After Action Report: Costa Ludus Shotgun Employment [Guest Post]

shotgun_intro-tm-tfb

[ Many thanks to Noodles for writing this guest post. ]

South East Portland Oregon, Chris Costa, 3 days, a full class, 400 rounds of buckshot, 100 slugs, 100 birdshot, and what was supposed to be 600 rounds but quickly became more of 9mm, Benellis, 870s, Mossbergs, sunscreen, velcro cards, funny stories, Shirley Temples followed by Crème Brulee, sweat, patience, running back to for more ammo, loading, always loading, slipping on shotgun hulls, 8500 of them on the ground, a coin for my efforts and acute confidence that that with more practice I could effectively run what is easily the most devastating, versatile, and effective weapon in the individual’s arsenal. I took Costa Ludus’s Shotgun Employment Class and if you own a shotgun for defense – I can’t believe you didn’t.

Introduction

The overwhelming response to “What gun should I have for home defense?” is usually “Oh, you need a pump 12ga! There is no other weapon out there that racking one alone will run someone out of the house!”. This is not only a common, but I would suggest the overwhelming statement in neighbor to neighbor, local gun store to patron, and endless internet chatter. I won’t really get into debunking that statement as I’ve learned trying to provide advice to people that do not seek it, and even the ones that do seek it, is usually a zero sum game, a waste of everyone’s time. What I will do, is in response ask…. If you are going to trust your life to one, and in the event that racking won’t just solve the situation but perhaps make it worse, How do you train with the shotgun?

I trained with Costa Ludus – the outfit that Chris Costa formerly of Magpul Dynamics/Training fame started when he left Magpul. Early this year I took my first formal classes although I’ve been shooting for some time. Handgun I and II with an outfit in Michigan called MDFI. Trying not to get too off topic because this is my After Action Report on the Costa class, I will say that if you are in the area, take a class from MDFI! I went in to the Costa class every bit as capable or at least as confident in my handgun employment as anyone else there, MDFI provided the proper foundation that I will take to other classes. Chris Costa whatever you may think of him, his following, or his legend/hype, is a great teacher. Math, Science, Knitting, driving a hole into an clear threat, it all benefits from having great teachers. The guy can shoot too, it’s his job of course, but no doubt the best shooter I’ve ever been in the presence of. Chris at this time runs the Ludus (“Training”) operation more or less solo but the class size is kept relatively small, so at no point did I find him to be unavailable. Quite the opposite, I think he’s probably one of the more approachable people I’ve met, surely no coincidence to his large following on the internet. At one point I asked about an urban prone position and really without comment he dropped to the ground on the mess of shotgun hulls and demonstrated. Formal firearm training is not cheap. You know what else is not cheap? Time is not cheap. I learned more in three days with 600 rounds of shotgun ammo than I ever would have with 6,000-60,000 rounds of ammo and weeks dedicated at the range. I have no hesitation to recommend Costa for training. Interestingly, I was probably one of the only people there that did not previously take a class from Costa via Ludus or Magpul, almost everyone else there had at one point taken a class from him. Damn if this will be my last as well, he’s that effective as an instructor.

Bring the gear you have, what you are comfortable with, what you know works for you. Don’t rush out to buy the badass gear you think you want, because until you take a class, you don’t really know what you want. A very nice husband and wife couple brought brand new Mossberg 930 shotguns that as I understand it, are both now being returned or sold. A third guy with a 930 shared with them the manipulation issues of that platform, no idea if he’s keeping his, but I doubt it. For gear I’ll quickly mention I brought:

  • A Walther PPQ First Edition in 9mm (threaded barrel, Trijicon sights)

  • My Dad’s old HK-marked Benelli m1 that I removed the Surefire forearm from to make a lot lighter

  • A borrowed 870 that was decked out but had a much too short length of pull for me, the Hogue youth stock doesn’t fit me at 6’0”

  • Raven Concealment’s modul-loader shell holding system, Ares velcro shell holder cards, die cut loop-side backers from 3GunGear

  • Raven Concealment’s mag carrier for the PPQ, but not holster. I ordered the holster the end of June and as of this writing it’s still not ready, RCS makes a fantastic product, but the wait is unfortunate. However, realizing it wouldn’t be here in time, I’d like to thank the guys there (Trek and Tom) for getting the other items separated and shipped to me in time for the class. The holster was from Crown Holsters, it works well and has a far shorter wait than the Raven, but not exactly apples to apples. The Raven accessories work on the Crown.

