My first deer hunting experiences were with a shotgun in a rural southeastern county where we were required to use buckshot. Bag limits were pretty liberal and it didn’t take many deer tags for this then-young hunter to realize that, while the buckshot regulation was probably well intended, it doesn’t kill bucks all that well unless you are really close. A 30-yard shot was nearing the responsible outer edge of distance for a clean kill.
There are other parts of the country where terrain and population density also force hunters to use shotguns, but many of them have the advantage of being able to use slugs instead of buckshot. Though the effective range of slugs is still limited compared to a rifle, it’s a heck of a lot better than buckshot, and today it’s a heck of a lot better than it was in the days of smoothbores, bead sights and “rifled” slugs. Slug gun and ammunition makers have increasingly lengthened the effective range of slugs by introducing guns with rifled bores and the ability to mount scopes, plus we now have slugs designed to fly farther, faster, flatter and more accurately. A 100-yard shot is no longer a “Hail Mary.”
One of the leaders in enhanced slug performance is Lightfield Ammunition. Its first slug product was the Alpha, designed for military use in the Mossberg 590-A1. Lightfield adapted it for hunting and calls it the “Hybred.” It’s an hour-glass design useable in either smooth or rifled bores and has a “keyed” discarding sabot that locks itself into the slug.
Features include consistent accuracy to 150 yards, no exit wound so all of the slug’s energy is expended in the animal and “SameSite” technology, which is the ability to use three different velocity slugs without changing your sight settings.
Although Hybred slugs set high performance levels on their own, development continues at Lightfield with the most recent advancement being a load called Bucks, Boars & Bears (LBBB).
“We wanted to put out a slug that, if you’re a slug gun shooter, are in a slug gun state or like to use slugs for bear, deer or wild boar, you could sight in with one slug and be able to go after all three,” says Lightfield’s Director of Marketing Brian Smith. “It has insane knockdown power — one of the very few slugs out there that hits its target and makes it fall down if not instantly, within eyesight.”
The LBBB is a 2 ¾-inch, 12-gauge product that launches a 465-grain (1 1/16-ounce), pure lead slug at a smart 1,600 fps. It has 2,643 ft./lbs. of kinetic energy at the muzzle. Unlike the hourglass-shaped Hybred, the LBBB slug looks like a .73-caliber toadstool. Its shank is wrapped in a sabot called the “Impact Discarding Sabot,” or IDS, and there’s a plastic post wad that goes up into the shank. Upon firing, the post wad seals the bore and presses into the soft lead shank, causing it to expand into internal grooves in the sabot, effectively locking all three pieces together. It’s a pretty clever way of eliminating inaccuracy caused by asymmetrical release of the slug from the sabot, plus it puts the slug’s center of gravity far forward so it stabilizes in either smooth or rifled bores.
Upon impact, the post wad drives further into the lead causing the lead to mushroom out of the top for controlled expansion.
“The sabot does not leave the slug,” says Smith. “It stays on all the way to the target. That controls the expansion. We intend the slug to break bone prior to coming apart. We don’t want it to mushroom on the bone. This is designed to literally bore a hole through shoulder bones and then, after breaking that bone, it’s time for that slug to start coming apart and throw its energy all around inside and cause an insane internal wound channel.”
One of the things I clarified with Smith is that the LBBB is purposely designed to not exit a big game animal.
“Our specific competitive advantage is 100 percent energy transfer into the target,” says Smith. “For anyone else, it’s getting the accuracy we have, usually with a smaller caliber [bullet in] sabot.”
Smith’s energy transfer statement reminded me of an anecdotal study I did years ago when I was on the NRA Technical Staff. The study broke hunters into two groups; one group wanted their bullet to pass completely through a deer, while the other wanted their bullet to stay inside and “spend all of its energy.” I then compared each groups’ bullet pass-through position to the terrain they hunted and, while hardly definitive, found the results revealing.
Generally, those who hunted in thick areas like New England or the Southeast wanted the bullet to pass completely through so there was a better blood trail to follow. Having hunted up and down the East Coast most of my life, I can say it’s easy for a fatally-hit deer to get hopelessly swallowed up by either spruce trees or multiflora rose before it falls and a generous blood trail is a welcome sight.
Those who hunted in flat or open areas such as the Midwest favored the bullet staying inside. I’ve hunted the Midwest quite a bit, too, and understand questioning why you need an exit wound when you can often simply watch a deer go until it drops or slip into a small creek bottom or patch of cover. Midwestern states are also where you’ll find a lot of slug-only regulations, so regardless of whether you think a bullet should pass through or not, if my study in any way reflects reality, then Lightfield is listening to its customers where slugs are mostly used and providing them with the type of performance they tend to want.
With respect to accuracy, Smith says competent shooters with good equipment and shooting from a bench rest can expect LBBB slugs to hit in the same hole every time at 50 yards, but adds the caveat of using a Caldwell Lead Sled to eliminate the cumulative effects of recoil fatigue on accurate shooting. At 150 yards, smith says you should be able to make them “figure 8.”
Interestingly, even though Lightfield touts the long-range capability of its slugs, it recommends sighting in 2 ¾-inches high at 50 yards where the slug will still impact the target at supersonic velocity, because wind can significantly affect slug flight at longer distances and after the slug goes subsonic.
“Once your gun has been zeroed at 50 yards, you should fire the weapon at a range of 100 and then again at 150 yards so you can get a feel for how negative factors, such as wind [deflection], will affect your shot placement,” according to Lightfield’s website.
If you were to sight in at 100 yards, you could be adjusting that day’s wind correction into your zero and that will put your point of impact off under different conditions.
Heeding Lightfield’s advice, I sighted in and fired several groups for accuracy at 50 yards using a Mossberg Model 930 semi-auto rifled slug gun topped with a 2-7x32mm Nikon Prostaff Shotgun Hunter slug gun scope. Accuracy for three-shot groups averaged 1.07 inch with the smallest group at a tight 0.76-inch. I did not have the benefit of a Lead Sled at the range and instead used a PAST Recoil Pad Shield combined with the Mossberg’s factory porting to reduce recoil fatigue. Recoil was comparable to other 12-gauge slugs — a solid, meaty shove as opposed to the sharp sting of a hard-kicking centerfire rifle.
Shooting slugs, even with the benefit of a Lead Sled, requires a certain technique because they kick hard and slugs move down the bore slowly relative to centerfire rifle bullets. You need to really hang on to the forend and pull it back tightly into your shoulder so the forend doesn’t flip up under recoil. If the forend does flip up, it can move enough during the slug’s long bore dwell time to scatter your shots. Holding tightly won’t completely eliminate muzzle rise, but it will help you shoot better than leaving the front of the gun loose when the shot breaks.
Smith says the only thing that surprises slug shooters about their slug is how predictable it is.
“I can tell you exactly what it’s going to do on the target all day long,” he says. “It actually works like we tell them. You hit your target where the crosshair was and it downed the animal in its tracks.”
There are so many choices in slug ammunition these days that you really can choose a task-specific projectile for almost any hunting situation. Instead, the LBBB does the opposite by being a do-it-all load for the big game hunter.