Not Your Daddy's Slug Gun

News & Tips: Not Your Daddy's Slug Gun

Today's slug-gun hunter has an array of choices in all types of actions.

Pump actions lay claim to the most popular slug guns. These shotguns delver accuracy with the capacity of a fast follow up shot at an affordable price. Pump guns from Remington, Ithaca, Browning, Benelli, and Mossberg offer slug shooters options — from open sights to scope mounts in cantilever or drilled-and-tapped receiver models, rifled barrels to rifled choke tubes. The options list is quite extensive.

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When you find a slug that shoots this well, buy as much of that ammunition as you can get your hands on.

However, pump guns aren't the only shotguns with options.

The semi-auto shotgun has been coming on strong, closing the popularity gap once enjoyed by pump guns. The accuracy coupled with the ultra-quick second shot makes the semi auto a great choice for any slug gun hunter. The complaint of a semi auto being heavier than other guns has been laid to rest by most manufacturers as alloy receivers have paved the way for lighter model shotguns. Remington, Mossberg, Browning, Berretta and Benelli all offer a slug gun or two in their semi- auto lineup.

Bolt shotguns are slowly gaining popularity with offerings from Savage and Marlin leading the way. These bolt guns, like their bolt rifle cousins, can produce cloverleaf targets when using well matched ammunition.

But the list doesn't end there.

Single shots offer excellent accuracy in almost any price range. Also, side-by-side shotguns are long from being dead, most notably Beretta and Dakota, and round out the different styles of actions.

Another more recent development for slug guns is the introduction of "Designated Slug Guns" or DSGs, shotguns designed exclusively for shooting slugs for hunting big game. Pulling out all the stops, manufacturers like Remington, Mossberg and Ithaca, as well as custom builders like Tar-Hunt, are catering specifically to slug gun shooters with options like pinned-in or screwed-in rifled barrels, again like their centerfire rifle cousin.

Perhaps the biggest advancement in slug guns, introduced sometime in the mid nineties, is the rifled barrel for the purpose of shooting slugs. Though these barrels were the subject of many legal issues at first, rifled barrels proved to be a vast improvement for the slug shooter, and technology in ammunition hastily tried to keep up.

And caught up it has. From the humble "pumpkin ball" or Foster type slug named after its designer, Karl Foster in 1931, which resembles a lead thimble with rifling molded into the slug. This molded rifling minimizes friction on both the barrel and projectile and allows the slug to safely be swaged down when the slug hits the choke of the barrel. This molded rifling does little to impart actual spin on the slug.

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A Foster slug, the first commercial sabot slug, the BRI now marketed by Winchester (complete with a sabot), and the latest in slug gun ammunition, the Remington AccuTip.

Even with the new ammunition offerings, many hunters still prefer to stuff pumpkin balls in their shotguns each deer season.

Europeans and some early slug gunners here in the States used the Brenneke slug, designed by the German gunsmith, Wilhelm Brenneke in 1898. Unlike the Foster slug, these slugs were pointed and also had molded rifling. Its accuracy came from the attached wad that stabilized the slug much like a badminton shuttlecock.

As rifled barrels hit the market, so did new fodder — sabots. These slugs were encased with a two piece plastic sleeve or more technically a "shoe". After exiting the barrel this shoe drops away from the lead projectile as it lumbers downrange. Slug gun accuracy improved dramatically with these, the higher ballistic co-efficient slugs, as did their range. Today, every manufacturer offers slug hunters more choices in ammo than could be used in a month of deer hunting. Though the Foster type slugs can be used in rifled barrels and sabots in smoothbore barrels, you are handicapping both yourself and the capability of your slug gun by doing so.

Yesterday's slug guns matched with the Foster type slugs made decent deer guns if kept to their effective range of about 90 yards or so. For example, a typical Remington 2-3/4 inch Foster type slug leaves the muzzle at a respectable 1,560 feet per second, packing more than 2,300 foot pounds of energy with its full bore one-ounce projectile; however, gravity causes it to rapidly slow down, and its rainbow trajectory makes long distance shooting more of a lucky shot than skill. At 90 yards, the big slug has shed more than half of its muzzle velocity and is at the minimum recommended amount of energy (1000 foot pounds) to quickly and humanely harvest a big game animal such as a deer.

The slug with a 50-yard zero falls more than 17 inches and delivers a well below marginal 768 foot pounds of energy at 150 yards. On the other hand, the 385 grain saboted Remington AccuTip, 2-3/4 inch, leaves the muzzle at 1,850 feet per second with more than 2900 foot pounds of energy, the more aerodynamic projectile drops only 8.22 inches at the same 150 yards and retains more than 1,275 foot pounds of energy. In fact, even to ranges of 200 yards this slug retains more than 1,000 foot pounds of energy. This slug, coupled with a ballistic reticle scope like the Nikon 3-9 x 40 Slughunter 200 BDC and a slug gun that shoots it well, legitimates the shotgun as a 200-yard deer gun.  

A few final thoughts on ammunition. Just because your buddies' slug gun is a tack driver with brand X, don't assume your slug gun will shoot that brand just as well. Use it as a starting point; it might take some experimenting with various brands of slugs to find the one that shoots the best from your slug gun. Also, don't assume that just because brand X, 2-3/4 inch slug shoots well, the 3 inch version will be as accurate, or vice versa. Seldom are they. Try as many different slugs as you can afford, and when you find the most accurate slug, stick to it like glue.