As whitetails colonize our habitat and we colonize theirs, the gun season in more and more areas has become limited to shotguns only.
As whitetails colonize our habitat and we colonize theirs, the gun season in more and more areas has become limited to shotguns only. This is no longer a great handicap, though, as the performance of modern slug guns keeps getting better and better. Pair a rifled shotgun with premium sabot or attached-wad slugs and you can cleanly take deer at 125 yards or more. Moreover, some of the latest slug-gun designs-with recoil-reducing stocks, better triggers, and a customlike fit-make for less painful, more accurate shooting. Here’s what to look for in a great shotgun for deer:
Action: Go with a pump or autoloader, both of which offer fast follow-up shots if needed. Pumps are reliable even in the coldest weather, and gas-operated autos reduce recoil, which can be ferocious when you’re shooting slugs.
**Gauge: **The 12-gauge remains the standard, although some of the newest sabot-bulleted 20-gauge slugs are very accurate and kick less out of smaller, faster-handling guns. Any 12 or 20 that will handle 23/4-inch slugs is fine for almost any whitetail hunting situation. Three- and 31/2-inch slugs shoot only slightly flatter than 23/4-inch versions but deliver a boatload more recoil.
Barrel Length: Keep it fairly short. A 21- to 24-inch barrel will handle well even if you’re tucked into the brush or hiding in a tree.
Sights and Mounts: Cantilever barrel mounts let you attach a scope to the barrel, which allows you to remove your scope and barrel as a unit without worrying about ruining your zero. Most models with drilled and tapped receivers also have iron sights on the barrels, giving you the choice of attaching a scope or using the open sights, which are perfectly adequate for areas where shots will be close.
**Trigger: **With some notable exceptions, most shotguns have heavy, gritty triggers. Dry-fire the gun to see if you can live with the trigger pull. Keep in mind, however, that a bad trigger needn’t be a deal breaker, as a gunsmith can smooth and lighten the pull of most guns.
Extras: Every slug gun should have swivels for a sling, which will leave your hands free to drag home your deer. A synthetic stock is a good choice for a gun that’ll get hard use. Some models come with shim kits that let you tailor the gun’s fit to your own dimensions; others feature recoil-reducing stocks. All the excellent slug guns at left have rifled barrels and come ready for optics.
Winchester 1300 Black Shadow Deer (800-333-3288; winchesterguns.com)
Action: Pump ¿¿¿ Gauge: 3-inch 12 and 20 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 22 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Drilled and tapped receiver and iron sights ¿¿¿ Price: $376 ¿¿¿ Comments: The 1300 shucks extremely fast, thanks to a rotary bolt. It’s a great value: an accurate, no-frills, lightweight gun.
Mossberg 535 Slugster (203-230-5300; mossberg.com)
Action: Pump ¿¿¿ Gauge: 31/2-inch 12 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 24 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Drilled and tapped receiver and iron sights ¿¿¿ Price: $389 for camo; $322 for black ¿¿¿ Comments: Mossberg’s new 535 is a budget-priced pump with a slimmer, lighter barrel than the 835. The top safety is great for left-handers.
Remington Sportsman 11-87 (800-243-9700; remington.com)
Action: Gas autoloader ¿¿¿ Gauge: 3-inch 12 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 21 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Cantilever mount ¿¿¿ Price: $705 ¿¿¿ Comments: This new lower-priced version of the soft-shooting 11-87 has a black synthetic stock and matte metal finish. The Monte Carlo stock puts your eye in line with a mounted scope.
Benellli M2 (301-283-6981; benelliusa.com)
Action: Inertia autoloader ¿¿¿ Gauge: 3-inch 12 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 24 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Drilled and tapped receiver and iron sights ¿¿¿ Price: $1,320 for camo; $1,200 for black ¿¿¿ Comments: The M2 has all the famous Benelli reliability and features the new ComforTech recoil-reducing stock with an optional high-comb insert for a proper fit with optics.
Browning Gold Rifled Deer Hunter (800-333-3288; browning.com)
Action: Gas autoloader ¿¿¿ Gauge: 3-inch 12 and 20 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 22 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Cantilever mount ¿¿¿ Price: $1,131 ¿¿¿ Comments: Browning’s Gold is one of the softer-shooting gas autos and a perfect match for high-velocity, hard-recoiling sabot slugs, especially in 20 gauge. Overall, it’s a reliable, good-looking slug gun.
**Beretta Xtrema2 ** (800-237-3882; berettausa.com)
Action: Gas autoloader ¿¿¿ Gauge: 31/2-inch 12 ¿¿¿ Barrel Length: 24 inches ¿¿¿ Sights/Mounts: Cantilever mount ¿¿¿ Price: $1,595 ¿¿¿ Comments: The new Xtrema2 has a redesigned, crisp, clean trigger and a synthetic stock with easy-to-grip rubber inserts in place of checkering. Beretta’s Kick-Off recoil-reducing hydraulic stock is available as an option.