Q & A

Here are a few questions and answers Michael Harries dealt with on J Bartell’s “Dear Pro” website.

Dear Michael:
I have a Mossburg 500 28″ barrel cylinder shotgun for home security, holds 8 rounds. What round loading order would you recommend? buck shot 1st, slugs last?, flechetts first, then bb’s, then slugs? Thanks! Steve

Dear David:
On the subject of having multiple loads in your shotgun for home defense, it seems that it has been a stock-in-trade of the Gun Shop Commandos (Defined as: those who spend most of their time “shooting the breeze” with their buddies, and reading some very questionable magazine articles, instead of going out in the field, and trying to test what really works and what doesn’t) who you have to understand are in the business of “selling” you merchandise, whether or not you really need it.

So they are likely to “talk up” MULTIPLE LOADINGS! (This sells you several extra boxes of ammo). That practice is to load Heavy (O, 00, 000, #1) or Light (#4) Buckshot, mixed in with Slugs and/or Birdshot (from #2 and BB’s down to Dove loads) in a certain order, based on some misguided concept, or a weird idea that you can always actually predict how a fight will turn out! “Trust Me” you can’t!

If you’re in a shooting contest, and you know all the ranges and numbers of targets you have to engage, it MIGHT BE POSSIBLE to load in a certain order, if you practiced the contest, just that way enough times. However, even in “contests” (like the SOF match in Las Vegas every year) competitors who practice a lot, do get Slugs and Buckshot mixed up while reloading on the move, and under time pressure, so as to have caused damage to steel targets with big dents at close range, and lead splatter back at themselves and the Range Officer with them. Shotgun stages had to be separated into either an all Slug stage or an all Buckshot stage, and all Slugs had to be taken away from the shooters on the Buckshot stages, to insure there were no problems

If fairly well drilled people cannot keep track of their different ammo, (and only two types) with no one really shooting at them, in just a shooting “game” — then any more complicated system of loading is probably doomed to failure, in any real situation.

Of course we are talking about serious matters here, not a game. You are asking about handling a possible life-and-death situation, and you need sound advice, not something that sounds good in theory. So let’s take these facts into consideration:

1. At indoor ranges, especially with your longer barrel, it doesn’t matter what you use, from the smallest Birdshot, right up to Heavy or Light Buckshot, or Slugs … YOU HAVE TO “AIM” THE SHOTGUN JUST LIKE A RIFLE! Any group of pellets regardless of size, won’t have time to “open up” and will still be in a “mass” not much more than the size of your fist doubled up, at 10-15 feet.

2. No one can tell you how any type of ammo will pattern (and certainly not a counterman in a gun store) in your particular shotgun. You have to take your shotgun and some different types of ammo out, and pattern it at THE EXACT RANGES YOU WILL PROBABLY BE SHOOTING AT! Then you’ll know for sure. Knowing exactly what your defense weapon will do is a big step toward increasing your confidence, and the safety of your shooting.

3. Unless you have your “Crystal Ball” right on your night-stand, you don’t know what form a lethal attack might come in, and because you are an honest citizen trying to protect his family from assault in your own home, you are not likely to have to go outside. So it is the indoor situation to prepare for first, and to consider any longer ranges with the Shotgun as a secondary matter. You should plan to secure your family from an intruder, and only shoot if seriously threatened.

Therefore, considering the possibility of some type of an “over-penetration” problem, (which can be solved by a highly trained individual, regardless of load) but not knowing your skill level (i.e. Professional… military or SWAT trained, Sport shooter … with a lot of practice and contest experience, or an Occasional shooter… without very much practice) I would have to recommend that you use any type Birdshot (up to heavy Birdshot, BB’s or #2’s) for your primary loading. Part of the problem with too many different loads in your shotgun is: YOU CAN NOT KEEP TRACK OF THEM UNDER ANY SERIOUS STRESS! Too many different loads means you are likely to have the “wrong” type of load up the spout, when you need to shoot, or think you have one type when in fact you have the other. Neither situation is good for you.

