The world of deer hunting continues to evolve quickly. To the point that the idea of deer hunters using a shotgun instead of a rifle or muzzleloader seems to be dying out. The idea of using a shotgun was mostly popularized in Midwestern states which had antiquated rules prohibiting the use of centerfire rifles due to higher population densities. Lawmakers didn't want those fast, flat rifle bullets hitting unintended targets. With the introduction of straight wall cartridge laws, it's starting to feel like the days of hunting whitetails with shotguns are numbered. We've already talked at great length about why shotguns are still relevant for deer hunting thanks to new rifled barrels and sabot shotgun slug technology. However, we didn't really dive into the ballistics of this new ammo. We also just want to take a few moments to highlight some of the best shotguns out there for deer hunting today. Many of these guns feature an older, yet proven design that has stood the test of time. Take it from a guy who hunted exclusively with a shotgun for the first 20 years of his hunting career, these guns will put venison in the freezer for you season after season.
The Ballistics of Modern Shotgun Slugs
I've personally used simple 2 ¾-inch Remington 12-gauge Slugger Rifled Slugs for years on whitetails here in Michigan. I know many hunters will probably balk at the 1,560-feet per second muzzle velocity of these cheap shells. Why use those when you can get 2,200-fps from a 350 Legend? Well, because slugs work. Plain and simple. The recoveries are a little harder. In 2003, I shot a 140-inch Michigan 10-pointer through both lungs with one of these slugs and he somehow made it 150 yards before expiring. But the blood trail was excellent, as most are when you're using a one-ounce load.
Of course, the Slugger is a very old design of shotgun slug. If you go with something more modern like the AccuTip Sabot, you're looking at 1,850-fps at the muzzle and 1,400-fps at 100 yards. Where these 12-gauge rounds have a distinct advantage is their energy. You're looking at nearly 3,000-foot pounds of muzzle energy. At 50 yards, nearly 2,222-foot pounds. Even at 100, it's still hitting with nearly 1,700-foot pounds of energy. That's some serious power, and it will punch some serious holes in a deer for quick and humane harvests.
Premium quality sabot slugs deliver some impressive numbers too. Hornady's 325-grain American Whitetail Interlock slugs are doing 1,825-fps at the muzzle and have 2,400-foot pounds of energy. Even more impressive is the fact that Hornady puts the drop at zero for 150 yards. Even Hornady's 20-gauge SST slugs deliver some great performance. Those slugs have a velocity of 1,470-fps at 100 yards while still hitting with 1,200-foot pounds of energy.
We could go on, but the point is that modern shotgun slugs deliver plenty of performance for hunters who are concerned about stopping power on whitetails. As another bonus, the costs of both the firearm and the ammo is often significantly cheaper than modern centerfire rifles.
Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter Slug
This single-shot is all about downing big game animals from a distance. This shotgun is available in both 20 and 12-gauge models. These guns are fitted with a stainless, fluted, 28-inch slug barrel with rifling for extreme accuracy at distances out beyond 100 yards. This gun is chambered for 3-inch shells and has a black synthetic stock and forend. Thompson/Center built in their "Flex-Tech" technology that helps reduce felt recoil and vibration even when using a magnum 12-gauge slug. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts and these guns are fully ambidextrous thanks to the swing hammer. With an $800 price tag, they are on the more expensive side, but the Encore is a trusted slug gun that will help you fill the freezer with venison for many seasons to come.
Savage 212 and 220 Slug
These bolt-action slug guns are a great option for any hunters looking to extend their range. Savage builds both 12 and 20 gauge models. These shotguns come with a 22-inch rifled barrel made of carbon steel. The 12-gauge has a 1:35 rate of twist and the 20 has a 1:24 rate of twist. Both guns can chamber 2 ¾ and 3-inch magnum shells. This gun takes a page from Savage's popular bolt action rifles by including the adjustable AccuTrigger and AccuFit systems. AccuFit allows you to adjust the length of pull and comb height to each individual's shooter body type and frame. Savage sells this gun in a variety of finishes including at least two different camo patterns. They also sell combo packages that include a 3-9x40 scope that is bore sighted from the factory so you can get onto the range and into the field faster than ever before. You're looking at a little over $600 new for one of these firearms, but they are one of the best slug guns on the market.
