05/29/09 — Preferred or required, shotgun slugs prove effective for hunters

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Preferred or required, shotgun slugs prove effective for hunters

By Mike Marsh
Published in Sports on May 29, 2009 1:46 PM

Over the past few seasons, I've been participating in an increasing number of deer hunts where the use of certain firearms is prohibited.

For example, at Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land in Bladen County, handguns and centerfire rifles are banned. I've also hunted deer at the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and will be putting in an application this year for the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge hunt. Modern rifles and handguns are prohibited at these refuges.

Until now, I've depended upon muzzleloading rifles and shotguns loaded with buckshot for these special hunts.

I have a friend, Basil Watts, who is an avid big-game hunter. He had his gunsmith screw a threaded rifled choke into a single-shot shotgun with a break-open action and mounted a scope sight on the barrel. Watts claimed accuracy on par with a centerfire rifle out to 100 yards with his slugs grouping into a single jagged hole in the target.

When he hunts the dense swamps of North and South Carolina, he leaves his rifles at home now, preferring the massive momentum of a 12-rifled slug to the long-range capabilities of his centerfire rifles. He said deer and boar drop in their tracks when struck with a 12-gauge slug.

I recently acquired a Mossberg 930 semi-automatic shotgun in camo finish with a matching cantilever barrel. The barrel is of much more modern design for long-range slug shooting than the shotguns of yesterday. In the past, the addition of a set of adjustable sights was about all could be done to create a "slug" gun. The latest slug-shooting improvement is the cantilevered scope mount. There is a projection extending from the top of the barrel and over the receiver for accepting a scope sight.

This scope-mounting arrangement attenuates the accuracy problem that occurs with older style slug shooting barrels. When the scope was mounted on the receiver and pressure applied to the barrel by resting it across a sandbag or the side of a hunting stand, it made the slug strike in a different place than when the gun was sighted-in because the scope stayed stationary with the receiver while the barrel moved separately according to the amount and direction of pressure applied to the fore end.

One answer, as Watts discovered, was to mount the scope on the barrel of a single shot.

But that situation creates problems with eye relief with the longer actions of semi-autos and pump shotguns and, while younger hunters may be able to see a set of adjustable sights mounted on the barrel, I can no longer align the front and rear sight for effective shooting. With bifocal glasses, I can focus my vision on the front sight, the rear sight or the target, but not all three at the same time.

With a new 1.5x B-Square scope mounted with a Weaver style claw mount on the cantilever, I headed for the shooting range. I had only a limited supply of slugs, with some standard Winchester loads in 11/2-ounce persuasion, Remington Slugger loads in 1-ounce weight and Lightfield Lights in 1 ?-ounce weight.

The Lightfield Light is a sub-bored diameter slug in a sabot that is supposed to have lower recoil than higher velocity loadings and deliver greater accuracy than bore-diameter slugs. It's also supposed to be superbly accurate. I've seen Lightfield Lights demonstrated that grouped five shots into one hole at 50 yards. But I did not experience that degree of accuracy with the Lightfields or any of the bore-diameter slug loads tested.

All the loads kicked hard enough, considering I'm still recovering from three torn ligaments in my right rotator cuff, that I used an Evo-Shield, which is a specially formed recoil pad to protect my shoulder. I also relied upon the shoulder of my son, Justin for some of the testing.

While I didn't experience the accuracy I have seen with some shotgun and slug combinations, I did find that with any of the loads in the fully rifled barrel, hitting the chest area of a deer out to 100 yards should be no problem. I fired 5-shot groups, which I believe are more revealing than the 3-shot groups many hunters depend upon for sighting-in their rifles.

In all cases, the 3-shot groups ran at 2 inches or less at 50 yards. But the 5-shot groups always had one flier that opened the group to 3 or 4 inches.

Hunting season will be here before you know it.

The time for acquiring and testing new guns and loads is now. If there's a last-minute problem, it's better to resolve it in the summer than at the last minute when every gunsmith is busy.

You would rather be shooting at deer than at paper targets.