Raw Power!! Shotgun Slugs Vs. The Bullet Test Tube

June 7, 2010
By Jason Wimbiscus
Perhaps it’s a little strange that I’m fascinated with shotgun slugs.  After all, Vermont allows the use of centerfire rifles for all big game, so why would I want to bother with a firearm that is often considered to be inferior?  The short answer is that they poke a huge hole in whatever you shoot, and a huge hole will inevitably let out a lot of blood in a hurry.  It seems like this could be an advantage in the thick woods I tend to hunt where finding an animal than runs even 50 yards after being hit could be a challenge.   Additionally, here in the northeast, parcels of land are fairly small and an animal you fatally wound on huntable land could easily run and fall on posted land.  While it may be an unreasonable expectation, I want any animal I hit in the vitals to drop in its tracks.  I’m not entirely sure if a modern, rifled slug gun is the tool most likely to accomplish this task, but it doesn’t seem an unreasonable hypothesis.  While it’s true that even modern slug chuckers aren’t as inherently accurate as rifles, they are more than accurate enough to do the job in thick cover where most deer are seen at 25-50 yards.

20 Gauge Remington “Slugger” 5/8 oz Hollowpoint

I conducted my first slug test on a whim after an informal round of trap.  I had my 20 ga Remington 870, a leftover block of test material, and a box of Remington, 5/8 oz Sluggers, so I figured, “why not?”  I knew I wouldn’t be able to hit the 5″ square block at anything but close range with the smooth bore 870, so the test was conducted at a range of about 15 feet.  What crater these slugs make!!  Clearly, these projectiles (MV of 1580 f/s) are designed to expand in a hurry as the resulting cavity was wide and shallow.  The slug penetrated about 4.5″ and shattered into fragments.  This is the least powerful slug load I’m going to test, so I imagine the results are only going to get more spectacular.

12 Ga Brenneke Super Sabot 3″  1-1/8 oz

The Super Sabot is a relatively new offering from Brenneke.  It incorporates a .63″ diameter, lead-free saboted projectile that leaves the muzzle at an estimated 1525 f/s*.   It looks more like an anti-tank shell than a deer slug.  The Brenneke website claims that the slug will expand to a diameter of 1″, but my results were much different.  As is shown in the photos below, at a range of 50 yards the projectile punched through 9″ of test material, but did not expand at all.  Also noteworthy is the fact that the slug came to rest backwards, with the tip facing the entry hole.  I’m a little puzzled about how and where this reorientation occurred.  The entry hole was a perfect circle, so it wasn’t tumbling in flight, and the walls of the cavity were smooth, indicating that it wasn’t tumbling in the media.  Apparently, the slug somehow made a 180 degree turn just before coming to a stop.  The slug itself shows few signs that it was ever fired, looking almost good enough to be reused.  I’ll likely re-test this slug in the future to rule out the possibility of a single, anomalous round.  Of course, a projectile that is over ½” in diameter really doesn’t need to expand in order to kill big game.

*NOTE: I’m going to be relying on factory ballistic data during my slug tests.  Many modern shotgun slugs incorporate sabots and gas seals that track unpredictable paths after separating from the projectile.  These could cause a chronograph to give inaccurate results, or could potentially damage the chronograph.

12 Ga Lightfield Commander IDS Plus 3.5″ 1-3/8 oz

There is nothing fun about touching one of these beasts off.  With a muzzle velocity 1890 f/s, recoil is murderous.  When fired from my Mossberg 835, estimated recoil energy is the neighborhood of 70 ft/lbs.  By comparison, a factory 165 grain .30-06 fired from an 8 lb gun hits the shooter with recoil energy in the 20 ft/lb range.  Some shotgun slugs do damage on both ends.  At 50 yards, the slug created a crater in the media big enough to park a truck in.  The photo below shows the entry hole with an empty 20 ga hull in it for the sake of reference.  The slug didn’t penetrate terribly deep with the cavity ending at 6″ and the projectile shattering into small fragments, but the volume of the cavity more than makes up for this.  It also has to be taken into account that the dense, sticky, test wax is much harder on bullets than anything inside of a deer, excluding heavy bone.  I somehow doubt a medium game animal hit in the heart/lung/liver area with one of these would go very far.  Considering the recoil and 4750 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, the 3.5″ Lightfields might be overkill for deer and other medium sized game at close ranges.

12 .ga BPI 1-1/8 oz Dangerous Game Slugs (Handloads)

These loads were the result of my first attempt at home slug loading.  They consist of a Ballistic Products Dangerous game slug inside of a Winchester AA hull over a charge of Herco.  Accuracy was about minute of deer at 50 yards.  Not too bad for my first attempt, but I think with some tweaking, I can get them to stay in 5″ at that range.  I will be posting an article on home slug loading as soon as I work all the bugs out of the process.  This is the second slug load I’ve tested where the projectile failed to expand.  However, the slug did penetrate 8″ into the material which is almost as much as the as the expensive and high tech Brenneke Super Sabot.  The lack of expansion probably had to do with the low muzzle velocity, which my load data sates is a little under 1400 f/s.

LBC Blue Force sabots 1 oz handload

LBC Blue Force sabots, distributed by Ballistic Products, are hard cast 7/8 oz slugs inside of a plastic sleeve.  Loading is incredibly easy.  Simply charge a primed hull, insert the saboted slug, and roll crimp. Here is how the slugs are described on the Ballistic products website:

“The unique design of The LBC BluForce Sabot’s segmented contact points creats a more efficient seal, improving load velocity and consistency, which ultimately translates into superior long range ammunition.
Above the gas seal are energy damping crush-sections that absorb setback forces, enabling the projectile to stabilize earlier.
The .650″ diameter 1oz Dangerous Game Slugs is engineered for in-flight stability and maximum impact at the target.
Uncompressed outside diameter of the sabot is specified for modern rifled barrels at a land-following .739″.
With design cues taken from the military’s tank killer rounds, the LBC BluForce Sabot Slug offers unparalleled penetration, knockdown power and down-range accuracy.”

I was actually shocked by how accurate these things are.  I’m completely new to handloading shotgun slugs, and I assumed that there would be some kind of learning curve to deal with.  This is proving to true with other home brew slugs, but the blue force provided instant gratification.  This photo of a 6 shot, 50 yard group is proof of this.

I usually don’t get groups this good with a rifle

As far as terminal performance is concerned, the light slug penetrated 8″ into the material, with the sabot being discarded 1.5″ before the projectile. As intended, there was no real expansion of slug.  Muzzle velocity is estimated by the manufacturer to be around 1800 f/s.

12 ga. Brenneke Gold Magnum 1-3/8 oz

I was impressed with the way these performed from my Mossberg 835 slug gun.   While the non-expanding Gold Magnum slug did not leave nearly as wide a cavity as the Lightfield Commander, it penetrated deeper and wasn’t nearly as hard on the shoulder.  The 1-3/8 oz slug left the muzzle at 1502 f/s according to factory data and at 50 yards penetrated 10.5″ into the test material.  The slug did not expand in any appreciable way, but a chunk of lead that big really doesn’t need to.

Remington 3″ 1 oz Copper Solid Sabot Slug

The Remington copper solid is a 1 ounce saboted copper hollowpoint with a muzzle velocity of 1550 f/s.  Penetration (7.5″), weight retention (438 gn), and expansion (.797″) were all superb.  This would probably be a great load for Californians hunting in the Condor Zone.

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