File under Gospel of the Gauge: A conversation between Lee, of The Obscene Sailor, and Morgan Atwood, of NOC.
Lee: Morgan I want to lead with this, there are those who will say that due to our age (at under 35, we’re both the dreaded “millenials”, [Ed.]) we’re just attempting to stomp on the memory of the departed Colonel Cooper for clicks and to make a name for ourselves, is there anything you’d say to those people? For my defense I’ll simply state that Gunsight and the Colonel have overthrown more third world governments than the CIA School of Americas and are THE reason that America is the front runner in modern firearms use in the world. Cooper is the driving force behind that, and this is not intended to besmirch his good name, merely to poke some holes in the fantasy behind the scout rifle idea in America.
Morgan: Without Cooper, the contemporary American firearms and self protection field would look vastly different, anemic in comparison to what we’re used to. The legend of Cooper exists for good reason. That said, no one is immune to a well-thought out, but wrong, idea. Maybe more so, no one is immune to ideas being dismantled not by young turks, but by time-in-use, and the experience of users at whom that idea was intended. Legend is not a sufficient optic for judging an idea, nor is judgment of an idea judgment of an individual. Time proves us all wrong about something, and legend can’t be allowed to be an enemy of learning. Something, something, if you meet the Buddha on the path, kill him.
Lee: This started with a sleep deprived remark to you at 3 AM, that in America the role Cooper was seeking to fill with his scout rifle already has a contender and winner, the shotgun. The Colonel initially laid out the requirements for a short, handy, lightweight rifle, capable of making hits to distance with sufficient terminal ballistics to be used on people and game. To the both of us though, and despite our very different upbringings and locales, we’ve both arrived at the conclusion that the shotgun is the gun Cooper didn’t know he should’ve chosen. Can you please explain a bit about your intro and upbringing with the shotgun?
Morgan: I grew up shooting, in the country, as a ranch kid on two-thousand acres of New Mexico high-desert. We shot for fun, for livestock protection and predator control, and from time to time for taking game, and I grew up doing it all. I did not, however, grow up shooting shotguns. Rather than something I was raised on, I made myself an autodidact of the gauge. My dad had one shotgun, an old Mossberg bolt-action (yes, bolt-action) 16 gauge, with a busted stock. He had been raised in Colorado, in a small mountain town, where the rifle was dominant. In adapting to New Mexico ranching life, he solved most things with either a 30.06 bolt gun, or a single-action revolver in .30 Carbine, .41 Magnum, or .45 Colt (the latter being the one with which he won his only gunfight). My mom had a bad experience with a heavy loaded 12 gauge as a kid, and relied on a .30.30 or various handguns. I was anything but steeped in the shotgun, but made my way to it as a teenager. Somehow a Springfield Model 67 .410 pump gun made its way to the ranch when I was around 15, and began my introduction to the shotgun. Those .410’s were originally quite long barreled, but this one had been cut down to a 19” barrel re-tapped for a simple bead sight, with a youth length stock. It became both my regular field companion, and my first project gun. The slide handle, a round wooden affair with slight grooves, got reshaped with rasps to have flat upper-sides, and more aggressive grooves cut to rib it. The front bead got replaced with a larger fiber-optic bead, and a while after that I knocked out the fiber and machined a polished brass insert. At some point, the gun got covered in Krylon camouflage, too. I wanted, much to my parents consternation, a “riot gun” with Rhodesian bush-war stylings. My parents, both experienced with violence but not “about that life”, dismayed at their fair-haired boy and his inclinations, but this was my period of discovery. At the time, my exposure to good shotgun practices were the Self Defense Forums (later Total Protection Interactive) community, and stuff I was getting from Guns & Ammo and old Soldier of Fortune back-issues. It could have been worse, SDF brought tutorials on the gauge from guys like Craig Douglas, late 70’s and early 80’s SOF’s were high on the bush-war experience with shotguns and a pipeline directly from American Pistol Institute/Gunsite, Cooper, and Ken Hackathorn, and G&A of my youthful era had “Jim Grover” (Kelly J. McCann). I spent a lot of time with that little pump-gun practicing manipulation, loading, etc. while walking the ranch with it and shooting opportunistically. I wasn’t doing all the things that I’d consider fundamental now, but it wasn’t a random series of noise-making actions either, and good came of it. The opportunistic shooting taught me a lot about ammunition management and “slug select”-type drills, as I learned that being loaded for shooting rabbits when I jumped a coyote was less than ideal. Around 2002, I cut the shell-holder off an elastic butt-cuff, and glued it onto the .410’s receiver as a side-saddle, to enable these rapid changes in load. I was raised on rifles, and heavy handguns, and learned the shotgun on my own, with the only shortcoming I found in making that jump the under-powered nature of .410 and my lack of finances for a 12 gauge.