  • Rio Buckshot (I’m on a budget!), Federal hydrashock slugs, some Walmart birdshot.

  • MSA earmuffs, they’re expensive but fit/work well.

  • Native sunglasses, t-shirts, jeans, kahkis, sneakers, an Ares Ranger belt (I should have tried the Lite version first). All things that keep me from looking like an action figure, things I’m likely to have on a day to day basis. Train like you fight. If you think you may need to pull a shotgun from your car and engage a threat, are you likely to have full ninja gear on? Are you going to have time to grab your 30 round bandolier, a sling, your tactical vest? Unless you are LE planning for a situation, probably not.

As for the rest of the class:

  • Very M&P heavy. Aside from every make and variation of the M&P the only other standouts I saw were an M&P Shield, a department Glock, department Sig, a 1911, a Ruger, and my Walther PPQ. Costa ran a custom 1911 and a Glock.

  • A lot of the class ran velco cards and field stocks on their shotguns, no one complained about this setup. Others are now converting to the velcro cards from aluminum side saddles. Two people with pistol grip stocks expressed immediate disinterest in them and would like to switch. The methods that load and manipulate a shotgun do not lend well to a pistol grip in my opinion, your mileage may vary.

  • Mostly 870s were used. A couple Benelli m1’s including Costa’s. An m2 that only had an issue because it was ran with no lube, added a little FrogLube and it ran perfectly. An m4/m1014 and a Remington VersaMax that is so closely copied from the m4 that it’s a little questionable on Remington’s part. A couple Mossberg 500/590s. The 930s that I wouldn’t consider for any price. Nothing dumb like a Saiga (I own one, hate it, selling it). No Keltec KSG that I was half expecting to see.

  • Two police, one or two former military, a husband and wife couple, two EMT and Fire department guys, a surgeon, an IT guy and some other technical types, etc. I showed up alone not knowing anyone, and honestly, the people you meet in these classes are friendly, helpful, and generous. No need to bring your own buddy, you’ll make new ones there.

A quick overview of some of the gear I brought. Very pleased with everything there except that I think I’ve outgrown that holster just a bit.

Day 1: Handgun

Consider you were a firearms instructor, you are at risk of being shot by a student – mathematically bound to happen eventually. It was made clear that a 12ga shotgun is unlike any other weapon at our disposal, if you are in a supine position (on your back, neck up, shooting between your spread out feet) and shoot your own foot with a 556 or 9mm, you’re going to have a very bad day. Do the same with a 12ga, and for the rest of your life you’ll never walk correctly. For this reason I suspect Day1 was handgun-only because it allowed any potential goofballs to be rooted out before they became a problem/danger. Plus, shotguns typically have 4+1 to 7+1 capacity, you are very likely to run out of ammo, and if you have a handgun, you will need to transition to it. This may mean for people without a sling that you’re doing so one handed. All of a sudden, the one-handed malfunction clearing and reload drills become very practical. Day1 quickly became 800 rounds of 9mm from my Walther PPQ which functioned great with the exception of me occasionally holding the slide release lever down resulting in a closed slide on the empty mag. This is a grip issue I’m working to free myself of, I now only do it under stress, which a couple of the drills were designed to induce. The personal significant note about Day1 or my PPQ was that about one month earlier I installed Trijicon’s sights in place of the very low profile factory night sights, they help clear suppressors. I had practiced with the PPQ after the new sights, shot uspsa practice, ran drills from the excellent pistol-training.com, so it was a surprise that in class I wasn’t shooting well at all, a lot of center mass hits on the (very excellent) VTAC targets were to the left, but not all of them. Chris took some time to investigate the issue with me, from a prone position at 25 yards, we confirmed my sights were indeed off. He explained that I have a Type-A personality and that I couldn’t see my sights were off because I was compensating for it by just getting the hits I needed at the distances I shot then moving along. Apparently common to students in his classes. Lesson learned, spend more time sighting and have someone else confirm it – before showing up to class. Once solved, I was very pleased with my shooting. The PPQ is a fantastic handgun and while it lacks the customizability of a Glock or M&P, it doesn’t really need much work done it, very accurate and the best factory striker fired trigger on the market. Skills learned or utilized:

  • Costa recommended and made logical points for using the same stance for handgun employment as you do shotgun/carbine/etc. I found I could take 3-4” off my height with a more aggressive stance and was then able to handle recoil better allowing my cadence to increase in speed.

