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Hunter’s Handbook is the official student “how-to” information pipeline of the International Hunter Education Association. As the experts in teaching safe, ethical and successful hunting, we are here to provide tips, tools, and great video content as well as offer you a place that you can learn more about your love and favorite past-time—hunting.  Spend some time with us.  New content is added monthly, and we are excited to share our expertise with you.  We wish you a lifetime of safe and memorable experiences in the outdoors.

Ammo - Precision slugs

precision slugs

Generations of Deer Hunters have relied on shotguns loaded with slugs to put meat in the freezer and trophies on the wall. And for good reason—put them through a whitetail’s vitals and they deliver incredible stopping power.

However, slugs have come far since they first hit the scene in the 1890s. Back then, they were simple lead “pumpkin balls.” Although these primitive designs killed countless deer over the years, they were best known for poor accuracy and unimpressive range.

Thanks to significant advancements, slug guns have since evolved into extraordinary deer hunting tools. Some even rival their centerfire rifle counterparts in range and accuracy. Because of this revolution, modern shotgun deer hunters have unprecedented power at their fingertips. The challenge is sorting through the many options available and properly matching shotgun to load. Arm yourself with the right information, however, and the decisions are easy.

The Big Two

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 misleading name comes from grooves imbedded in the sides of the forward-weighted projectile. Rather than impart spin to the slug, as would true riffling, 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. In fact, even average-quality sabot slugs fired through a rifled barrel can reliably accomplish 3-inch groups at 100 yards and 6-inch groups at 200 yards!

Top Designs

Federal Premium—one of the industry’s leading ammunition manufacturers—has developed cutting-edge loads to satisfy the needs and exceed the expectations of serious hunters who shoot both rifled and smoothbore slug guns.

The Vital Shok Trophy Copper Sabot incorporates some of the most advanced technology available to give rifled-barrel hunters the ability to shoot groups as small as 1 inch at 100 yards and 3.7 inches at 200! Along with this impressive long-range accuracy, the Trophy Copper offers a flatter trajectory, manageable recoil (similar to that of a .30-06 rifle) and consistent penetration and expansion at virtually any range.

The secret to the slug’s precision is a unique two-part sabot that better supports the base of the projectile, which lets the slug launch cleanly. Also, a one-of-its-kind pusher plate positioned at the bottom of the plastic sabot keeps the slug perfectly centered as it travels down the barrel.

And when it reaches its target, the deep, externally skived nose cavity ensures aggressive, reliable expansion.

Federal Premium gave smoothbore slug hunters the same level of attention when it introduced the TruBall rifled slug system, the most consistent smoothbore slug design on the market. While typical slugs in this category shoot 4.5 inch, five shot groups at 50 yards, the TruBall can put those same five shots into a 1.4-inch group.

It accomplishes this with a polymer sphere that sits between the rear of the rifled slug and the leading edge of its specially designed wad. The sphere locks the wad and slug into position and helps center them in the barrel. This also lets the components cleanly separate after laving the muzzle, which ensures greater downrange accuracy. Federal Premium recently added 3-inch, 12- and 20-gauge offerings that provide even more power with the same accuracy.

Confidence You Need

In the end, the key to a successful deer hunt is familiarity with your slug gun and confidence in its performance. Whether you choose the long-range accuracy of modern sabots and a rifled barrel, or want to wring the most out of your smoothbore, don’t scrimp. Choose slug ammunition with a proven track record for accuracy and performance. Then, spend hours at the range practicing with your chosen loads.

It will make all the difference when the deer of a lifetime steps into your shooting lane.