When it comes to slug guns, I've seen it all and, over the course of five decades, used most all of it.
My first slug launcher was a hand-me-down Montgomery Ward break-action single-shot with a 30-inch full-choke smoothbore barrel. In the ensuing five decades, I've hunted with an Ithaca Model 37 do-it-all gun (eventually adding rudimentary open sights), a Remington 870 with a then-newfangled screw-in choke tube, and ultimately a Mossberg 500 that over the years evolved from bird-barrel-and-bead to open sights on a rifled barrel, a scope mounted on a receiver bracket, and finally, a rifled barrel with cantilever scope mount.
But when my youngest boy and I secured access last fall to a friend's patch of slug-country sloughs and prairie grass on which to hunt western Minnesota whitetails, I knew that instead of cobbling something together for a second slug gun, I wanted to do it right and equip us with a shotgun made exclusively for shooting slugs with reliable precision at ranges out to and beyond 100 yards.
Here are the best options we found — a “top 10” list of today's best slug guns.
1: Savage 212 and 220
Summary: Everything you like about a bolt-action rifle — accuracy and reliability — in a shotgun.
Features: Bolt-actions make the most accurate rifles; why not for slug guns, too? Savage introduced the bolt-action 20-gauge Model 220 in 2010 and quickly followed that success with the 12-gauge Model 212 in 2011. Both guns are here to stay. A 22-inch barrel floats freely within the durable synthetic stock (black or camo), adding to the accuracy created by Savage's crisp two-step Accu-Trigger system. With the two-shell magazine at capacity, the gun only holds three shells, but the way it shoots, you'll probably only need one anyway. It comes drilled and tapped for a scope. Why use any other sighting system on a tool built for this kind of accuracy?
2: Winchester SX3 Cantilever Buck
Summary: Smooth-operating and soft-recoiling semi-auto; shoots great, too.
Features: Simple and streamlined, the handsome SX3 Cantilever Buck is a joy to shoot with its gas-operated Active-Valve system, which reduces felt recoil dramatically and adjusts itself for the power behind various 2¾- and 3-inch loads. Another great feature is the cantilever-design scope mount, which means your scope becomes an integral part of the 22-inch rifled barrel for even more accuracy. The cantilevered barrel also means you can remove it for cleaning without having to sight-in again. The black synthetic stock has a no-glare matte finish that's textured for a sure grip under all whitetail hunting conditions.
3: Remington 870 SPS ShurShot Synthetic Super Slug
Summary: A mouthful of a name for a typical 870 — tough, hardworking and a real deer dropper.
Features: You can never go wrong with an 870, and of course the Synthetic Super Slug lives up to its heritage and then some. An extra-heavy 1-inch-diameter barrel (measuring 25½ inches in length) pins to the receiver, all of which adds up to extra stability and exceeding accuracy within the system. Once they try it, even traditional shooters like the ShurShot’s pistol grip synthetic stock because it's comfortable to hold steady and shoot, which equates to more accuracy. This gun was designed to shoot best with Remington's Premier Accu-Tip sabot slugs.
4: Browning A-Bolt Shotgun
Summary: Extreme accuracy based on the design of one of the best rifles ever built.
Features: When it comes to centerfire rifles, Browning’s venerable A-Bolt is one of the best ever, so it just made sense for Browning to make the A-Bolt Shotgun. After a brief hiatus (during which demand for this great gun increased), Browning came back with a reworked model. Advantages include a short 60-degree bolt throw with strong locking lugs and smooth slide, convenient tang safety, crisp 4-pound trigger pull, a detachable magazine that’s not overly boxy or obtrusive (quite a feat for a bolt shotgun), and all the advantages of bolt-action accuracy. I like the short 22-inch barrel. The A-Bolt slug gun comes drilled and tapped for scope mounts.
5: Benelli SBE II Slug Gun
Summary: Durable, reliable and accurate semi-auto that won’t punish your shoulder.
Features: Duck hunters are famous for abusing their guns. Ask a duck hunter what semi-automatic shotgun can take the punishment without balking, and they will say a Super Black Eagle. The SBE II Slug Gun is built on the same principles but adds a specially designed, heavy-walled, 1:28 twist rifled barrel that stabilizes slugs and sabot-encased bullets for excellent downrange results. This is easily a dead-to-rights 100-yard gun every time, at a minimum. Plus, Benelli’s patented ComforTech system reduces felt recoil by 48 percent; that helps accuracy, too, because you won't flinch. The receiver is drilled and tapped to accept a Weaver 93A or 423M scope base.
6: Weatherby PA-08 08 Slug Gun Combo
Summary: A dual-purpose beauty that's a beast on whitetails.