  • Ideal ways to shoot from kneeling without really banging up your knees.

  • The importance of the pelvic girdle as a target. Often overlooked, the breaking the pelvic girdle will stop someone from moving no matter how drugged or deranged. Piercing the femoral artery is an eventual show stopper. I’ll make a note here at this point… Nothing in this class advocated even the most justified killing as the best option. All instruction was directed on how to stop a threat. There were no intentions or calculations on how to cause pain or suffering and nothing was joked about on these matters. This is class on DEFENSE using firearms. Piercing a femoral artery without treatment will cause death, no doubt about it, but if you are not prepared to potentially kill to save you or your family, you have no business handling a firearm. There is no such thing as a warning shot, there is no racking the gun to scare someone, you don’t shoot for the legs. If you rack that gun, you had better be equally prepared to fire it until the threat is stopped.

  • Shooting handgun while moving. Drills where commands like LEFT, RIGHT, FORWARD were called and you moved and engaged the target in front of you as per command. A little funny because someone will forget their right vs left at some point, you need to be aware and ready to adapt to that.

  • Scan And Assess is the look around after an engagement. The idea is that you need situational awareness because where there is one threat, there may be two, or four. You scan and assess TO shoot, not to stop shooting. Look around, visually acquire details, and be prepared to engage more threats if needed.

  • Be prepared to slow down. A lot of USPSA and IDPA shooters have handicapped accuracy because their game favors speed. Real world does not. You are responsible for every round fired. A missed shot could easily kill an innocent and at that point it does not matter how justified the intent was, you are going to spend some time in jail. If the situation calls for a couple rapid shots and then a well-aimed headshot, take the time to do it right. Cadence and set time for shots will vary with distance and difficulty of the target. Slow it down if you need to.

  • One of my favorite take-aways… Trust in your gun, not in your ammo as your ammo will fail you. Only hits that stop the threat count. I prefer 9mm over any other because of the recoil and capacity offered (one threat could be four). Even if you have a .40/.45/10mm and the new hottest brand of Tactical Ninja X Ultra Hollow Bonded Man-Stopper ammo, it will at some point fail to do what it is supposed to, at that point be ready to fire again until the threat is stopped. Costa discussed how center mass shots are the most practiced but it’s an effectively armored spot on a human, that means you may need follow up shots. Know/Run the gun first because the ammo comes second, be prepared to reload, fire accurately, fire quickly.

Costa demonstrating a shotgun muzzle down to handgun transition.

Day 2: Auto Shotgun

I brought a more or less stock Benelli m1 and a backup 870. Light and accurate, the Benelli is sort of like cheating. The fantastic method of operation makes slug changeovers exceptionally easy and unlike the Mossberg pump or autos does not require you to drop rounds on the ground. The class spent a lot of time on recoil management, and it’s a big factor in a 12ga especially for medium built guys like me. Like most other people I immediately discovered that my 00 Buckshot was not patterning well, that’s not fair to say really, it wasn’t patterning as well as one brand of buckshot that a couple people were using. Until I see another brand catch up, I will not buy anything other than Federal buckshot with their “FlightControl” wad, Federal Tactical is the LE version, consumer is the same stuff. Easily the tightest and most effective buckshot out there. Costa had everyone shooting something other than “FedTac” fire one round at the head of your target at 15 yards, then compare to your ammo at 15 yards. It wasn’t even a contest. Now the versatility of the shotgun compared to other weapons was becoming clear. In one weapon system you can:

  • Effectively take down any game in North America (hunting or defense)

  • Accurately fire slugs at 100y+, devastate an area with buckshot

  • Moving target practice / clays with birdshot

  • Persuasively stop vehicles and engines

  • Breach doors/gates/locks either in planned or emergency situations

  • Use less-lethal options such as bean bags, rubber slugs, OC (pepper spray/powder), and flash/flare/illuminating ammo

  • Bounce shot along hard surfaces to “reach” under cars, along walls, etc

  • Punch into or through armored targets or walls (the downside of home defense scenarios)

The triangle marked shots were Rio Low Recoil 00Buck out of my unchoked Benelli m1 at 15 yards. The headshot is Federal FlightControl 00Buck, same gun at 15 yards. FedTac would easily allow you to push to 35y+ and keep on target, a huge advantage.

