Can’t hit a pie plate with your favorite 12-gauge deer slayer? Then you need to revamp, replace, and re-engineer your slugger.
Minute-of-angle slug guns. One-shot kills at 150 yards. You’ve undoubtedly probably read plenty about how today’s rifled-barrel shotguns and saboted loads can match some rifles in terms of ballistics and accuracy. And you’ve probably come away from the shooting range disappointed with how your gun performs in comparison. Yes, you can expect 1-inch groups at 100 yards with a custom bench gun, saboted slugs, and the right conditions and shooter. But anything inside of 5 inches at 100 yards is asking a lot of an out-of-the-box production slug gun.
That said, the aforementioned rifles or shotguns can be substantially improved by taking several steps: lightening and stiffening the trigger, replacing and stabilizing the barrel, polishing the crown, verifying that the twist rate is right for your load, replacing the stock, and adding a cheekpad. Since this is a specialized and developing field, there aren’t a lot of products to compare and choose from. But we have tested and selected several aftermarket items that we do recommend, and which we think are worth the money.
Upgrade The Trigger
Even if your gun is a “buck special” with rifle sights and maybe a rifled barrel, it’s going to have the same receiver, action, and trigger mechanism as its counterpart designed for scattershot. Accordingly, a shotgun trigger is designed to be slapped, not squeezed like a rifle trigger, and gun companies’ insurance carriers like to see substantial creep in triggers. Neither situation helps a slug-gun’s accuracy. Nobody can wring full potential out of a firearm with an 8- to 10-pound trigger pull.
Most shotgun triggers pull in the 6- to 10-pound range, and many have substantial creep in them to ward against recoil fire. The good news is that all bolt-action shotgun triggers can be lightened and tightened. Most can even be replaced by an adjustable rifle trigger.
Pumps and autoloaders, however, have stops on the trigger assemblies to prevent the gun from going off again when the action is being cycled following a shot. That design restricts how much adjustment can be done on the trigger.
Though you can modify some shotgun triggers to give them a crisp 3- to 3.5-pound pull, the work involves honing and polishing sear and other internal trigger parts, which most hunters should avoid. Another solution is an aftermarket replacement trigger, which is easily and fully adjustable for weight, creep, and let-off. Hastings makes an adjustable drop-in trigger assembly to fit Remingtons, as does Allen Timney Shotgun Gunsmith of Cerritos, California (not to be confused with the rifle trigger manufacturer of the same name in Phoenix). Models vary in price, but most run around $75.
Change The Barrel
The next consideration in improving your slug gun is the barrel. All major manufactures offer rifled choke tubes for their smoothbore guns, which allows the shooter to use saboted ammunition. To be truthful, however, only a couple of rifled choke tubes—Browning and Beretta—offer significant accuracy past 50 yards. Rhino Chokes of Ocala, Florida, also entered the rifled choke–tube market in 1996 and makes ported spiral tubes for a variety of guns.
Another option is an aftermarket specialty-rifled slug barrel from Hastings or E.R. Shaw. Hastings has dominated the rifled-barrel aftermarket since the mid-1980s and has since expanded its line to provide French-made rifled Paradox barrels for virtually all common shotguns. One of Hastings’ best products is a vented, rather than ported, barrel. The heavy-walled rifled barrel is slightly belled at the muzzle and has vents cut into it a la the old Cutts Compensator. The new venting has a remarkable effect on reducing recoil and muzzle jump, which can have salutary effects on accuracy.
If you want to stick with your current barrel but desire the advantages of porting, Mossberg is considering offering porting as an aftermarket service in the near future.
Other Barrel Options
The Slug Group, an aftermarket shotgun distribution company in Pennsylvania, struck out heartily in recent years with its Competitor and Predator rifled slug barrels. However, the company offers a unique aftermarket accurizing service that includes barrel replacement.
If you send the frame from your Remington 870 pump to Randy Fritz at The Slug Group, he’ll mill, custom fit, and permanently fix a matte-finished 23-inch E.R. Shaw ported barrel to the receiver. The barrel is identical to the one on Fritz’s RSG-12 custom gun, with a 1-in-28-inch-twist rifling. The conversion job also includes scope bases mounted on top of the receiver. Options include gloss-finished barrels, Remington synthetic stocks, and forearms and trigger jobs.
“The 870s come in a variety of interior receiver sizes, depending on the model,” said Fritz. “An exact fit, barrel-to-receiver, is essential for top accuracy.”
