There are a few things I consider truths, in my practice of arms and keeping arms for protection and home defense.
Thing The First: If you keep firearms for personal or home defense, having rapid access to them is fundamental. Tools aren’t useful if they aren’t at hand when needed, particularly tools that are needed immediately. The flip side to this, is that dangerous tools must be safely stored to prevent negative outcomes such as unwanted access. For a long time now I have adopted a binary approach to my carry gun, regarding access: It is either holstered on my body (where I control access to it), or it is locked up (where unwanted access to it is prevented). The best place for it is on my body, where I have active control, but also where I can most readily access it if needed. The downside is that, this isn’t always comfortable or possible.
Thing The Second: A pistol is a valuable home defense tool. While long-guns are superior fight winners, and we have discussed the versatility of shotguns in particular, they present challenges for moving through your home with. Especially if you are moving to other family members, to secure or extract them. As a parent, I can over-encumber myself with a long-gun if I have to move to my children’s bedrooms and retrieve them, or move one to the others room to barricade. A pistol is a much more functional choice for solo house clearing, particularly with the intent to then handle small people.
Thing The Third: In a home defense scenario, there are things I need beyond just a firearm. I need a light, I may need medical equipment, I may need other support gear. While many of us just yardsale our light, magazines, and daily carry medical into a bedside valet tray or shelf in the safe at the end of the day, that loose assortment of crap is hard to pick up and tote around. Woken in the middle of the night, many of us are in minimal clothing if clothed at all, and where do you put it all?
With these three points in mind, I have long practiced staging a pistol, when it’s not on body, in a secure but accessible way, along with a few essential support items. This has been an evolving process over the past near-decade, wherein I’ve tried a range of things: Keeping a dedicated pair of cargo shorts with a light clipped on and pockets stuffed with medical gear beside the gunsafe; A plate-carrier with holster, magazines, trauma kit, and flex-cuffs on it; A “happy sack” claymore bag full of reloads and med gear; A warbelt with holster, magazines, trauma kit, etc.
Each thing I’ve tried had some merit, but wasn’t as functional or easy as I wanted it to be. The closest I came to a single, easy to use, platform for putting on quickly to deal with a bump in the night, was the warbelt. With the warbelt, I could have a complete support setup of spare magazines, trauma kit, and even a holster and handgun, on an easily donned platform, that required no additional components and was semi-functional regardless of manner of undress. The warbelt, however, required either that my carry gun be transferred into the holster every night before bed, or in the middle of the night during a crisis. If stored with the gun in the holster, the whole thing had to be secured within a safe. If the gun was kept locked up, and the warbelt hanging somewhere, it took time to retrieve both and put them together. And there was absolutely nothing subtle about the warbelt. If, for some reason, I had to walk out of my house with it on, it was going to be problematic.
For the past several months, I’ve been using a different tool to bring all of these things together similarly to what the warbelt did, but that also allows fairly open public wear. The venerable, infamous, fanny pack.
After trying a few things low-key, I picked up an Elite Survival Systems TailGunner 2 fanny pack, and begin to using it seriously. ESS makes a variety of gun fanny packs, for both full size and compact guns, in different styles and materials. I chose this one because I found it on sale, it was big enough for a Glock 17, and it was in a style similar to long established pistol fanny packs such as Tommy and Eagle. In fact, it appears to be a clone of the older Eagle Industries Weapon Fanny Pack.
Made from 1000D Cordura, the TailGunner 2 is on the heavy side, but isn’t lacking for robustness. The heavy material is further reinforced by solid stitching, and foam padding between front and back layers. The material, and padding, effectively block out the shape of the bag and prevent whatever you put inside from printing an outline through the material.
The design of the TailGunner 2 is very simple. A flush-fitting front pocket spans the entire width of the bag, and the main body is a single pouch which zips almost entirely around, allowing it to fully open up. Inside that main pouch is a Velcro hook field on the body side, and a pair of elastic loops and Velcro loop strip on the opposite side.
