are many good reasons for this choice for use in thick forest. 2-3/4 inch Shotgun Shell vs 3-inch Many, but not all, shotguns can use both 2-3/4 and 3-inch shotgun shells. The advantage of the 3-inch shotgun shells is that they can carry a somewhat greater number of pellets. However, in a tracking role the added bulk and weight factors make the shorter shells a better choice. The smaller shotgun shell is still excellent, and you can carry more of them! In addition, the kick of a 12-gauge shotgun is hard enough as it is. This forceful beating that the shooter takes can affect accuracy. There is little sense in making things more difficult for little if any gain by blasting off more powerful loads. My choice is to carry more 2-3/4 inch shotgun shells and leave the 3-inch shells for the range at home. Shotgun Shell Load Adequate Penetration. For use in the tracking of larger sized game such as men, the type of load in your shotgun shells is extremely important. To eliminate a large enemy, which includes man sized targets, studies have shown that a minimum of 12-inches of penetration into the body is needed to insure the destruction of vital organs and the ending of the threat. This is known as “adequate penetration”. This 12-inches for adequate penetration is not necessarily from, say, chest to back. Often your shot will have to penetrate from the left or right side of the body and on through to the opposite side – hence the need for a full 1-foot of penetration. When in the forest you must also take into account that the lead you let fly must plow its way through leaves and twigs, which diminishes its force along the way. The larger the ball of lead, the more power it has to force its way through to the target. Leave the Birdshot at Home Additional studies have shown that the smallest shot size needed to make the required 1-foot of bodily penetration is number 1 buckshot, which in a 2-3/4 inch shell typically has 16 pellets of .30 inches in diameter. Number 1 buckshot may be a good choice for home defense, since it covers the minimum shot size for 12-inches of bodily penetration but will likely not over penetrate anywhere near as much as larger pellets – potentially going right through the aggressors body, a wall, and into family members.

The fact that #1 buck is less likely to penetrate right through a body also means that more of its energy is expended IN the body – leading to greater wound damage than larger diameter pellets may cause. An Angry Swarm of Lead In deep forest and brushy areas there are a couple of important special factors to consider that you do not generally have in home defense: * The need to shoot through dense vegetation in order to reach your target – larger, heavier pellets will have improved penetration. * The deflection of the pellets by leaves, twigs, and branches - in general, the heavier the pellet the less its course will be deflected as it plows through to the target. With this in mind, you might initially think a big fat shotgun slug would do best. And considering penetration alone you would be right. However shooting a single slug every time you fire your shotgun puts you in nearly the same plight as our AR-15 adversary in the story – that one slug has a single narrow trajectory that has a good chance of entirely missing its target while traveling through thick brush. The idea is to send out a hail of lead the diameter of a dinner plate with every shot in the hopes that at least a few pellets will get through dense vegetation and hit the target. But there are tradeoffs in numbers: The more pellets put in a shotgun shell: * the smaller each individual pellet must be * smaller pellets have reduced penetration through thick brush * smaller pellets have greater deflection away from the aiming point when striking twigs and leaves. * A smaller pellet will not travel as far, reducing the range of your shotgun somewhat. * A smaller pellet with generally cause less damage to the creature it hits. * BUT, more small-sized pellets can be crammed into each shotgun shell – increasing the numerical swarm of lead sent toward the bad guys and increasing the odds of a hit The fewer pellets put in a shotgun shell: * The larger each individual pellet can be * Larger pellets have increased penetration through thick brush * Larger pellets undergo less deflection away from the aiming point when striking twigs and leaves * A larger pellet will have a somewhat greater range * A larger pellet will generally cause greater damage to the creature it hits. * BUT, fewer large-sized pellets can be put into each shotgun shell – decreasing the numerical swarm of lead sent the bad guys way and decreasing the odds of a hit. A Compromise betweet Shot Size and Shot Number With these factors in mind and after experimentation in thick forest and brush, in my opinion the # 00 buckshot with nine .33 caliber pellets is the best compromise in shot size and numbers of shot per shell. Although #1 buckshot (an excellent home defense load) has: * 12 pellets per load, * each individual pellet weighs in at about 2.62 grams and is .30 inches in diameter (7.62mm). #00 buckshot has:

* three less pellets (9 pellets), * but each pellet is heavier in weight by about 1/3 at 3.49 grams and .33 inches in diameter (8.38mm). * This significant increase in size is like the difference between a 150 pound man and a 200 pound man. All else being equal – which size would have the best strength to bull through obstacles at close range? I’m betting on the larger size. In my opinion having 3-less pellets in the #00 load is more than made up for by the increased force each individual pellet has.

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