Top performance shotgun slugs; today's slugs and slug guns have gained an enviable reputation among savvy hunters.
Boy, have things changed! Shotguns Designed specifically to throw a single hunk of lead, slugs which are superior ballistically even to some big game rifle rounds and a recognition that deer hunting throughout most of the country means shots taken within 70 yards in heavy cover, have combined to make shotgun slugs the round of choice for many deer hunters.
Impetus for this changed viewpoint has come from two directions. First, a growing number of states--in whole or in part-now mandate the use of shotguns and slugs for safety reasons. In the past, a serious hunter who thought slugs were inaccurate could always do his hunting in the next state over. This is getting to be less and less true.
These self-same hunters, in a desire to get the most from their gun (whatever it happens to be), have discovered the second point: Neither slugs nor the guns that fire them are anywhere near as bad as conventional wisdom would have it.
Take the recently held second annual Shotgun Slug World Championship, for example. In the benchrest category, the top three shooters each came in with groups under 2-1/2 inches while shooting at 75 yards. At other times, in other places, confirmed groups under 2 inches at 100 yards have been fired. There's nothing shabby about that! Hunters who still believe that shotguns and slugs are inaccurate are living in the past.
Of course, this kind of performance is rarely achieved by an off-the-shelf slug gun. Nor, for that matter, do conventional Foster-type rifled slugs produce those kind of groups--at least not consistently. But, in response to the growing demand for slug guns and ammo that suits the needs of the serious hunter, there's been a growth in specialty slug guns and slugs themselves. concurrent with that has been a new understanding of how to make even normal guns and loads work better.
Modern-day slug shooting really began in the mid-1950s. Until then, Foster slugs were forced down the bore of a full choke, "Long Tom" shotgun. Such a rig may have been good for waterfowling (maybe), but it was the absolute wrong choice for slug shooting.
Recognizing that fact, a band of dedicated slug shooters began customizing their guns to better handle slugs. Starting most often with an Ithaca M37, they'd shorten the barrels and install rifle sights. In effect, they created short, fast handling, .70 caliber rifles, perfect for brush hunting white-tail deer.
No slouches when it comes to recognizing a market, Ithaca began offering a factory configuration of that gun. The M37 Deerslayer featured a ramp front sight and adjustable notch rear sight on a 26-inch improved cylinder barrel. And it took the slug shooting world by storm. Most other shotgun makers jumped on the bandwagon, and today virtually every scattergun manufacturer offers at least one model in slug configuration.
But Ithaca still leads the way in the attention it gives to its Deerslayers. Most companies do not see slug guns as providing a particularly viable market. The numbers, they feel, just aren't there. So their approach is to take any run-of-the-mill IC barrel, slap some rifle sights on it, and give it a deer hunting name. bore diameters can vary by as much as .030 inch from one barrel to the next.
Ithaca takes a different approach. Each of its barrels is bored to a consistent .729 inch (in 12 gauge) and sights are carefully mounted in line on the barrel plane, just as they are done on rifles. Net result: the most consistently accurate off-the-rack slug guns available.
In addition, the Ithaca guns are the only ones available from the factory that care prepared to accept scopes. all other must be drilled and tapped.
Ithaca also offers a slug configuration in its big Mag-10. With the exception of the H&R single shot, this is the only true 10-gauge slug gun available, and is the most powerful such gun that's legal in the United States.
Real state-of-the-art slug barrels, however, come from the shop of John Tanis, whose Pennsylvania Arms Co. produces both smoothbore and rifled versions. And its the rifled shotgun barrel that has all serious slug shooters agog. Their accuracy potential, especially when loaded with specialty slugs like the BRI Sabot 500 (pronounced sab-O) is awesome.
With one exception, every shooter at the World Championship used a rifled barrel, usually mounted to an Ithaca M37. My own testing has produced bench-rested groups of 1-1/2 inches at 100 yards.
The PAC barrels are available as blanks, for fitting by your own gunsmith, or in finished form for a limited number of factory shotguns including: Remington 870, Ithaca M37, Browning Auto 5, and S&W 1000 and 3000.
Built specifically to achieve maximum performance with the BRI Sabot 500 slug, each PAC barrel measures .717 inch across the lands, .729 inch across the grooves. Barrel twist is 1-in-34, but other twist rates are available on request. Tanis has found, however, that the 1-in-34 twist is best for stabilizing all slugs. My own experiments indicate he may be right.
Rifled barrels will not perform well, however, with the Brenneke slug, which almost always tumbles when it comes out of the bore.
Originally, all PAC barrels were available with a factory-installed pressure chamber, threaded to accept Cutts Compensator tubes. My original barrel came that way, and I've had no trouble with it. On the contrary, it outperforms any other slug gun I've used, especially when used in conjunction with the Aimpoint sight I've mounted on my Remington 870. PAC found, however, that the chamber would cause slugs to go awry as often as not, so no longer offers it that way.
Being larger than .50 caliber, there is some question as to whether the rifled shotgun barrel is legal. According to Tanis, BATF allows their use because they (1) fire shotgun shells, and (2) are only sold for sporting purposes; they are thus exempt from the rules which define over-.50 caliber as destructive devices. BATF has not formally addressed the question, however. so at this point in time, at least, rifled shotgun barrels are federally legal.