Running across the hook field, vertically, is a simple strap affair, sewn at the bottom and threaded through a steel loop sewn at the top of the compartment, with mating Velcro on the body and running end of the strap. This is for securing a holster within.
The TailGunner 2 comes with two different sizes of “holster” insert, both of which have loop Velcro exterior for mounting on the hook field. I put holster in quotes, because these are loose, universal fit, thin bits of fabric that conform to no particular gun, provide no passive retention, and are flexible enough to allow outside objects into the trigger guard. These got a flaccid pass from me, and were thrown in the trash as soon as the pack arrived.
Fortunately, the strap arrangement is an excellent means of locking a more secure holster into the TailGunner 2. I am able to put my carry holster, a Dark Star Gear Orion, into the bag and secure it very quickly with the strap running through the steel clip (and behind the Dark Star Darkwing attachment). A Velcro loop field on the rear of a holster will make this attachment even better, as it attaches to the hook field allowing a set angle to be established. Although this strap attachment may not work for every holster, it works with most of them that I have tried, including WML holsters, and those using soft loops and other attachments.
For a dedicated holster for this, I would look to the PHLster Skeleton. A minimalist holster, with the width of a full size holster, the Skeleton fits the strap extremely well, and almost seems designed to lock into it. With a clip, or soft loop, around the strap, it is perfectly secure for even vigorous drawstrokes and rapid movement.
Inside the main compartment of the Tailgunner 2, at each top corner of the front side, are hard-sewn pull tabs. One of these can be pulled up and left exposed, between the closed dual zippers, providing a ready grab-handle for quickly pulling open the pack. A firm forward and downward pull on this will unzip the entire pack, allowing access to the handgun within.
In addition to the main compartment and front pocket, the Tailgunner 2 features “wings” on either side of the bag, that offer additional cargo capacity. On the left is a small PALS field, which while not super discreet is useful for clipping other items to, or mounting pouches or other gear. On the right, is a zipper pocket, in the shape of the semi-triangular wing. Although not able to hold a great deal, this pocket provides a place to stash your phone for hands free use (such as staying on the phone with 911), or to store small items like pepper spray.
There is also shock-cord laced across the front of the Tailgunner 2, with a barrel-lock for adjusting it. This could be convenient for some users, particularly for regular wear where it makes a handy way to store a cap or gloves for short periods. It turned out to not be useful to me, and somewhat in the way, so I unlaced it.
After several months of wearing the Tailgunner 2 regularly, and training with it on the range and in the gym, I’ve come to a setup that I am reasonably happy with. My carry gun and aforementioned Dark Star holster are in the main compartment, along with a factory 33rd magazine. In the front pocket rests a SOFT-T-Wide tourniquet, nitrile gloves, a full sized pack of Celox Rapid, and a roll of Combat Medical Battle Wrap (a clear, elastic, adhesive trauma bandaging product). On the left wing, attached to the PALS field, is a Fenix flashlight, a 1000lb break strength cord handcuff, and a container of pepper spray. The right wing pocket is left empty for stashing my phone in.
I cut off the original zipper pulls, and replaced them with cord-pulls closed with heat-shrink. Although high quality YKK zippers, the factory pulls were large metal affairs, which jingled quite a bit and were a source of unwanted attention. Cutting them off, and replacing each with smaller cord pulls achieved both silencing the pack, and keeping unnecessary tabs out of the way. With the pull-cord opening widget exposed, the zipper pulls are not needed to access the pistol, and grabbing one along with the pull-cord would jam the opening action. Reducing the size of the pulls effectively negates that possibility.
After removing the shock-cord gear retainer from the front, I ironed on a faux Supreme logo patch to help break-up the profile of the fanny pack a little more, for the occasions when I do wear it outside the house. Being made from heavy Cordura, with a bit of PALS, and square boxy construction, the Tailgunner 2 does benefit from a little added misdirection to deepen its deception.
