By Dave Henderson
The doe is feeding casually down a woods road toward my box stand, well out of range of my slug gun.
The Remington 11-87 Sportsman is topped with a 1.5-4x scope and stoked with Remington's BuckHammer slugs. These aren't the vaunted 3-inch 600-grain BuckHammers that boast the most power in the slug-shooting world, but rather, the Managed Recoil Buckhammers, which reduce recoil by 50 percent.
Suddenly, a racked whitetail materializes from the brush not far from the doe. To be a "shooter" at South Carolina's Buck Ridge Plantation, a buck must have at least 8 points with a spread outside his ears. Take one smaller, and the hosts will dock your Visa $500.
But alas, within seconds, the size of the animal's rack becomes irrelevant as he bursts in on the doe and chases her out of sight in the thick brush.
Put a fork in it. I'm done. These were the only game animals to appear all day. Only about a half-hour of sunlight remains.
Imagine my surprise when the buck reappears by himself just 5 minutes later. He's lost his love interest and turns his attention to feeding. This gives me a good look at his antlers through the binocular.
He's definitely a shooter. At least he would be if he were closer. The Nikon 800 laser range-finder shows the buck is standing broadside at 146 yards. The gun and load shot consistent 4-inch groups at 100 yards the previous day, and I know that the 485-grain slug will have sufficient energy to be lethal at that range if I can put it in the right spot.
With a solid rest on the blind's window sill, I lay the horizontal crosshair on the buck's withers and squeeze the trigger.
Out of the 100-plus deer that I've taken with a shotgun, this was the only one that I've been able to see react to the shot. Recoil had always thrown me off before, but the soft load and the autoloader's gentle kick allowed me a full view as the buck hunched, then made a desperate lunge before piling up in the roadside brush.
I'm not suggesting that anyone try such a shot with a reduced-recoil load, but the scenario illustrates the potential effectiveness of the new "soft shooters."
Slug hunters have always been obsessed with muscle. High velocity and tons of energy sells, but a very mild slug, placed in the right spot, will drop a deer. The Managed Recoil BuckHammer, which started out with less than a ton of energy at the muzzle, was probably still toting about 800 foot-pounds of energy when it hit the buck.
Manufacturers have long claimed that 1,000 to 1,500 foot-pounds is the minimum energy needed to turn out the lights on a whitetail. Col. Townsend Whelen first offered the figures, and PR types have parroted them for generations.
Those were nice round figures for rifle bullets, but as far as I can tell, had no factual basis. They don't take into consideration the construction of the bullet or the area of impact. Scores of deer have been felled by soft lead muzzleloading projectiles carrying 600 to 700 foot-pounds of terminal energy.
I wouldn't trust one of the new jacketed high-velocity slugs to expand once it drops below 1,200 fps, but the soft lead projectiles upset at far slower velocities.
All of the reduced-recoil slugs on the market today tote sufficient energy and are soft enough to be lethal at 100 yards, given accurate shot placement. But 100 yards is beyond the accuracy range of the average slug shooter, and manufacturers might suggest shorter effective ranges as they take into consideration various impact angles and the general public's shooting abilites.
Despite hunters' obsession with powerful loads, no one is particularly fond of recoil. And one of the most noticeable effects of slug shooting - and one of its biggest deterrents - is that savage kick. Slug guns simply kick hard, which dampens enthusiasm and can affect accuracy. Recoil certainly limits practice, not to mention enjoyment.
To get relief from recoil, hunters used to have to drop to smaller gauges. But now you can get softer recoil without giving up the advantages (diameter, weight, longer retained energy) of the 12-gauge slug.
"You won't see Managed-Recoil versions of every cartridge or shotgun load simply because not all of them react well to slowing the velocity," explained Remington Ammunition Vice President Sean Dwyer. "We've found that you have to reduce recoil by at least 50 percent in order for the average shooter to really notice the difference. If a load won't perform when it's reduced to that level, there's no sense making it."
Remington put a reduced-recoil version of its Slugger rifled slug on the market several years ago but pulled it from the line due to poor sales. Federal has long had a low-recoil slug that has, at times, stepped from its law enforcement sales brochures into the hunting catalog and back.
Remington brought back the Managed Recoil Slugger in 2003 at a time when other slug makers were introducing low-recoil loads.
I've taken deer at slightly over 100 yards with Lightfield Lites and Hastings' Low-Recoil Youth slugs. Winchester's BRI Standard Velocity - the company's first sabot offering in the early 1990s - is still considered a low-recoil round. Brenneke has offered a low-recoil slug for smoothbores for several years, and Federal is offering a low-recoil version of its innovative new TRUBALL design. It should be on dealers' shelves by the time you read this.
The Hastings Low Recoil-Youth slug is by far the mildest 12-gauge slug on the market, leaving the barrel at a turtle-like 1,020 feet per second. It slows to below 800 fps at 100 yards, by which time its energy has dropped to 790 foot-pounds. The manufacturer touts it as a 75-yard load.
Brenneke USA suggests that shooters limit shots with its low-recoil slug to 40 yards.
Remington's 1-ounce Managed-Recoil Slugger, a rifled slug for smoothbores, is the next slowest with a muzzle velocity of 1,200 fps and sheds nearly half its energy over 100 yards of flight.
Lightfield Lites are the same weight as the Hastings offerings, but are launched at 1,300 fps and barely drop below 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards. The lighter 485-grain Remington BuckHammer Managed Recoil load has a muzzle velocity of 1,350 fps, and its energy curve mirrors that of the Lightfield Lites.
The new 1-ounce reduced-recoil Federal TRUBALL load is actually a conventional rifled slug with a polymer ball inserted in the rear, which keeps it true to the bore while being pushed by a cylindrical pusher wad. It is the most significant change in rifled slug design in 70 years. The soft-kicking slug starts out at 1,300 fps and retains more than 800 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards.
Brenneke's Low-Recoil slug is another 1-ouncer designed for smoothbores, launched at 1,248 fps with muzzle energy of 1,511 foot-pounds that drops to 764 foot-pounds at 100 yards.The only low-recoil slug that I would not suggest shooting at game beyond 50 yards is the old Winchester BRI Standard Velocity. Despite its ballistics, the slug is too hard and will not upset at longer ranges.
So if you're looking for a kinder, gentler 12-gauge load that will still get the job done at reasonable yardages, there are plenty of slugs today from which to choose.
Reprinted from the October 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.