No More Knuckleballs: True Slug-gun Accuracy

Gun deer season is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated hunting of all, especially if you gauge things by popularity. Woods and fields are loaded with everyone from seasoned experts to absolute rookies, all hoping for the same thing: a deer within range that can be killed with a single, well-placed shot.

In some areas, rifles are allowed. But more and more deer hunters on the modern landscape chamber slugs into shotguns that are used for other pursuits at other times. Slugs fired through shotgun barrels are often mandated by law, and often cursed by those who must use them.

That’s because shotgun slugs have gained a reputation for being randomly accurate then randomly way off, and at the moment of trigger pull it’s hard to say which one you’re about to get. Or, reasonably accurate out to perhaps 50 yards, or 80 yards, beyond which accuracy and confidence fade significantly.

It’s a cryin’ shame for a lot of reasons, says Brian Smith, co-host of Lightfield Wild Adventures TV. After many years of hunting all manner of big game all over the world, he and brother Mark have refined a system for building impressive and repeatable accuracy with what they call designated slug guns (DSG).

Following their recipe for success will improve your shotgun slug accuracy, too.

“Killing shots come from knowing where the bullet is going, every time,” says Brian Smith. “We go everywhere and shoot every kind of animal with our DSGs, even out West, where a lot of people think you have to have a rifle.”

What’s a DSG?
Here’s the concept behind the designated slug gun.

“No matter what slug you shoot,” explains Brian, “once you get that firearm sighted in, don’t change it. Don’t take the barrel off of it, or the scope off of it. Leave that gun for what it is, your designated firearm for shooting slugs.”

Accused of being a bit picky, especially given that generations of hunters have been using the same shotgun for waterfowl or pheasants one weekend and deer the next, he says, “what would happen if you took your .30-06, got it all sighted in, and right before you leave for deer hunting you removed the barrel and put a different barrel on it?

Virtually any shotgun can become a DSG, Brian says, although some work better than others.

“The best DSG you can make for yourself,” he says, “is one where the barrel doesn’t move around much. (Remington) 870s make good DSGs. H&R makes a break-action single shot slug gun that’s great, because the barrel is fixed. On a lot of semiautomatics, the barrel floats a lot, but we’ve had luck with some of them.

“Bolt actions are best, because they’re pinned, the barrel can’t move; it’s as permanently affixed to the receiver as you can make it.”

A crucial piece of the system is the slug itself, and the Smith brothers rely on Lightfield slugs, which are built around numerous patented technologies developed for military use as far back as the 1970s. “It’s a long story,” says Brian, “but for military use, the shotgun slugs had to be accurate out to 150 yards when fired out of a smooth bore, with human lives on the line. They’re hourglass-shaped slugs with a permanently fixed post wad that acts like veins on a dart, staying with the slug all the way to impact. When you pull the trigger, the powder ignites instantly and the slug expands to completely fill the barrel, so no gases escape. The slug is spinning as fast as 53,000 rpms down the barrel. You get incredible velocity and accuracy.”

The combination of a designated slug gun shooting this ammo allows him to consistently put numerous slugs into the same hole at 50 yards, says Brian, “touch slug hole to slug hole at 100 yards, and shoot groups with every shot within 2 1/2 inches at 150.”

When you can consistently shoot like that while packing the brute force knock-down power of a shotgun slug, you have complete confidence on your side when a chance presents itself in the deer stand. But to get to that point, there are some key considerations as you firm up and sight in your designated slug gun.

Think like a slug-gun shooter
“In order to become the best you can be as a slug-gun shooter,” says Brian, “you have to think as a slug-gun shooter.”

There’s more to this subject, and we’ll get to it in future articles, but here are some of the major keys you can put to use right away.

  • Hold on tight while setting the sights.

“At the range, you cannot shoot a slug gun like you’re shooting a rifle,” he says. “When you sight in a rifle, you have the rifle on a bench rest and don’t touch the front end of the gun. You simply look through the scope and pull the trigger. The recoil forces the barrel to jump, but the brass-jacketed round will outrun the muzzle jump. (The bullet is out of the barrel and on its way, in other words, before the recoil causes the barrel to jump upward.)

“If a slug gun is fired while you’re not holding the forend down, the barrel will jump and throw the slug up in the air, as much as six inches at 100 yards. So you think you have it dialed in, but what you actually did was dial in the muzzle jump. So you get out there hunting, and you’re holding the gun with both hands, a deer is in your sights, you shoot, and you’re hitting way low.

“Even though a shotgun slug is really fast, it’s not as fast as a rifle bullet, so you have to hold a slug gun down firmly as you sight it in.”

  • Keep your slugs cool.

On sighting-in day, particularly if it’s a nice warm afternoon, keep your slugs in a cooler so they behave the same as they will on hunting days.

“Slugs are made to perform best in cool temperatures,” says Brian. “That’s because most deer hunting takes place on cool or cold days. If it’s a nice hot day at the range, and your slugs are sitting out in the open, soaking up the sun, they’re going to perform differently than they will during hunting season, when it’s probably going to be a lot colder. If you sight the gun in with those hot slugs, you are dialing in accuracy, but it won’t be repeatable when it’s colder outside. We keep our slugs out of the sun, in a cooler, until we’re ready to sight in. Then we take them out and shoot them while they’re cool. It makes a big difference.”

Despite the sketchy reputation of shotgun slugs in the Midwest deer woods, the big takeaway is that consistent accuracy is “not only possible, but you should expect it,” says Brian.

Given how precise deer hunters are with so many other aspects—scouting, stand placement, wind direction, scent control and on and on—it is a cryin’ shame when, at the moment of truth, you feel like you’re sending forth a ball of lead with all the predictable accuracy of a knuckleball heading toward home plate.


For more information, you can read more about the latest slugs at