The Weak-Hand Shotgun Reload
By Chad Adams
The weak-hand shotgun reload is, with few exceptions, the most dominant shotgun loading technique in the sport of 3-gun. While FN’s Dave Neth is fast and furious, and AMU’s Daniel Horner nearly unbeatable—both of whom which load with the strong hand—weak-hand loading is still the winning technique most often used. Watch Taran Butler, Rob Romero or Keith Garcia, and there is little doubt how devastatingly fast the weak-hand reload can be.
And it all started with Kurt Miller, the “Father of the Weak-Hand Reload.” Before he started dominating on the 3-gun fields—Miller is one of the most accomplished iron sight shooters in the sport—he first served as a United States Marine before later taking a teaching position at Col. Jeff Cooper’s famed Gunsite Academy in Arizona. It was there that the emerging practical shooter took a rigid defensive technique and refined into what it is today.
“I didn’t invent weak-hand loading,” Miller explained. “It was a Gunsite technique, but they only loaded one at a time, stressing keeping the weapon at the shoulder. Eddie Rhodes was the first guy I ever saw that grabbed three at a time. From there, I practiced and got it to the level it is today. In the old days of 3-gun, the shotgun stages weren’t as target intensive as they are now, so anything worked.”
But as the sport evolved, so too did the importance of shotgun loading. Ultimately, shotgun round counts swelled in match directors’ stage designs. While most top shooters often shot at similar speeds, the art of loading a shotgun within courses of fire began to separate the pack. When Miller began winning major 3-gun matches utilizing this ‘new’ loading technique, competitors took notice. And since then Miller has taught nearly anyone who would listen.
“I perfected it and designed the core of how to teach it and then of course started WINNING with it,” Miller said. “Being vocal about how good this system was got me to be the ‘father’ of the weak-hand load!”
“Weak-hand loading is the most versatile and in most cases fastest method of loading the shotgun,” Miller said. “It can be done with equal speed from ANY position, from prone , kneeling, sitting, standing and on a dead run. It lets me see where I am going and all the area around the gun instead of staring at an up-side down shotgun port. Like Fighter Jocks say....it’s good to be ‘outside.’”
However, the most impressive gain from using the weak-hand method is arguably the ability to load while keeping the gun in the shoulder. I’ve seen shooters such as Miller, Jeff Cramblit and Trapr Swonson actually continue to move with the gun in the shoulder, while simultaneously breaking shots and pulling shells from the caddy. It’s awesome to watch a top pro run a gun this way. More importantly, it shaves crucial seconds off of stage times.
“For a 3-gunner it is a very critical skill, in my opinion, to keep the gun at the shoulder to reload,” Miller said. “It takes at least an extra 1.5-2 seconds to drop the shotgun from the shoulder, and after loading, re-shouldering and re-indexing to the target...wasted time!! The other part is, as you load, you can re-engage a missed target WITHOUT having to stop your loading process at any time. Just point the shouldered shotgun at the target and shoot it with your strong hand only.
“I just saved myself 3-5 seconds at the Texas State 3-Gun match with just this occurrence,” Miller continued. “I was just starting to step out of a port to run and load to the next position. I noticed that the steel plate previously engaged was not impressed by my lack of pattern on it, so as I grabbed the 4 shells to load to the next position, I merely aimed the gun at the target one-handed and pressed the trigger and got the plate and continued my loading.”
The weak-hand reload, as taught by Miller, has three main points: 1. Don’t hold the shells flat in the hand; 2. Allow the fingers to curl; 3. Maintain thumb contact. Understand and practice each step, and soon you’ll be stuffing shells like the master himself.
“The three main points of weak-hand loading are to get a good consistent grab on the shells from the carrier, keep your loading thumb in contact with the shotgun lifter or loading port, and DON'T try to keep the shell flat to the gun!,” Miller said.
The weak-hand reload begins with the grab. By using the wall of the caddie as a guide, shooters can establish a reference point in which to build muscle memory, ensuring a clean, smooth grab every time.
“When you reach for the first shells use your middle finger to reach down the side of the shell caddie closest to your weak side,” Miller said. “Use it to start the grab by pushing it in between the amount of shells you are comfortable grabbing (3-4). Next your thumb drops around the top of the shell stack and you slide your middle finger right up along the side of the caddie and the shells stack into your hand.”
According to Miller, many inexperienced shooters often make the mistake of attempting hold all four rounds flat in their hand. This usually ends in shells bouncing on the ground as they attempt to load, with rounds backing out of their grip through the ‘back door,’ if you will.
“Shell retention is the key here and too many folks try to keep all the shells flat in their hand, kind of like laying all 4 shells on the table,” Miller said. “This is where most folks run into trouble. For shell containment, let the lower two fingers naturally curl in below the rims of the shells you just grabbed, kind of like if you were trying to hold three golf balls without dropping them. Now the shells won't fall out of your hand, they are MUCH easier to roll into the loading port and they won't fall back in your hand.”
Finally, maintaining contact with the gun during the interim between loading shells is critical to building speed. Having to reestablish the index point robs competitors of the smoothness exhibited by top pros such as Miller.
“When you get to the load, remember to keep your loading thumb in contact with the lifter or loading port,” Miller said. “This keeps you from loading a shell and then dropping your hand away and having to build the index all over again.”
Practice is, of course, the key to building this skill set. However, Miller does not recommend hours on end of stuffing shells in your basement. Instead, 15 minutes of ‘good practice’ will serve shooters better.
“Once you have the basic skills of weak-hand loading, dry practice with dummy rounds no more than 15 minutes at a sitting,” Miller said. “This is the optimal time to let your hand and brain learn the skill without over taxing and fatigue. Anything more than this will actually hinder what you do. For most folks that would be akin to loading around 7-10 sets of eight shells....NO MORE!!!”
You can learn this technique and more from Miller and fellow pro shooter Trapr Swonson by attending one of their Red Neck Tactical training courses. Like Red Neck Tactical on Facebook and send Swonson a note for class information.
Also, 3GunNation.com will be running more great tips from Miller and Swonson. Go to The Sport of 3-Gun—Get Started—Training Tips. Here, a full selection of videos and articles is being assembled, where 3GN breaks down the latest tips and techniques straight from the top pros on the 3GN Tour!