Two classics collide in the championship of our Sweet 16 of whitetail shotguns. The Remington 870, America’s shotgun, meets the Ithaca Deerslayer. The 870, deservedly the number one seed in its division, has probably shot more deer than any other shotgun in the tournament. The Deerslayer, on the other hand, is one of the first dedicated slug guns, and still one of the best.
Both guns blew out the competition in the Final Four. The 870 trounced the Mossberg 500 and the Ithaca beat Browning’s A-Bolt by two to one margins. You’d have to call the Remington the favorite here, a product of the Big Green Machine that has built more than 10,000,000 870s since 1950.
Meanwhile the plucky Ithaca is an underdog that has faced adversity over the years. It has survived bankruptcies and plant closings and here it is, hoping to cut down the nets.
(See the Sweet 16 here.)
1. Remington 870: America’s most popular shotgun is a perfect match for America’s most popular game animal. Available in the right configuration to shoot any type of slug or buckshot, the 870 can be made even better with a host of aftermarket accessories.
2. Remington 1100/11-87: It’s everything the 870 is but in a softer-shooting package thanks to its recoil-reducing gas system. Almost any aftermarket part made for the 870 is made for this gun, too.
3. Tar-Hunt: This semicustom bolt-action shotgun is more like a rifle that just so happens to be chambered in 12 gauge. It takes a scope easily and has a rigid action and free-floated barrel. “Slug Accuracy” ceases to be an oxymoron when you shoot a Tar-Hunt.
4. Mossberg 500: The first production shotgun to come with a fully rifled barrel, the popular 500 Slugster has a cantilever scope mount and removable raised comb. The LPA model is fitted with Mossberg’s adjustable Lightning Trigger for optimal accuracy.
5. Winchester Super X3: This very soft-shooting and reliable design represents a family of semiautos that includes the Super X2 and the Browning Silver and Gold. With a rifled barrel and cantilever mount, it’s capable of shooting slugs very well.
6. Benelli Super Black Eagle:** The dream gun of many waterfowlers makes a good slug gun, too, when you add a rifled barrel. It takes a scope well, and Benelli offers interchangeable soft combs so you can make the stock fit for shooting with a scope, too. [Some slug trivia: The very first recorded 1-inch, 100 yard group shot with slugs was fired through a Benelli with a custom rifled barrel and BRI sabot slugs 20 years ago.]
7. Winchester SXP Black Shadow Deer:** Formerly known as the 1300, this inexpensive slide-action is one of the smoothest, fastest cycling pumps ever. The Black Shadow comes in all black synthetic with iron sights, a rifled barrel, and a drilled and tapped receiver.
8. Winchester Model 12: Although never made in a slug version, the Model 12 is the classic choice for taking a stand in a swamp and waiting for the hounds to run a deer by your stand. With six in the magazine and one in the chamber, the slick shucking Model 12 could put out a lot of buckshot pellets in a very short time.
1. Savage 220/212: The company’s reputation for affordable accuracy shines in this shotgun. Fitted with a two-round detachable magazine and Savage’s excellent Accu-Trigger, the 12-gauge 212 and the 20-gauge 220 are great shooters for surprisingly little money.
2. Ithaca Model 37 Deerslayer:** Besides having the best name, the deer version of the bottom-ejecting Model 37 has a reputation for excellent accuracy. Deerslayers have been made in almost every configuration imaginable, from take-down smoothbores to the mighty nine-plus-pound Deerslayer III, with its fixed, free-floated, fully rifled heavy fluted barrel.
3. Browning A-Bolt: The 3-shot A-Bolt shotgun was ahead of its time when it came out in the 1990s, when slug shooters were more interested in quantity of fire over quality. But tastes change, and the A-Bolt has since been reintroduced. It’s a great shooter with a clean trigger and good fit and finish, too.
4. T/C Encore: This gun’s versatile receiver can be fitted with a 12 or 20 gauge fluted, rifled shotgun barrel, turning the Encore into a very accurate single shot slug gun with an exposed hammer and a nice clean trigger.
5. Benelli Super Nova: The slug version comes with a rifled barrel and the Nova’s innovative synthetic receiver is drilled and tapped for easy scope mounting. The stock is adjustable by means of shims and comb inserts for a semi-custom fit.
6. H&R Ultra Slug Hunter: If “bang for the buck accuracy” was the sole criteria, this H&R would win hands down. Available in 12 and 20 gauge and featuring a heavy, rifled barrel, the Ultra Slug Hunter is cheap, crudely finished, offers only one shot, and weighs a ton. But it’s very accurate and has a surprisingly not-bad trigger for a gun that sells for under $300.
7. RBL Professional: The lone double gun in this bracket, the rifled RBL from Connecticut Shotgun Manufacturing Company has fully rifled 20-gauge barrels and a mechanism that lets you regulate the barrels to the same point of aim. It’s not cheap at four grand, but if you can’t afford a double rifle or a trip to Africa, you can hunt whitetails at home with one of these.
8. Browning Auto 5: Although its moving barrel makes it a difficult gun to scope, the popular, classic Auto 5, with both plain and rifled slug barrels, has taken down countless whitetails over the years.