By Cliff Wilson
With both the Illinois and Iowa shotgun deer seasons upon us, the rush to obtain slugs has definitely hit the ammunition counters. Notoriously, folks wait until the last minute, buy a couple of boxes of slugs, then go deer hunting the next day. Although this is a common practice, it's absolutely the wrong way to go about things. This article is being written to help both novice and experienced hunters to get the most out of their shotgun. Understanding more about such things as slugs, guns, and scopes can really make a difference when we talk about slug accuracy.
First you need to choose the gun you want to hunt that trophy deer with. Probably the most common question I hear is "Can I shoot slugs through my regular field gun?" Yes.
"But I have a full choke on this particular gun, will the slugs damage my barrel?" Well, that depends.
If you shoot a sabot slug through a full choke barrel, there is a real risk that the barrel may damage, bulge or even split. I had three split barrel cases brought into the shop last fall. All were full choke, all shot sabots.
On the other hand, your standard forester (or rifled slugs by another name) are made of soft lead, while your gun barrel is made of steel. In 35 years in the gun business, I have never seen a single incident where a barrel was blown or bulged by the standard forester rifled deer slugs ... regardless of the choke.
"What kind of gun is best? Long barrel? Short barrel? What choke is best? What brand? What do I need?!" This can be an endless question with an endless answer. Most hunters will ask their buddies, their gun shop dealer or even read up on what they feel the best deer gun for them would be. I have found that most hunters prefer short, quick pointing and easily maneuverable guns. Some will use their short-barreled quail gun or use a slug barrel for the job. Most improved cylinder or cylinder bore barrels will usually group the forester-type rifled slugs pretty well. At 100 yards, groups from one to six inches can be realistically expected out of a good combination of slugs and gun.
"Now I know what gun I'm going to use, so what's the best slug?" It's probably more appropriate to ask "What brand of slug does my gun like?" While most hunters generally buy what's on sale or mix and match slugs, this isn't the way to do it. No two brands of slugs will hold the same group at the same yardage. Some may be close, but not consistent enough to chance on a trophy buck.
Do yourself a favor and buy three or four boxes each of just a couple of different brands of slugs and head to the range. Take your cleaning supplies with you and set up a target at the farthest distance you feel that a successful shot can be made (or the distance you plan on shooting a deer). Regardless of whether you are using a slug barrel or a field barrel, make sure that once the barrel is tightened down it isn't removed. By taking the barrel off and on, you can change the point of impact by simply not getting the cap or magazine cap back in the same place or not applying the same torque. Even on cantilever barrels, this can have a very adverse effect on your group. Remember, we want to end up with the most accurate, tightest group we can produce.
With the target set up and sights honed in, clean the barrel (again, without removing it) and go for a group. Use a bench rest when at all possible to help eliminate human error.
Let's say we start with standard Federal, 1 ounce, rifled deer slugs. With these, we get a four inch group of five shots at 50 yards. Are you happy with that? Maybe, but let's see what five rounds of Remington forester rifled slugs will do. Say a six inch group at that same 50 yards. Still not bad, but a better group is still possible. My next choice might be Winchester rounds which produce a two inch group. This might please you, but you still may want more. Finally you pick up a box of Activ slugs and put the rounds through the same hole, not one, but all five. In that case, you now know that Activ slugs work best in your gun. This is just an example. Each gun is different, so it's important to try several different brands until you find a slug that your gun likes.
People, the slugs now on the market are so far advanced from what they were 10 years ago, there is seriously no comparison. Heavier, hollow-pointed, more feet per second, more hydroshocking ... cleaner killing. This is the ultimate goal of every hunter. As this article continues, I hope to share a few ideas and "trial-and-error" experiences I've had over countless years of hunting and in the gun business. Trust me, if you're in the gun business you get to see and hear about anything and everything that can happen or go wrong.
SLUG BARRELS VERSUS REGULAR BARRELS
Slug barrels are usually cylinder bore or improved cylinder and will hold a decent group using a forester slug. The bore ratio compared to the slug diameter is what we look for in our ultimate goal of the tightest group. I have found that both Federal and Remington slugs are actually .006 to .008 inches smaller in diameter than Brenneke, Winchester and Activ forester slugs. This is why Federal and Remington slugs tend to shoot more accurately in a choked gun. Brenneke, Winchester and Activ slugs will actually deform slightly as they swag through a choke, causing a less accurate grouping (as well as a more pronounced recoil). When using a more open choke, such as those found on slug barrels, these same slugs are not deformed and will actually be thrown faster and more accurately, without throwing the slug out of balance.
The rifled sights on the standard slug barrels also allows you to adjust the sight so you can put the slug where you want it on the target. With a standard barrel, if the slugs shoot high and to the left, you are left little choice but to aim low and to the right on the target. You may not have trouble remembering that on the range, but it may plague you a bit when that big buck is running in front of you.
