My son and I were sitting in a ground blind overlooking a well-used mule deer trail. It was mid-morning on opening day of the slug gun/muzzleloader season, and several deer had sneaked by, but the big buck we'd scouted didn't show.
Our normally quiet hunting area had been disrupted by nearly continuous shooting on neighboring properties. That afternoon we talked to three of the hunters who'd taken many of those shots, and they complained about their frequent misses. "What kind of slug guns are you using?" I asked one of them. "Slug gun, what's that?" was his reply. "We're using our 12 gauge duck and goose guns."
For many decades this scenario was common: When deer season arrived, you simply stoked "Old Betsy" with slugs and headed for the woods.
Fortunately, many shots at deer are within 40 yards, and these shotguns did the job despite the smoothbore barrels and lack of proper sights. Firearms manufacturers identified the need for better accuracy and long-range performance, however, so they developed rifled slug gun barrels and more accurate slug designs.
For years, muzzleloader manufacturers have been using saboted bullets in rifled barrels, and the same concept has now arrived in slug guns.
A saboted slug fired from a rifled slug gun barrel is state-of-the-art with far superior accuracy and velocity than earlier smoothbore/slug combinations. Sold as premium loadings, sabots are worth the additional cost if you have a decent slug gun in which to shoot them.
I'm refraining from mentioning firearm and ammunition brands and models because I've found that current slug guns and rifled barrels are uniformly accurate with the exception of the odd custom-built rig.
The bottom line is you have to determine which slug loading happens to shoot best in your particular slug gun. I can't say Brand X sabots will out-perform Brand Y in Model Z slug gun because there are simply too many variables to draw such conclusions.
For example: I recently shot a Remington slug gun that excelled with Remington slugs and another identical Remington gun that did better with Winchester slugs. A Benelli slug barrel liked the newest Remington saboted slugs, but sprayed Remington's Sluggers. You have to spend a few bucks and some time at the range to determine which slug your gun shoots best- period.
A few years ago I had an opportunity to test the current crop of slug guns and loads. The folks at Kahles wanted to correlate their TDS scope reticle to the trajectories of saboted slugs, so I assembled a wide selection of slug guns and sabots. I set up my Oehler chronographs to record slug velocity at the muzzle and 50 yards. I spent 3 days on the range shooting five new slug guns and learned you can achieve remarkable accuracy with some of today's slug guns and sabots.
My best groups were shot with specially designed slug-shooting firearms, like the bolt-action Tar Hunt and the now discontinued Browning A-Bolt. Some of the rifled-barrel pump-action slug guns also shot well. My test procedure was to fire five shots from each of several brands of slugs through every slug gun.
I initially shot at 50 yards to determine which combinations shot the best, then I tested some of the most accurate slug/slug gun combos out to 100 yards to push the envelope a bit. Most of these three-shot, 100-yard groups stayed well within the vital chest area of a deer.
How well will a properly prepared slug gun shoot? My best groups measured less than 1 1/2 inches at 100 yards with a Tar Hunt bolt-action slug gun and one particular slug. Because this is a very expensive firearm, I expected good accuracy, but this gun exceeded my expectations. I had several gun/load combinations that kept three shots inside 3 inches at 50 yards.
I found that most permanently attached barrel systems (including low-cost single-shot slug guns) out-shot the more common detachable barrels. I also found that scope mounts frequently shot loose from these heavy-kicking firearms, so make sure to use Loctite on your mounting screws.
One more tip: The new "soft" recoil pads such as those from LimbSaver significantly reduce gun kick and make shooting slug guns a lot easier.
Because you can't hit what you can't see, I field tested all the available sighting options for slug guns, including one and two beads, open sights, aperture sights, scopes and other optical devices. I believe one of the best options for a slug gun is the Bushnell HoloSite- for close or long shots.
How accurate is the HoloSite at long range? I recently mounted a HoloSite on a superb tactical-style rifle and shot 1-inch groups at 100 yards. My personal sight preference for slug guns from best to worst is HoloSite, a low-powered scope, a large aperture peep-sight, open sights, two beads and finally one bead.
In terms of saboted slug design, you can't really go wrong with any of the latest offerings from Brenneke, Federal, Hornady, Lightfield, Remington, Winchester and others. The slugs themselves are available in solid copper, jacketed lead, bonded or solid lead, and my tests lean toward the solid copper slugs for accuracy, but I believe the new pointed slugs will be great, too.
I haven't shot Hornady's new SST slugs yet- they blend a pointed rifle-style bullet with sabot technology and will no doubt gain a loyal following. The 300-grain, plastic-tipped bullet has the capability of killing deer out to 200 yards when shot from an accurate, rifled slug gun barrel.
Youngsters and small-framed hunters should be aware of Remington's Managed-Recoil slugs. I tested these 1-ounce slugs by blasting clay targets on the ground as fast as I could pull the trigger on a 12 gauge Remington semiauto.
Next, I stoked the slug gun with Remington Sluggers and shot again, and I was amazed at the recoil reduction, accuracy and fast recovery of the Managed-Recoil ammo. I have no doubt they'll kill deer cleanly.
Like deer hunters, black bear hunters can also benefit from the latest slug gun and saboted slug offerings. Bear hunting over bait is a close-range game, and today's heavy-hitting slugs fired from an accurate gun are serious bear medicine.
Click here for more information from McMurchy on your slug gun choices.