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Slug It Out: Best 12 Gauge Slugs

Shotguns may be the most versatile weapons on the face of the planet. When loaded with the right ammunition, the modern scattergun can effectively drop everything from tiny upland quail to charging, big-bodied bruins. 

By using the best 12-gauge slugs, you can turn a simple shotgun into an impressively accurate powerhouse. The trick is matching your slugs to your shooting application. 

Whether you’re looking for slugs for whitetails, dangerous game, home defense, or high-stakes competition, we’re here to help. 

RIFLED VS. SABOT SLUGS

Most modern shotgun slugs fall into one of two categories – rifled slugs and sabot (pronounced “SAY-bo”) slugs.

Rifled slugs are designed to be used in smoothbore shotguns. The rifled slug’s defining feature is a set of exterior grooves that resemble barrel rifling. Unlike barrel rifling, the slug’s grooves do not spin the projectile. Instead, the channels allow the slug to compress slightly so it can fit through a shotgun’s choke tube. 

Hornady Rifled Slug

Sabot slugs lack the rifled slug's exterior grooves because they are designed to be used in shotguns with rifled barrels or with a smoothbore paired with a rifled choke. 

Remington sabot slugs

The sabot isn’t the slug at all. The word actually refers to the plastic sleeve surrounding the projectile. As the slug travels down the barrel, the sleeve contacts the rifling, causing the whole package to spin. After the slug exits the barrel, the sleeve falls away, but the projectile continues to spin like a football, which results in better in-flight stability. 

Accuracy and Energy

Sabot slugs, with their gyroscopic spin, are generally more accurate than rifled slugs – but not by much. A rifled slug can travel a good 400 yards, but it drops pretty rapidly once it passes the 100-yard mark. Hitting a target beyond that is tricky, and a rifled slug isn’t carrying a ton of kinetic energy past that point anyway.

Sabots have a slightly longer effective range, typically around 125 to 150 yards, although some designs can stretch to 200 yards. The sabot’s football-like spin and higher ballistic coefficient make it slower to shed speed. 

Rifled slugs, with their blocky cylindrical profiles and exterior grooves, aren’t nearly as aerodynamic as the sleeker, more pointed sabot slug. Because it holds velocity better than a rifled slug, sabot slugs also retain more energy as it travels down range.

BEST SLUGS FOR HUNTING

While a rifle will always be ballistically superior to even the most cutting-edge shotgun load, slugs do have a place in the hunting world. They are highly effective at typical whitetail ranges, especially when hunting big woods (think inside of 100 yards). 

Also, because slug velocity and power peter out past 200 yards, slugs are a safer option than a rifle when hunting in populated areas. In fact, several Midwest states limit deer season to shotguns only for that very reason. 

If you plan to use your 12-gauge to punch big game tags this hunting season, here are some of the best options on the market. 

Federal Premium TruBall Rifled Slug

Federal TruBall slugs have been putting venison in family freezers for decades. Designed for smoothbore scatterguns, the TruBall system features a plastic ball positioned between the wad and the slug. The design helps keep the slug centered in the barrel. The components separate at the muzzle. 

Federal Premium TruBall Rifled Slug
Federal Premium TruBall Rifled Slug

The TruBall system helps these rifled slugs perform more like a sabot, and the company claims they deliver 1.4-inch groups at 50 yards, which is pretty freakin’ impressive for rifled slugs.  

Hornady American Whitetail Slug

Loaded with a 325-grain Hornady InterLock bullet, American Whitetail slug loads deliver excellent weight retention and massive expansion. The hollow point projectiles feature a tough copper jacket surrounding a serrated lead alloy core. These babies are tough enough for the biggest-bodied whitetails in North America. They can even be used to bag close-range elk and muleys.

Hornady American Whitetail Slug
Hornady American Whitetail Slug

The loads also feature a rigid polycarbonate sabot with a unique buffer disc that delivers serious accuracy. If you need to stretch the effective range of your shotgun, this is the way to do it. Hornady says their American Whitetail slugs carry enough power and accuracy to drop bucks beyond 200 yards. 

Winchester Super X 

Winchester Super X loads have a reputation for offering reliable performance at a super-affordable price point, and their slugs are no different. The line-up includes 12-gauge rifled slugs and sabot slugs

Winchester Super X 
Winchester Super X 

If you don’t want to invest a ton of cash, but still want serious knock-down performance, these are the loads you want with you in the deer woods.

Brenneke Black Magic Magnum Slugs

Sometimes when we’re in the woods, we run into things bigger and more dangerous than whitetail deer. These 602-grain slugs are designed for just such an encounter. 

