There’s an accurate load for YOUR slug shooter.
When it comes to our slug-shooting setups, many of us think we have a Top Fuel dragster when we’re really shooting station wagons.
But that’s okay, since real-life shotgun success depends largely on short-range slug performance. Occasionally you can stretch it past 150 yards under the right conditions with the right shooter, but slug hunting is a game played in distances that fit inside a football field.
Any decent slug gun (read “station wagon”) will perform well out to that distance in the deer woods, provided it’s loaded with the right ammo for your particular gun.
Each brand of shotgun, each model, each action type and each specific gun has a different preference in slugs. The only way you can determine that preference is to try a few.
That can be an exercise in frustration, not to mention bankruptcy. There are simply too many choices.
You can appreciably trim the list of slugs to consider if you are knowledgeable about the type of gun you shoot.
For instance, loading your smoothbore shotgun with one of the new high-velocity sabot slugs isn’t going to improve performance. Not one bit.
Sabot slugs are smaller-than-bore-sized projectiles encased in or attached to bore-sized sleeves or wads. They are designed to be used only in rifled barrels. The soft material in the sabot sleeve or trailing wad grips the rifling and imparts a spin on the projectile, which needs that spin to maintain stability. If it’s not spinning, the sabot sleeve will have difficulty separating from the slug and will actually destabilize it.
Regardless what you’ve read, slugs fired from a smoothbore do not spin.
If you’re shooting a smoothbore, use an open choke. I’ve seen anything from IC or skeet to modified work well. Experiment. If the choke squeezes the slug too much, it is liable to deform the projectile, making it inaccurate.
Try rifled slugs such as those made by Remington, Winchester and Federal. Rifled slugs look alike, but you will find that your gun likes one better than the other. Finite differences in slug dimension, powder/primer combinations and wads make a difference.
Despite the rifling ridges or flutes on these slugs, they do not spin in flight. Trust me on this. The flutes are actually raised areas that give the projectiles a buffer against becoming deformed when squeezed through a tight choke.
Stop-action photos of rifled slugs in flight show the rifling is actually rubbed off the slug by the time it exits the barrel.
Right now you’re probably wondering what stabilizes full-bore slugs since they don’t spin. The answer is their nose-heavy design, which gives the slug its forward impetus, sort of like throwing a rock in a sock.
You will also likely find that taking a step up to the specialty rifled slug systems like the Federal TruBall or Winchester Rackmaster will give you better accuracy, regardless of gun. These two systems feature rifled slugs with pusher wads and a polymer ball (TruBall) or attached plastic skirt (RackMaster) designed to keep the slug coaxial to the bore. This assures a straight launch and consistent accuracy.
Neither system offers any ballistic advantage or increased effective range over common rifled slugs, however.
With 12-gauge rifled slugs, you’ll probably find that the 3-inch versions don’t shoot as accurately as the 2 3/4-inchers in most guns. I don’t worry about it, because the performance advantage manufacturers cite for the 3-inchers isn’t nearly as much as they say.
If you are using 20-gauge slugs, whether smoothbore or rifled bore, there IS a real-world performance advantage to the 3-inchers.
If you don’t mind a little more expense and some offshore brands, you’ll find better ballistic performance in your smoothbore gun with full-bore slugs similar to the longstanding Brenneke big-diameter, attached-wad designs. Rottweil’s Exact, based on the Italian Gualandi slug, is a good shooter, as are various Fiocchi and Rio slugs, or the new frangible steel Ddupleks line from Latvia.
Understand that rifled and full-bore slugs for smoothbores can be virtually as accurate and hit as hard or harder as sabot slugs from rifled barrels at ranges from 60 to 75 yards. After that, they drop below the speed of sound and can be destabilized by the impact of the sound wave. Truly consistent accuracy at 100 yards is problematic with full-bore slugs in smoothbore guns.
SABOTS EXTEND EFFECTIVE RANGE
This is where sabot slugs have the advantage. Where full-bore slugs begin to peter out, sabots begin to stretch out and run. Their true superiority shows up beyond 75 yards, where their spinning stability allows them to retain velocity and energy.
If you have a smoothbore gun but would like to take advantage of the sabot loads’ performance, screw in a rifled choke tube. The rifling, even though it’s only 3 to 6 inches long, is sufficient to impart a stabilizing spin on a sabot slug for a limited range.
Rifled choke tubes will shoot any sabot slug on the market, but the high-velocity (1,700-2,000 feet per second) 12-gauge sabots invariably won’t shoot well, and some of the conventional velocity (1,400-1,600 fps) are questionable.
The 20-gauge guns are different story, however, since the two available twist rates, 1-in-24 and 1-in-28 inches, are close enough so that virtually all rifled barrel guns like a wide variety of slugs.
