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Library / Big Game

The Accuracy Revolution
In Slug Guns

by Philip Bourjaily

Col. Charles Askins reviewed the best slugs and slug guns in the December, 1983 American Hunter. A fine rifleman, Askins could nevertheless manage groups no tighter than 6 1/2 inches from the most accurate guns and ammo available. In December of 1992, sighting in a BPS Game gun for the upcoming deer season, I could shoot no group larger than 4 1/4 inches, no matter how hard I yanked the trigger. Most of my five-shot groups printed between two inches and three inches at 100 yards and a couple were under two inches. What happened in just nine years?

Two parallel developments in the mid-1980s converged to revolutionize shotgun slug accuracy virtually overnight. Barrel makers E.R. Shaw of California and the Hastings company of Clay Center, Kansas began selling rifled shotgun barrels on an aftermarket and semi-custom basis. At about the same time, Californian Bob Sowash obtained the patent to a saboted shotgun slug invented in 1968. At first, the BRI sabot loads shot no better than five to six inches at 50 yards. After less than a year of extensive research and testing, Sowash, using a Benelli autoloader with an E.R. Shaw barrel, shot the first MOA group with shotgun slugs ever recorded and landed on the cover of Shotgun Digest.

In 1987, Mossberg, anticipating widespread demand for rifled guns to shoot these accurate slugs, announced its Trophy Slugster, the first fully rifled shotgun offered to the American shooting public. Ithaca, Remington, and U.S.R.A.C. soon followed with rifled guns of their own, and recently Browning answered with the BPS Game Gun, opting for a five-inch rifled choke tube in place of a fully rifled barrel.

In the meantime, Winchester bought the BRI patent and began producing sabot loads, and Federal now makes its own line of saboted projectiles as well. Accurate guns and loads have become readily available to shooters everywhere, and weekend riflemen like me can shoot groups undreamed of just a short time ago.

What's next in slug guns? The future is already here and it's called the Tar-Hunt bolt-action shotgun. Intended more for target shooting than for hunting, the Tar-Hunt is capable of consistent MOA accuracy with sabot loads. It seems unlikely anyone will improve on that kind of slug performance. At $1,200 apiece, it's equally unlikely that the Tar-Hunt will catch on with hunters when guns costing one-third its sticker price will shoot two-inch groups. Once these factory pumps and auto deer guns are available with good, crisp rifle-style triggers (is anybody listening?), the slug revolution will be over for the time being, and all but the most finicky shooters should be well satisfied with the new generation of slugs and slug guns.

Rifled barrels are not yet legal for shotgun slug hunting in all locales. If you must shoot slugs through a smoothbore gun, you'll find that the new breed of sabot slugs won't necessarily perform much better in your gun than will conventional designs. Foster slugs have improved in accuracy in recent years, and Activ's Italian Servo slugs, with their attached plastic tail, also shoot extremely well in smoothbore guns. With good sights, a smoothbore can shoot groups as small as six to seven inches at 100 yards, although 75 yards represents a maximum practical range for most smoothbore slug guns.

If you're planning to use a bird gun for deer hunting, here are some tips: use an open choke (cylinder, skeet, IC) for best accuracy. Stick to pumps and autos, since many double guns will not shoot slugs to the same point of impact out of both barrels. Fit your gun with iron sights or a scope. Several manufacturers, among them B-Square and Tasco, make no-gunsmithing scope mounts for popular pumps and autos. If you prefer iron sights, Williams Sight Company's Slugger sights fit any 1/4 inch or 5/16 inch vent rib, and a friend has used All's Accura-Sites on the rib of a favorite 20-gauge bird gun to shoot a number of fine bucks over the years. Both the Slugger and Accura-Sites require no gunsmithing and are easily removable when the season ends.

Sidebar: How Shotgun Slugs Compare to Rifle Bullets

Let's not get carried away here: the new generation of slugs might be more accurate than anything we've seen in the past, but if rifles are legal for deer hunting where you live, there's no reason to sell your old lever action and run out to buy a new slug gun. Compare the newest high-tech slug, Federal's three-inch Premium Sabot with the ancient .30-30 Winchester, the more modern .308, and the standard 12-gauge,1-ounce Foster slug:


   30-30, 170 Gr. bullet:  muzzle: 2,200 fps    100 yds: 1,900 
   308, 150 Gr. bullet:    muzzle: 2,820 fps    100 yds: 2,530
   Sabot Slug, 438 gr.:    muzzle: 1,550 fps    100 yds: 1,190
   Foster Slug, 438 gr.:   muzzle: 1,610 fps    100 yds: 1,140

   30-30:                  muzzle: 1,830        100 yds: 1,355
   308:                    muzzle: 2,650        100 yds: 2,140
   Sabot Slug:             muzzle: 2,400        100 yds: 1,220
   Foster Slug:            muzzle: 2,520        100 yds: 1,225

Midrange Trajectory, Zeroed at 100 yds.:

   30-30:                   .3 inch
   308:                     .1 inch
   Sabot Slug:             1.9 inches
   Foster Slug:            2.2 inches

Neither the .308 or the .30-30 are known as hard kicking cartridges, averaging well under 20 ft/lbs of recoil. Both slug designs generate levels of 30 ft/lbs or more, depending on gun weight.

Obviously, slugs have a huge edge over rifle bullets in the sheer size of the hole they make in a deer. Whether a half- or three-quarter-inch hole is really necessary to down a 200-pound animal, however, is a different question.

For those of us who hunt deer with slugs because we have to, comparisons to rifle bullets are completely moot. The new slugs shoot flatter, hit as hard, and are far more accurate than the old versions. They will reliably kill deer out to a hundred yards or a shade farther. For that much, we should be very grateful.

Sidebar: Scopes for Shotguns

Accurate guns and loads demand a good scope for maximum accuracy. Moreover, scopes make good sense even on shotguns intended for short-range shooting. The best way to bust brush is to shoot around the branches, and a scope lets you pick out holes in the cover far more easily than will iron sights.

It should come as no surprise, then, that scope makers are busy turning out scopes specifically designed for shotguns. The Leupold Vari-X II shotgun scope I hunted with last season is a good example. It's parallax adjusted to 75 yards instead of the 100- or 150-yard adjustment common to centerfire rifle scopes. The Vari-X features a heavy duplex reticle to help the shooter see the crosshairs in heavy brush. Eye relief is nearly five inches, suitable for both receiver and extended barrel mounts.

A glance at any outdoor catalog shows a number of similar models. Redfield's 1x4 variable has six inches of eye relief and comes in both a standard finish and a realtree camouflaged model. Burris' 2.5x shotgun scope features a huge 55-foot field of view and a post/crosshair reticle for quick aiming at close quarters. Simmons has a pair of shotgun scopes with five-inch eye relief in 2.5x and 4x. The increasing popularity of rifled slug guns should insure more and more new scopes with the features deer hunters want in the years to come.

Copyright © 1995 Philip Bourjaily. All rights reserved.

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