State level laws are something else. Most state fish and game departments haven't even heard of the barrels, let alone passed judgement on them. In the field, unless a warden happens to look down the barrel, he won't even think to check. Basis for legality, in the absence of specific rulings, seems to be whether the regs state "shotgun" or "smoothbore." Best bet, as always, is to check with your own enforcement people.
If slug guns have come a long way, slugs themselves have come even further. Most of the negative surrounding slugs no longer exist--if they ever really did.
When Karl Foster patented the rifled slug in 1931, there wasn't too much about it that was truly new. The idea of a weight-forward, hollow-based projectile had been more than proven with the Minie ball and similar bullets. Foster's main contribution was the thought that rifling the slug would make it more accurate in a smoothbore.
But it doesn't work quite that way. Despite widespread belief to the contrary, the rifling is merely cosmetic and serves no purpose. It is neither deep enough, nor its velocity fast enoug, for any spin to be imparted to the slug.
Accuracy from a slug is a function of two things: a good gas seal, and centering in the shotgun bore. Achieve those two and you can shoot as well as with many rifles.
The Foster-type slugs achieve this by having a thin-walled hollow base, which expands into the bore walls, thus effecting a gas seal and self-centering. At least, that's the theory.
Foster's slugs did not accomplish that because molding techniques were not up to snuff, and there would be uneven expansion of the skirt. Often the skirt walls would blow out. A slug that successfully made it to the muzzle faced the constriction of full choking which destroyed any chance of accuracy. So no two slugs hit in the same place twice. The resulting bad press is still with us today. By the same token, the German Brenneke slug, operating on a different principle, was so far superior that its reputation has endured for nearly 100 years.
Today's Foster-type slugs--Federal Super Slugs, Remington Sluggers and Winchester Super-X--do not suffer the molding faults of the old ones, nor are they often fired from the wrong gun. So their accuracy potential is certainly sufficient for deer at anything under 100 yards. But they are not as good as they can be because the manufacturers must stay aware of possible litigation, and design them to be safe when fired in the wrong gun, like a long barreled, full choke tube.
Each of these slugs, by the way, is available in one-ounce loadings instead of the original 7/8 ounce. In addition, Federal has a 1-1/4-ounce load as well.
Groups smaller than 5 inches at 50 yards, or 9 inches at 100 are consistently possible if the slug happens to match the barrel diameter you are using. The specialty slugs, however, are likely to be more accurate from any slug barrel than is any particular Foster slug.
Indeed, slug design has, if anything, outpaced barrel design. There are three major specialty slugs available in factory loadings, a few minor ones, and innumerable handloading opportunities.
The Brenneke, in improved version, is still around. Unlike the "rock-in-the-sock" principle that stabilizes Foster slugs, the Brenneke works on a weathervane idea. The gas seal and wad column is attached to the slug with a screw, and this lightweight "tail" always faces away from the wind. Fairly large molded vanes serve to self-center the slug in the bore.
Similar in design and principle is the Vitt-Boos Aero Dynamic. At 575 grains, it's the heavyweight of 12-gauge slugs. Superficially resembling the Brenneke, it uses a plastic gas seal instead of cardboard, and the vanes are significantly wider and deeper. Interestingly, the Aero Dynamic, despite its resemblance to Brenneks, does work in a rifled barrel.
Next is the BRI Sabot 500, potentially the most accurate factory slug available. Working on a radically different idea, the Sabot 500 is a .50 caliber hourglass-shaped bullet encased in a two-piece sabot that brings it out o 12-gauge diameter. Upon existing the muzzle, the sabot falls away, and the bullet, with its self-stabilizing shape, continues on to the target. Factory testing indicates an astouding 74 percent retained velocity at 200 yards! And with a decent gun, they should group below 3 inches at 100 yards all day long.
All three of these specialty slugs are available for reloading. In addition, the handloader has more than enough choices to create the perfect load for his gun.
Of late, there is another avenue open. Thanks to Dave Corbin's Hydro Press, a least a dozen custom bullet makers are now set up to produce swaged slugs. A few of them are building and selling their own designs. But all of them are willing to work with slug shooters to produce any desired configuration.
Some of these swaged slugs ae something else. Robert Lewis of Power Plus Enterprises, for instance, has developed a custom slug earmarked for police and military use that also has potential for hunting. A finned projectile with a huge internal cavity, it looks like an old blockbuster bomb. Special primers and explosive compounds can be used to fill the cavity for military use. Used "as is" it could be a useful slug for big and dangerous game.
Special shapes aside, this could be the ultimate solution to accuracy and powder requirements in that it allows production of a slug that exactly fits the bore dimensions of your gun. Using a .72 caliber, Foster-style slug that he swages himself, for instance, custom bullet maker Bill McBride has very adequately killed Cape Buffalo.
The long and short of it is that today's state-of-the-art slugs and slug guns put accuracy and consistent performance well within reach of the hunter who is required to use them. So much so, in fact, that many hunters now use slugs for both deer and dangerous game.
Slugs andslug guns have come far. In fact, there i now an organization, Slug Shooters International (Box 402, Dept. GA, McHenry, IL 60050), whose membership consists of nimrods using slugs for hunting and competition shooting.
Most of its members have found that there's nothing second class about today's state-of-the-art slugs and guns.