Straight-Wall Rifles vs. Slug Weapons for Deer Searching

I grew up within the heyday of slug gun searching. Whitetail populations started to blow up within the Eighties and Nineteen Nineties, particularly in suburban areas, like in my dwelling state of Ohio. Since centerfire rifles had been deemed to be harmful for whitetail hunting in populated areas, shotgun slugs had been the best choice.

The sudden demand for slugs led to some enhancements of their design. The Foster-style lead slug—by no means significantly correct at distance—gave approach to sabot slugs that could possibly be fired by rifled shotgun barrels and kill deer out to 200 yards. Adjustable sights changed single bead entrance sights, and scopes and purple dots changed adjustable sights for elevated accuracy at longer ranges.

The widespread passage of legal guidelines to permit the usage of straight-wall cartridges for deer searching (Illinois is the newest to make straight-walls authorized for the 2023 season) has introduced into query the way forward for rifled slugs and sabots. After Ohio started permitting straight-wall cartridges in 2014, curiosity in rifles chambered for .450 Bushmaster, .45/70, .444 Marlin, and different straight-wall cartridges grew quickly. Likewise, lever-action and single-shot rifles chambered in .44 Magnum, .45 Colt, and different authorized searching calibers had been additionally in excessive demand.

The .350 Legend was released in 2019.
Winchester launched its .350 Legend in 2019. Brad Fitzpatrick

Rise of the .350 Legend

In 2019 Winchester responded to the straight-wall ammo demand by releasing the .350 Legend, a cartridge that pushed a 150-grain bullet at 2,325 fps, delivering 1,800 ft/lb. of vitality on the muzzle. It dropped simply 8 inches at 200 yards when zeroed at 100.

The .350 Legend is anemic in comparison with some bottlenecked centerfires developed across the identical time, such because the 6.5 PRC and .300 PRC. Nevertheless it produced sufficient vitality to kill whitetails constantly out to 250 yards and did so with out producing heavy recoil. The recoil vitality produced by a 7-pound rifle chambered in .350 Legend (150 grains) is a manageable 10½ kilos, much like that of a .30/30 of the identical bullet weight. Most significantly, its 1.71-inch case met the requirement for straight-wall searching in states like Michigan and Ohio. It was additionally reasonably priced for hunters. When the .350 Legend debuted, it price $1 per spherical. That worth has virtually doubled since, however you’ll be able to nonetheless purchase a field of 20 for lower than $40.

Additionally, reasonably priced bolt weapons and single photographs, like Winchester’s XPR, Ruger’s American Ranch, and the CVA Scout, had been out there in .350 Legend, and the cartridge may be run in AR rifles. I’ve shot a number of .350 Legend rifles from totally different producers and with totally different ammunition. All might shoot sub-2-inch teams at 100 yards. Some shot sub-1½ inches, and some flirted with 1-inch teams.

Right now, yow will discover straight-wall ammunition in quite a lot of choices, they usually can be shot from a number of platforms, together with lever-actions, handguns, semi-automatic rifles, and bolt-actions. Here’s a checklist of the commonest hundreds utilized by deer hunters:

  • .44 Remington Magnum
  • .357 Magnum
  • .454 Casull
  • .45-70 Govt.
  • .460 Smith & Wesson Magnum 
  • .500 Smith & Wesson
  • .450 Bushmaster
  • .444 Marlin
  • .350 Legend
  • 10mm Auto
Straight-walls are effective out to 250 yards.
Straight-walls can kill whitetails out to 250 yards. Brad Fitzpatrick

Slugs vs. Straight-Partitions

Straight partitions aren’t going to win any PRS matches, however you don’t want them to. You simply want to have the ability to hit a whitetail’s vitals at 200 yards with one. As an example, throughout Outdoor Life’s 2019 Gun Test, the Winchester XPR chambered in .350 Legend averaged 1.89-inch, five-shot teams at 100 yards. This isn’t stellar accuracy for many searching rifles, however it’s pretty much as good or higher efficiency than you’d get out of a median slug gun. The chart under exhibits how the .350 Legend and .45/70 stack up in opposition to rifled slugs and sabots when it comes to accuracy and recoil vitality (I used Bison’s ballistic calculator to find out recoil vitality).

A look at how straight-walls stack up against slugs.
Right here is how straight-walls stack up in opposition to slugs. Brad Fitzpatrick

There are some attention-grabbing takeaways from the above chart. First, the .350 Legend is by far the lightest projectile on the checklist at 150 grains, and it has the next muzzle velocity than any of the others. The 2 12-gauge slugs each produce 700 ft.-lb. extra vitality on the muzzle than the .350 Legend and 240 to just about 400 ft./lb. greater than the .45/70.

