When you think of a slug, the first thing that pops into most minds is the slow-moving, worm-like bug larvae that we find oozing around the forest floor. That opinion follows the shotgun slug all too often: that it is a slow-moving, inaccurate chunk of lead that hunters get stuck using. That is not the case, however, as today's slugs and slug guns are capable killers and fun to shoot.
Let's dispel some of the common myths and inaccuracies about slugs right now. You can pretty much shoot any slug through any slug gun, provided the barrel can shoot a slug. Some barrels and chokes are not designed for slug use. Take, for example, the Mossberg 835. Unless you have a slug barrel, they don't recommend you shoot slugs. The same goes for barrels with tighter chokes. However, you can shoot a slug from a smooth-bore barrel as well as a rifled slug barrel. Are some better than others? Yes, but you can use any slug and get away with it.
Now when we talk about different slugs, there are some common terms we need to go over. Many slugs today use a sabot. Sabot rounds have a plastic "shoe" that the bullet rides in. It catches the gas and rifling of the barrel, causing the bullet to spin for increased accuracy. It is a common myth that you can't shoot a saboted round through a smoothbore barrel. It'll work, and most of us wouldn't know the difference. Think of an M1-Abrams tank. Those depleted uranium rounds they fire are a saboted round and they have a smooth bore barrel. They don't have issues with accuracy or range, do they? A rifled slug barrel is, however, generally more accurate than a non-rifled barrel.
Another type of slug is the Foster slug, which has fins that cause the slug to spin as it travels down the barrel. These tend to work best in smooth-bore barrels. They can be used in a rifled barrel; however, testing has shown they loose accuracy. I'm never in favor of lost accuracy. Brenneke slugs, a very popular option, also fit in this category. The Brenneke's are solid, while the Foster slug is typically hollow.
There are a lot of high-quality slug guns out there these days; hunters no longer have to sacrifice accuracy or range to hunt with slugs. The biggest advantage a person has when buying a slug gun is that there are many options to buy a combo deal that has both a slug barrel and a standard shotgun barrel. This gives the hunter a lot of flexibility with the purchase.
One thing that is readily apparent to anyone who has spent much time shooting slugs is that the guns are notoriously picky about ammo selection. In fact, of all the guns I've ever tested, it takes longer to find the right round for a slug gun than anything else.
For example, I tested a Benelli M2 slug gun with a fully rifled barrel and open sights. I started all tests at 25 yards, and at that range, the difference between ammo was slight. At 50 yards, things opened up. At 75 yards, it was pretty easy to see which round were working and which were not. At 100 yards, there was a clear winner.
Another gun tested was a Mossberg 535 pump. Similar tests resulted in similar results, but a different ammo was the winner. The only loser was my shoulder — several full days of testing and I could barely lift my arm for a few days.
There is really no bad ammo these days. Bullets have come a long way, and the wads used are getting better each time I shoot, it seems. What you need to do is select several brands and give them a try. It is important to grab some 2 ¾-inch rounds as well as 3-inch magnums — the best-shooting round might not be the big thumper. I shot Federal's awesome Copper Magnum in both 3-inch and 2 ¾-inch from the same gun, the Benelli, and it liked the 2 ¾-inch round much better. At shots out to 125 yards, there was no real difference. The Mossberg liked Hornady's SST 300 grain in 3-inch mag.
When selecting slugs and slug guns, try as many as you can. Find a gun that fits you well. The myth that semi autos aren't as accurate is not true, but they do cost more. H&R makes an outstanding single shot that is heavy, but accurate, at a fraction of the cost of some options out there. There are also great bolt-actions from Browning and Savage, not to mention pumps galore from the usual suspects. Find a gun you like and plan to spend time shooting lots of ammo to find the right gun and slug combination.