As a civilian, I never gave a thought about breeching, but there are plausible scenarios that you must enter a house or gate and a carbine or handgun won’t help you much there. Given the shotgun’s versatility, it’s likely the round you want, may not be the round in your gun. We spent a lot of time practicing slug changeovers which you can watch Costa demonstrate on YouTube. Skills learned or utilized:

  • Proper gun setup, from length of pull, to operation, stance and recoil management.

  • Reloads! Lots of reloads. During one of the more stressful drills, Costa yelled out “Yea, I bet you wish you had that carbine now!” 4+1 or 8+1 or 14+1 it doesn’t matter, you are going to run out of ammo.

  • Ammo changeovers (drills like, 2 buckshot center mass, 1 slug headshot… THREAT!)

  • Double slug changeovers and how to deal with your platform when the tube is full but you want some other ammo

  • We ended the day with a critical thinking drill. Three steel plates at varied distances you were explained to fill the tube and chamber with birdshot, then on the timer, engage all three steel plates with slugs. On my Benelli this still meant a dance of loading the carrier, ejecting two rounds, loading a slug directly in the chamber, one in the tube, then after firing, getting another slug in the tube. Later Chris said he might have just done three single slug changeovers. The idea here was that he never taught us how to do three slugs. I got the fastest time of the class for this drill which doesn’t mean crap, but it did make me decide the Benelli is sort of like cheating.

Day 3: Pump Shotgun

Ok, so the Benelli isn’t “cheating” but it is easily the most well thought out auto platform out there, makes everything a little easier. Recently their m1/m2 action patent ran out and there are other mfgs making clones (The Firearm Blog recently posted about a Turkish company that might be a nice option if are they made well and available). I decided that Day3 I would use the pump action to learn both platforms. The 870 I borrowed is a Marine Magnum painted black, 18”, with a ported VangComp system in place, nice ghost sights although at no point did my m1’s rifle sights hold me back, a Hogue youth stock. Movement drills became tougher because somehow an 870 with 6 or 7 round in it, 5 in the velcro card on the side of the gun, my left pocket filled with 15 rounds of buckshot, 5 more on my belt in a spare card, just keeps getting heavier and heavier. Ahead of me I see the drill with 12 targets at 5 “stations” and he’s calling 2 shots each – GO. That’s a lot of moving, loading, holding, aiming, fire, rack, fire again, rack again, do that for the next target, reload as much as you can, good, now move to the next set and do it all again 4 more times . I see people on the internet with righteous hand-of-god looking Benelli m4s that weigh 12lbs unloaded, I would have been miserable with one of those guns. Granted, this is a training drill that is designed to fatigue and stress, but who is to say you’re going to be fresh and rested if you ever need to use a firearm in defense? Skills learned or utilized:

  • On a shotgun, if you are not firing, you are loading. Absolutely.

  • The pump is a different beast than the auto. A fairly different manual of arms and balance between recoil management and operation. Slug changeovers only required one more step, and I watched Costa run a pump as easily as fast as anyone there ran their semi. Takes training though, I would not select a pump action for defense without training.

  • Shooting from urban prone and supine, require different methods compared to other guns. Recoil management is important when you’re not on your feet and might not be able to get a cheek weld and purchase on your body.

  • Handgun transitions aren’t particularly complicated but what you do with that shotgun in your weak hand will be different depending on if the shotgun is providing white light, you vest/plates, etc.

  • Running a pump properly will leave you with an unexpected empty chamber and a “click” of the trigger. This will happen and you need to be ready to break it and feed that chamber with a combat reload from a pocket if needed.

  • During another steel drill. Four plates at 15yards, and two more steel at 25 yards. The idea was to engage four targets with buckshot then two slug changeovers to engage the steel at the rear. There were three people that had a very close 15.5-16.0s times, I edged everyone out once again and was quite proud of myself until Costa ran a 15.3 seconds that although he did not beat my time, he had cleared three failure to eject malfunctions (that gun needed lube as well iirc) in the only a slightly increased amount of time I took to just engage the targets with no malfunctions.

 

Given the slow cyclic rate of auto shotguns, and that the recoil takes up a lot of time on the auto that you just need to ride out, while during the same time on the pump you can work the action, I’d argue that the speed benefits of autos vs pumps is less of an issue than most suspect. Chris pauses at the end of this video and decides to shoot some more, I wish I had better clips, but my hands were usually full of shotguns all class, video suffered.