Now none of these methods of loading your shotgun, in any way absolves you of the responsibility for where your shots go! Even Birdshot can go through plate glass, or an open window and harm someone beyond, so your control and your Marksmanship are necessary to safe and responsible shooting. Under most circumstances, Birdshot will expend its energy in the first solid object it hits, such as: Walls, Furniture, and Appliances. It will not usually continue on, although some pellets may ricochet off any hard surface that is struck at an angle.

In California where I live, the only time you can legally fire from any dwelling on people outside, is if they are committing an act of Arson and/or Bombing against your dwelling, which is considered a grave and lethal threat to the people inside. You should by all means check with your local police and/or district attorney where you live, to make sure any of your defensive actions are within the law.

Therefore, you might consider a “butt-cuff” loaded either with Heavy Buckshot or Slugs, should you feel that you want to be prepared to shoot beyond indoor ranges. The decision on which type to use for your long range load is made by taking your shotgun and both types of ammo to the field, (or the target range) and testing them at 25-yards. Then use what you can to get the best results with, and remember, different brands of ammo can pattern differently in your shotgun.

As a rule-of-thumb, if you have rifle sights, you probably can use slugs to good advantage, but without sights, Buckshot may be better. At any rate, a good set of “Ghost-ring” sights will help you to place your shots well, regardless of load. Remember, your Marksmanship is a big SAFETY FACTOR in keeping any of the innocent bystanders from harm, while you are defending yourself and your family.

This advice is based on the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) which I have tried to follow myself, and every once in a while, I foul-up because I haven’t kept it SIMPLE! I have three main weapons, a 45 ACP, an M1 Garand, and a Benelli shotgun, WHICH ALL HOLD EIGHT ROUNDS! I actually feel I can keep track of eight rounds, and since they’re all the same capacity, under pressure, the simplicity of my weapons system makes up for any “theoretical” drawbacks. The man is more important than the tool! So don’t complicate your loading, decide what will serve you best, practice with it, and take gun safety and responsibility seriously.

Dear Michael:
I’m concerned about my safety and I’ve been thinking about getting a gun, what would you advise? Signed, Julia

Well let me start out by saying that a “gun” is not a magic wand to protect you, any more than a car alarm will protect your car from being stolen by professional car thieves. I know that statement will upset some people with preconceived notions that they can “buy safety” by spending their money on gadgets that people tell them will make them safe. But it is a true statement, and I’m not trying to sell you a product that someone will say is going to make you safe I’m promoting knowledge, because in the very final analysis, it is knowledge about situations, and what type of tools to use, that will increase your chances of safety, especially the knowledge part.

Personally, you have to take responsibility for your own safety. Gadgets are things that usually promise more than they can deliver. On the other hand, tools (like most firearms) will contribute to your safety, if you educate yourself on their safe handling and operation. You cannot buy any tool (saw, hammer, firearm, or computer) and put it in your closet, then just take it out when you think you need it, and expect it to work wonders. If you are reading this, you are most likely “computer literate” am I right? If you did not learn some basics about your computer, and set up your modem to allow you to connect to the Internet, you couldn’t be reading this and gaining all of this new information, am I right again?

Knowledge is power, we’ve all heard this phrase, but it implies that you make use of the knowledge, not just read about it, see it on a video tape, or have someone tell you about it. You can’t just read some pages in a book, and then go climb mountains, or operate a car, or run a computer. You have to balance the THEORY, with some HANDS ON PRACTICE! Therefore, any decision to use TOOLS of any kind, for your own safety, must be backed up with knowledge about them, and a decision making process, worthy of Life-and-Death decisions because serious “tools” require serious decisions.

People have been crippled for life, because they were not knowledgeable about chain-saws, and their operation. 50,000 people a year (average) die in motor vehicle “accidents” and hundreds of thousands are injured or crippled. Poor decision making, (drinking alcohol, driving too fast in the rain, trying to light a cigarette, or having a distracting conversation) has been responsible for many of these badly crippled and killed people.

The level of skill in operating a motor vehicle is very low in this country, possibly because this country is an automotive culture, with the greatest amount of paved roads, but, in most states, the driving test requirements are a joke. Therefore, we have very good roads and high speed cars, but most drivers don’t take their driving very seriously. The amount of energy in a moving car is far more powerful than any rifle or pistol is, but most people think of firearms as dangerous, and never give a thought about how dangerous cars can be.