Nevertheless, the ballistic benefit adjustments on the 200-yard mark. The .350 now has extra vitality than the 1-ounce rifled slug from Federal and the .45/70 impacts with extra vitality than another load on the checklist. The .350 additionally shoots flatter than the slugs. At 200 yards, the .350 drops solely 7.6 inches when zeroed at 100 yards. The Hornady 12-gauge sabot slug drops just below a foot at 200 yards when zeroed at 100, about the identical because the .45/70. Hornady’s 20-gauge Customized Lite slug drops over 18 inches, and the 1-ounce lead 12-gauge rifled slug drops greater than 2 toes at 200 yards.

As you’ll be able to see from the chart, the 12-gauge slugs and .45/70 produce considerably extra recoil than the .350 Legend, although Hornady’s Customized Lite 20-gauge projectile produces solely barely extra recoil than the .350 Legend.

A 20-gauge slug gun.
Might slug weapons like this 20-gauge fall out of favor with deer hunters? Brad Fitzpatrick

Do Slug Weapons Have a Future in Deer Searching?

It’s clear some slugs have extra recoil and are ballistically inferior to straight partitions, particularly at distance. So aside from versatility, what does capturing a slug gun actually supply? That’s an excellent query for ammo makers, which is why I requested Winchester and Hornady the place they see the way forward for slugs headed.

“We definitely aren’t strolling away from slugs,” says Nathan Robinson, advertising supervisor for Winchester. Robinson says that demand for slugs is softening, however that it isn’t going away. In actual fact, he says, Winchester is within the strategy of creating new, extra superior shotgun slugs for hunters this fall.

“From a know-how perspective, everybody wins from going to straight wall,” Robinson stated. “Nevertheless, you’ll be able to maintain utilizing your slug gun and we’ll maintain making the ammo that shooters and hunters need.”

Hornady’s advertising and communications supervisor Seth Swerczek isn’t as optimistic about the way forward for slug weapons. However Hornady plans to proceed providing slugs as demand stays.

“My reply is speculative, however I might say the slug market is certainly going to get smaller,” Swerczek says “Though, I don’t suppose it would occur at a quick price. Sure, the straight-wall cartridges possible improve the efficient vary barely and supply typically higher accuracy in any respect ranges, however there are nonetheless a variety of slug weapons on the market and never everybody goes to leap on the straight-wall wagon abruptly.”

I additionally spoke with a gun producer that sells slug weapons and straight-wall rifles. With out divulging actual numbers, the gun maker confirmed that they’re seeing an uptick in straight-wall gross sales and a slowing of slug-gun purchases. Additionally the producer identified that improvement of recent slug weapons has thinned whereas straight-wall rifle choices proceed to progress and evolve.

Slug Weapons Nonetheless Supply Versatility

Regardless that straight partitions are gaining traction amongst deer hunters, there may be nonetheless loads of worth in proudly owning an excellent shotgun. If there’s a semi-auto or pump in your gun closet, there may be one main benefit over a rifle: You’ll be able to carry the identical gun for spring turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, geese, and geese as you do for deer season. The one extras you’ll need for whitetails are a rifled barrel—in the event you shoot sabots—and an optic for higher accuracy. As somebody who hunts throughout the nation, I may inform you It’s good to journey with only one gun. In the event you go bear searching in Maine or come to Ohio and deer hunt and wish to shoot just a few grouse or geese throughout your journey too, you are able to do all of it with only a shotgun.

Learn Subsequent: The Best Budget Hunting Rifles, Put to the Test

Slugs are still popular.
Slugs are nonetheless fashionable deer hundreds, however straight partitions are gaining traction. Brad Fitzpatrick

The Most Common Straight-Wall Rifles and Slug Weapons

Since deer hunters can legally shoot whitetails with straight-wall cartridges in most states, and slug weapons are nonetheless being utilized by hunters in former shotgun-only states, here’s a checklist of the most well-liked rifles and slug weapons for whitetail hunters. Simply do not forget that each state has its personal set of restrictions on straight-wall cartridge dimension and the weapons you might be allowed to hunt with. So, examine the laws earlier than you go.

.350 Legend

Winchester XPR

Ruger American Ranch Rifle

Mossberg Patriot Synthetic

CVA Scout


Marlin 1895 SBL

Winchester 1886 Short Rifle

Henry Side-Gate Lever Action

.450 Bushmaster

CVA Cascade

Ruger AR-556 MPR

Slug Weapons

Mossberg 500 Combo Field/Deer

Stoeger M3000R

Winchester SX4 Cantilever Buck

Henry Single Shot

Browning Maxus II Rifled Deer

Savage 212/220  

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