Features: There's something special about hunting with a beautiful gun. Combine the esthetics of a gorgeous walnut buttstock and forearm with a great price tag and excellent accuracy, and you create firearm value that can't be beat. Weatherby's PA-08 pump hunts birds with you in the early fall, then converts into a hard-hitting slug gun when you change over from the chrome-lined 28-inch smoothbore barrel to a rifled and cantilevered 24-inch slug barrel for deer season. The cantilever mount means your scope is automatically "on" with the barrel when you switch over; no need to sight-in again. You get three choke tubes (improved cylinder, modified and full) for the bird barrel.
7: Mossberg 500 FLEX Slugster
Summary: Custom fit this gun for ultra-accurate shooting.
Features: Great accuracy hinges upon proper gun fit, and Mossberg's 500 FLEX Slugster pump lets you customize the shotgun to your own body dimensions. The proprietary FLEX four-position adjustable hunting stock lets you change the length of pull to fit your body and shooting style, or accommodate more or fewer clothes on cold or mild days. (The system would also let you "grow" the gun as a young shooter matures.) In addition, a dual comb insert allows for proper eye alignment with your scope. A fully rifled and cantilevered 24-inch barrel takes care of the shooting business with real accuracy. Other FLEX accessories, and replacement barrels, let you do most anything else with this versatile hunting machine.
8: Mossberg 930 Slugster
Summary: It's hard to beat the value built into this tough semi-auto.
Features: If you're looking for a value-priced autoloading slug gun that shoots well and performs reliably, look to the Mossberg 930. It's not a big kicker — Mossberg's dual gas-vent system and ported barrel really cut felt recoil, which means you won't flinch. Another nice feature is the quick-empty magazine release button that makes unloading super-easy and quiet. I also like the Monte Carlo stock (great for shooting through a scope mounted on the cantilevered barrel). There's also a drop spacer system to let you further adjust the stock for improved sightlines. The fully rifled 24-inch barrel throws nice tight groups with sabot slugs.
9: Ithaca Deerslayer 3
Summary: A classic slugster that remains hard to beat for performance.
Features: How can you go wrong with a gun named Deerslayer? But greatness is not just in the name. It’s the fact that this slug gun original (its predecessor was introduced in 1959) is still around, in much the same form, but filled with multiple modern-day enhancements. The Deerslayer 3 features a heavy-walled, fluted 26-inch barrel that reduces muzzle jump and increases accuracy; it comes ready with a scope rail on the receiver (which is machined in one piece from a block of solid aluminum, an Ithaca staple), and it offers a nice trigger pull. Bottom ejection keeps weather out of the action. Plus, it’s just a classic and pretty gun to look at — a connection to history — as you wait on stand for a buck to show.
10: Harrington & Richardson Ultra Slug Hunter
Summary: The most accurate single-shot slug gun you will find.
Features: Who wants a single-shot slug gun? Someone looking for economy, the challenge of one-shot hunting, and simplicity, that’s who. The price of H&R's Ultra Slug Hunter is right, too, as is the amazing accuracy this gun offers through Ultragon rifling that avoids the sharp corners of traditional rifling, imparting a stabilizing spin on slugs without distorting the sabot jacket or bullet and giving a better gas seal, higher velocities and consistent flight. The extra-heavy-walled 24-inch barrel comes with scope mounts. If you're looking for a no-nonsense, deer-dropping shotgun without any fuss to it, the Ultra Slug Hunter is it. Also take a look at the Ultra Slug Hunter Deluxe, as well as the Ultra Slug Hunter with Thumbhole Stock.
While each of these slug guns is a surefire winner, we ended up choosing a black Savage 212 and mounted a Weaver Grand Slam 3-9X scope on top. The combo proved deadly on the range, and we couldn't wait to hunt with the new setup.
Minnesota's opener dawned raw and windy — like 30-mph windy. We climbed a double ladder stand and swayed in the gale for several fruitless hours before I decided to get down and take a little walk to warm up and maybe get something moving. I swapped the new Savage to Noah, and carried the seasoned but reliable Mossberg pump.
Maybe 45 minutes into my stroll, as I stalked through some slough-side cattail and willow tangles, I heard one shot crack the breeze. It had to be Noah. After waiting a few minutes I exited the cover and spotted the boy walking up in the prairie grass. He waved nonchalantly, then stopped in his tracks and waved me over with gusto.
Jogging up, I found him standing over a fat doe. Looking back to the little patch of trees where our stand was, over a hundred yards away, I said, “Great shot!”
He laughed and I got the full story. Three antlerless deer had exited the cover behind me, made a big swing out into a mile-square cut cornfield, and then circled back into the cover. “They walked right under the tree,” Noah reported. “All I could see was deer fur when I shot!”
Go figure. But there's always next year for the 100-plus yard shot we're set up for — and any of the guns in this roundup could do the job. Pick one and go.