The 20-gauge slug also has a slight accuracy advantage over 12s in that the projectiles (usually .45-inch diameter) are closer to bore size (.615-inch interior diameter) than are the 12s (with .50-inch-diameter projectiles and .720 ID barrels). That means 20s have thinner, easier-to-shed sabots and easier-to-stabilize slugs.
A rifled choke tube in any gauge is most accurate with the lower-velocity sabots, including the reduced-recoil versions.
Lightfield Lites, Winchester Standard Velocity BRI, Federal’s Low Recoil and Remington Managed Recoil BuckHammers work well with rifled choke tubes.
Rifled choke tubes have their limitations, however, and you’ll want to keep your shots inside 90 yards for the best accuracy and performance.
SLUGS FOR FULLY RIFLED BARRELS
If you’re truly serious about slug shooting, however, you want to shoot a fully rifled barrel.
There are a slew of conventional-velocity sabot slugs on the market that can be very accurate (single-hole groups at 50 yards and under-3-inch groups at 100) in rifled-barrel guns.
The Lightfield Hybred, Rottweil’s new Laser Plus (identical to the now defunct Hastings Laser), Remington’s BuckHammer, the 1-ounce Federal Barnes Expander and Federal Premium Sabot, the Remington Copper Solid, the Brenneke K.O. Sabot and others offer good performance out of most 12-gauge rifled barrels, regardless of the rifling twist rate. All retain lethal energy out past 150 yards.
If you’re looking for the absolute best performance — flat trajectory, plenty of retained energy out past 150 yards and excellent performance on deer — the highly publicized high-velocity sabot slugs are for you.
The drawback, and it’s a big one, is they are not accurate in all guns.
By high-velocity, we’re talking about the 2,000 fps Hornady SST; Winchester’s Partition Gold, Platinum Tip, Dual Bond or XP3; the 1,900 fps Remington Core-Lokt Ultra; Lightfield’s 1,800 fps Commander and Hybred Elite; the Federal Fusion and ¾-ounce Federal Barnes Expander; and the Brenneke Super Sabot.
There are three schools of thought on why the quick sabots don’t shoot well out of all guns. Some experts contend a faster rifling twist (typically 1 turn in 28 inches as opposed to the conventional 1 in 35) is essential in handling the 12-gauge high-velocity slugs.
You will, in fact, likely find that 12-gauge high-velocity, plastic-tipped slugs such as the Hornady SST, Federal Barnes Tipped Expander and Winchester XP3 prefer the 1-in-28 twist rate offered by Browning, Winchester, Benelli/Beretta, Thompson/Center, Knight KP1 and the old Marlin 512 slug guns.
The exception among plastic-tipped slugs is Remington’s AccuTip, which is understandably designed around the SAAMI-standard 1-in-35 twist rate. That’s the twist rate of Remington shotguns. Mossbergs, Savages, Hastings barrels, H&R and NEF barrels also have 1-in-35 twists.
All this being said, extensive personal testing with Mossberg 500s with the LP1 trigger systems, H&R Ultra Slugsters, Savage 212s and Remington’s heavy-barreled Super Slug 870s — all with 1-in-35 twist barrels — found them to shoot high-velocity slugs very accurately. Go figure.
I believe that, given the pressures generated by the higher velocities and the hardness of the bullet/slug at setback, sabot-to-barrel fit (rather than twist rate) is more critical with the faster slugs than it is with the softer, slower sabots.
In fact, the difficult-to-control nature of high-velocity slugs is probably the reason the industry has put more design work into the more predictable full-bore sabot slugs like the Lightfield Hybred Elite, Rottweil Laser Plus and Remington BuckHammer.
The third thought behind the high-velocity slugs’ erratic behavior in some guns has more to do with the shooter than the ammunition. High-velocity slugs kick much harder than other slugs, and it takes experience and persistence to adequately deal with heavy recoil on a bench.
You should also realize that high-performance slugs are not necessary for the average deer hunter. Recoil affects everyone to some degree, and that’s the reason reduced-recoil shotgun slugs have been added to the list of kinder, gentler shotshells that has swept onto the market in the last few years.
The softer-recoiling slugs are entirely adequate for normal deer hunting conditions (inside 100 yards), and won’t loosen your bridgework in the process.
Virtually all reduced-recoil loads offer more than 50 percent reduction in kick compared to the full-power versions. Designers found that felt recoil had to be reduced by at least half for the average shooter to consistently notice the difference.
Keep in mind that any light-recoiling load will probably not cycle a semiautomatic shotgun.
Not only does reduced recoil take some of the “ouch” out of shooting slugs, it allows for more practice and shoots to the same approximate (within an inch or so) point of aim as the full-power version of the same slug. Thus, you can shoot a full-power load, hand the gun to junior and he/she can shoot a reduced-recoil load without rezeroing the gun.
The final step is always the same. Take the best candidates to the range and shoot them at 50 yards to determine which is best for your slug gun.
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• Lords of the Night: Five tips for hunting nocturnal bucks. This article was published in the December 2011 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.