o some of you that title might not sound very strange, but it’s a new venture for me and probably a lot of other hunters in areas like central Pennsylvania, where the firearms deer season is commonly referred to as “rifle season.” Sure, whitetail have been harvested with shotguns in the Keystone State for decades, but that is only required in the counties immediately surrounding the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where the use of rifles and handguns for deer hunting is prohibited. I’m always up for new experiences, especially when they offer an excuse to add another gun to my collection, so I decided to explore hunting deer with a shotgun.
I was in the same boat as many of you who might be contemplating doing this. Only one of the guns I’ve reviewed over the years was supplied by the manufacturer; the rest were all purchased by me or loaned to me by a friend soon after its purchase. The slug gun and all of the related equipment reviewed here, with the exception of some of the ammunition, were purchased with my own money. I like it better that way. Think of me as the Consumer Reports of the shooting sports (but without the Japanese partiality).
Our son Jason and I were successful with all our antlerless deer license applications in 2009 (properly licensed Pennsylvania hunters can take up to three whitetail does or “button” bucks, in addition to one antlered deer). I was fortunate to take two does and a button buck with my crossbow, which I just started hunting with last year. The idea of experiencing another new hunting tool was appealing, so I accordingly began shopping for a slug gun during the late summer/early fall of 2009.
A Super Slug Gun
Buckshot is only legal in one of the aforementioned shotgun–only counties, so I was required to use slugs and preferred the gun I would use be designed for slugs, as opposed to being “compatible” with that ammo. After learning what the various slug–gun choices were by checking out manufacturers’ websites, I compared weight, features, types of stocks, barrels, methods of scope mounting, appearance and price. In the end, I narrowed it to two choices and ultimately selected Remington’s new–for–2010 Model 870 Super Slug (see Remington.com). My choice was based on personal taste and preferences.
The first thing that appealed to me about this gun was the stock design, which is best described as a very open and ambidextrous thumbhole style. Thumbhole stocks are very comfortable to the hand and help reduce felt recoil to some extent because they distribute the recoil to the hand in addition to the shoulder.
I own two rifles with non–ambidextrous thumbhole stocks and discovered one glaring flaw in that design while hunting a few years ago. While sitting in my ladder stand with my back to the very wide tree trunk to which the stand was attached, I heard what could have been a deer approaching from behind and to the right of the tree. I turned to my right and, in order to be able to take a shot around the tree left–handed, if needed, started switching hand positions on my in–line muzzleloader. That’s when I found I could not easily reach the trigger with my left hand. And, if I did shoot that way, the recoil into that hand would have been painful due to the shape of the left side of the stock’s thumbhole opening. Perhaps fortunately, that deer turned out to be yet another squirrel, but I made a mental note to avoid traditional, non–ambidextrous thumbhole stocks on woods hunting rifles in the future. The Super Slug’s stock, I’m glad to say, can be shot with equal comfort from either side.
The stock has overmolded panels of soft rubber on the front of the pistol grip and sides of the forend that make it “warmer” to the touch and afford a better grip with bare hands or gloves. A soft and very recoil–absorbent Remington SuperCell recoil pad is fitted to the stock’s butt. The bottom of the stock near the toe features a built–in sling swivel attachment, and the magazine cap has an integral swivel stud.
The stock and forend are finished in Mossy Oak “Treestand” camo, while the metal surfaces are matte black with a gold “Super Slug” logo on the right side of the receiver under the ejection port. In keeping with its ambidextrous intent, the stock has raised cheekpieces on both sides. Its comb slopes forward slightly so the recoil — which is stout — cannot be directed into the shooter’s face. The length–of–pull on my gun (LOP) is 13¾"; drop to the top of the comb measures 1½"; drop at the heel is 2"; and Remington lists the gun’s overall weight (empty) as just under 8 pounds. With its scope, mine weighs 8.70 pounds empty. (How about that, an 870 that weighs 8.70 pounds!) The magazine capacity is four rounds, including one in the chamber.