Winchester SX4 Cantilever Buck
Most hunters don't consider a semi-automatic shotgun for deer season. However, Winchester's SX4 Cantilever Buck is a fine choice. Winchester offers a 20 and 12-gauge model. Both are fitted with 22-inch rifled slug barrels. This autoloader cycles rounds quite efficiently through an active valve system that also reduces recoil. This would be a solid option if you are planning on doing a lot of deer drives, or are expecting lots of fast, running shots. Winchester says the barrel of this semi-auto shotgun is optimized for 2 ¾ and 3-inch slugs and long-distance sabots. The tubular magazine will hold four 2 ¾-inch shells. This shotgun has a weaver cantilever rail for a scope or other sight. If you prefer open sights, this shotgun comes with some nice TRU GLO fiber optics for the front and an adjustable sight for the rear. The MSRP for this gun is about $1,000, but it is available from most retailers in the $850 range. We'd recommend this as a middle of the road option for the serious slug hunter.
This classic pump-action shotgun has downed countless whitetails in the Midwest over the years. This is a solid budget options, especially for hunters looking to get more uses out of their hunting shotgun beyond the deer woods. Mossberg sells a field/deer combo that includes two barrels, a rifled barrel for deer and a vented barrel with bead sights for pheasants and waterfowl. Swapping out the barrel is quick and easy too. It only took me a few minutes to do it on my 20-gauge version. Mossberg also offers some of these guns with a Dead ringer 2.5x20 scope. The 500 is built in a variety with a variety of finishes and stock and forend options. Blued and wood or synthetic is popular, but they also build this gun finished with both Mossy Oak Bottomland and Obsession. These guns are easy to operate thanks to the tang safety. If you're looking for a solid pump gun for a youth hunter, this is also a nice option for that. The price point is only about $400 for the package with the deer barrel and scope, making it highly affordable.
This one is a staple of the deer woods in the Midwest. Remington offers a bevy of variants of this shotgun to fit a variety of uses. I personally have used a 12-gauge 870 with a smoothbore barrel for over 20 years here in Michigan. And I have harvested countless deer, including my three largest whitetails, with it using simple foster-style slugs. Remington also sells these guns with fully rifled barrels for more accuracy. Finishes and stock materials vary. Remington also sells this gun in combo packages with longer, vented barrels fitted with choke tubes for upland game or waterfowl. My gun is a blued/wood 12-gauge slug gun variant that has held up nicely over 20+ years of abuse in some very bad Michigan weather. These packages start around the $550 mark, but if you're only interested in deer hunting, this pump gun can be had for $400, making it a great choice for hunters on a budget.
Benelli M2 Rifled Slug
Available as both a 20 and 12-gauge shotgun, the Benelli M2 is a high-end semi-automatic gun with a rifled barrel ideal for sabot slugs at a distance. This shotgun has a 3-inch chamber and cycles shells via Benelli's reliable and clean inertia-driven system. This gun also utilizes Benelli's popular ComforTech system of cheek and recoil pads to soak up the kick. It will also help you make follow-up shots faster, ideal for hunters who like to organize drives with friends and family. Thanks to the anodized finish, this gun will stand up well to the elements too. Perhaps the biggest selling point of this gun is the weight. Benelli got it down to a trim 6.5 pounds, making it one of the lightest slug guns on the market. All this modern flair shows in the $1,399 price tag. However, it's also one of the most reliable and will serve you well in the field for years to come.
Stoeger M3000 Slug
If you are looking for long-range accuracy in a semi-auto package, this gun is one to consider. Stoeger put a 24-inch barrel with a 1:35 rate of twist on this gun that will help you reach out and bag deer that you would have had to let walk in seasons past. Because Stoeger is a subsidiary of Benelli, you're getting the same great inertia-driven system that cycles rounds quickly and cleanly, but for a much lower price tag of $550. This gun chambers 3-inch shells, so you can rest assured you have the power you need to drop that big buck quickly with minimal tracking required. The receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope, but this gun also has a cantilevered picatinny optics rail if you'd rather go that route. This gun is compatible with a variety of Stoeger accessories like an additional recoil reducer and a pistol grip for better accuracy. This gun also comes with a shim kit standard to help you adjust the fit to each user's body perfectly.
CVA Hunter Single Shot
If you firmly believe in one-shot, one-kill, budget, and simplicity, the 20-gauge CVA is a great option and can be had for just over $200. This is a great option for a kid's first gun, especially if you aren't sure if they are going to stick around in hunting for the long term. This gun is a clear winner in the weight department. It comes in at just 5.8 pounds, making it easier for youngsters to carry. It has a generous recoil pad to make the 20-gauge's already manageable recoil even easier on the shoulder. This shotgun has a 24-inch barrel with a 1:35 rate of twist that means it will be extremely accurate. We also like this one for the southpaws since this gun is completely ambidextrous straight out of the box. You can use the iron sights or the scope rail for hunters who wish to add an optic.
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READ MORE: DEER HUNTING WITH SHOTGUNS, THE LEGALITIES, TRENDS, AND EFFICACY