Using the Fanny Pack
The primary role for this fanny pack setup (jokingly named the Booga-Lite bag, for the front yard boogaloo) is to wear at home. I am a work-at-home parent while my husband is getting his degree, so most of my time is spent at and around my house. With two kids at home, unsecured firearms are an absolute no, so either I carry or the guns are behind locked steel doors. Working from home, I don’t have a dress code or much reason to put on a belt, and the reality is that it’s inconvenient to have to belt up, put on a holstered pistol, and go about my day around the house. There’s a lot of ways to solve this, smaller guns and pocket carry, sucking it up and embracing the “comforting not comfortable” bullshit mantra, not carrying at all, and so on. None of those ways solve it particularly comfortably, cheaply, and with the ability to have onboard medical and support gear, except for the fanny pack.
The Tailgunner 2, as I have it set up, allows me to quickly don pistol, support gear, and med kit, regardless of what I am wearing at the moment, and comfortably keep it all available while going about my day. Because it has a somewhat discreet appearance, I can wear it out into the yard or when going on afternoon walks around the neighborhood with the kids, without arousing suspicion of my neighbors. When I am not wearing the Tailgunner 2, it isn’t much bulkier than a gun-rug style pistol case, and can be locked in many pistol safes, lock boxes, or larger safes, with ease. It can be quickly retrieved from there, and fastened around the waist or tossed over the neck, as a home defense platform.
I am still not using the fanny pack for routine concealed carry outside of the house. Although fanny packs are currently low-profile and, if selected properly, not likely to draw much attention, I am much happier to wear my pistol AIWB and carry support gear on my person in other means. Although worn around the body, and more secure than a shoulder bag, fanny pack carry is still closer to “off body” carry than not, and comes with challenges that must be understood. A one-handed draw from the fanny pack can be rather difficult, simply because of the steps required to open it. In a fight that begins at contact distance, where you must fight to a dominant position before accessing a weapon, the fanny pack is likely to shift around significantly, and may even get unfastened from the waist. Even if you achieve dominant position, an effective single handed draw from the fanny pack while maintaining control is going to be challenging. For these reasons, plus being able to dress in ways that don’t favor adding a fanny pack, I primarily choose not to use the Tailgunner 2 for routine concealed carry.
This choice is why I don’t have a permanently attached holster in the Tailgunner 2. At the end of a day outside the house, I can come home, take my carry gun and holster out of my pants, and mount it in the fanny pack for continued wear. Doing this, rather than unholstering and reholstering, minimizes the administrative handling of a loaded unholstered pistol.
My routine looks something like this: If going out, I take the pistol and Dark Star Gear Orion out of the fanny pack, and put it on as usual. When I get home, the entire package is remounted to the Tailgunner 2, and that gets put on with whatever more comfortable around the house clothes I’ve slipped into. At night, when I go to bed, the Tailgunner 2 with the pistol inside, is placed in the safe in the master bedroom, where it can be retrieved quickly in the middle of the night. When I get up in the morning for a typical day around the house, the fanny pack can be removed and put on, and the safe locked behind it.
Booga-Lite II: The Unsubtle Boogaloo
While playing with the Tailgunner 2, and exploring the role of the fanny pack as a platform for home defense, I set up a second rig that is far less subtle. Using a cheap imported fanny pack from Amazon, that is much more “tactical” in style than the Tailgunner, I built a platform for holding a handgun, long-gun reload, support and medical gear, that makes no bones about what it is.
