Deer Hunting With Slugs

Deer Hunting With Slugs

Early shotgunners used basically one gun for all of their hunting. Squirrels, rabbits, ducks, turkeys and other game were hunted with one gun, a smoothbore. Many families could barely afford one shotgun, much less a rifle. Shotguns were fine for the small and upland game, but hunters needed a little more oomph when it came to larger animals like deer. As improvements were made, deer hunting with slugs became more popular with increased accuracy.

Ammunition manufacturers started with inserting a lead ball into a shotgun shell to offer a projectile but it is was nothing compared to a rifle bullet. The “pumpkin” balls as they became known were not very effective for hunting. The lead ball rolled around down the smooth bore barrel leaving accuracy to less than 25 yards.

Around 1932, Karl Foster developed a slug with ribbed sides similar to a rifle bullet. The slug was designed to shoot from smooth bore barrels and to spin like a bullet for better accuracy. The slug did not spin since it had little contact with the barrel.

However, the slug was weight forward and a little more accurate than the old “pumpkin” ball. This new shotgun bullet became known as the “rifled” slug.


young lady with shotgun

Rifle sights on a smooth is a must for shooting slugs with accuracy. This photo was taken by Charles Johnson.


Old Meets New For Deer Hunting Shotgun

The Foster style sabot slugs are still used by some hunters today and can be effective on deer out to around 75 yards when shotgun deer hunting. In recent years, shotgun manufacturers have made tremendous strides in developing accurate projectiles for deer hunters today who use shotguns. Many of these new slugs are referred to as sabots.

“There are many different types of sabot slugs on the market today,” comments Brian Smith of Lightfield Ammunition. “Some are simple and others a little more complex.”

“The sabots are actually designed to perform their best in a rifled shotgun barrel.”

Sabot deer slugs use a plastic cup or cover over the bullet to allow the unit to make contact with the barrel. Firearm manufacturers offer shotgun barrels that are rifled to accept these sabot style slugs.


The sabots are actually designed to perform their best in a rifled shotgun barrel. Deer hunters now have an option to purchase an extra barrel for shotgun deer hunting instead of a second gun.

In recent years, many ammo makers have made drastic improvements to sabot type slugs, making them the best slugs for deer and other big game. Many of the new slugs are more like large rifle bullets than just a slug of lead. Remington, Winchester, and Hornady all make some of the best slugs for hunting. They are copper-jacketed with a polymer or ballistic tip.

Depending on the brand and shell size, some of the sabot slugs have a muzzle velocity of around 2,000 feet per second. With that type of speed, combined with the weight of the slug, there is a tremendous amount of energy retained downrange. Also, these slugs have enough accuracy for shots out to around 150 yards or more.

“Our sabot has a special casing that ensures contact with the barrel rifling,” Smith mentions. “A small plastic pressure wad rides with the slug all the way to the target to stabilize the projectile and improve accuracy.”


Barrels and Tubes

All sabot slugs are designed to be fired from a special shotgun barrel with rifling. The rifling has grooves cut into the inside of the barrel at a certain rate of twist. The plastic covering on the sabot slug contacts the barrel and the rifle grooves and spins the slug to around 34,000 RPM leaving the muzzle. It’s this spin that gives the slug its accuracy.

“Sabots can be fired in smooth bore barrels,” Smith remarks. “But their accuracy is not the same as if fired through a rifled slug barrel.”

Fully-rifled barrels with a 1-in-34 or 35 twist rate have been established as the industry standard. These style barrels do a good job of stabilizing a sabot in the 1600 fps range. Remington offers a fully-rifled barrel in a 1-in-35 twist rate for their 1850 fps Accu-Tip slug.

Some shotgunners may choose to use a rifled-slug tube that screws into the end of the barrel. These tubes do offer a little better stability of the slug than if fired from a straight smooth-bore tube. Smith says if using a slug tube, use the extended model as a longer tube will help with accuracy.

Scott Brasher of Clay County, Ala., shoots a fully-rifled barrel on his 12 gauge Mossberg pump. He has taken large bucks with slugs out to the 80-yard range and beyond.

“I use a standard 2 ¾ inch Winchester slug,” Brasher explains. “With my red dot scope, I feel confident in shooting deer at 100-plus yards.”

Last season Brasher’s dad used his Remington 870 with a flush-mount screw in a rifled-choke tube to fold up a big six-point buck at 70 yards. He has been using the Foster type slugs for years with great success in the deer woods.


deer hunting with slugs

Modern sabot slugs in the right gun can take deer out past 150 yards. This photo was taken by Charles Johnson.


Getting on Target

Sighting in your slug gun is not much different from that of a rifle. Whether using iron sights or scope, shooters should begin the sighting-in process at around 25 yards.

Shotgun slugs are not moving that fast down the barrel. Shooters should hold the gun firm at the forearm and tight against the shoulder to prevent the muzzle rise on the recoil.

“Whether using iron sights or scope, shooters should begin the sighting-in process at around 25 yards.”

Shotgun slug shells can pack a wallop on both ends of the gun. Lightfield has helped in this area with a lighter load in a 2 ¾-inch shell. Dubbed the Lightfield Lite, these slugs can be used to sight in your deer slug gun without taking a beating at the firing range.

The Lightfield Hybred EXP shell uses the same 11/4-ounce slug as the lite version. The EXP shoots a little faster, thus striking the target at the same spot as the Lites. Lightfield refers to this as same-sight accuracy where shooters can sight in with less recoiling loads, then step it up for shotgun deer hunting.

Depending on the slug, the gun, and the shooter, most slug guns can be sighted in on target about 2 ½-inches high at 50 yards and should be dead on at 100 yards. Check the manufacturer’s ballistic data on the slug you plan to use.

For deer slayers who want to use a scope on their slug gun when shotgun deer hunting, don’t try to scrimp by with a cheap model. As we have mentioned, slugs can produce some hefty recoil and a quality scope is a must. Most scope makers have models specifically for shotguns and slugs.

“Depending on the area you hunt, a 1x to 4x fixed power or a variable 2–7 power scope will work out for most shooters,” Smith says.

Make certain the optic you choose is suitable for the recoil that slug-guns dish out. Some of the newer model scopes provide range-finding reticles which can make your slug-gun dead-on at 100 or even 150 yards. Shooters should consider the eye relief of the scope of 3½ inches minimum.

With improved sabot slug shells and modern rifled shotgun barrels or the interchangeable choke tubes, hunters can defiantly try deer hunting with slugs come hunting season.


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