The Super Slug’s barrel, which can handle both 2¾" and 3" slug loads, is unique in a multitude of ways. First, at 25½", it is among the longer slug barrels available. That might allow the ammunition to deliver a little more muzzle velocity than shorter slug barrels without being as cumbersome as a 28" or 30" field barrel shooting rifled slugs. With a 1" outside diameter, it is also very heavy–walled, which makes it stiffer and potentially more accurate. To offset some of that added weight, the barrel has five very attractive longitudinal flutes cut into the outer surface. In keeping with the gun’s commitment to slugs, the barrel is intended only for a telescopic or “red dot” sight and does not come with sights of any kind. The Super Slug’s barrel is fully rifled, with a twist rate of one turn in 35".
Another difference between the Super Slug’s barrel and those of other slug shotguns is its method of attachment to the receiver. Almost all pump and autoloader shotgun barrels have an extension that slides into the receiver and a ring that goes around the magazine tube. The barrel is held in place by tension applied by a cap that screws onto the end of the magazine and bears against that ring. That method, while certainly secure enough, is less than rock–solid. The barrel can shift a little with each shot and, if the barrel is removed and reinstalled, the slight potential to change the gun’s point–of–impact (POI) exists. That really doesn’t matter when shooting shotshells, but a slug shotgun is basically a rifle and, therefore, an inch or so shift in the POI at rifle–hunting distances, as well as better shot–grouping accuracy, become much more important.
The Super Slug’s barrel is pinned to the receiver via a Torx–head screw threaded into the barrel extension through the left receiver wall, making it like a part of the receiver and capable of delivering better accuracy and a consistent POI. In theory, that makes this gun a 100% dedicated slug gun, and it is not advertised as offering the ability to install different barrels on one receiver. One of my contacts at Remington, however, confirmed other 870 barrels can, in fact, be installed on a Super Slug. Just remember to put the Torx screw in a safe place so it can be reinstalled when the slug barrel is put back on the gun, as too long a replacement screw would extend into the action and interfere with shells being loaded into the chamber, and too short a screw could possibly strip due to limited thread engagement. Not losing the original Torx screw is important.
Scope mounting was my next consideration when choosing a slug gun. By and large, slug barrels feature a cantilever scope mount, which is a bridge–like device extending from the barrel back over the top of the receiver to which a sight can be mounted. While a good mounting method, a cantilever mount is not vibration–free or as solid as the bases and rings found on most rifles. Remington addressed that concern on the Super Slug by drilling and tapping its receiver for a scope–mount base. In fact, a Weaver–style base is included with the gun.
My final reason for choosing the 870 Super Slug has to do with brand loyalty. Including this gun, my safe currently houses 29 Remingtons — 21 rifles, seven shotguns and one XP–100R rear–grip bolt–action “handrifle.” Four of those other shotguns are also 870s — two TC–grade trap guns and two Competition Traps. The TCs were produced in 1980 and 1994, while the Competitions were made in 1985 and 1986. Trap guns can see more use in a day than most hunting guns do in many, many years, and the durability and reliability of 870s is legendary among clay–target shooters.
The 870 Super Slug carries a manufacturer’s suggested list price of $772. Its “street price” will likely be a little lower, but be warned: When this review was completed, none of our area gun shops had any in stock and none were being offered for sale on three of the online gun auction sites I frequent. I think it is an impressive–looking gun. In fact, if snipers used shotguns, I think this might be their choice. With a scope mounted on its receiver and that long, heavy, fluted barrel, it looks quite menacing!
You Need A Sight
I chose a Leupold scope for three reasons. The first is actually 22 reasons, as 19 of my Remington rifles, along with three of my other rifles and handguns chambered for rifle cartridges, wear Leupold scopes. They have never failed to yield a clear, bright image in any weather and under any conditions or exhibited a shift in zero. That again may just be “brand loyalty,” but I have found over and over Leupold scopes work best for me.
