Reloading the Shotgun: Tactical, Port, and Beyond

The shotgun, aka the repeating claymore, aka the fight ender, aka the portable howitzer, aka my favorite series of weapons. I love the challenge and versatility of shotguns. There are a few downsides to the shotgun, and being aware of the downsides is critical. One downside is low capacity, and low capacity means you’ll have to reload more often than not. Reloading the shotgun is a valuable skill to have if you use the old riot gun for defensive use.

Shotgun reloading can be done in more ways than 1. Typically a rhythm is associated with reloading and a number of techniques are dependent on your shotgun and even how it’s adorned with accessories. We’ll explore all of that and more today.

Before we do that, let’s address the heavily armed elephant in the room. What about mag-fed shotguns? Well, I’m betting you already know how to do that, and that is the big benefit of a magazine-fed shotgun. Shove the magazine in and start blasting off! Boom, there is your lesson on reloading magazine-fed shotguns. Let’s get into the fixed-magazine, tube-fed shotguns.

The Necessity of Reloading the Shotgun

There is something to be said about the need to reload a shotgun. For the average home defender, the need to reload or the situation that would call for it is likely going to be few and far between. The shotgun can typically solve your home invader/werewolf problem with a blast or maybe 2.

shotgun side saddle
A side saddle is a great way to keep ammo on the gun.

You could argue, and I would nod that reloading is unlikely very unnecessary. That doesn’t mean it’s not a proper skill to have. Not only could you just maybe need to reload your gun, but reloading helps you understand how to better manipulate the gun. Reloading skills are also weapon manipulation skills and translate into general good gun handling.

We are also going to focus on the more simplistic means of reloading the shotgun. There are lots of techniques used by professional 3-gun shooters that are fast to reload. Some of these could be translated over to the tactical and defensive world, but they tend to be fairly complicated and difficult to master, especially with a defensive mindset. They also tend to stress reloading multiple rounds at a time when it’s very unlikely you’ll need to reload from empty.

From the Side Saddle to the Tube

The first thing you need to learn is how you’ll draw your ammo when it comes time to reload. When you are facing down the home-invading ninjas, you are likely to be in your underwear and unlikely to have on your Deuce gear and tons of ammo on tap. You have what’s on the gun and what’s potentially on your side saddle.

The 1st step in learning how to reload the shotgun is learning how to draw from the side saddle. Is your ammo brass up or brass down? When it comes to brass down, it’s fairly simple. Use your thumb to press the round down a bit and then pluck the round from the side saddle. I use my middle and forefinger to pluck the round and rest my thumb on the bottom of the brass. This allows me to very easily press the round into the magazine tube.

If your ammo is oriented brass up, then it gets a little trickier, but not much. You’ll want to bend your wrist rearward to the point where your knuckles are pointing at you with your thumb pointing to the ground. From here, you can use your thumb to press a shell upwards if need be. Grip the shell with your fingers and finish retrieving it. Now, your thumb will be sitting on top of it with the brass facing you. From here, press it into your magazine tube, and boom, you’ve made your repeating claymore happy.

Shotgun reload from side saddle, brass up
You pluck the shells with the knuckles facing you. A proper pluck makes a tube reload a bit easier

Port Reloads

A port reload is the act of loading a shell directly into the chamber. This is your “Oh s%^&” moment. You’ve completely run dry, and you need a round ready to fire. You toss a round into the chamber, close the action, and you’re ready for a fight.

shotshell in hand for port reload of shotgun
Position the shell like this for under-the-gun port reloads.

The port reload technique also depends if your ammo is brass up or down, and also what type of shotgun you are shooting, and even some of your accessories. There are 2 ways when it comes to port reloading the shotgun, over the top or under the gun.

With a pump action shotgun, it’s usually faster to go under the gun. This way, you can quickly transition from under the gun to pushing the pump action forward. With a semi-auto, it’s always been faster for me to go over the gun so I can hit the bolt release button as I reload the port.

over the top port reload of a shotgun
An over-the-top port reload is more common with semi-autos.

Accessories like a red dot sight might get in the way. Typically big red dot optics are in the way, and smaller micro optics remain out of the way. Ammo-oriented downward is usually easier to reload under the gun, and ammo-oriented brass up is usually easier to take over the top.

To reload under the gun, you’ll need to draw a round using either the brass up or brass down technique. You want to palm the round in your hand with the brass facing rearward and preferably with the round tucked into your hand so it can’t be dropped. The action must open. Bring the ammo over or under the gun and drop the round directly through the ejection port. Then close the action, and you are ready to rock and roll.

port reload under the gun
A port reload under the gun is typically the better option for pump actions.

Reloading the Shotgun

You are going to feel quite clumsy when you first start reloading the gun. You’ll be slow and fumble a fair bit. This is why dummy rounds are your best friend. I practice my reloads fairly frequently, just watching TV with dummy rounds. You’ll quickly learn the difference between loading and ejection port sizes! Some guns are much more generous than others.

While being able to reload isn’t always the most necessary of skills, when you need to know, you need to know. Plus, you’ll find yourself becoming quite familiar with your firearm and its mechanical functions. Do you have tips for reloading the shotgun? If so, share below!

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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