As part of my ongoing exploration of handloaded 12 gauge slugs and as part of an effort to reduce the amount of stuff I have to pay to bring during an impending move to California, I recently made my last ever trip to a New England firing range to gauge the potential of a small selection of slug handloads. My brief overview follows.
The 12-gauge slug loads I cooked up for this trip consisted of:
A Ballistic Products Inc. 550 grain, .715” diameter roundball over a charge of Alliant Herco, inside a 3-inch Fiocci hull and closed with a roll crimp. A cork spacer wad was added to improve fit. Estimated velocity: *Approximately 1500 f/s.
A Ballistic Products 450 grain, .660” diameter shuttlecock slug with a BPI VP20 wad as a carrier. The hull was a 2-3/4-inch Cheddite multi-hull charged with IMR PB and sealed with a roll crimp. Estimated muzzle velocity: *Approximately 1400 f/s.
A 1-1/8 ounce .735” diameter Gualandi Dangerous Game Slug inside of a 2-3/4-inch Cheddite Multi Hull over a charge of IMR PB and sealed with a roll crimp. Estimated Muzzle velocity: *Approximately 1500 f/s.
*I don’t typically chronograph shotgun slugs due to the possibility that wads and gas seals, flying wild after leaving my gun’s muzzle, will irreparably damage my chronograph.
All 5-shot groups were fired from a bench rest at targets 50 yards distant. The gun used in my test was a scoped Benelli Nova Tactical with an 18.5-inch Carlson’s aftermarket barrel. A Carlson’s rifled choke tube was installed in the barrel. A preliminary trial with all three slug loads indicated that best accuracy would be achieved through the rifled tube, so I did not record results obtained through the gun’s OEM Improved Cylinder barrel. That said, all of the tested slugs were of a weight-forward design and therefore thesuitable for use with completely smooth bore shotguns.
.715″ roundball load
I didn’t have very high expectations for the roundball load. After all, the roundball was the original shotgun slug and is ballistically on par with the smooth bore muskets of the 18th century. The roundball out of a shotgun has a reputation for poor accuracy.
I was pleasantly surprised when my roundball load printed a triangular 5-shot group that was 9-inches on its longest side. That’s certainly not award winning accuracy, but the load does show potential. With a little tweaking, I’m fairly confident a roundball load could be developed that will consistently stay within the vital zone of a deer at 50 yards.
The real potential of the roundball out of a shotgun, however, is as a 25-yard or closer, water jug busting, fun load. With an appropriate mold, roundballs can be cast quickly and easily for a few pennies each. An afternoon of casting and handloading would equal several fun plinking sessions.
450 grain Shuttlecock Slug load
My shuttlecock slug load turned out to be something of a disappointment. Three of the slugs landed within four inches of each other, but the fourth impacted 7-inches low and the fifth missed the target completely. A number of factors could have been the cause of such poor performance from shooter error (always a possibility with me) to the load simply being incompatible with my gun, barrel, and choke tube combination. Shotguns are notoriously picky about what slug loads they shoot well.
Gualandi Dangerous Game Slug
To sum up the performance of the Dangerous Game Slug in one word, “wow.” The five slugs tore a single ragged hole that was about 3-inches in length. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this level of accuracy with any other slug load, factory or handloaded.
Informal penetration and projectile integrity test
Before ending my range trip, I wanted to get at least some idea of how the three slug loads would perform in a test medium, so I fired one round of each load into a block of ballistic wax from the close distance of about 15 yards (I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss the block entirely). As mentioned in previous articles, ballistic wax isn’t intended to be an analogue for animal tissue, but it does provide a snapshot on what a projectile will do when it encounters a soft but very dense material.
My experience has been that ballistic wax stops projectiles far more efficiently than 10-percent gelatin, especially when the wax is used below its ideal temperature of 72-degrees Fahrenheit, which it was on the day of my range trip. I was therefore surprised when all three slugs fully penetrated the 10-inch length of the block. The only projectile I was able to recover was the shuttlecock slug, which I found in the snow ten feet behind the block.
Rather than expanding, the shuttlecock slug simply collapsed in on itself with the slug’s nose section and hollow-base coming together in an accordion-like fashion. Examination of the cavities created by the slugs I was not able to recover led me to believe that those projectiles also passed through the block without appreciably expanding.