Other lessons, things I learned or found interesting:

  • On all guns really, but shotguns in particular… If it is a screw, IT GETS LOCTITE. Either red or blue depending on what it’s holding. I saw two ghost sights come loose, one side saddle, one pic rail, the extended bolt release button my m1, and even the stock on Costa’s m1 started to loosen up (a gun that gets a LOT of rounds down it). After a previous incident with the front sight on my PPQ, I should have learned this lesson. Loctite everything.

  • The guys with mini red dots on their guns definitely had an accuracy advantage, it’s a fair platform to use a red dot on.

  • I was fortunate enough to be able to have dinner with Costa and some people from class on two of the three nights I was there. After some jokes about girly drinks I ordered him a Shirley Temple which immediately backfired on me because he found it delicious and then I wanted one – serves me right. For a bunch of guys working shotguns all day there were a quite a few wines (I like American Shiraz, Chris like port) and crème brulees ordered. Dinner conversation was interesting everyone pleasant but candid. The internet-gossip-tramp would have been disappointed as there was no bashing on this or that person, product, or company.

  • After 600 rounds or so of 12ga, I didn’t have anything but a minor redness on my shoulder . This small amount of wear was from me either not mitigating recoil properly or generally because of my 870’s youth stock being too short for my build. No bruises at all, no discomfort. I had expected a drive home in pain, absolutely not the case. It’s a gentle giant if you know what you are doing.

  • Semi-auto shotguns almost all have reciprocating charging handles. This can cause an issue when urban prone and the extended handle is sticking into the dirt. I suppose the same could be said for getting it too close to a wall, door frame, or other object. Not something I had considered earlier.

  • If I were to set up a shotgun today, I would have the magazine tube extend past the barrel just enough to fit one more round. I disliked this look previously, but it does a bit to protect the muzzle when resting the gun on the ground and provides a standoff for breaching.

  • “Equipment you can replace. Skills stick with you.” You might not really need that $2000 m4. Consider an old m1 and learn how to use it. Same goes for custom handguns, fishing rods, whatever.

  • Since it’s my review, I’d like to thank everyone from the class for being generally good people. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to become more responsible citizens, thanks to the two police for taking the time to better protect and serve. Thanks to Bill for hosting, thanks to the Douglas Range in Clackamas, thanks to the catering crew. Chris, maybe next time you’ll design a steel drill you can beat me on… Yea really though, thank you again for your patience explaining things and general great direction, it was a perfect class. Mark, thanks again, and you really ran that Ben-ington! Sleeves, don’t let them pick on you. Tyler, stop picking on sleeves. I hope to see everyone again at some point.

Costa explaining how to fire in supine. Unless you are shaped oddly, you are not going to get a cheek weld or proper sight alignment so aiming down the barrel becomes necessary. Side note, not paying attention to recoil, I knocked my ear muffs clear off my head during this drill, it was loud and I definitely did not let that happen again.
Chris holding a 12ga hull to explain that unlike handgun or carbine, the slow extracting shell from a shotgun needs a lot of room to clear the gun when ejecting down into the ground. Likewise dragging the charging handle could also cause FTE or FTF malfunctions.

Disclaimer

I received absolutely nothing free or reduced price for Costa Ludus, MDFI, RavenConcealment, VTAC, Walther, Benelli, 3GunGear, or any other company. No one knew I would write this review, and I have not asked for permission from anyone to do so. I didn’t like the 3GunGear shell carrier I bought as it was difficult to load one of the loops at the end, and I did get the Ares card to twice drop a round out of it under very heavy fire, these were pretty much my only issues. None of the above is the necessarily the opinion of The Firearm Blog and if something would have sucked I promise I would have said so. After all of the above, whether you are military/police/civilian if you have a firearm that you use for defense, you are doing yourself a disservice by not seeking some firearm training beyond the concealed carry requirements or yearly qualification – likewise if anyone you care about has a firearm for defense please urge they seek some level of formal training, it doesn’t have to be from MDFI or Costa or Vickers or anyone in particular, just get some formal training somewhere. There is no replacement and you are not too good for classes.

My Walther PPQ along with the Costa Ludus coin given out for completion of the course.



Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


Advertisement