“Quick–focus” ocular lenses are all the rage these days, and many scope manufacturers have gone to lenses that can easily be turned and have very coarse threads so focusing is faster and easier. I dislike those scopes because the rubber–coated adjustment ring on the rearmost edge of the lens can render them too easily “adjusted” by contact with clothing or other objects, which can result in a fuzzy reticle image when you finally get an opportunity to take that once–in–a–season (or lifetime) shot. In addition, the design of some quick–adjust lenses, as well as that rubber ring, can make the installation of ocular lens covers difficult, even impractical. Leupold still employs a customary lock ring, so the focus setting cannot be changed unless the user makes a decided effort to change it. Leupold also offers a large — no, huge — variety of scopes and finishes, so not being able to find one that closely matches your wants and needs is almost impossible.
In keeping with that “large choice” theme, Leupold makes several scopes designed with shotguns and muzzleloading rifles in mind. The two primary models are their new UltimateSlam and their tried–and–true VX–1 Shotgun/Muzzleloader series. UltimateSlams come with a Sabot Ballistics Reticle (SA.B.R.) that features aiming points for 50, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 300 yards calibrated for saboted shotgun slugs and in–line muzzleloader bullets. They are variable–power scopes, and the magnification adjustment ring is marked with points for slugs as well as muzzleloader charges of two or three pellets of black–powder substitute. Leupold states those reticle aiming points are accurate within an inch of the point of aim out to 300 yards. While I’ve only been able to test one at 50 and 100 yards, my experience indicates that to be true. I have a 3–9x40mm UltimateSlam on my Thompson/ Center Omega in–line muzzleloader and like it a lot, but the VX–1 offers a conventional heavy duplex reticle I believed would be easier to acquire in the woods, so that is the model I selected for my Super Slug.
I think the best explanation of “parallax” I’ve heard occurred during a conversation I had with Leupold’s Director of Marketing Communication, Tim Lesser, while arranging for the purchase of the scope for my Super Slug. Tim suggested an hourglass be used as a visual aid and said, “If the narrowest portion of the glass is where the scope is parallax–free, it can be visualized that, as the range is shortened or lengthened from that zero–parallax setting, the resulting aiming error would be the same in either direction.”
In the simplest terms, “zero parallax” exists when you can move your eye around while aiming at a spot and the scope’s reticle remains aimed exactly at that spot. In practical use, a scope that does not have some sort of parallax correction will shoot to slightly different points–of–impact unless your eye is looking through the scope at exactly the same angle on every shot. When you consider things like a hasty gun mount, more or less clothing being worn or the gun being pointed more up, down, left or right than when you sighted it in, that’s pretty hard to do.
Using a scope designed for a firearm that typically will be used at shorter ranges is important if the scope does not have an objective lens adjustable for parallax correction, as most centerfire rifle scopes are set to be parallax–free at 150 yards. Leupold’s shotgun and muzzleloader–specific scopes are parallax–free at 75 yards. Since I would be testing the 870 Super Slug at 100 yards and it is unlikely I would be shooting at deer beyond that yardage, a 75–yard parallax setting obviously would result in less possible parallax errors. (See sidebar for explanation of parallax.)
Despite hunting–camp stories you might hear to the contrary, 100–yard shots are pretty much the extreme here in Pennsylvania due to the hilly terrain, smallness of farms, housing encroachment on hunting areas or all three. The anticipated shorter range at which game will be shot and the wooded environment in which those shots will be taken are the reasons I selected the VX–1’s simpler reticle. Shots in such conditions often must be taken quickly, and I felt the more basic and uncluttered the reticle, the better.
My scope was mounted with low Leupold PRW rings attached to the scope–mounting rail that came with the Super Slug. A medium or high ring set would result in the scope sitting very high over the barrel, so I strongly recommend the low set with this shotgun.
I’m a big believer in using a lens shade on my scopes’ objective lenses. If you are faced with a shot directly into the rising or setting sun, nothing will help with the glare, but if your shot is at any angle to the sun, a shade can reduce the glare quite a bit. A shade can also reduce or eliminate the possibility of spooking big game with a flash of light reflecting off your scope’s objective lens. The use of too long of a shade, however, can reduce the amount of light entering the objective lens at prime hunting times near dawn and dusk, so I limit the shade length on my big–game hunting scopes to Leupold’s shortest, which is 2½". In contrast, I use 6" shades on my varmint–rifle scopes.