Remember that fact, when some bad guy jumps in front of your car, waving a pistol or shotgun, to force you to stop. If you do, you might be murdered, because you are putting yourself at the mercy of a criminal. Floor the accelerator and drive right through the bad guy! Some facts: First, the car is a powerful weapon you can use against someone who is using a firearm against you, and secondly, most shotgun and pistols WILL NOT RELIABLY PENETRATE A CAR’S WINDSHIELD! Didn’t know that, did you?

Another reason is that the average criminal is a poor shot, and he’ll be trying to get out of the way of the car instead of taking the careful aim required to hit you as the car comes right at him. People without any knowledge of what firearms can do, are often intimidated by the mere sight of one, so that is where all realistic firearms knowledge can help you to evaluate the situation you’re in, and take reasoned action, and not be frozen in fear or panic because you don’t have adequate knowledge.

So my “advice” to anyone contemplating buying a firearm for protection to make himself or his family “safe” is that you must take the necessary time and effort to learn about firearms in general, and personal protection in particular. Just owning a firearm does not make you either a safe or competent shooter any more than just owning a guitar makes you a musician.


Personal responsibility is at the core of firearms ownership. I could not in good conscience advise anyone to own one who is not prepared to take all of the responsibility that goes along with it. There are many things about personal protection you must learn even if you have a firearm. Remember, it isn’t a magic wand, it is just a “tool” that must be used responsibly.

Dear Michael:
Which is better, an semi-auto pistol or a revolver? – Thomas

Dear Thomas:
Good examples of both types, used with good ammunition are reliable and that is a KEY ELEMENT in choosing a defensive weapon. I feel that the main differences between the revolver and auto-pistol are your own training and follow-up level. All training on either of these weapons should begin with an intensive period of both the techniques of technical shooting and gun handling, however, it is what you plan to do for your MAINTENANCE training that would make a difference in my recommendations as to which firearm would do you the most good.

The real training differences between revolvers and auto-pistols are in their conditions of readiness. Revolvers are simpler to operate, (and most of them have a full-cock notch, which gives you a much lighter trigger pull, but you do not have to use it) you can just pick up the loaded revolver and pull the double-action trigger to fire it, and if you get a “miss-fire” you just pull the trigger again to fire the next round in the cylinder.

On the other hand, auto-pistols are quite a bit more complicated in operation and their conditions of readiness. You have a slide which must be operated to insert a round in the chamber, (or it can be “locked” back) and at the same time a loaded magazine must be “locked” in place to feed a round into the chamber, which really should be “checked” before you can assume the automatic is actually loaded. Some of the automatic (actually self-loading) pistols have one or more “safeties” that must be manipulated to fire the weapon, and some auto-pistols have double action and single-action modes plus hammer “droppers (which when used drop the hammer on a live round in the chamber to ready it for a double action mode) and magazine releases to be able to get ammo in and out of the pistol, if you have spare loaded magazines to reload with.

A revolver can be loaded (cartridges in the cylinder) or unloaded, and the cylinder either open or closed. The hammer can only be at full-cock with the cylinder closed, but some revolvers have “shrouds” to cover their hammers to allow them to be fired while in a pocket or purse, without hanging up, and generally cannot be cocked. This is pretty simple and easy to remember. Not at all like all of the complications possible with a semi-auto pistol. It is true that the semi-auto pistol is more “efficient” (I didn¹t say “effective” because people and procedures are “effective” or not, and mechanical devices are “efficient” to the degree they perform their intended purpose.

Therefore, the dividing line is the amount of time you are going to put in to keep up your skill level and familiarization with the weapon. It is real easy to figure, if you are willing to dry-fire twice a week, and go to the range a minimum of once a month (better twice a month) without fail, not just do it for a month or two, and then slack off.

Under those circumstances I could then recommend a semi-auto pistol, because with the more complicated system, you must keep current (as a pilot must keep current in the type of aircraft he flies) with all of the control surfaces, conditions of readiness, and in the case of the semi-auto pistol, MALFUNCTION DRILLS! Those drills are required to get any of the semi-auto pistols back into action, in case of a malfunction. This requires a minimum of three divisions of “jam” clearing, (class I, II, and III) that have to be learned.

