Scoping Out Shotgun Slug Accuracy

Shotgun shell with several shotgun slug and ball ammunition

For the past 50 years, I have always had some type of 12-gauge shotgun. My first shotgun was a 12-gauge Mossberg 500 pump.

My grandfather was hesitant to purchase this for me—I was 12 or so at the time—as he had used proven Winchester and Remington types.

However, I liked the looks of the Mossberg and the rest is history.

Today, I own and use several makes, but Mossberg shotguns are still on the front line.

Shotgun Loads

I began using field loads for hunting birds, rabbits and squirrels. I never fired buckshot until I became a peace officer.

While the few instances in which the shotgun was used by my agency were impressive, I did not give the shotgun slug much thought until I entered service in a mountain region.

Buckshot was fine for municipal agencies but practically worthless past 20 yards in standard service-grade shotguns. I began testing shotgun slugs.

I found most of the slugs available would group five shots into five inches at 50 yards with the Remington 870 issued by the agency.

That was OK for most uses. I also kept a .30-30 lever-action rifle in the trunk.

scoped Mossberg with a box of Fiocchi ammunition
The scoped Mossberg with rifled barrel provided excellent results with Fiocchi slugs.

Shotgun Slug Accuracy

Recently, I have become more interested in shotgun slug performance. There are many highly developed slugs and rifled-barrel shotguns.

I elected to test shotgun slugs in a rifled shotgun barrel and compare it to a standard shotgun barrel.

I had two goals. First, the test wasn’t fair as one of the shotguns featured an optical sight and the other a simple bead.

On the other hand, I did discover how useful a slug would be in a general use defensive shotgun, and also how accurate the slug could be in a rifled barrel.

I chose three proven slugs loads. Fiocchi’s Aero slug is a long-time favorite.

Here are the loads tested: Fiocchi 1 ounce, 1,150 fps slug, Fiocchi 7/8th ounce 1,300 fps slug, and the 1 ounce 1,560 fps blockbuster.

As may be expected, most of the work was done with the reduced recoil 1,150 fps load.

The test shotguns were a Mossberg 590 with a 20-inch barrel, my front-line shotgun, and a new acquisition, a Mossberg 500A with a rifled barrel and 3×9 scope.

There are a number of tips and concerns when testing rifle shotgun slug accuracy from a benchrest.

The shotgun rises in recoil, no question there. The forend must be stabilized against recoil.

Yet, there must be some give or the scope may be wrecked from pounding.

If you fire a group that is well centered and the following hits are high, then you are flinching and losing control of the shotgun. That is the hard part.

Fiocchi Shotgun shell for slugs on a orange target
Fiocchi slugs offer excellent accuracy potential.

Accuracy vs. Potential Accuracy

A three-shot group shows the accuracy of the shotgun and slug combination while a five-shot group reflects the shooter’s potential.

I began firing for accuracy with the Mossberg 590.

I fired the reduced-recoil slug at 25 yards. A three-shot group of 1.4 inches was encouraging.

This is more than adequate for personal defense and a great choice for those ranges when buckshot has spread to the point that it is no longer effective.

Firing from a solid braced standing barricade at 50 yards with a bead front sight, the groups ran around five inches.

This shotgun slug isn’t difficult to manage and makes a fine choice for those situations in which increased penetration is desirable.

However, reduced-recoil slugs may print up to four inches below the point of aim, as they are not as speedy as full power loads and drop must be considered.

The 7/8-ounce 1,300 fps load was fired at 50 yards.

This load generated more thump and was closer to the point of aim. Groups were similar with this loading.

Next, I moved to the scoped Mossberg shotgun. This slick and nicely engraved Mossberg is an outdoors piece.

It is highly specialized and isn’t useful for anything, save firing slugs.

(Do not fire standard shot in a rifled barrel- the pattern if any will be like a doughnut and may even be dangerous to those to one side of the shotgun.)

I elected to skip the 25-yard testing and go straight to the 50-yard test.

Author shooting a shotgun from a bench rest position
The author practicing the proper bench rest firing position for slug guns. This demands concentration and a strong shoulder!

Testing Slug Accuracy

I had previously sighted the shotgun in for the reduced-recoil slug, so this wasn’t an impediment in the testing.

The Fiocchi reduced-recoil load put three slugs into two inches.

This Mossberg trigger is OK to fair, and I felt that if I had not been attempting to manage this trigger I would have had a better group.

The full power 1,300 fps load did a little better at 1.6 inches. This is certainly a good choice for the type of woods hunting slugs are generally used for.

Moving to the heavily-loaded shotgun slug I was glad to have a thick recoil pad on hand. The results were excellent.

While this load struck several inches higher than the 1,300 fps load at 50 yards, it would have been simple to sight the Mossberg in for this loading.

Accuracy was the best of the test with a 1.3-inch group at 50 yards.

These slugs burn clean and provide an excellent option for those hunting with solid shot.

