Not long ago a reader asked for a feature on shotgun slugs. He asked for a report on not only the usual fare found in most sporting-good shops, but also the most powerful slugs for personal defense. The standard for many years has been the 1-ounce (437.5 grain) slug at 1500 fps or so. Then the reduced-recoil slugs were introduced for police use and found much popularity among civilian shooters. Some slugs are designed to limit penetration, and there are slugs intended for use in a situation when extra penetration is needed. There are areas in which only shotguns are allowed for hunting, and it is good to have a choice among slugs for long range and large animals. We focused on slugs for home defense and animal defense. As such, there was necessarily a dual rating system, which we noted in each segment. Limited penetration is desirable in most home-defense situations. For use against bears, the greatest penetration is needed. Some of these slugs are accurate well past 50 yards, even 100 yards in a rifled slug barrel. In a proper rifled shotgun barrel, we feel that Lightfield’s claims of accuracy to 150 yards would be borne out.
These are big chunks of lead. They produce a considerable wound track whether they expand or not. We took a hard look at these slugs and found interesting performance. We also found a great deal of recoil. As an example, the strongest Lightfield slug measured a 933 power factor. We debated including PF, as it isn’t the same thing with a long gun as a handgun, but kept the figures because they are useful for comparing recoil. The heaviest slugs have nearly twice the recoil of the average full-power 30-06 rifle load. Keep this in mind. The test ended with sore shoulders, one broken nail, and quite a bit of use of penetrating ointments! Most folks will not go to the range and fire 40 full-power slugs from a riot gun in one morning. As our former police firearms instructor noted, it isn’t about putting down a lot of lead, but you can do that with the reduced-recoil slug. If you need to stop one of the big cats, a feral dog, or a bear, then you need to get on target and make every shot count. The level of energy these shotgun slug loads displayed is impressive.
12-Gauge Slug Performance Data
|Gun: Mossberg Cruiser Pump Shotgun w/ 18.5-in. barrel
|Average Velocity (fps)
|Muzzle Energy (ft.-lbs.)
|Average Accuracy (in.)
|Power Factor (pf)
|Expanded Width (in.)
|Retained Weight (gr.)
|Penetration in Water (in.)
|437.5-gr. Federal Hydra-Shok LEF127RS
|437.5-gr. Federal Vital Shok TruBall PB127
|437.5-gr. Remington Man. Recoil 20290
|437.5-gr. Winchester Segment S12PDX1S
|437.5-gr. Hornady American Gunner 86231
|465-gr. Lightfield Bucks, Boars and Bears
|495-gr. DDupleks Monolit 32 AM1934
|495-gr. DDupleks Broadhead Hexolit 32
|547-gr. Lightfield Max. Exp. Sabot
|547-gr. Lightfield Hybrid EXP
|600-gr. Lightfield IDS Commander
|602-gr. Brenneke Black Magic
|Notes: To collect accuracy data, we fired five shot groups off a bench rest. Distance: 25 yards. We recorded velocity with a Shooting Chrony Master Chronograph. The first sky screen was 10 feet from the muzzle. *All shards, average of three shots. ** Three pieces. We fired three three-shot groups with each load. l To calculate IPSC power factor, multiply bullet weight in grains by the velocity in fps, then divide by 1000. l The retained-weight column shows the recovered bullet weight, then that weight as a percentage of the unfired bullet weight.
During the research, we also consulted some who had faced big bears, including grizzlies. One correspondent had not shot a grizzly, but as a young man was given the task of skinning one that has been taken down by Canadian authorities. He told us that they are nothing like a moose or a brownie. The attachment of the sinew, the ligaments, he noted, simply wore out knives and cleavers. It was quite a chore. Large, aggressive animals are very dangerous and very tough. While shotgun slugs have their place against a grizzly, a 375-caliber or larger rifle might be the better choice. Just the same, these slugs gave good performance. For personal defense, the reduced-recoil loads are excellent, while the full-power loads would be effective against cougars and brown bears, not to mention the ever-dangerous feral dog and, the most dangerous, criminals. As for our choice of shotgun for testing, the pump action shotgun is used by many of us for home defense. It is the type of shotgun that would be kept in a light plane in Alaska or the back of a truck just in case. The 18-inch riot gun delivered good performance, we felt, and while the recoil of some of these loads were doubtless more than many would like to handle, the performance on target was also impressive. Velocity was less than the rated velocity of most slugs, as they are designed for use in a 24- to 28-inch barrel hunting shotgun. As one of the raters noted, both the Remington 870 shotgun and a 165-pound rater were fighting out of their weight class firing some of these slugs.
