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Are You Using the Right Slug for Your Shotgun?
Many hunters assume that all slugs shoot about the same. In truth, it takes some experimentation to find the best slug for your gun. Here's how to find out what works.
By Mark Fike
Imagine the following scenario. A close friend buys a great new combination shotgun, which comes with a slug barrel. He is so impressed with the setup that he encourages you to purchase one and explains to you what a great way it is to deer hunt, using the rifled slug barrel to take down deer with near-rifle-precision accuracy.
Eagerly you head for the gun shop and purchase the combo shotgun. Next on the list of purchases are several boxes of the same brand of slug that your friend said worked great in his slug gun. It is several days before the season and you decide to get some practice with the slugs. Your friend had explained how his gun fired the slugs pretty much on target right out of the box and the groups had been tight.
So you set up a target and eagerly hunker down behind the sights and squeeze the trigger, sending the slug downrange. It hits high and to the left. You squeeze off another and it flies high and right. The third goes even higher and right. Your group, if you want to call it that, is not a group at all. It looks more like an oversized buckshot pattern.
Was the shooter at fault? Not necessarily. This basic situation has happened to me. Having had extensive shooting experience with rifles, I knew ahead of time that certain rifles shoot certain brands of ammunition better than others. I had learned that lesson painfully and had suspected that the same held true with a rifled slug barrel and slugs.
After a little bit of experimentation I found that most slug guns or slug barrels do fire a preferred slug better than others - and that the best slug may differ with individual guns. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule. In fact, I found one exception while doing some tests for this story. My father owns a very old and well-worn 16-gauge bolt-action shotgun that is a smooth bore. It seemed that no matter what brand of slug I fed through the barrel of that gun, the slugs held nice and tight on paper. Now I know why my father does not want me to buy him a new and much better looking shotgun for deer hunting!
The important point being made is that hunters should always sight in their shotguns with slugs before heading afield. As in the scenario above, even the same brand shotguns will fire an individual brand (and load) of slugs quite differently at times. It is important for hunters to find out which combination of slugs and shotguns mate the best for them. Other variables to consider include barrel length, gauge and slug size.
Have you ever wondered why slug barrels are usually quite short? The answer as to why they are shorter than regular smooth barrels for other types of hunting is that the amount of rifling in the 18-20 inches of barrel is at its maximum potential in aiding the slug for accuracy. Once all the powder is burned and the slug reaches terminal velocity (and the rifling has imparted spin to the slug), the barrel's job is done. That happens in the first 18-20 inches of barrel - a longer barrel only slows the slug down with friction.
There are several variables that shooters and hunters should consider in their search for the right slug for the shotgun. First, slugs come in many load sizes and lengths, not to mention different gauges. While some hunters are perfectly fine shooting ducks with a 12 gauge, they may feel more comfortable shooting slugs out of a 16- or 20-gauge shotgun. The same goes for the size of the load.
Personally, I shy away from the magnum loads and go for the "reduced recoil" loads when firing slugs if at all possible. They are more pleasant to shoot and I know what I can do with them. Furthermore, I do not mind practicing at different ranges with these slugs, as I will not have a black and blue shoulder at the end of my time at the range. However, some shooters, such as my father, prefer all the power they can get. Dad is quite a bit smaller than I am and would never consider shooting a reduced-recoil load. He is very proficient at shooting his choice of 3-inch magnum loads.
There are also many new sabot slugs on the market these days. These slugs generally perform much better in a rifled barrel than in smooth bore barrels, and most are specifically designed for that purpose.
Why use a sabot slug? There are several good reasons to give a sabot slug a try in your tests. First, the plastic sabot reduces the weight of the slug, thereby allowing the slug to fly farther and faster. This also means that for any given distance the trajectory is much flatter, allowing for greater accuracy (assuming all else is equal). Second, the sabot helps keep the barrel from becoming leaded and dirty. Some sabot slugs are "keyed" to the slug to give the most torque and rotation in order to aid in accuracy.
If a shooter is having a tough time getting a tight group after shooting several brands of slugs, there are some other things that can be explored. Make sure all barrel nuts and lugs are tight before shooting. Also, check the sights on the barrel. Are they tight?
Consider using a scope in combination with your slugs. This is especially true if the shotgun is a smooth bore. Most rifled barrels come with decent rifle sights that will work well out to 100 yards. Even if the shotgun has a rifled barrel or rifle sights, a scope can go a long way to improving accuracy. Get a good quality shotgun scope. A set of good rifle sights is a far better choice than a poor quality scope that may not adjust properly or jars out of alignment after a few shots.
Now that we have all the pieces to the puzzle, where do we start in our quest to find the best combination? The answer is on the range with the proper equipment, such as ear and eye protection, plenty of targets and several brands of slugs to experiment with.
First, hunters need to be sure the shotgun fits them. In order to shoot accurately, the weapon must fit properly to get consistent results. Some hunters find that when it's snugged up to a shotgun, the pump or forearm can be a bit out of reach. Wear the same amount of clothing at the range as you will when you are hunting to mimic conditions in the field. If the shotgun does not fit the shooter, he or she should look for another gun.
Next, determine at what range the shotgun needs to be sighted in. Many hunters prefer to sight in at 75 yards. Then, once the shotgun and slugs are sighted in, the hunter will shoot a few times at 100 yards to determine how much drop the slug has at that range. Set up targets at the preferred range and prepare to shoot slow, well-aimed shots. Take your time squeezing the shots off and make them count. A shotgun's recoil gets very old after awhile.
After shooting at least three slugs downrange, take a look at the results. Do the slugs group well? If they group at least 2.5 inches at 50 yards and 3 inches at 75 yards, continue shooting that brand in a second group. Check those results out and then take a break. Do not be too concerned if the groups are not near the point of aim. It is more important that the groups are tight for now. Label the target and replace it with a new one. Be sure to mark the groups and note the brand of slug on the target. Take time to make a few notes about the recoil and any other observations.
Load the gun with a different brand of slugs and repeat the above actions. Try several brands of slugs and take note as to which brands shoot the best. Study the targets and the notes. Look to see which brand of slugs group the best and you are most comfortable shooting. Some slugs may group well but are a bear to shoot due to recoil. Brand No. 2 may group nearly the same but are much more pleasant to shoot. Having confidence and enjoying shooting the slugs will make a huge difference when you're in the field trying to harvest a deer. This is especially true on more difficult shots. Shooters who know what they are capable of with a specific shotgun and what to expect from the slug will be successful in the field.
Slugs are a wonderful and ethical tool to use in hunting deer in places where rifles are not allowed. They are accurate and deadly on big game. Match the correct slug to your shotgun and enjoy the harvest this fall.
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