What kind of accuracy are you getting from your shotgun with slugs? Let us know in the comments below.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June of 2019. It has been updated for clarity and accuracy.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (16)

  1. I have fed my 12ga 870 Wingmaster converted
    to a smooth bore 20″ slug barrel just about all
    the sliug makers have to offer and none shoot
    or never disappoint like the “Lightfield Hybred
    EXP’s.!Plenty of recoil but if you are shooting
    at venison not bad..Sighting in is where it is a
    bit lively.!

  2. I shoot 3″ groups at 100 yards with black aces slugs out of my H&R Pardner Protector 12 gauge with a red dot sight

  3. I have an Ithaca M37 Deerslayer 12 ga rifle. The rifle barrel is not removable, so it is for slugs only. I had it custom made by Ithaca for me. The std Dearslayer shines like a neon sign in the woods so I had Ithaca make mine with matte black metal and matte finish wood. I topped it w/ a Leopold 1-4 matte finished scope, base and rings. I like the sabot slugs from Federal and Winchester. These slugs are pretty fast. When I can, it’ll shoot 2-3 inch groups at 100 yards. This works great out to 150 yards or so. It doesn’t like the older rifled slugs much.

  4. Interesting. I have been hunting in NY with slug loads for many years now. What I learned early on was DO NOT USE “RIFLED SLUGS” IN A RIFLED BARREL!!! Yes, the rifling increases the accuracy, but only until it leads up the barrel. Rifled slugs are generally soft lead and designed for smooth-bore. Whenever you use a rifled barrel, ALWAYS use saboted slugs. Very accurate. My 20 ga. Mossberg 500 with a 1X4 Leupold can put 5 out of 5 Remington Accu-slugs into 9 inch pie plate at 100 yards. It will do that with the first three rounds of regular riled slugs. After that, they go all over the place and I have a heck of a time cleaning the leading up out of my barrel. I speak from my own and several other’s experience…

  5. It’s my assumption that most home defense situations happen at 15′ or less and buckshot works great at this range in any shotgun without over penatration concerns. If I need to shoot 25 ydrs, I’ll grab my AR platform!

  6. I have an 870 with an 18″ barrel currently loaded with buck for home defense. I’ve always loved shooting targets with 20g slugs and I just ordered a Panzer Arms AR12 for home defense. I would like to run slugs through that but my biggest concern isn’t with accuracy, it would be overpenetration. 25 yards for self-defence in Illinois is basically asking for a prison sentence. Anything self-defence related would pretty much be within ten yards. Could I still use 12g slugs?

  7. I use a 870 Express with a smooth shortened barrel with a scope. I always shoot at targets in the 100 yard range and use Winchester 1 oz. riffled slug. My groupings are within a 3” range and when I change to 7/8 oz Remington slug my groupings are within the bullseye. I will usually shoot 45 or better rounds but i have customized the buttstock so the recoil felt is like shooting a 30-06.

  8. In my house defense ranges favor using #4buck. We’re in a community with neighbors within 100′, so I worry about over penetration. At 20′ that gives effectively a single wad of shot that shouldn’t go through enough walls to endanger neighbors

  9. I don’t run slugs for home defense. I’m a retired LEO firearms instructor. My agency’s other firearms instructor and I did a T&E of the Federal 2 3/4″ low recoil 1 ounce “Truball” slug. We were able to shoot 3 shot groups between 1-2″ off of sandbags at 50 yards using a smooth bore Remington 870 with rifle sights.
    The was a huge improvement over the Winchester Ranger 1 ounce slugs our agency had carried for years. 10 years later the agency still carries the Federal “Truball” slug.

  10. I’ve used rifled slugs ( Remington Copper Solids ) to hunt deer in Ohio and they are very effective . Any deer I shot dropped like it was struck by lightning . I would not want to be on the receiving end of one.

    As for accuracy they are very accurate out of my rifled Remington 870 with scope. It will hold a two to three inch group at 100 yds.

  11. I installed a Hastings paradox barrel on my Remington 870 about 15 years ago. I had trouble finding accurate slugs for it but found some Hastings branded slugs that grouped well at about 2.5 inches at 100 yards. A few years later I switched from a 4 power scope to a 3-9 and upon sighting in, I grouped 5 shots in 5/8 inches center to center. About the same time, Hastings went out of business. Their barrel manufacturing business was quickly purchased and barrels are still made today. Their ammo was eventually resurrected by RUAG several years later, just in time for my personal stash to dry up, but it isn’t the same. My groups have opened to 5 inches on a good day. I was about to start the quest to find new ammo but my state legalized rifles for deer hunting and I haven’t used the 870 since.

  12. For home defense I prefer .410 slugs
    or shells with the disc projectiles.
    Hornady Triple Defense Shells are great.
    For those of you who do not think a little
    .410 is enough caliber I invite you to
    shoot a two-by-four from about 20 feet
    away to see what happens. A .410 is small,
    lightweight, swings quickly and is very
    deadly. Irregardless of the gauge you use
    I sincerely believe that a shotgun is the
    way to go for home defense.

  13. I shoot an 870 remington rifled barrel,catileavered with a nikon slughunter 3-9-40 scope and hornady sabots. 2000 fps of awsomeness. Though and through shots on adult deer are comon.

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