Like Fritz’s work with the 870, immobilizing the barrel is a major step in accurizing any slug gun. Shotgun barrels are notorious for sloppy fit, which means nothing when you’re throwing a load of shot at a pheasant or turkey, but is an absolute evil on a rifle range. The answer is to have your barrel fixed to the receiver. The barrels in most slug guns can be pinned with a set screw or actually fixed with Lok-Tite.
“If you don’t lock it down, the barrel will turn minutely on the threads or move slightly in the receiver every time a slug hits the rifling,” says Mark Bansner at Bansner’s Gunsmithing Specialties of Adamstown, Pennsylvania. “That doesn’t mean much at 40 or 50 yards, but it can make tight groups impossible at 100 yards and longer.”
Other barrel upgrades include having the crown polished. A surprising number of rifled shotgun barrels have burrs at the muzzle or are unevenly polished in the mass-production frenzy. “You wouldn’t believe how some barrels come from the factory,” Bansner said. “A simple polishing makes a world of difference.”
Next, make sure the twist rate is right for your particular load. The latest research shows a fast-twist barrel (1 turn in 25 inches or 1 in 28) available from Ithaca, Benelli, Shaw, or Marlin stabilizes saboted ammunition best, while 1-in-34 rates are the best compromise for sabots and short full-bore slugs. A slow twist like 1-in-36 is ideal if you’re shooting only full-bore slugs. Again, you won’t notice a difference at normal slug-hunting ranges, but groups will differ at 100 and 125 yards unless the slug is matched to the twist rate.
Your brand-new state-of-the-art production slug gun probably has a shotgun stock as well. Shotgun stocks are traditionally designed to align your eye with the top of the receiver so that the gun can be pointed, not aimed. Many are cut with sufficient drop to make you shoot slightly high, an aid when shooting at rising flying targets. This design is a detriment to the rifle-like aim needed with slug guns.
Sufficient comb height not only aligns the shooter’s eye comfortably with the scope but also changes the gun’s fit to the point where it decreases felt recoil.
Granted, there has been some progress made in this department. Designated slug guns like Ithaca Deerslayer IIs, H&R; 980s and 920s, and Remington synthetic SP stocks come with modified Monte Carlo stocks. Mossberg pumps have adjustable combs, and the rifle-like Browning A-Bolt and Savage 210 MasterShot have sufficiently subtle drop to allow viewing through a scope. But everything else on the market needs help.
Bell & Carlson is marketing a line of high-comb synthetic stocks and matching forearms for a variety of slug gun models, including one for Remingtons that incorporates a high-comb, quick-drop pistol grip design.
A less expensive cure for a low comb is to add a strap-on leather trapshooter’s pad that raises the comb substantially. Cabela’s markets a couple of sizes to fit various stocks.
D&E; Cheekeeze also markets a variety of recoil-absorbing and comb-lifting adhesive cheek pads that range from 1/8- and 1/4-inch slim-line pads to 3/8- to 11/2-inch Scopeeze models that work well on slug guns. Cheekeeze also markets palm swell pads in a variety of sizes that can help custom-fit your gun to you.
Solutions For Scopes
Ten years ago a scope on a slug gun was an oddity, like putting fins on a garbage truck. Today, you can’t expect to find the full accuracy potential of state-of-the-art slug guns and loads without a good scope.
Again, we’re talking conventional shotgun receivers here. Most don’t have sufficient metal on top (Ithaca Deerslayer IIs are an exception) to drill and tap holes for scope mounting. The alternative is a cantilever scope-mount system attached to the barrel.
B-Square has solved the inevitable scope-movement problem inherent in its old side-saddle mount by redesigning it in a full-saddle configuration that can be bolted completely through the receiver. Millett, Tasco, and other companies also market saddle-style strap-on mounts. B-Square also markets a bolt-on cantilever scope mount designed to affix to raised rib barrels.
The heavy concussion within the receiver and attendant recoil make autoloaders very tough on scopes and mounts. The newest and possibly most promising mounting system for autoloaders is a design being manufactured and distributed by Solvay, New York, gunsmith Dave Klotz. The Da-Mar Shotgun Scope Mount system is shaped so that it can be mounted on holes drilled at 45-degree angles to the receiver walls. This provides plenty of metal for the mount to withstand the concussion of a shotgun’s recoil.
The Da-Mar system fits sturdy Weaver rings. It’s made for autoloaders and can be fitted to virtually all semiautos.
Gun, Gear & Game
So don’t be discouraged about the performance—or lack thereof—of your current slug gun. The bad news is that right out of the box most slug guns won’t be tackdrivers. But the good news is that most all of them can be made to shoot better for relatively little money.