Most companies are now coming out with several types of barrels. The list includes slug barrels, rifled, smooth bore - with or without choke tubes. The tubed barrels are great for multiple uses. Just by switching a tube you can go from hunting deer, to turkey, to field. The improved cylinder tube allows you to shoot the forester rifled slugs accurately.
Probably the most asked question is "Do rifled barrels shoot more accurately than smooth bore?" Yes and no. I personally prefer a smooth bore simply because my deer gun likes Activ slugs and I get one to two inch groups at 100 yards using the smooth bore barrel. I've shot against a lot of rifled barrels and sabot slugs and manage to hold my own. If your gun is smooth bore and shoots well ... stick with it.
Again, no two brands of slugs will group the same. Next question, "Are sabots more accurate than foresters?" You be the judge of that. The common 12 gauge forester slugs are usually 69 caliber diameter (or .690 to .698 inches). They make a big hole going in and expand once inside. According to Brenneke Slug Co., the hydroshock with a forester slug is some 1000 energy foot-pounds more than that of the sabot slugs. Hydroshock is what kills a deer - not just punching holes in it. Most sabots are hard and small and simply punch holes through the animal without the bullet expansion and necessary hydroshock to insure a clean, quick kill. Unless you happen to hit bone or a vital organ with a sabot, your trophy buck will just keep right on trucking while you're sitting there wondering what happened!
There has been a major change in sabots over the last four years, however. The new kid on the block is Lightfield. Their 12 gauge sabot is a 1 1/4 ounce, 16 gauge diameter slug with a plastic base-wad that is locked onto the slug. This attached wad gives the slugs stability in flight. These sabots boast diameter mass, hollow points and deliver 10 times the hydroshock of any other sabot around. We tried them in every rifled barrel we could lay our hands on and they shot two inch groups at 100 yards out of them all. They also traveled faster than any other sabot we tested.
The bottom line is to use what works best for you and what you feel comfortable with.
GAUGES (12 - 16 - 20)
Most people take the advice of using whatever is comfortable. All gauges will do the job well. As for accuracy, I see no difference in groups shot with all gauges. But remember, the bigger the mass, the higher the hydroshock and damage the slug will do upon entry. This is one time where bigger is better in my opinion.
This can sometimes be a very controversial subject. Some people scope their guns because they have trouble seeing the rear sight - it simply becomes blurred or they have trouble lining it up. This is because we're getting old and it's hard to see those close-up objects! Option one: Put a peep-sight on - that will take care of the blur. Option two: Scope your gun.
There are several questions you need to ask yourself before putting on a scope. Are you hunting in brushy areas or open fields? Are you walking or hunting from a stand? If you're hunting in brush, it can many times be difficult to follow a deer through a scope. Iron sights, on the other hand, will often allow you to stay with an animal as it runs through the cover and eventually get a shot. Best of both worlds is a scope with a see through mount.
Shotguns and blackpowder rifles take very different scopes than what rifles or pistols do. The biggest difference is the amount of recoil they are willing to withstand and still stay in adjustment. The recoil of a shotgun or muzzleloader are very similar and are much more sever than that of even the biggest center fire rifle. You will literally knock a rifle scope out of adjustment (recoil jarred) by just shooting it on a shotgun. Don't be fooled by anyone who says the center fire rifle scope they have on sale will work on a shotgun ... it won't.
I usually will recommend a two power scope and most get along well with them. There are a variety of crosshairs, diamond reticles, circles and dots. My biggest seller is a 1.5 X 4.5 X 20 mm scope. The 20 mm gives you a 21 ft. circle at 100 yards on two power. At two power a 2 X 32 mm would reduce my field of view to only 18 feet, a 40 mm would reduce it down to a mere 16 feet. This is one case where bigger is not better. The advantage of a bigger objective lens is to add more light-gathering capability. The variable shotgun scope allows you to use your shotgun like a rifle - it lets you zoom in on difficult, brushy, targets. But running shots are a huge problem for most. If you can get a deer to stand still, a scope can be a great asset. We've found that a 4 or 5 power scope is the maximum magnification needed on any shotgun for how the guns are capable of performing.
These sighting system is the fastest on-target sighting system you can put on any weapon. You shoot with both eyes open and concentrate on the target. Your eyes will focus and a dot will automatically appear on the target. Well, actually it's an optical illusion, but you'd swear the dot on the scope appears on the target. The good part about dot scopes for deer hunting is that with both eyes open, you don't lose that buck on a dead run, in the brush, or during low-light situations. Again, this is the fastest sight system around.
LASER SIGHT SYSTEMS
Forget about them for hunting ... they're illegal in most states, including Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Because the scope projects a beam of light, it is considered the same as spotlighting or jack lighting. They're not legal.
On a final note, be sure to check out the new fiber optics in rifled sights for all the new guns this fall. They're very impressive. Even the person who has great difficulty finding the rear sight can see these easily. It's about like sticking a flashlight in your face.
Have questions you want answered? Stop in or send a self-addressed, stamped envelope along with your question to: Hawkeye Guns Unlimited, 105 N. Main Street, Burlington, IA 52601. I'll do what I can to help.