Slugs 101...


Dave McCracken
June 22, 2003, 08:27 AM
One of the attractions shotguns have for the operator is the ability to fire vastly different loads. A cloud of shot can be sent to a target, or a solid chunk of lead with the kinetic energy of a car wreck. These last are generically called slugs.

Uses for slugs are hunting medium sized game like deer and hogs, competition, and defense.

Slugs are hardly ever a good choice for home defense, they tend to overpenetrate and thus endanger non combatants. Used in a Community Defense context,there is some utility where targets may have to be engaged at ranges greater than the 25 yards or so commonly believed to be the maximum practical range for shot, even buckshot.

Most slug use is for hunting.At reasonable ranges a slug works very well for reducing game to possession humanely and quickly. A hit to the vitals of a deer means a short blood trial and fast demise, something all hunters want.

Some slugs expand, some do not. A projectile that starts off at 73 caliber doesn't usually need much expansion to transfer energy effectively.

Some shotguns and shooters have range limits of 100 yards or so, but most should limit themselves to the distance they can keep a 6 inch group or less at the bench. Slugs and shotguns are NOT good choices for long range precision marksmanship. Most shotguns and shooters are capable of 50 yard accuracy, and oft shot opportunities are less than that in Eastern woods style cover.

And over 100 yards, trajectories resemble those of hurled stones.

In recent decades, a plethora of good slug guns and ammo have appeared, These include extra barrels with open sights or scope capability to add to common repeaters and shotguns with fully rifled barrels to utilize the new sabot(Pronounced as in sabotage) rounds. More on this later.

Few doubles put slugs to the same place with both barrels. Good slug guns tend to be single shots and repeaters.

On deer sized game, ALL 12 gauge slugs are very effective when placed correctly. In 20 gauge,kills are not quite as fast, but still humane. The 20 gauge Rottweil Brenekke,however, is as effective as they come.

As in all hunting,placement is critical.

Slugs for shotguns under 20 gauge are not recommended for hunting medium game and are often illegal.

Besides the bore sized round ball of yesteryear, now considered obsolete, there are three commonly used kinds of slugs. In order of age, they are....

The Forster style. These hollowbased, bore sized projectiles first came out in the 1920s. They constituted a quantum leap in accuracy. The hollow design swaged down nicely even in tighter chokes and obturated to fill the bore and contain the gases. Even today, these are a good choice for smoothbores, though one MUST test to get the most accurate brand in a given shotgun.

The Brenekke. Otto Brenekke's invention, came out in the 30s, and consists of a solid projectile with a base wad attached. The longer profile aids accuracy as well as penetration. These are proven effective on larger game. If I had to take on an angry grizzly with a shotgun, these would be my choice. On medium game, the extra penetration is not needed.

Note,the 1 oz KO Brenekke is not a classic Brenekke, the name is a misnomer. It's a Forster style with an unattached wad. Effective and my current choice.

The newest idea in slugs comes from tank and artillery technology. These are sabots(French for shoe) and consist of a projectile much smaller than bore diameter in a sleeve of some inert material, usually polywhatever. These are designed to work best in fully rifled barrels, and use in smoothbores is a waste of time and money in most cases.But in 12 gauge rifles, they are often very accurate. Also, velocity is often a bit higher due to a lighter projectile,so the trajectory flattens out.

The Forsters and Brenekkes are best in smoothbore barrels, with some doing well with a rifled choke tube. Again, each shotgun is a law unto itself.

Sighting systems for slugs vary from traditional beads to open sights to peeps to optics. Good work will continue to be done with beads up to 50 yards for most accomplished shotgunners.Oft better results occur with an upgraded sight system. Experiment and see what works for you in YOUR use environment.

The reason so many folks do not test enough is plain and simply, recoil. Firing off slugs from the bench is punishing. Use a wearable pad like the PAST, stay upright, and add weight to your shotgun if possible.

Testing is done at a benchrest.First,buy 5 packs in the style of slug appropriate to your shotgun. Sabots for full rifled barrels, the others for smoothbores.

Sightin and shooting groups is absolutely essential,no shortcuts or excuses. I'd start at 25 yards, then move back to 50 as contenders are eliminated.

Shotgun triggers are frequently too heavy and uncrisp for best work. A sub 4 lb, clean trigger is always a joy on a shotgun, and produces astounding improvement when used for slugs.A small investment here can yield BIG dividends.

Slowfire a three round group, allowing the barrel to cool between shots. Repeat, then try another brand of slug. Keep on until one shows much better accuracy than the rest. Buy a lot of that and you're ready.Practice frequently and rezero if the shotguns is taken down.

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Sir Galahad
June 22, 2003, 01:08 PM
Thanks, Dave! Great information! Still waiting on you to write that book (hint, hint...):D

June 23, 2003, 12:02 PM
Thanks Dave, I've been looking for something like this.

June 23, 2003, 12:31 PM
Dave - What are your comments on appropriate choke constriction for slugs? I've only got smoothbores, and assume that I would want to use IC.

Are other chokes appropriate?

Should you pattern with different chokes to find the one that works best?

Can using too tight a choke cause damage to the gun, or will it just ruin accuracy?

June 23, 2003, 04:37 PM
My old slug gun was a Mossberg bolt action 20ga with a full choke. It would throw Federal slugs (the old forster type) into about a 4 inch circle at 50yrds. I took 4 public land deer with it where my .444 wasn't allowed and not one of them complained about lack of expansion.

Dave McCracken
June 23, 2003, 05:39 PM
Thanks, folks...

TR, I left chokes out of this for a reason. As a VERY loose rule,open chokes are better than tight ones. BUT,every now and then I run across a tight choke that gives amazing accuracy with ONE particular brand of slug. The two tightest slug groups I've ever seen were shot back to back with a long barrelled,ancient 16 gauge Model 97. Three shot cloverleafs at 100 yards.

Shotguns sometime seem more like Voodoo than science.

The only chokes I know of that MIGHT give trouble with slugs are the Polychoke types. Tightened all the way, these have broken off "Petals" according to common stories.

Round bore sized balls have harmed very tight chokes in the past, but these aren't found much anymore. The Forsters will swage down to anything you want.

Okie, one of my old hunting buds used that single shot Ithaca with the lever action in 20 gauge for his weapon of choice. After a truckload of deer taken cleanly with slugs, he still prefers it to his other shotguns.

Mike U.
May 18, 2007, 09:35 PM
BTTT for newer members.

June 14, 2007, 04:19 PM
BTT Shouldn't this be a Sticky?!

June 14, 2007, 08:22 PM
Thanks Dave.

Keep em coming.

Dave McCracken
June 14, 2007, 09:34 PM
Glad you liked it. As for a sticky, it's a little crowded at the top now....

geim druth
June 14, 2007, 11:00 PM
Just so I'm clear on this then,

When firing slugs, aim the shotgun just like a rifle?

Dave McCracken
June 15, 2007, 09:43 AM
Yup, just like a rifle. There's a 101 thread on this....

March 27, 2012, 11:26 PM

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