Another item I use on my scopes is a flip–open lens cover. As with all my Leupold scopes, I chose Leupold’s “Alumina” covers which, while more costly than most other brands, fit beautifully and offer quieter operation because they employ magnets in addition to O–ring latches. When released from being fully latched, you hear a much softer sound than the “pop” common to other brands of lens covers. With just the magnets holding the covers closed, the slightest finger pressure on the release results in a nearly silent opening. You don’t need a “pop” spooking game!
The covers screw into the internal threads on both lenses and have a lock ring that allows you to index them at any desired angle. The rear cover also comes with an adhesive label for recording bullet drop at various ranges that fits on the inside of the cover. They also have a weatherproof O–ring sealing system and are made of aluminum instead of rubber and plastic like many other brands. I’ve found Leupold’s Alumina covers quickly spoiled me for cheaper brands.
The Leupold VX–1 scope is available for shotguns and muzzeloaders in either 2–7x with a 32mm objective lens or 3–9x with a 40mm objective. While the magnification range of the smaller scope would have been better–suited to this gun’s intended use, I went with the 3–9x version because of the greater light–gathering potential of its 8mm–larger objective lens. Street prices run about $230 for the scope, $30 for the rings, $20 for the lens shade and $80 for the pair of lens covers (visit Leupold’s website for current info).
Triggering The Shot
The Super Slug’s trigger is typical for pump–action shotguns. That is to say, it is well–suited to a shotgun that will be used for upland or waterfowl hunting. But this shotgun was to be used as a rifle, so trigger operation was more critical to accuracy, especially from a benchrest. The average pull weight of ten trigger releases was 5 pounds, 5.5 ounces on my Lyman digital trigger pull scale (click here for other pull scales), and the trigger had way more creep and travel than I like to see. Just as I was about to have the trigger massaged by a gunsmith, I learned Timney Triggers had recently released its “870 Trigger Fix Kit” consisting of a trigger sear and three sear springs for setting the pull weight from 2–4 pounds. In addition, the sear has an adjustment screw for fine–tuning the pull weight and a wrench for that purpose is included. The alternative to a kit like this is having a gunsmith stone the sear and replace the spring. That may cost a little less, depending upon the gunsmith, but it will take longer.
The Timney kit retails for about $90, and the folks at Timney were kind enough to donate one to me for this review. Timney will install the kit for $25, but installation instructions can be downloaded from their website. They appear intimidating at first, as they consist of nine pages, but after you look through them the task appears a lot less challenging because the excellent photographs occupy 90% of those pages.
The job took about ten minutes from when I pushed out the trigger–group pins to when I slid them back in. When it comes to installing the replacement pull–weight spring, you have a choice of red (4 pounds), white (3 pounds) or blue (2 pounds). I went with the white spring, as I prefer the triggers on my rifles that are used in cold weather (think wearing gloves) to break right around 3 pounds. After installing the Timney kit, the Super Slug’s trigger broke at a ten–try average of 3 pounds, 0.3–ounce with a lot less creep. I didn’t even touch the adjustment screw!
If you follow Timney’s instructions, you will not experience any flying springs or parts you don’t know how to reinstall. The finished trigger isn’t benchrest–rifle quality, but it’s at least a good hunting–rifle trigger. Especially for a pump–action shotgun, the improvement was downright impressive!
Just for grins, I tried just replacing the spring with one from the kit, as the difference in the shape of the Remington and Timney sear–mating surfaces was very apparent and I wanted to see how important the sear was to the overall improvement. As it turns out, it means a lot! Using just a Timney spring resulted in a lower pull weight, but the creep was amplified because of the lower spring tension. The lighter the trigger pull, the worse the creep felt. Just changing springs or cutting coils from the original spring will actually make the trigger feel worse.
