The Myth of the Racking Sound
The Assumed Medusa Effect
We called one of my high school buddies “Wojo,” after a character in the Barney Miller sitcom. Wojo’s dad had been a US Army paratrooper in Europe during WWII.
Wojo had a Mossberg shotgun he called “Medusa.” “When burglars hear that pump racking back and forth, it turns them to stone,” Wojo said.
Very well could.
But don’t bet your life on it.
I’ve seen it go both ways.
Unless I was serving a warrant, or patrolling the Rio Grande on foot, I didn’t leave a round in the chamber of my long guns. There are several reasons why, mostly having to do with safety (see Cross-bolt Shotgun Safeties below).
But giving a burglar or criminal a chance to change his ways by racking your pump back and forth may not be the most cogent reason not to leave a round in the chamber of your shotgun.
It could, potentially, give a friendly enough time to identify themselves, preventing Blue on Blue.
In college I lived with a friend and his sister. His sister and I fell in love and moved out, but we still had a key (the house was half hers). He worked mids and I worked swings. One evening after work I dropped by to pick up any mail or bills that weren’t being forwarded yet.
I thought he was at his own work–till I heard “T-t-chk,” the distinctive triple click of a Colt revolver hammer being cocked.
“Scott! It’s me! George!”
About a decade later, when I was a law enforcement park ranger in Wyoming, I was backing up Deputy Todd D on a manhunt for a Hispanic male in his early 20s who had stabbed a man in the chest 17 times or so. He was supposed to be sleeping off his drink in a nearby construction yard. The yard appeared devoid of people. Suddenly, a face appeared in one of the dump trucks. The face of a young Hispanic male.
We got out of the patrol car to talk to him.
We did not yet know whether or not he was our suspect, but he matched the suspect’s description, and he was the only person we could see in the place where the suspect was supposed to be. I had just treated the victim’s torso, which looked like bloody Swiss cheese; I wasn’t taking any chances. I brought along a Mossberg shotgun.
He climbed down out of the big dump truck. He was coming toward us, speaking Spanish. My partner was shouting commands in English, waving his revolver one handed at the subject. The young man kept getting closer, saying “No habla.” That was before I joined the ‘Patrol, and my Spanish was even worse then than it is now. Always had a problem with the verbs, and conjugation. I could remember manos, but not levantense.
He kept getting closer. By partner wasn’t getting through to him.
I racked a shell into the chamber of that shotgun, and mounted the stock to my shoulder.
It was like the Universal Translator.
The subject immediately went to his knees, then face down on the ground, with his arms out, and his palms up. He looked away and crossed his ankles, He had apparently experienced being “proned out” before, and knew what was expected.
But Not Always . . .
In the late 1990s, when I was in the Border Patrol, I ordered a guía (guide; a member of the coyote organization) who was swimming in the Rio Grande near the US bank to get out of the river. The smuggler was encouraging the smuggled aliens we had caught on the north bank to jump in, and I was worried someone might drown.
“Porque?” the smuggler asked.
“Porque tengo una escopeta,” I replied, referring to the Remington 870 in my hands. The smuggler squirted water out of his mouth at me, smiled, and swam away. The mere presence of my shotgun hadn’t secured cooperation or even compliance from the subject. He knew I wasn’t going to shoot him with it.
Earlier, my partner Travis Attaway were crouched in some thick undergrowth of the single canopy jungle along the lower Rio Grande, listening to a large group crossing the river. One of the aliens stepped off the trail in the semi-darkness, just where the we had stepped off the trail to hide, and hay have been about to urinate on Travis when Travis leveled a Scattergun Technologies Remington 870 at him and racked a shell into the chamber.
This DID have the effect of “freezing” the poor guy in his tracks, but it had the opposite effect on the other huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The rest of the group (at least the ones who had made it to the north bank of the Rio) scattered like quail.
Travis was a great partner. A quiet, competent tracker, Travis had grown up hunting deer on his parent’s ranch near Uvalde, Texas. It made him good at hunting men.
“There is no hunting like the hunting of man. And those who have hunted armed men long enough, and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”
Travis later drowned, along with BPA Jeremy Wilson, when their patrol boat capsized in the Rio Grande. Javier “Peanut” S, who was also in the boat with them, was nearly killed, as are many migrants who brave the waters of the Rio (or the American Canal, or the western desert). The Mexicanos call it El Rio Bravo del Norte for a reason. Along its banks tread the brave.
Cross-bolt Shotgun Safeties
. . . only prevent rearward movement of the trigger. Most are not connected to the hammer or sear at all. If you travel with a shotgun, it’s probably not a good idea to leave a round in the chamber. Most guns don’t go off when bumped, but old, worn out Remingtons might. We used to do a demo where we took the trigger group out of an ‘870. With the cross-bolt safety ON, we would bump the trigger guard down forcefully on a table.
The hammer would spring forward.
Hammer tension held the sear in place. If the hammer bounced down, the spring loaded sear jumped out of the say, and the hammer flew.
A BP unit in California was traveling down the road when a load of buckshot hit their trunk.
From the inside.
It was determined later that the shotgun’s worn out sear and hammer springs weren’t strong enough to hold the hammer back when they hit a pothole.
After that it was BP policy not to travel with a round in the chamber of shotguns. Most police departments had a similar policy, where PDs issued shotguns.
–George H, lead instructor, Heloderm LLC
Portions of this article were adapted from The Evolution of Police Long Guns, and from training summaries of Heloderm Shotgun courses.