The HuntVP fanny pack I used is a clone of the Maxpedition Octa, itself a variation on the old Eagle ERB. It has a PALS(-ish) field across the entire backside of the bag, to which I mounted a Blue Force Gear Ten-Speed Double M4 mag pouch. Into the right hand pouch, I forced a PHLster Skeleton with a Discreet Carry Concepts clip on it. The clip goes over the pouch, and the PALS on the fanny pack, and provides retention for the holster. Into the left side pouch, I can put a rifle magazine, or a carrier for the QD-C sidesaddle. The very front pockets are loaded with nitrile gloves, and tourniquets, and the main pocket of the pouch is filled with hemostatic, trauma bandages, NPA’s, and a Rescue Hook. A flashlight can be clipped to the webbing on the front of the pouch, along with a can of pepper spray, or other items.
The role of a bag like this would be similar to how I use the Tailgunner 2 for a “bump in the night” platform. It could be easily stored in a medium lockbox or safe, and provides ready access to your fundamental home defense equipment all on a single platform. Exact configuration would depend on your needs. I set it up fairly medical heavy, but you could easily put a single PHLster PEW and tourniquet in the front, and use the main compartment for tactical gloves, flex cuffs, additional lights, more reloads, or whatever you deemed appropriate for your mission/needs. For a strictly grab-and-go fighting loadout for the homeowner, this higher profile setup has a lot of merits: It nearly duplicates the position and drawstroke of an AIWB carried pistol, allows for more reloads (or different ones) to be carried ready to access, and just generally offers more support capability in an overt role. For my needs, this will be my least used booga-lite rig because of that overt nature, but if all I needed was a home defense platform, this would be the prime contender.
You could use this ERB style of bag for a less overt rig, as well, but after trying both styles, I have come to prefer bags constructed like the Tailgunner 2, that open up fully like a clamshell, for carrying a pistol within. This almost entirely eliminates the potential for hanging up your draw, from within the bag, on the opening (a distinct possibility with a bag constructed like the ERB).
The fanny pack is versatile, for concealed carry or as a platform for emergency equipment, beyond these ideas. My uses for the fanny pack are a narrow scope of what is possible, and my setups may not be ideal for everyone. This is offered to give structure, and a starting point, for your explorations.
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From time to time, the debate over “printing” (the appearance of a concealed handgun under a cover-garment, via tell-tale bulges, outlines, etc) comes around the internet gun community. Arguments are made for and against printing, discouraging or encouraging avoiding it. Of late, the trend has been to discourage concern over printing. Several articles and discussions in prominent groups have made quite a case that printing doesn’t matter. And they’re right. Printing doesn’t matter.
Except, when it does.
The most common arguments made in favor of ignoring printing are that either “no one will notice it” or “no one will recognize what it is”. This is most often based on the experience, among people who are lax about printing, of not having anyone call them out for carrying a gun.
The large failure here is that most people, in most settings, aren’t going to say anything to a guy with a gun. As we’ve learned from open carry demonstrators, the most effective way to stop communication between people in a public setting, is for one of them to visibly have a gun. So why would most people tell someone “Hey, I can see your gun…”?
The other failure there is that many of the guys saying “no one notices/cares/recognizes” aren’t themselves that aware. A lot of gun dudes aren’t exactly paragons of social skill, and tending to associate only with other gun dudes makes that worse. Running the mechanical 180-visual-scan and “watching the hands” isn’t the definition of good social attentiveness. Even if many of us weren’t socially challenged, no one is perfectly aware. It’s impossible. Being unaware that you’ve been noticed printing doesn’t, actually, count for a lot. Using that to argue for the position that “printing doesn’t matter” isn’t enough.
The next argument from the “it doesn’t matter” crowd isn’t that no one notices, but rather that it isn’t important if others see a bulge because they don’t know what it is. This may have some value, but I tend to think that even if they can’t identify it, the bulge can still matter.
In many work environments, an out of place bulge in clothing is going to be cause for notice. Simply because it’s different, and draws attention. With many workplaces having restrictive firearms policies, the eventual questioning of “what is that?” could have serious consequences for folks. Job loss alone can be bad enough, but in some places that could come with the potential for police involvement. The ghost of the event has the potential to follow someone as they try to find new employment, too.
