Rolling Thunder: The Classic Shotgun Drill


If you go to many shotgun classes, you will eventually come across a drill called Rolling Thunder. Since shotguns require constant feeding, the drill is intended to pressure test a person’s ability to keep the gun running. Applying pressure to a skill (or set of skills) is an important assessment phase in a shooter’s development to identify weaknesses. It can be done a few different ways, but with the classic version of this drill, the other shooters on the line are the ones applying the pressure.

The Gist of Things

The drill basically works like this. Have four or more shooters on the line at once. Everyone’s shotgun starts with 1 round in it. The person on the far left or right will be the first to shoot, and the person next to them cannot shoot until they are done.

Once shooter #1 finishes firing their one round, shooter #2 fires one round. When that person is done, shooter #3 fires one round. This moves all the way down the line, each person taking their turn. Shooting one round as quickly as they can. When it reaches the last person, it jumps back to shooter #1 at the other end of the line.

Meanwhile, back at shooter #1, he is trying to get two rounds loaded into his gun and ready to go before the last shooter finishes firing their one round. Just after the last person at the other end of the line fires their one round, it goes back to shooter #1, and that person fires two rounds this time. Starting the cycle over. The goal is to have your gun loaded and ready to go with whatever the next number of rounds to be fired is before the shooting cycles back around to you. If everyone does their job right, someone will always be shooting. Like a continuous roll of thunder, which is where the name comes from.

The Challenge

Keeping up in the 1’s and 2’s and even the 3’s isn’t that difficult, depending on the number of people on the firing line. When the number of rounds fired gets up to four and five, though, it gets a little more difficult to have the gun ready to go by the time the shooting sequence gets back around to you. If it does get back around and there are only three rounds in the gun but you owe the target four, you have to go with the three and port load that 4th one. The shooting cannot stop.

When the round counts bounce up past two, this will also test our ability to control the gun’s recoil and work the action efficiently. If you can crank off four or five rounds of 12 gauge at a decent pace and still maintain good control of the gun, odds are your recoil management is pretty well on point. Just don’t get lazy with the accuracy for the sake of speed. The shots still need to hit.

The Solo Version

Unfortunately, we can’t always shoot with three or four buddies, and we can’t always be in classes. If you want to try the basic premise of the drill while on the range by yourself, you can put it on a shot timer and shoot the drill solo. The pressure isn’t quite the same because you can’t see it coming, but sometimes a timer can get close.

In total, it is a 15-round drill. Start at one round and work up to five rounds. Loading and shooting as quickly as possible. If using a steel target, it needs to be set up at least 10 yards away for safety purposes. For paper targets, running the drill at 5-7 yards will allow the use of birdshot and a realistic target zone of 8”-10”.

Using a timer, set a baseline of time, and then start chipping away at it. Identify where improvements can be made and get to work.

Pro Tip

Since this is a 15-round course of fire, and you can only start with one round in the gun, be sure to have a plan for where the ammunition is coming from. Most of the time, there is only so much ammo actually on the gun, and it isn’t 15 rounds. That means loading from a pocket at some point, or if you are using a detachable side saddle system, have spare shell cards/carriers where you can get to them to slap them on the gun. It doesn’t really matter what the plan is. Just make there is one and that it will work.

Hope you guys give it a try. It is a fun little drill and has a payoff if you work to get good at it.

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