More than a third of today's deer hunters use slug guns or muzzleloaders. To serve this sizeable market, manufacturers have been innovating to make these firearms more reliable, accurate and affordable. With more firearm and ammunition options than ever before, hunters also have to pick from a growing amount of load/slug/gun options. To help you pick the firearm and ammunition that will best suit your needs, check out these tips.
A 12-gauge shotgun shoots 3- and 3 ½-inch slugs only slightly flatter than 2 3/4-inch shells. But the longer shells deliver more shoulder-pounding recoil. You will probably shoot more accurately and comfortably with the shorter slug and have almost as much killing power. Compare loads and ballistics to make an informed choice, then see what shoots best from your gun-don't just buy the biggest shells and think you've got it covered.
Consider a 20-Gauge
An old rule of thumb is that it takes 1,000 ft-lbs. of energy to kill a deer; with that number in mind you realize the 20-gauge has plenty of power. The Winchester Supreme 2 ¾-inch 20-gauge Partition Gold load, for example, uses a 260-grain slug with a muzzle velocity of 1900 fps and energy of 2,084 ft.-lbs. This is more muzzle energy than any .30-30 load that Winchester makes, and the .30-30 has killed its share of deer. The 3-inch, 20-gauge Supreme load has a velocity of 2000 fps and energy of 2,309 ft-lbs., which is almost as much as .45-70 loads. I know quite a few hunters who have switched to a 20-gauge with a rifled barrel because it obviously has enough firepower to down a buck, plus it kicks a lot less.
Smoothbores Can Be Accurate
A legion of hunters still use their old-school smoothbore shotguns for deer. They are okay if you use the right ammo, such as Federal's Truball slug, an innovative design that uses a unique projectile-stabilizing system that makes the accuracy from a smoothbore comparable to a rifled slug gun. Many smoothbore slug shooters use a Foster-type lead slug and limit their shots to 50 yards or so. That often works out because, in thickly wooded areas, thousands of deer and some whopper bucks are killed with slugs at bowhunting ranges every fall.
Rifled Choke Tubes
New Jersey slug-gun expert Jeffery Herrmann says you can shoot the same ammunition in a shotgun with a fully rifled barrel or one with just a rifled choke tube. "But due to the shorter length of rifling with the choke tube, it is generally best to use slugs that are least dependent on a fast spin to achieve accuracy," he notes. "A few slugs that fit the bill are Lightfield, Hastings and Remington BuckHammer." Try aftermarket, rifled choke tubes from Trulock or Carlson's.
Scope It Out
You'll shoot better with a 2X-7X or 3X-9X scope on your slugger. I like cantilever barrel mounts that attach the scope to the barrel. While most riflescopes work fine on a shotgun, try a specially engineered optic like the Nikon Slughunter if you plan on long-range shooting with a new rifled gun. The 3X-9X Slughunter has a 100-yard parallax setting and Nikon's Bullet Drop Compensating reticle system for 100- to 150-yard shots.
Begin at 50 yards. With a rifled barrel and today's high-velocity sabot slugs, sight-in 2 inches high. Once you're on at 50 yards, move out to 100 yards. "Good accuracy at 100 yards is considered to be 1.5- to 3.5-inch groups of three," notes Remington's Eddie Stevenson. "Sight-in so your slugs hit 2.5 to 3.5 high, depending on the load you're using. That way you will be dead on at 150 yards."
Stevenson says 150-yard shots with today's super-accurate guns and ammo are doable; but, you must put in your test-shooting time on the range before taking to the woods. You'll probably find that, outside of ideal conditions, you'll limit your shots at animals to 100 yards.