Between my late teens and mid-twenties I got real time in on a variety of pump-guns in 12 and 20, eventually finding my way into an A-5 type 12 gauge, setting it up as an old-school whippet gun, with 18.5” barrel and 12” length of pull, with the barrel backbored and forcing cone polished. I learned a lot, and gained a respect for the shotgun, but never put myself in a position to rely solely on it, in those years. It would be until my late-twenties before I applied what I knew to a serious working gauge.
Lee: In stark contrast to your very frontiersman upbringing my family merely roleplayed at the idea of being “country”. Despite having lived through the riots of the 80s Dad wasn’t a fan of “Modern Sporting Rifles”, and because of the laws in Ohio at the time the shotgun was the only viable tool for hunting. Pressed into service in our home most often was a 20 gauge knockoff of the Mossberg 500, serving with slugs to take deer from a blind, with #8 shot for squirrel and rabbit, and a slew of bad choices for times that things went bump in the night. From hunting we moved into clay pigeons, as it fit the temperament of the family well, particularly the fact that doing so recreationally allowed for copious shit talking between throws of the pigeons, and despite that we became not just basically proficient but downright competent. It was a stark contrast to my modern knowledge of Push-Pull and shotgun use standards, but being able to hit small, fast, moving, targets 25/25 is not a skill to be reckoned against. That old knock off doesn’t meet my standards today, but a 20 gauge worked over by a competent ‘smith and loaded appropriately absolutely would be something I’m willing to rely upon as my only long gun. With a 12 gauge, set up with good sights and white light, I’d feel even more secure. So with that said, Morgan would you walk us through your shotgun configuration and anything you’ve specifically configured to fit your needs?
Morgan: After starting a family in the city, I returned to the ranch full time in 2015, and bought my first purposeful shotgun. I’d acquired that aforementioned A-5 years before, but despite the work I’d done on it, it was an old and finicky gun. I had a Ruger 10/22 “Old Man Gun” as a social rifle for apartment life, a bolt action 30.06, and a couple of lever guns, but I’d used that A-5 enough to think I wanted a shotgun as my “do everything” long-gun.
That lead me to a Mossberg 500 12 gauge with their factory version of the famed-”DEA Sights”, XS Big Dots in a rifle-sight configuration, with a 20” cylinder-bore barrel and full-length tube. As it stands now, it’s got a Hogue youth-length stock, an L&M light-mount with a Fenix LED, an Aridus QDC side-saddle, and a 2-point sling. The sling is a bit of a jury-rigged affair, with a Magpul sling-loop mortised into the Hogue stock, and a cable loop around the light mount for a front attachment. I’ve done some very minor work on the internals, cleaning up some burrs, polishing the mag tube, and chamfering the loading port a bit, but it is not fancy.
If I were to start again, with what I know now, a lighter gun would likely be my choice. A four or five round tube, a two or three round side saddle, and were it not for the short-shrift of ammunition options, perhaps even in 20 gauge. I would stick to a pump gun, for ease of use with a variety of loads, and would likely stick to a Mossberg, as I find the safety friendlier for field use. Sights might not change, or if they did would be a simple set of high visibility pistol sights dovetailed into a vent rib. The important factors, as I use the shotgun, are a clear set of minimally fussy sights, onboard capacity for more/other shells, a light, and a sling.
Lee: My shotgun is a Mossberg 590, for much the same reason you selected yours. I find the tang mounted safety preferable to the crossbolt of the Remington, and particularly in field conditions find the safety in a perfect position to “pin” in the safe position for an extra measure of prevention. Mine had the Vang Comp treatment done, giving me all the advantages of their occult mastery in reducing pattern sizes and insuring some uniformity to spread. The front sight was enhanced with an XS big dot, and mounted on the receiver is a Primary Arms red dot. White light is provided by a streamlight TLR1-HL mounted on a CDM Gear mount, and for side saddle I use the 2 round offerings from Ares Gear. The tube stays loaded with 6 (downloaded by 1) #4 buck Flite Control shells, and the side saddle is stoked with 2 rounds of #1 FC. I’m using a Magpul buttstock, and Blue Force Gear sling to round out the package. Between the two offerings on-hand I have a guaranteed hit to 55 yards, while giving some degree of pattern spread to insure a higher hit chance.
I want to go ahead and address the immediate response that I can feel the crowd of angry Cooper adherents chanting, that the shotguns general lack of range makes it a non-starter and that if one is spending time in the great outdoors that they should have arms at hand that allow one to make hits as far as they can see. In response I posit that even while exploring the wilds of the border I’ve yet to find a situation in which lethal force was the correct choice outside of “social” distances. The idle fantasy of shooting the PRS guy who was lobbing rounds over our heads, or engaging from afar the white supremacists with the illegal full auto AK is absolutely there, however in both situations and others I found it more correct to liberally hit the gas and remove myself from the threat. Just as criminal action within city limits requires proximity to victims to effect the desired end state, I find that bad guys outside city limits still require proximity to get what they want and as such my concerns for serious distance shooting against people is greatly reduced. The hunting piece with regards to distance is still very real in some parts of the country, and much more so in Africa where Cooper was spending much of his time, however unlike the days of Cooper for many of us taking game legally is a rare pleasure dependent upon luck in a lottery or buying tags and making a weekend of it, and in much of the country without onerous requirements to hunt, the tracts of land suitable measure in the acre not the square mile, and a shotgun with slugs is more than capable. All of this said I’ve largely written off the idea of snap shooting a fleeing whitetail, as hunting is an activity very much prepared for and for which the gun at hand right now isn’t the one that will be called upon. One can bemoan the decrease in legal hunting and I shall join them, however calculating it into the requirements for a gun in 2020 seems to be a mistake. Within your uses on the ranch what are your thoughts on the distance piece for a “general use” gun?