Brenneke Black Magic Magnum Slugs
Brenneke Black Magic Magnum Slugs

Brennecke's hefty slugs have notched ribs and a lead point to guarantee seamless passage through your shotgun choke. These slugs leave the muzzle at over 1500 fps and are still packing 1219 foot-pounds of power at 100 yards. 

BEST SLUGS FOR HOME DEFENSE

Slugs are regularly used for deer hunting, especially in rifle-restricted states. Deer and humans aren’t all that different. They share similar body weights and depth to vital organs. When we boil defensive shooting down to pure biology, if slugs are effective for deer, they should be just as effective on nefarious bad guys. 

However, there are a lot more factors to consider in a home defense scenario than basic biology. 

While you might use a slug to drop a monster buck at 75 yards, most home intruders are engaged at close range, usually inside five yards, which is about the typical length of a suburban hallway. 

A heavyweight slug has tons of penetration power, which is the main reason big game hunters use them. While penetration is a positive when you’re hunting whitetails, it can be a major liability in a home defense situation. At close range, a 12-gauge slug will smash through anything in its way, plowing through furniture, doors, drywall, and wall studs, and still have enough energy to eff up a body standing on the other side. 

Needless to say, shooting a slug inside your home could cause serious collateral damage. 

With all that said, modern ammo technology is a marvelous thing. Ammo engineers are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to defensive ammo, and a few companies offer shotgun slugs designed specifically for defensive shooting. These loads are made to deliver effective stopping power, while minimizing the chance of dangerous over-penetration.

Still, this isn’t our top choice for home defense. But if you want to use slugs, here is what we like.

Winchester Elite Defender Segmented Rifled Slug

Winchester has several innovative loads for home defense, and one of the most appealing is their Defender Series segmented rifled slug. This one-ounce piece of lead has strategic notching on both the exterior and inside the hollow-point cavity. On impact, the slug separates into three segments to compensate for aiming errors and maximize internal damage. 

Winchester Elite Defender Segmented Rifled Slug
Winchester Elite Defender Segmented Rifled Slug

The fragmentation slows the projectile, which helps minimize over-penetration, making them a somewhat safer option when confronting bad guys, especially in situations where your kids are sleeping in the next room.

Winchester PDX-1 Defender Rifled Slug/Buckshot Combo

Winchester’s Defender line also includes a unique load that contains both a one-ounce rifled slug and three pellets of 00 buckshot. The load is engineered to compensate for aiming errors that often occur during adrenaline-pumping encounters, especially for inexperienced shotgunners. Because the load has extra pellets, it is still possible (at least theoretically) to hit the target even if the slug misses. 

Winchester PDX-1 Defender Rifled Slug Buckshot Combo
Winchester PDX-1 Defender Rifled Slug Buckshot Combo

There are still some penetration issues with this load, so it may not be the best option for defensive shooting in populated areas like apartment buildings or cookie-cutter suburban neighborhoods. 

BEST SLUGS FOR 3-GUN COMPETITION

Most 3 Gun matches require shooters to use both birdshot and slugs. However, using a run-of-the-mill hunting slug is going to bruise your shoulder and leave you frustrated. Low-recoil options designed specifically for competition will help increase accuracy and speed up your shot times. 

Here are some options to get you started. 

Fiocchi 3 Gun Legacy Series 

Italian-owned Fiocchi makes a low-recoil slug designed specifically for 3 Gun competition. Fiocchi 3 Gun Legacy Series loads were engineered with the help of American professional speed and competition shooter, Jerry Miculek.

Winchester PDX-1 Defender Rifled Slug Buckshot Combo
Winchester PDX-1 Defender Rifled Slug Buckshot Combo

Packed with a 7/8-ounce rifled slug coated in red Teflon, these loads are designed to produce minimal smoke so you can pop off quick-succession shots with an unobstructed view of your target. 

The slug works best in a smoothbore and leaves the muzzle at a healthy 1300 feet per second. 

Fiocchi loaded these slugs in clear, easy-to-identify hulls, so you won't mix them up with your buckshot loads on the competition field. They also feature a radiused crimp for super-fast reloads.

B&P Competition 3 Gun Slug

Baschieri & Pellagri have been producing top-quality shotgun ammo since 1885. To say these guys know their way around a shotshell is a major understatement. The company’s 3 Gun slugs are specially engineered to deliver consistently reliable performance, pinpoint accuracy, and reduced recoil.  

B&P Competition 3 Gun Slug
B&P Competition 3 Gun Slug

LOOSE ROUNDS

With the best 12-gauge slugs, you can increase the accuracy, power, penetration, and range of your shotgun. As with all shotgunning applications, the key is pairing the right type of slug with your shooting needs. 

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