Growing up in the coastal South, where dogs and shotguns were the norm during deer season, I was almost 20 years old before the opportunity arose to hunt whitetails with a rifle. Sure, I had hunted squirrels with a .22 as a teen and punched my share of holes in soda cans and water-filled milk jugs in my youth, but the opportunity to take down a big-game animal with a single, well-placed hard-hitting projectile didn’t become a regular part of my sporting life until I was out of college and living away from the coast. And I loved it.
I still frequently returned home to hunt where, today, with a few family members and friends, I now own a 470-acre farm. That farm is where I enjoy doing most of my hunting, and while I still find a lot of romance in the sound of baying of hounds on the chase and the deep boom of shotguns echoing through the swamp or across a cut corn field, my style of hunting has definitely migrated from the way I hunted as a kid. By law, in the county where I hunt, I’m still required to tote a shotgun, but where buckshot used to be the first and only option, straight-flying slugs loaded in a rifled slug gun are now my preferred choice. Indeed, in many states where center-fire rifles are not permitted, slug guns are the preferred method of taking down a heavy-bodied buck.
Today’s slug guns and load options have come a long way from the poorly flying “punkin balls” of my youth, providing hunters with zeroed accuracy at 100 yards, with enough reliable flight and knockdown power as to still be ethically effective at 150. And where an inexact hit with a .243, .308 or even .30-06 can force the hunter into a bit of a tracking chore, the size and energy transfer of a 12-gauge or even 20-gauge slug can lead to devastating blood loss and a quick, humane kill in nearly every situation. Following are five varied options to meet every hunter’s expectations.