However, if you are totally honest with yourself, and know very well that after you learn the initial techniques of shooting and gunhandling, you are not going to practice on any kind of a regular basis, then you are a definite candidate for choosing a revolver as your self-defense weapon. As the facts indicate, the revolver is a simpler tool, and if you’re not going to practice on a regular basis, you aren’t going to gain the benefits you might gain from a semi-auto pistol. DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE of thinking that a self-loading pistol with a large capacity magazine will make up for your own LACK OF PRACTICE. Nothing will make up for lack of practice, but if you were trained properly and learned well, then you might remember enough of what you were taught, to be able to operate a simpler revolver in time of need.

Let me hasten to add, I do not recommend putting the firearm away, and then grabbing it to defend yourself, without adequate practice. It’s just that I am a long time student of human nature, and many people think that they “must do something”, so they obtain a firearm, but after the “newness” wears off, they put their firearms discipline on the “back-burner” and don’t practice.

There are only two choices, the best one is to integrate shooting into your life as a sport or recreation, which will make you practice on a regular basis, so the majority of your skill will be available to you if you ever should need it. The other choice is to choose a revolver, and try hard to practice several times a year, and hope that will be good enough if you have to ever use the weapon. Nothing is accomplished without work and effort, I believe the phrase is “There¹s no free lunch²”… you have to put effort in if you want to gain the results of some kind of protection from a firearm.

Dear Michael:
What do I do about firearms when I have children? – Gloria

Dear Gloria:
Good question, it shows you’re thinking, but the advice varies quite a bit with the child’s age group. I am not a child psychologist, or social worker, so I don’t want people writing in to argue about the fact that a 12 year old isn’t a technical “teenager” (they’re teens in training) so because different people are asking me the firearms questions, allow me to put the “labels” on the age groups, and you can go ahead and change them if you wish, to suit your own family and your own situation.

Let’s divide the kids into Toddlers, (maybe from crawling to 5 or 6 years old) Youngsters (7 to 11) Young teenagers (12 to 15) and regular teenagers (16 to 19+) of course this is all a approximate grouping by age only, and you know your own child’s capabilities better than anyone does, (or you should) so I’ll give you yet another empirical way of dividing age groups.

CHILD CATEGORY (A) Too young to reason with — they “get into” things and if your firearms are well “hidden” the common dangers (electric wall sockets, plugged in appliances they could turn on, wall heaters and gas/electric range controls, stairs, uncovered and/or unfenced swimming pools etc.,) are more likely to harm this age group, than a well hidden firearm would.

THE ADVICE IS: Hiding the weapons in places that offer protection against any child finding them, (or a burglar) without compromising too much your ability to defend yourself and your family with them. Secret panels offer a pretty good solution, there are some “lock boxes” that have a type of combination lock on them, which may suffice in some situations, and with auto pistols, you can use condition-4 storage, that is: Empty weapon in a location, hidden or not hidden, and the loaded magazine on your person, or very well hidden, yet genuinely accessible and near enough to the pistol to make scooping up one, and then the other and putting them both together, a workable solution. For any more specific advice, it would have to be tailored on a case by case basis to your own particular situation.

CHILD CATEGORY (B) Concepts are understandable, but maybe limited to the degree that they’ve been educated and are aware of life’s dangers.

Have you taught your child how to cross the street properly? To Look both ways, and cross at corners or crosswalks with traffic lights? Or have you been lazy when with your young child, and then gone ahead and crossed in the middle of the block, dragging the child with you, so he or she now gets the idea that it’s O.K. to cut across the street with cars coming? You must be careful what kind of behavior you show your children, because it is you that is setting “the example” for them, and they want to be like you are.

So you must THINK about what you’re doing, and firearms are dangerous (or they would not be of any value to us for protection) yet most people stand on the street corner, only a few feet from cars whizzing by, not holding their child’s hand to keep them from stepping into the street and being killed!

