If you think hunting deer with a slug gun puts you at a disadvantage, you haven’t seen what a modern slug can do. “Buckmasters” TV host Jackie Bushman knows their amazing capabilities. “With the shotguns and ammo available today, you’re not at a disadvantage at all,” Bushman says.
Although the number of states with shotgun slug-only deer hunting has declined (Indiana, Ohio and Michigan recently shifted from shotgun slug-only to allow rifle hunting), Bushman doesn’t see any rush to change.
A Long Road
Slugs have come far since they first hit the scene in the 1890s. Back then, they were simple lead balls. Although these primitive designs killed countless deer over the years, they were best known for poor accuracy and unimpressive range.
Thanks to significant technological advancements, slug guns have since evolved into extraordinary deer hunting tools. Some even rival their centerfire rifle counterparts in range, precision and accuracy.
Slug ammunition can be divided into two major categories: Traditional Foster-style rifled slugs and modern sabots.
Although it might seem contrary to their name, rifled slugs are actually designed specifically for smoothbore barrels. The name comes from grooves imbedded in the sides of the forward-weighted projectile. Rather than impart spin to the slug, as would true rifling, these grooves merely reduce friction as the slug travels down the barrel.
Despite their simple design, such slugs are surprisingly effective at hitting a target the size of a deer’s vitals at ranges of up to about 50 yards. However, smoothbore slug accuracy tends to fall apart at longer ranges.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sabot slugs are specifically designed for rifled barrels. They feature a ballistically superior projectile (often similar to that of a centerfire rifle load) surrounded by a plastic sleeve.
When the round is fired, the sleeve molds to the rifling grooves as the slug moves down the barrel, imparting a controlled spin to the projectile as it leaves the muzzle. This stabilizes the bullet, allowing for vastly superior accuracy, less drop and a longer effective range.
When shooting a smoothbore slug gun, Bushman recommends Federal Premium’s TruBall rifled slug. It features a plastic ball that sits in the slug’s rear cavity. The design locks the components together for groups as tight as 1.4 inch at 50 yards.
For rifled barrels, he opts for the Trophy Copper slug. Its two-part sabot launches the slug cleanly for groups smaller than 4 inches at 200 yards. When it hits, the copper slug’s deep, externally skived nose cavity expands reliably.
Regardless of the design or performance, Bushman believes hunting with a slug requires a more thoughtful approach, especially in terms of stand location and range.
“Everything goes together,” he says, “You have to know your effective range, and that should affect your scouting and tell you where to place your stand. I scout and hunt a little tighter than I would if I had a rifle.”
“I don’t care if it’s a rifle, bow or shotgun, I go to the range and practice,” he says. “And I can’t lie to myself on the range.”
Bushman finds his comfort zone on the range, then uses his rangefinder in the field to pick out markers at that distance. “I know that animal has to get within that mark before I’m thinking about pulling the trigger,” he says.
As good as modern slugs perform, even at long range, Bushman notes that they do not penetrate like rifle bullets and sometimes fail to leave an exit wound—something he says should play into every hunter’s mindset in the critical seconds after the shot.
“If there’s no exit, the deer may not leave a clear blood trail, so you really need to pay attention to the last place you saw that deer, and really be watching for blood specks, not a blood trail,” he says.
Bushman also recommends using a solid rest. “I don’t want to shoot offhand with a slug gun,” he says. Instead, he uses the rail of his ladder stand, window ledge of the blind, a tree or other support. “You just have to be solid,” he says.
A shotgun with a good trigger helps tremendously on this front. Savage’s 220 and 212 bolt-action slug guns feature the user-adjustable AccuTrigger for a crisp, clean pull that can be dialed down to suit your preference. Regardless of features like this, Bushman says slug accuracy is ultimately up to the shooter.
“Your first tendency is to snatch the trigger, but you really want to squeeze it and let the gun almost scare you when it goes off,” he says. “You have to follow through. Keep your head in there.”
Bushman says he’s speaking from experience. When you jerk the trigger, you pull the firearm down, your head goes up, the muzzle goes up and you shoot over the animal. “I’ve probably got more misses on TV than anyone,” he laughs.