Running the Pump Shotgun One-Handed

One of the big downsides to a pump action shotgun is that it requires two hands to operate. Crap happens, especially in a gunfight. Your nonfiring hand is also held fairly far forward on a shotgun, which increases the likelihood of it getting tagged. With that in mind, I’ve been experimenting, reading, and researching different ways to run a pump shotgun one-handed.

I’ll say now it’s not easy. It’s slower, it’s not very intuitive, and it can be very difficult to master. You might ask yourself, is it even worth learning? How likely are you to have a nonfiring hand so injured it’s unable to help you control the gun? It’s happened before, famously so in the 1986 Miami Gunfight. American legend Ed Mireles had a .223 caliber round rip through his off-hand, taking it right out of the fight. 

Ed was armed with a Remington 870, and he ended up firing four rounds of buckshot into the car occupied by the two violent bank robbers. He worked the weapon one-handed and laid down the hate. His weapon suppressed them to the point he was able to approach and finish the fight with his S&W 686. Is running a shotgun one-handed common? No, but it’s still worth learning. 

Best Thing to Do When Your One-Handed 

Ultimately the best idea might be to ditch the shotgun and go to your sidearm. Ed only had six rounds in his revolver and was under fire by a rifle. I can see why he stuck to the shotgun. For most of us, it might be worth ditching the shotgun and going to the handgun. It’s much easier, and modern handguns hold a few more than Ed’s six rounds. 

The One-Handed Shotgun Techniques 

There are a few techniques out there to help you get a shell from the magazine to the chamber. These moves are sleep and aren’t sexy. This isn’t the Costa mag flip of techniques. These are the battle axes necessary to get the gun firing at least one more time. 

All of these techniques require the pump to be unlocked, so you might need to add that step if your hammer is down and your pump is locked. If you’ve fired your weapon, then the pump is very likely free and will move without issue. 

The Hollywood Method 

Say what you want about movies and guns. Sometimes the stuff they show works. The Holywood method is what you see in about a dozen different movies. Most notably, Linda Hamilton does it in Terminator. Grab the pump with your working hand and violently throw the arm upwards and immediately downwards. This will work your action and does require some careful manipulation to accomplish. 

An alternative to violently racking your shotgun is to take a knee, rest the stock on your knee, and shove the pump downward. Then push upward quickly and let the weapon’s weight help close the action. Now you are loaded and ready to rock and roll. 

The Shove-and-Shoot Technique

The shove-and-shoot one-handed technique will really depend on your gun. Sadly, the proper technique can’t always overcome the action. You need a very smooth and slick action. A new, tight shotgun likely won’t work well with this technique. A well-worn Ithaca or Remington with a slick action does well with this technique. 

The shove-and-shoot method requires you to hold the gun by the standard grip and violently shove it rearward and then push it forward. You may need to angle the gun up a little and work this up and down instead of back and forth. 

What can really help with this technique is a heavier forward. My Remington 870 with a Surefire DSF makes this super easy to accomplish. The extra weight of the light makes it much easier to use this method of operating the shotgun one-handed.

The Hook Method

Another technique requires you to have some kind of barrier or something stable enough for you to hook the pump onto.

Hook shotgun reloading method
Push the pump against a barrier.

Different pumps work differently, pumps like the Magpul variant often have a bit of a handguard to them, and that little handguard portion can be used as a hook.

One-handed shotshell ejection
When pressed, it ejects the spent round and preps the next one.

You push the pump against the barrier, opening the action, and ejecting the spent round. 

Then, you reverse the action and brace the pump over the barrier and pull it rearward. This closes the action and readies the weapon to fire. This can be a very reliable method to work the action without any crazy movement. 

One-handed shotgun action closing
Use the pump as a hook and force the action closed, effectively loading the next round.

Brace-and-Go Technique 

This one-handed technique was the technique used by Ed Mireles. The shooter has to brace the shotgun by its stock against the ground, or their knee, or a car hood, or whatever. Brace the stock, grab the pump, and shove it down before pushing it back upward. Simple and reliable, but a bit slow. 

This technique will cause the shotgun to want to twist and move, so prepare yourself for that.

Reloading One-Handed 

Oof, boy, this is tough. Reloading the tube magazine can be tricky but can be done one-handed with some practice. It won’t be fast, efficient, or intuitive, but if a T-800 is closing ground and you don’t have a handgun, then you better get that gun loaded. 

Step one, get around into the chamber as soon as possible. With one in the chamber, you can shoot the gun and react to a threat when necessary. To get one in the chamber, open the action, slap one in, and then close the action. 

Manually feeding a pump-action shotgun
Top off the cylinder as quickly as possible.

To load the magazine tube, one of the easier ways is to brace the stock against your body and brace the barrel against some kind of barrier. Have the loading port facing up. With the gun braced, start sliding the shells into the magazine tube. 

Supported one-handed shotgun reload
Loading a tube with one hand makes me want a removable magazine.

Without a barrier to brace the gun, drop it into the dirt and step on the stock. Use your weight to stabilize it, and then start sliding shells into the magazine tube. 

Unsupported shotgun reload
Pin the gun down and shove those shells in.

These techniques aren’t the end-all-be-all but are the two ways I found to be the most effective. Although they are slow, I factored in removing the extra shells from a side saddle and a belt and found I could do both with these techniques. 

The Shotgun and You 

Pump shotguns are not friendly guns and most certainly not egalitarian guns. Yet, they remain a popular defensive tool with a versatile design. If you are looking to run a gun with one hand, you’d be wise to learn the ends and outs of its operation, including your ability to operate the gun with one hand. You don’t have to be a pro, but having some familiarity with a gun’s one-handed operation can be a lifesaver, although it might now be a limb saver. 

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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One thought on “Running the Pump Shotgun One-Handed

  1. Great story, I’ve been trying to become more proficient with one hand after recovering from carpal tunnel surgery. Only commenting on this to prevent your article from showing up on accounts where they mock people for using a wrong idiom, but it’s “ins and outs” not “ends and outs”

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