How many parents would not allow their children to have a firearm of their own, but buy them a car or motorcycle and turn them loose on the highways, in the face of the child’s own inexperience, and the dangers from other drivers either driving drunk, or irresponsibly! Americans seem to have a “blind spot” when it comes to cars, maybe it’s because we’ve grown up with them, and they represent freedom and mobility to us, and we take them for granted. I love automobiles myself, but believe me, I respect their power, and I know that the average driver is not very good when it comes to controlling his vehicle in a “panic” situation. So I drive like I expect the other people driving to do dumb things on the highways, and I prepare mental “emergency” plans to cope with them. I take driving seriously, you should too.

You must EDUCATE your child on all of the common dangers they may meet in life as they’re growing up. Like the dangers of moving cars, drowning’s, falls, burns, power tools, (including firearms) child molesters, drugs, and anything else that applies to your area. For instance, on the east coast, lessons in cold weather survival should be mandatory, because of the harsh winters that cause deaths every year. Also knowing when to head for the “storm shelter” whenever a dark “funnel cloud” is spotted, should be standard training in the mid-west for kids, and in the Tornado Alleys of Texas and Oklahoma (where I grew up as a youngster) it was taught to youngsters. Now any people who live near the seacoast, should teach their kids swimming, water safety, getting in and out of a boat, about rip-tides, sting-rays and sharks, plus the very great danger of diving into shallow water.

Personal responsibility doesn’t “appear” in children like acne does at puberty, they must be taught it by their PARENTS! In the modern world it’s too easy to abdicate your duties as parents to the school system, or the “Boob Tube” or fragmentary knowledge from your child’s own friends. If you want to teach your children about sex, drugs, drinking and driving, using power tools (again including firearms) safely crossing the street, or not going off with strangers, YOU MUST DO IT YOURSELF, TO MAKE SURE IT’S DONE RIGHT! To that end, you must study up and do your homework, so you will be able to teach your child about the dangers of life, without having to lock them in a ivory tower to try and make them safe, and think if they don’t hear about it, it won’t bother them, “trust me” that attitude won’t work in the real world. You are also the one who should know your own children, and understand best how to explain all of this information to him or her, in a manner they can understand.

However, this all requires parenting skills, and if you’re a little weak in this department, you can always beef-up those skills in workshops, and/or seminars designed to help you do this, or the public library, your church, or close friends who seem to have made a success at raising their children, and that would include advice from your own parents as well, if you think they did a good job on you and/or your spouse.

Does all this sound strange in a column about firearms? Well, not if you’re concerned about personal responsibility, and “trust me” for any serious tools your child is going to be “exposed to” (including firearms and automobiles) you had better care about personal responsibility, or you’re doing something just as dangerous to them as letting them drink and drive, which in turn is just as bad as playing with matches and gasoline, or a loaded firearm while they are blindfolded! Don’t deny them critical information they need.

There are many things you can do in educate your children about firearms, but DO NOT make the mistake of worrying about firearms, but at the same time avoiding any discussion about gangs, drugs, sex, (including venereal disease or AIDS) or safe driving habits, or the dangers posed by child molesters. Take the responsibility to educate your children on ALL OF LIFE’S HAZARDS, and you will not have to regret not educating your child at a later date.

There is a very good program for school age children called “Eddie Eagle” and it is sponsored by the NRA at no cost to the schools, which is geared to the different age groups. It is a very good program, and exposure to it, is like a “drivers education” program for firearms. Some liberals oppose this program because it doesn’t meet their standards of “political correctness” but it is the same as opposing “sex education” because you think if the child never hears about “something” he or she won’t do it! This cannot be farther from the truth, KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, and only EDUCATION can truly give your children the tools they need to survive life’s hazards.

CHILD CATEGORY (C) Young Adults perfectly capable of taking responsibility. I think perhaps enrolling them in a firearms, and/or hunter safety class given by the NRA would be very beneficial. I would also suggest that you go with your children to any classes you can, because it validates the learning experience and gives you an opportunity to participate with your children.

Raising children is not a simple task, and preparing them to face life’s hazards is never easy, but it must be done. There is no quick and easy answer to any of the problems I’ve touched on, but they have to be faced. If you educate yourself realistically, and pass that knowledge on to your children, you will be fulfilling the responsibility to your children.

MichaelHarries.com Note:
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