In Southern Michigan we can't use rifles to hunt deer.  That means shotguns, 
muzzleloaders, or handguns.  The law is meant to force hunters to use 
shorter range weapons in the more densely populated areas of the state.

I started my deer hunting career with a shotgun and slugs.  Basically, my
dad would by me a 5-pack of slugs and I'd grab my shotgun and head for
the woods.  I still have nightmares about all of the deer I missed that
way.  Probably the worst moment in my slug shooting history was missing
the biggest buck I'd ever seen 5 times with my Remington 1100 as he trotted 
across an open field.  I think those were the only 5 slugs I'd ever shot 
through that Remington 1100.  

After that performance, I gave up and just hunted with my muzzelloader for 
the next 10 years or so.  This was a huge improvement since I at least
had one good shot as long as the gun would go off.  I really can't say
that I felt any kind of disadvantage with the muzzleloader but for some
reason I decided it would be nice to have a bon-a-fide slug gun.

It just so happened that I came upon a used Marlin 512 Slugmaster at a very
good price while at a gun show.  This bolt action, rifled barrelled slug
gun has really been a good buy for me.  I've had a lot of fun trying to
find out what slugs shoot best in it and have killed some deer in the
process.  Here is a picture of my Marlin 512 complete with my own stock
alterations and refinishing:

I've used 3" Remington Copper Solids exclusively since I've had
the gun and both accuracy at the range and performance in the field have
been very good.  However, out of the 50-60 of these slugs I've shot through
the gun about 5 have failed to go off.  Thats bad for two reasons.  One,
who wants a $2 shell that won't go bang?  And second, if I wanted to worry
about a gun not going off I could just use my muzzleloader!

I'd always used 3" slugs because I know that when handloading for my 
rifles I always try to seat the bullet as close to the lands of the 
rifling as possible.  What I didn't realize is that due to the fact both 
2 3/4" and 3" slugs are using the same 1 oz slug, this means an extra 1/4" 
of wadding in the 3" shell.  That would probably off-set any gain from the
shorter jump to the rifling.  Also, you only get 50 fps in return for the
extra recoil.

I experimented with some different slugs 
trying to pick out some of the sabots that are under $10 a box.  I was
able to pick out Lightfield Hybrids, Federal Premium Sabots(Not with 
the Barnes Expander bullet), and Federal Classic Sabots(Just like the 
Premiums but with a plain lead bullet in the sabot).

Here are my results.  All shooting was at 50 yards.  I cleaned the barrel
between each 5 shot string.

Federal Premium 2 3/4" Sabots   = 1.5"
Federal Classic 2 3/4" Sabots   = 2"
Lightfield 2 3/4" 538gr Hybrids = 6"
Of these slugs, the Federal Premium Sabots were the best performers giving groups of around 1-2" at 50 yards. Unfortunatly, the last time I went to buy some they were all out. Thats an annoying thing about slugs. The shelves start getting bare towards deer season and you have to scramble to get your favorite loads. One day Gander Mountain had some Winchester Supreme Gold Partition sabots on sale for $10 a box. Since I've always wanted to try some of these speedsters but always balked at the $12/box price tag grabbed a couple boxes to give 'em a try. I was able to hold them in 3/4" at 50 yards using the hood of my Jeep for a rest. Thats way better than anything else I've ever shot out of a slug gun. The 385gr slug with a muzzle velocity of 1900fps can be sighted in 1.5" high at 50yards and be on at 125 yards.

Latest results with Winchester Sabots

I headed to the range to sight in the Marlin with Winchester Supreme Partition Gold slugs. I couldn't make it back to Gander Mountain so I had to pay $12/box at Meijer's. So much for the idea of getting off cheap. I picked up 4 boxes so that I could use 3 to sight in and shoot a 100 yard group and the 1 to hunt with. One thing I read on the Tar-Hunt page that really suprised me is how much the wind affects the path of a slug at long range. The PCB Ballistics program is also very helpful when comparing the wind-bucking capabilities of different slugs. The folks at Tar-Hunt say to sight in at 50 yards since that is the farthest range before slugs are adversly affected by the wind. From looking at the ballistics of the Winchester Sabots I decided that I would sight in so that I was dead on at 125 yards. I could do this by sighting in 1.5" high at 50.

Click to see my 50 yard group from a clean barrel

The wind was blowing about 10 mph from right to left. The ballistics table shows the the slug should be pushed about 3" by a wind this strong. I should also be about 2" high at 100 yards when sighted 1.5" high at 50. Check out my target to see just how close to reality the ballistics tables are.

Click to see my 100 yard group with a 10 mph breeze

The 3" group at 100 yards isn't very impressive if you read the gun magazines that always talk about slug guns shooting 1" groups like its no big deal. Well I'm pretty happy with a 3" group because I realize there are a few factors to consider before being dissapointed with anything besides these mythical 1" groups:

 o Gun writers shoot more than I do.  I'm sure they're a little better shots.
 o The wind always blows when I'm at the range.  From my 100 yard target its
   obvious that even a 5 mph gusty wind will make a 1" group 2".
 o I flinch when shooting slugs.  These heavy recoiling slug guns take some
   getting used to.  It takes a lot of concentration not to let the recoil
   affect you.  Especially after a lot of shooting.  I just try to call my
   shots and know when I flinch a round way out of the group.
 o Its very important to clean the plastic fouling from the barrel every 
   3-5 shots when shooting sabots.  This is what I've noticed in my 
   Marlin anyway.  Maybe slug barrels with deeper grooves in the rifling
   wouldn't have this problem so much.