Designed for shotgun deer hunters, this scope permits dead-on aiming out to 200 yards.
By Dave Henderson
Remember when hitting a gallon can three times out of five at 40 paces earned a slug gun “tack driver” status?
Back when I was a 17-year-old whippersnapper flush with Holstein-milking money, I arrived at the family’s preseason sighting-in session with a Lyman peep sight affixed to my shotgun. The elders of the clan thought that any shotgun sight more elaborate than a front bead was useless. “Like putting racing tires on a dump truck,” one uncle observed. After watching the gun perform at the range, however, Dad’s reaction was, “Hey, the kid can outshoot all of us!” But that wasn’t entirely true, as I commonly took shots that the elders would have passed — and missed far more animals than I care to remember.
But it marked the beginning of a long (and particularly lonely) journey based on a fascination with slug-shooting shotguns. The intervening four decades have, in fact, been a continual quest for the optimum sighting system for slug guns.
“Optimum” is the key word here. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a multitude of scopes, from $19.95 Blue Light Specials to high-dollar 6-20x variable target models, both of which commonly died horribly from the ravages of shotgun recoil. I also tried complex rangefinding sniper scopes, red-dot scopes and rugged but limited “shotgun special” low-power variables.
Still others, like high-quality fixed and variable riflescopes, worked fairly well. Yet each had drawbacks in the realm of eye relief, complexity of operation, limited light transmission, parallax, magnification, fragility, size, etc. In a word, I was picky.
Not all slug hunters share this enthusiasm. In fact, 65 percent of them still shoot rifled slugs through smoothbore shotguns. For them, optics make little sense.
But for those who’ve recently wandered into the 21st century, where saboted 2,000-fps jacketed bullets are capable of taking deer and other game at 200 yards and beyond, are more open to the idea of rangefinding optics. Such equipment is far more critical to success with short-range ordnance, where bullet drop is more pronounced than it is with centerfires at moderate ranges.
I was thus delighted when Nikon threw a new scope in my wheelhouse last year, the rugged 3-9x Omega muzzleloader scope with its simple yet effective rangefinding BDC (Bullet Drop Compensating) 250 reticle. The reticle was adaptable, with considerable range work, for slug shooting, and I mentioned in print that there are 4 million slug shooters with a need for such specialty optics.
Upon publication, the telephone rang, with Nikon Sports Optics Product Manager Jon LaCorte on the other end. Jon was calling from the netherworld of New York City, but his family farm and hunting ground is only 60 miles from my home in central New York, smack dab in the middle of slug country.
“There are HOW MANY slug shooters out there?” he asked, incredulously.
The ensuing conversation blossomed, and ended weeks later with my agreeing to assist in the development of a shotgun version of the Omega, suitably christened the SlugHunter.
Paired with a laser rangefinder (make mine a Nikon Monarch 800) to determine yardage, the truly compact
3-9x40mm SlugHunter gives you a dead-on hold out to 200 yards, wind speed and other factors permitting, of course.
Admittedly, compact scopes can pose some mounting problems, the most critical of which is a limited mounting range as it relates to eye relief. But the SlugHunter’s eye relief is a generous 5 inches throughout the magnification range, eliminating that problem. The fact that the scope is parallax-free at 100 yards rather than the normal centerfire 150 also shows that it is made with short-range ordnance in mind.
The BDC 200 reticle is designed for the crosshairs intersection to be dead-on at 50. Stacked below the crosshairs are two circles meant to be placed on targets at 100 and 150 yards. The top of the solid vertical crosshair post can serve as a 200-yard reference.
The circles, actually two hollow mil-dots that subtend 2 inches at 100 yards at 9 power, allow an unobstructed view to the target. The heavy-barred extremes of the crosshairs cover 2-inch diameters at the same setting, and the central length (inside the heavy extremes) of the lateral crosshair corresponds to an 8-inch width, giving the user a horizontal measuring reference. For vertical reference, at 100 yards (at 9x), it’s 4 inches from the lateral crosshair to the center of the first aiming dot; 10 inches from the same reference point to the center of the second dot, and 14 inches from the crosshair to the top of the bottom reference post.
The unique SlugHunter is designed to afford the shooter dead-on aiming for a modern 12-gauge rifled-barreled shotgun loaded with 380- to 400-grain saboted slugs launched at 1,800 to 2,000 fps. This description fits the Winchester Partition Gold, Remington Core-Lokt Ultra, 3/4-ounce Federal Barnes Expander, Hornady SST, Winchester Platinum Tip and, as you’ll find this fall, the new Winchester XP3, Federal Tipped Barnes Expander and Federal Fusion slug.
Granted, there’s a significant difference in velocity and ballistic coefficient between the aforementioned rounds and the rest of the more commonly used pack. But trust me when I say that it takes very little range work to adapt the reticle for use with lighter-but-just-as-fast 20-gauge slugs and slower, heavier, conventional-velocity
12-gauge slugs like the Remington BuckHammer, Remington Copper Solid, Hastings Magnum, Lightfield Hybred and Commander varieties, Brenneke’s, and various 1-ounce Federal and Winchester offerings.
Only through a series of shoulder-bruising, bridge-rattling shooting sessions was I able to acquire this knowledge, firing a wide variety of slugs at various distances through a rifled-barreled Winchester 1300 (1-in-28-inch twist rate) and Remington 870 (1-in-35 twist) pump guns.
For the technically minded, the temperature was 29-31 degrees with little or no wind; Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets were set at 50, 100, 150 and 200 yards, and the guns were secured in Caldwell Lead Sled DFT rests on concrete benches.
The guns were zeroed dead-on at 50 yards. Next, with the uppermost aiming circle placed in the target’s bull’s-eye, I fired multiple five-shot groups at 100 yards, followed by 150 yards (second aiming circle) and 200 yards (top of the post). Accuracy was considered acceptable if the average drop was within plus or minus 2 inches of the aiming point.
Only high-velocity saboted slugs were used, with Winchester 23/4- and
3-inch Partition Golds, 3-inch Hornady SSTs and 3-inch Remington Core-Lokt Ultras shooting most accurately.
My original SlugHunter was a prototype with no logo or markings. Although it was essentially identical to the Omega muzzleloader scope (with a different reticle, of course) that I’d tested the year before, I still put it through the normal quality-testing procedure.
It started with an hour-long bath in a 5-gallon bucket, after which it spent an overnight session in the freezer without fogging and with no discernible effects on performance.
I tested survivability by strapping the SlugHunter on “Buster,” a scope-eating 12-gauge H&R 980 slug gun. The scope had to endure the recoil of 50 rounds of 3-inch Winchester Partition Golds, the hardest-kicking slugs on the market. After this session, the scope shot the requisite “box” and maintained its ¼-MOA adjustments.
Bottom line? My search for the Holy Grail in shotgun optics has come to
Reprinted from the September 2007 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.