Loading Up On Ammo
Since the Super Slug has a fully rifled barrel designed for use with saboted bullets, I intended to use that type of ammunition exclusively. Accordingly, I only used saboted bullets for my testing. Jason shot three–shot groups at 100 yards with eight different loadings from four companies to see if, as with most firearms, one load was more accurate in this gun than another. We also wanted to see if the velocity increase with 3" shells was worth the added expense and recoil. Unless the longer loads delivered better accuracy, my intention was to use 2¾" shells.
While on the subject of ammunition, I would like to thank Federal, Hornady and Remington for their generosity, as they provided the bulk of the ammunition I used for my testing at no charge. The saboted ammunition shot during this test included the following (in alphabetical order).
The 100–yard range testing was performed on July 6 during the height of a heat wave that encompassed the northeast in late June and early July. We reshot some loads at 50 yards on August 1 to see what those groups would look like.
Initially, I was disappointed with the gun’s accuracy at 100 yards, but I learned however accurate a slug gun might be, it cannot be expected to shoot with rifle–like accuracy. With that qualifier, the accuracy results for three–shot 100–yard groups were as follows (in the order we shot them).
I could be out in left field with this theory, but we found sabots all over the downrange area, some 10 yards to the side and over 40 yards from the firing line. Most of the sabots were thick plastic; in fact, some were so thick–walled the bullets from those loads were significantly smaller in diameter. Some of the sabots also had very long petals, and we found some had opened fully, while others had one petal that did not unfold. It is my theory the sabots disengaging from the bullets (which, in some cases, seems to have occurred unevenly) affected the bullet’s flight. It might be important to note the Federal loads had the longest sabots.
Keeping that in mind, look at the groups for Loads #1 and #2 — same shell length, same bullet type — but Load #2’s bullet is ¼–ounce lighter, so perhaps its flight was more easily disrupted. Interestingly, recovered sabots from the Hornady loads were the only ones that bore no engraving from the barrel’s rifling. Given all the above, it appears Remington may have tailored the Super Slug’s barrels to their own ammunition, and that is what I chose to use in it for my hunting.
In the end, slug hunting for deer didn’t appeal to me, but before I alienate all the slug hunters out there, perhaps I should explain why I feel that way. Here in south–central Pennsylvania, we are able to use centerfire rifles, centerfire handguns and black–powder rifles (45–caliber and larger), as well as slugs for deer hunting. I sort of equate using a slug gun to my in–line muzzleloader, with the exception of the speed of the follow–up shot. My highest priority for a hunting firearm with the terminal ballistics to humanely dispatch the game in question is accuracy. My muzzleloader will put three 250–grain Hornady SST saboted bullets having a muzzle velocity of 2,130 f.p.s. into a 1.372" group at 100 yards. In other words, it is much more accurate and offers more downrange killing power than a slug gun, especially when the range goes past 100 yards. I will take that one–shot performance over a quick second shot anytime. Every one of my big–game centerfire rifles has to be capable of putting three shots into less than a 1" group at 100 yards or they don’t get shot while I’m wearing fluorescent orange. My accuracy requirements for a varmint gun — rifle or “handrifle” — are even more stringent.
Having said all that, I swapped e–mails with some posters on an internet slug–hunting discussion forum, and it appears what Jason and I were able to accomplish with the 870 Super Slug is quite typical and, in several posters’ opinions, very acceptable for slug guns. Perhaps I’m just spoiled. I will say, if I was required to hunt deer with a slug gun, I would not hesitate to buy another 870 Super Slug. It has the competition covered in the areas of appearance, dependability and parts availability and is on at least equal terms as far as accuracy is concerned. Its probably $100 more expensive than the other gun I considered, but that gun didn’t offer everything the Super Slug does all in one package.
So, I guess you could say hunting with a slug gun didn’t “trip my trigger,” but the Super Slug did. I found the Super Slug very nicely built. It includes about every feature a slug hunter could want and does the job well mechanically. And nothing else out there can match its appearance! For shotgun deer hunting, I think I made the right choice.