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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Are Shotguns Viable for Deer?

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, June 2, 2012.)

The short answer is yes, now more than ever.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, traditionally a rifle hunting state, I had never used a shotgun for deer. That’s not to say no one hunted with shotguns. Going back to the depression years and earlier (long before my time), many a hunter put whitetails down for dirt naps using 12 gauge punkin balls. Yes, shots were either short range affairs or long on luck, because smoothbores plus punkin balls never added up to bragging rights in the accuracy department.
Prevailing wisdom still holds
that shotguns are short-range weapons.
Prevailing wisdom still holds that shotguns are short-range weapons. Never mind that manufacturers are using barrels engraved with rifling that imparts rifle-like accuracy. Never mind the truckload of energy today’s modern slugs pack. Never mind their deep, bone-busting penetration. Never mind the big holes they punch that drain life quickly.

Today, some states still limit deer hunters to shotguns only. New shotgun technology has broadened choices, and forced granddad’s old smoothbore into a long-awaited retirement.

Fully rifled barrels now come on a variety of slug guns, from the inexpensive H & R single-shot, to the über-expensive TarHunt bolt action. Remington, Winchester, Browning, Ithaca, Mossberg, Thompson Center, Benelli and other companies produce slug guns incorporating modern technology whether in break-open, bolt, pump, or semi-auto configuration.

Other choices include virtually any 12-gauge using screw-in chokes. My Remington 870 turkey gun with a rifled choke tube downed a good 8-point in New York a few years ago. In that case, Lightfield 2¾" Hybred Lite slugs proved very accurate.

With an eye toward continuing to hunt New York’s shotgun season, I decided to buy a bolt action slug shotgun. However, during the delay between ordering it and its arrival, the rules changed. Chautauqua County has joined Cattaraugus and others in permitting rifles, so a shotgun isn’t the only option.

I thought about canceling the order but, hey, other states still mandate shotguns – particularly Ohio to the west – and there’s no reason I can’t use it in Pennsylvania, New York, or any state during firearms seasons. It would also be perfectly at home in a Canadian bear stand.

The shotgun I purchased is the new Savage 220F, and it’s very pleasing to this rifleman. For one thing, it looks much like a rifle, and it’s lighter than most slug guns. For another, the bolt action with a detachable magazine handles and feels like a rifle. Target acquisition is rifle-like – when I shoulder it the scope it’s perfectly centered in front of my eye. Finally, its accuracy is on par with many rifles.

The Savage 220F also has the adjustable AccuTrigger, which is set to break at about 3 pounds. If there’s any creep associated with that trigger, it’s the one who owns the finger that squeezes it.

For optics, I mounted the Alpen Apex XP Model 4053, a 2-10 power with a big 44mm objective. Set at 2-power, it will be great for close-range work from a treestand, and even at higher powers it will squeeze extra visibility from dim light.

I tried a variety of ammunition. Remington 2¾" AccuTips proved most accurate, with an astonishingly tight .61" three-shot group. Lightfield Hybred Mag-20 and Federal Premium Vital-Shok (both 3" loads) performed well, too.

I toted this Savage rig a few times last fall, and never felt like I was carrying a shotgun. Unfortunately, the times I carried it were the same times deer made themselves scarce.

If you’re looking to hunt a shotgun state, or want one gun that will perform equally well in shotgun or rifle states, you need to consider a shotgun with a rifled barrel. Certainly this Savage leads the pack among those that will be effective out to 150 yards and more. That’s what we expect of rifles.

Can you do better with some other slug gun? Probably, but not without laying out a lot more cash than the Savage 220F will cost you. Modern slug guns are far better deer killers than granddad’s old smoothbore, and this one will bring home the venison without needing the luck granddad sometimes depended on with his old punkin ball launcher.


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