Whether or not it’s realized, printing (even unrecognized) can have consequences elsewhere, too. Maintaining an active social life and carrying can mix very well, but that unsightly bulge above your ass can make that difficult. A lot of gun dudes are, in fact, men… and men are typically clueless as to the level of detail women (and interested men) notice. Particularly in regard to dress.
Any single man who has ever tried to up his sartorial game can tell you the difference it made in his interactions with the desired sex, when he put on nice shoes and a decent watch. That bulge above your ass? That’s gonna stand out just as badly as pairing your ratty Vans with a suit, to certain viewers.
The final, but by no means least important, consideration is the observation of your mohaska by the criminal element. A lot of folks blow this off, and ask “when did a thug ever even see a quality concealment holster?”, but that’s the wrong question. The right question is, “what do I lose if I’m identified as carrying a gun, by a criminal actor?”
Story time: I was 19 and in community college, working my way through various first responder classes and the beginnings of a psych degree. In an English class, I made a friend who we’ll call Antonio. In his early 50’s, Antonio was a long-standing and well positioned member of a 1% motorcycle club (or, outlaw motorcycle gang). An articulate and intelligent guy, who was working on business classes, Antonio decided he liked me and we often had lunch together on campus. I get along well with “dirtbags”, and enjoyed talking with him about New Mexico history, hunting, fishing, trucks, bikes, engines, and such topics in which he was well versed.
One afternoon, he asked if I could give him a ride over to an off-campus bookstore to sell some textbooks, in exchange for him buying lunch. Free lunch being one of the grails of college life, I agreed and off we went. When we stopped for lunch, he pointed out another diner and asked “You’re into this shit, what do you see about that guy?” The guy in question was wearing business wear, slacks with a tucked in shirt and tie. I didn’t see anything particularly notable about him, until Antonio prompted me to “look at his hip”, where the loops of a tuckable IWB holster were visible on his belt, along with a distinctive bulge. “C’mon vato, you gotta be sharper than that, you wanna get along in the world” was Antonio’s comment when I, finally, saw the gun.
I continued having lunch with Antonio fairly often until I transferred to university, and in that time the “spot the gun” game came up often. He was better at it than I was then, and I was the gun-nut. Antonio was a bad guy. We didn’t talk about it much, but he was honest about it when it came up. A bad guy who had survived as a criminal since he was a teenager. I have no idea how he’d score on a FAST-Test or Super Test, or what his ground game was like, or if he thought HiPoint was all a gun needed to be. It doesn’t matter: He was successful where others are not, and had the skillset required to reach the point he was at, transitioned from street soldier to decision maker getting a degree. And, he could spot a gun based on printing and tells.
A fairly common idea is that the gun is a deterrent: A criminal actor, upon seeing the gun, will avoid its bearer for fear of being shot. Reality is a bitch-kitty that’ll scratch you, though. Violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to firearms. Even better, unlike most gun owners, violent criminal actors aren’t strangers to having guns pointed at them, being shot at or, even, being shot. They aren’t afraid of guns. Antonio wasn’t, and said as much. He felt like being able to see a gun ahead of time simply gave him an edge, and he wasn’t the only dirtbag I’ve ever met who had this opinion.
Printing doesn’t matter. Until it does. And when it does, you’re going to have a lot on the line. Romantic success, the potential loss of income or career, or the potential of injury or death at the hands of someone who knew you were carrying and didn’t care except to come at you harder because of it. Today’s market for holsters, belts, and other support gear is truly the best it has ever been. There is a solution out there for you, and quite likely for the gun you already prefer carrying, that will keep you from printing. There are also a plethora of quality, compact, and yet capable handguns on the market currently if your full-sized gat isn’t going to work. Whether better holsters, belts, and pouches, or those things and a different gun, there is a solution for you out there if you try, and every reason to pursue it until you find it.
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.