I recently attended the October 2023 Vang Comp Thunderstick Summit. The Thunderstick Summit is a 3-day training event which features instruction from some of the top defensive shotgun trainers in the United States.
The summit trainer line-up included Darryl Bolke, Greg Ellifritz, Steve Fisher, Mark Fricke, Erick Gelhaus, Rob Haught, and Matt Haught. I personally attended classes from all of the trainers except Steve Fisher. Nothing against Steve’s classes, time and availability became a consideration. For those of you familiar with the Range Master Tactical Conference, the summit was a similar round-robin format with students rotating between different ranges for classes.
The summit opened with classes geared toward novice shotgunners with a
buckshot patterning exercise. Since I know how my shotgun patterns, it
was a good warm up. My group then went to a
different range to confirm how our shotguns performed with slugs—more
From my perspective, the highlights of my summit experience were classes from Mark Fricke and the father and son Haught duo. I was not familiar with Mark and found his support side/injured shooter and less lethal classes to be very informative.
I am pretty well versed in the home defense use of the shotgun, so the other live fire classes I attended provided the opportunity to tune my execution of the push/pull technique. Effective deployment of the defensive shotgun requires a gun set up for that purpose and complete mastery of a specific set of basic techniques. While there are few “advanced” techniques when it comes to deploying the shotgun, tactical considerations do come into play. This is where the Ellifritz close quarters retention overview class and the Haught retention push/pull classes were useful.
Some of the classes stressed techniques more geared toward law enforcement deployment such as setting the shotgun up to enable an immediate switch to a slug and therefore were perhaps less useful to the private citizen. Using a slug inside your home is probably not a good idea given to the slug's penetration ability. The need to exit your home to engage a violent criminal is certainly a possibility (an armed attack against a family member in the driveway for example); however, such a scenario is more likely to be solved with a handgun given the urgency of the response and the time needed to retrieve a shotgun.
I was somewhat surprised at the number of attendees who did not know how their shotgun functioned. During the slug exercise, the shooter next to me was having trouble chambering a round in his very well tricked out Beretta 1301. I reached over and hit his shell release. He then asked me what the button I pressed actually did? I told him that it released a shell from the magazine onto the lifter and he said he didn’t know the Beretta did that.
Vang Comp plans to sponsor the Thunderstick Summit as an annual event. If you are planning to go to next year here are a couple of tips for a satisfying summit:
-- Know how your shotgun functions. As I mentioned above, many people struggled because they did not know how to load, unload, use the safety, and in general how their shotgun functioned. You will enjoy your time at the summit more if you are not trying to learn your gun’s basic functions on the fly.
-- If you are using your shotgun at the summit (Vang does provide rental guns), make sure the ammunition you bring actually functions in your gun. Some guns (notably Mossberg semiautomatic shotguns), are particularly finicky with some birdshot loads. I noticed several shooters struggling with ammunition that did not function reliably in their shotguns. On the positive side, they did receive a lot of practice clearing failures to eject, failures to load, etc.
-- Ensure you have a sling for your shotgun. While I do not recommend a sling for a home defense shotgun, from a practical perspective the shotgun gets heavy when you carry it around all day. In classes, there is some time spent standing and holding the gun during demonstrations, relay rotation, etc. A sling makes life much easier in this regard.
-- An ammunition sidesaddle or butt cuff on the gun helps with the classes containing loading exercises. In a home defense scenario you are probably going to deal with the incident using only the ammunition on or in the gun so learning how to load with ammo on the gun is important. The picture on the right shows Adam Roth owner of Aridus Industries (a Thunderstick Summit 23 sponsor) replacing an empty Quick-Detach Carrier with a loaded one.*
Adam Roth replacing a Quick-Detach Carrier
-- You should also have the ability to carry additional ammunition to the firing line on your person. I found the 5.11 Flex Shotgun Ammo Pouch to be very handy in that regard. Others used elaborate chest rigs, bandoleers, belts, and other accouterments. Unless you practice with the elaborate rigs and have them staged and ready to go, you are unlikely to be able to use them in a home defense response.
Next year’s Vang Comp Thunderstick Summit is planned for October 11 – 13, 2024 at the Firearms Academy of Seattle, WA. If you are into shotguns I would certainly recommend it. Vang has not announced the enrollment dates as of this writing. See the Vang Comp System’s website for more information (https://vangcomp.com/)
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* Some pictures courtesy of Kickeez (https://kickeezproducts.com/)