No, not hunting for slugs.
by Sharon Watson
I'm talking here about using shotgun slugs for deer hunting.
Sometimes couples hunting together have only one rifle, or a 12-year-old new-comer to hunting is sharing the old-timer's gun. Using slugs in a shotgun is a perfect solution to this only-one-gun problem.
Several deer, elk and antelope hunting units are open only to short-range weapons--archery and shotgun--hunting because of close proximity to human populations. Slugs would be a natural alternative in these cases.
I'm a still hunter (Why do they call it still hunting when it's walking around, albeit slowly?) I like quiet shoes, wet, soft ground, and sneaking. I pride myself on seeing more game than the bulldozer-males I see traipsing around as if their lives depended on their getting to the other side of the mountain where the buck-brush is greener and the mule deer are plentiful and their horns enormous -- gotta be, because they're not here!
One fall, I sat on a barren ridge in the middle of the day, just watching, for about an hour. When I coughed slightly, a little buck jumped out of the brush right in front of me! I had one shot as it ran over the hill. It went down without a pause, a bullet in its spine.
Another season, I stood under a tree in the rain to regain some strength after climbing a steep hill. I was amazed to see a big buck walk stealthily up the draw below me. He kept looking behind and below him. When he got within 70 yards, I shot. He went down, raised his head once, and then lay still. My legs were trembling as I walked up to him. I spoke to him with gratitude, and I was completely rain-soaked by the time I was through dressing him.
Another year, my youngest daughter and I were hunting together. The biggest mule deer buck I've ever seen walked out of a canyon below us and just stood there. We sat and sighted-in on him, but I told her not to shoot. He was too far away. She never has forgiven me for that advice. It turned out the buck was only 150 yards from us.
I'm too used to close-in shots. I wait. I shoot only once. I plan on shooting only once. If they're "too far," I'm uneasy. I'm afraid they'll run and I won't ever find them.
After many years of hunting, I realized that just like artists who develop distinctive styles, hunters do also. And my style of hunting is perfect for using shotgun slugs. Hunting is an art in my view, and I'd like to try a different brush stroke.
Several whitetail bucks almost jumped in my lap one November in north Idaho. I couldn't get my gun up fast enough nor get the deer in my sights at all! My sudden jerk of the gun, of course, spooked them and they were gone before the safety was off. Possibly, I could have gotten off a shot with a shot gun.
In testing the 3/4 oz. slugs with my 20 gauge Remington 870 pump, I find at 45 yards the slugs penetrated eight inches into a block of wood. That should be enough power to go clear through a deer's rib cage.
More technical statistics are: these 329 grain 20 gauge slugs travel at 1570 fps, which produce a muzzle energy of 1800 ft. lbs. This is nearly 300 ft. lbs. more energy than a 170 grain .30-30 bullet leaving the muzzle at 2000 fps, though it's 700 ft. lbs less than 180 grain Noslers exiting my .308 rifle at 2500 fps.
If you own a 12 gauge, your 1 oz. slugs will take off at 1600 fps with a muzzle energy of nearly 2500 ft. lbs. This is very close to .30-06 impact, which suggests shotgun slugs are definitely not ineffective toys when it comes to dropping well-hit game in its tracks.
That's the good news for would-be slug users. The bad news is twofold: First, shotgun slugs lose energy about twice as fast as jacketed rifle bullets do, which means a big 12 gauge slug hits less hard at 50 yards than a tiny .243 bullet does at 100 yards. Heavier rifle calibers are even more dramatically superior to shotgun slugs over long ranges. Worse, slug accuracy declines greatly after about 75 yards, with sloppy 10-inch groups common at 100 yards.
True, these fat chunks of soft lead have multiple slanted ridges on their sides, which gives them the misleading name of "rifled slugs." However, these lead ridges don't impart a stabilizing spin; their sole purpose is to allow slugs to compress safely when passing through restrictive shotgun chokes. Open-choked guns shoot slugs harder and more accurately than do tight-choked guns.
Double guns, both side-by-side and over/unders will tend to throw slugs to very different places. If you want to use slugs in a double gun, sight it in for one barrel (preferably the more open choke) and stick with it.
The upshot is that "punkinball" smoothbore slugs appear to be an excellent option for Idaho big game hunters -- IF we limit our range to 75 yards or less.
An important consideration in using shotgun slugs is adequate gunsights. At point-blank range a standard shotgun bead might suffice in slug placement, but shots beyond 25 yards call for some kind of rifle sight. If your smoothbore has a vent rib, you can buy simple clamp-on open sights which are adjustable for elevation and windage. Another option is to mount a low-power scope on the receiver of your pump or autoloader. You can also invest in special rifled slug barrels, though they cost about as much as a decent used rifle.
A few years back, I handkerchief-waved an antelope buck to within 50 yards. If I can repeat my usual close-in stalks this year, I'll be eating shotgun-bagged venison of some kind by December!