Most firearms deer hunters today use either rifles or muzzleloaders, but there are still areas of the country where shotguns are king. In states like Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, shotguns have been a staple of deer seasons for decades due to laws limiting the use of centerfire rifles.
These days, shotguns are more effective than ever for hunting whitetails thanks to advancements in technology in both rifled barrels and sabot shotgun slug technology. Some additional benefits are that most shotguns are cheaper to shoot than most rifles and ammo is often much more more plentiful.
Using the right gun and slug combination, reaching out to long-range distances of 100-200 yards is easier than ever before, giving hunters more chances to fill the freezer. Today we're highlighting some of the best shotguns on the market for hunters looking to target whitetails.
Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter Slug
This single-shot is all about downing big game animals from a distance. This gun 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
For hunters looking to reach out to greater distances than ever before, these bolt-action slug guns are just the ticket. These shotguns are available in both 12 and 20 gauge and 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.
Winchester SX4 Cantilever Buck
Semi-automatics are not often thought of for deer hunting, but Winchester's SX4 Cantilever Buck is built specifically for deer. The company offers a 20 and 12-gauge model. Both are fitted with 22-inch rifled slug barrels. This shotgun cycles rounds through an active valve system that reduces recoil. This would be a solid option if you are planning on doing a lot of deer drives and are expecting lots of fast, running shots. Winchester says the barrel of this semi-auto 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.
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 gun 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. 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.
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 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 variant that has held up nicely over the years. 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. The synthetic sock material helped the company keep the weight to just 6.5 pounds. This is one of the more expensive options on this list, but 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 weighs just 5.8 pounds, making it easier for youngsters to handle. 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. The gun is completely ambidextrous and features a scope rail for hunters who wish to add an optic.