Shotgun Shooting with Buckshot and Slugs

Slugs and buckshot loads are used primarily for big game hunting, home defense as well as police and military applications

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A slug is a single cylindrical projectile near bore diameter with a flat or hollow based fired from a shotgun, or in the case of a sabot load, it is a single projectile within a container or wad column called a sabot.

Previous to the development of the slug, a single bore diameter sized lead round ball, sometimes referred to as a pumpkin ball was used

Rifled Slug

Slug Performance

It has been my experience that rifled slugs fired from most smooth bore shotgun barrels will deliver accuracy about on par with that of a smooth bore revolutionary war musket.

40 yards is about the maximum range that the average shooter could reliably expect to hit a deer in a vital area. Of course a shotgun with a rifled barrel firing sabot slugs is a different proposition altogether. Properly sighted in this may increase the practical range to 100 yards.

Slugs are generally best fired from skeet or improved cylinder choke but every shotgun is potentially different.


Buckshot is best fired from an improved cylinder choke. Though it may be counter intuitive, a modified or tighter choke will often produce uneven and unpredictable patterns as the pellets are compressed and deformed by the choke.

410 Buckshot and Slug Loads

While there are slug and buckshot loads available for 410 gauge they really don't compare to the larger gauges in terms of performance or effectiveness. The standard 410 slug weighs only a fifth of an ounce or about 87 grains and really is inadequate and in many places illegal to use for deer hunting.

The common buckshot loads made contain three 36 caliber balls. Really they should be considered as more of a novelty than an effective hunting or defensive load.

Reloading with Buckshot

One of the more challenging aspects of reloading shotgun shells are Buckshot loads. Most people opt to stick to buying factory shells as, it is rather difficult to match factory ballistics and performance. Unlike birdshot which is dumped into a shell, buckshot has to be arranged by hand in layers. There has been a dearth of buckshot loading data from the major powder manufacturers with little in the way of innovation or updates in the past twenty years. What data there is generally calls for the construction of a multi-piece wad column usually with specialized components from Ballistic Products Inc which are not useful for loading anything but buckshot.

12 Gauge 2 3/4 inch #1/2 Buckshot Loads (Sub Sonic)

In 2011, I tried my hand at working up a 12 gauge buckshot load with mixed results.

I was curious to see if it would be possible to create an effective buckshot load utilizing commonly available components that I had on hand.

As a starting point I took a 3 1/2 dram load from the 2000 Edition of the Alliant Powder Reloaders Guide that uses a charge of the relatively slow burning Herco powder in a Remington STS case . The recipe called for 1 1/8 shot in a WAA12 wad with 24.5 grains of Alliant Herco and a Remington 209 primer. The listed muzzle velocity of that load is 1250 feet per second. In place of the lead shot and wad column, I substituted nine 0.311 inch cast lead balls in layers of three within a Claybuster CB1118-12 wad which created a payload just shy of an ounce. I also substituted the Winchester 209 primer for the Remington brand. The test gun used was a Remington 870 pump shotgun with a 20 inch smooth bore improved cylinder choked barrel. Recoil was comparable to the average game load. Firing six shots at a half scale silhouette at 25 yards, the pellet spread was about 3 feet in diameter more than twice the size of patterns created by commercially manufactured buckshot loads. Additionally muzzle velocities averaged 1085 feet per second well below the original loads listed muzzle velocity of 1250 feet per second.

12 Gauge
Hull Remington STS
Projectile Nine 0.311" lead balls
Wad Claybuster CB1118-12 - equivalent to Winchester WAA12
Powder 24.5 grains Alliant Herco
Primer Winchester 209
Firearm Remington 870
Barrel Length 20.0 inches
Avg Muzzle Velocity 1085 feet per second
My conclusion is that while this load might be useful for home defense at distances of 60 feet or less, the pattern spread was too much to be a practical load for big game hunting.

Part of the problem may lie in the fact that the shot was cast and as a result had a sprue which may unbalance the pellets. Also no buffer material was used.

20 Gauge 2 3/4 inch Buckshot Load

20 Gauge
Hull Federal Game Hull with Remington STS
Projectile Twenty #3 Lead Buckshot
Wad 1/8 thick felt and Remington SP20 wad with petals cut off
Powder 24.0 grains Alliant Blue Dot
Primer Winchester 209
Firearm Stoeger Uplander shotgun
Barrel Length 26.0 inches
Avg Muzzle Velocity 1070 feet per second

Fired in both the improved cylinder choked and modified choked barrels. The muzzle velocity averaged 1070 feet per second in each barrel.