Morgan: It is very possible, in ranch country, to envision many situations in which the multi-hundred yard shot is necessary. The former state lion-hunter, a gent named Pete Hughes, once took a cow-killing black bear at 450+ yards with a .44 magnum pistol… But, the regular reality is something else. The quintessential ranch-rifle is the .30-30 lever gun. That was the rifle my maternal grandfather used regularly on what’s now my ranch, and in addition to his personal Winchester 94, I own another Model 94 roughly stamped “H&C” for Huning and Company, once one of the largest land, sheep, and cattle concerns in New Mexico and Arizona. Those rifles, so marked by Huning, were issued to their sheepherders and cowboys for livestock protection duties. In those days the threat of bandits, rustlers, and even indian raids remained in this country. Those old timers also used those rifles to make meat for their camps, taking opportunistic shots at game. Consider that the .30-30 is a 100 yard cartridge, and you’ll be forced to question the notions of longer range shooting as truly necessary in the ranching context.
I’ll note, that by preference I hunt game with a 30.06 bolt gun, with which shots out to 500 yards are within my comfort zone. That said, if my goal for a hunt is to make meat above all else, I work to do most of my shooting inside 100 yards. Hunting is something we prepare for, and set up to do in a specific way on a specific animal, without the pressure of an unknown problem to solve. If I take a 5.56 to hunt coyotes, or a 30.06 to hunt elk, I do so knowingly. Such knowing is hard to come by, until the moment, when trouble shooting.
Without getting into the human problem, yet, the needful or practical shooting I do is against predatory animals in the moments it becomes necessary. This requires snap-shooting often, but the ranges are rarely that severe. I have done much practical shooting with that bolt-action 30.06, taking after my father, but I can’t think of an example at a range that demanded that cartridge, or .308. The proximity demand that exists for human predators, is also true of animal predators. There’s also some demand to be closer for the killing of them. For livestock protection needs, you may be some distance from where the predator is being a threat, but the advantage is to you if you can get closer to make a shot in-among your own stock. One of the old cowboys who mentored me as a kid, made 90+% of those kind of shots with a .38 revolver. At the ranges we’re talking about, the shotgun is perfectly viable.
In fact, the shotgun has the advantage of being more broadly viable than any other long-gun, with ammunition selection. One of the facts of practical shooting for a rancher is that you don’t know what you’re going to need to shoot. Responding to a disturbance can bring you upon a rattlesnake, a coyote, a bobcat, a mountain lion, a bear, or a man. There is a single long-gun that can equally address that variety: The shotgun. At this point, despite having the full complement of rifles in .22, .30.30, 30.06, an M4gery in 5.56, and even a .38-56, I mostly grab the shotgun going out the door unless I have a very specific purpose in mind like hunting.
I have written, in the past, about the need for “Modern Sporting Rifles” in my settings , and I stand by what I’ve written, but for rambling around my land and commotion-in-the-night problems around the house and ranch yard, the shotgun serves better. For human predators, I put a lot of stock into Tom Givens’ “serving size” argument about the shotgun. I am mostly concerned with criminals seeking “easy” targets for robbery, far from police response. At worst, my most fantastical scenario for violence that doesn’t totally beg credulity, is that as the only two queers in this part of ranch country, some assholes might try to burn hubs and I out. Knowing and having rapport with my neighbors, even that is extremely unlikely. It would be a black swan event on the order of a hostile alien species establishing a beachhead in my yard, to roll out my door and face a violent problem that couldn’t be solved with the shotgun.
Lee: It’s truly hard to argue with the forcefulness of your black swan event, that short of socially motivated violence exacerbated by your distance from “civilization”, the shotgun can fix your problems provided you do the work. My own equivalent fear is some of the social violence perpetrated outside the home in my rare run ins with the various militias and outlaw motorcycle clubs that operate in the area, however in those situations I’m quite convinced that the only selection that impacts my chances of winning is not choosing to be in a convoy of friends all armed with long guns, and short of that there’s NOTHING I can do to help me win that fight.
The entirety of this is a long winded way to say that the shotgun is capable of taking game, capable of defense against two legged predator, legally and culturally acceptable everywhere, in a form factor that is minimally burdening to keep “at hand”. The shotgun is the do everything gun within the continental US, and while it has its failings its worth cannot be overstated.