Here’s what our shooters and the water jugs said about each round.
Federal Premium Law Enforcement Tactical 12-Gauge Hydra-Shok 1-oz. 2.75-inch Rifled Slug LEF127RS
These were sold for $4.27/5 at Ammodepot.com. The Hydra-Shok rifled slug is a hollow-point slug. After firing, the hollow point was quite hollow from one end to the other of the slug. This load averaged 1199 fps. Recoil was not objectionable as a full-power load, but velocity was sufficient to instigate some expansion. Expansion is more like flattening, but it certainly exists. And there is an appreciable difference between 0.75 inch with no expansion and 0.99 inch with modest expansion. The recovered slug weighed a solid 1 ounce. Penetration was nine inches. We feel that for home defense this is the most viable loading tested with a good combination of modest recoil and good wound potential. Accuracy was good and recoil manageable. We rated this load the best buy for personal defense. It is not suited for defense against large animals.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (BEST BUY: PERSONAL DEFENSE)
DDupleks Monolit 32 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 1.125-oz. Flat-Nose Solid Steel Slug AM1934
We bought these for $6.95/5 at SGAmmo.com. This slug was designed in Latvia to give those limited to shotgun hunting good performance. The slug is all steel and is contained in a sabot. The Monolit 32 uses a 495-grain slug at 1357 fps recorded velocity. The Monolit 32 penetrated 36 inches of water. There was no deformation of the projectile. Accuracy is comparable to the other slugs. This slug is reliable, accurate, and, based on penetration without deformation, one of the two best choices tested for animal defense. It is far too penetrative for home defense, in our opinion.
The DDupleks Monolit 32 incorporates steel and polymer in its construction. This steel slug is safe for use in all shotguns due to the construction and use of polymers to ensure minimal friction as the slug passes through the barrel and allows it to be used with a rifled, Improved, or Modified choke. Not recommended for use with Full choke.
The lighter-weight construction gives this slug a higher muzzle velocity and less drop at 100 yards than traditional lead slugs. For more information, log on to DDupleks-USA.com.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Winchester PDX1 12-Gauge Defender 2.75-in. 1-oz. Segmented Rifled Slug Shotshells
We bought these for $19.49/10 at BassPro.com. This loading features a 1-ounce segmented slug. The slug is designed to break up on striking a soft target. For this reason, the slug is ideal for personal defense. The segmenting slug should do more damage than a hollow-point slug. Those favoring the greater accuracy potential of a single slug over buckshot will like the segmented slug. One of the shards exited the line of water jugs. One was found at about 16 inches of penetration, and the other bounced off the wall of a jug, denting it but not exiting, at 18 inches.
The effect of this slug would be enough to stop a threat, we believe. This is a load for personal defense, but not for use against larger animals, such as bears. It is entirely possible the segments would miss a vital organ deep in an animal, even if you aim true.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Brenneke Black Magic Magnum 12-Gauge 3-in. 602-gr. Slug SL-123BMM
We bought this for $10.63/5 at CheaperThanDirt.com. This slug maintained a good portion of its advertised velocity of 1560 fps in the Remington riot gun, breaking 1470 fps. Accuracy was excellent, better than the shotgun would do justice to. All loads tested are more than accurate enough for defense or hunting use. The Brenneke exhibited the greatest penetration of any load tested. To gather the penetration data, we went through several errors, with water jugs blown about and the slug not recovered.
Finally, we managed to load the water jugs into a large trash can and carefully arrange the water jugs on an old antique ironing board (wooden top) in the folded position to keep the water jugs equal and to duplicate the line up used with the other slugs. The effect was tremendous. After the last test, the ironing board was no longer useful as a household item because the boards were cracked and there were gaps blown into them. In two cases, the slug penetrated to 48 inches and was found spent just before penetrating the ninth jug. In the third test, the slug penetrated the ninth jug but only slightly. Overall excellent performance. This is the top-rated slug for animal defense. This level of penetration would not be good for home defense, however.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (OUR PICK: DANGEROUS GAME)
Hornady American Gunner 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 1-oz. Rifled Slug 86231
We bought this for $10.50/5 from Hornady.com. This is a full-power slug rated at 1600 fps in a standard hunting shotgun. Surprisingly, our 18-inch-barrel riot gun exhibited 1480 fps. Like some of the other slugs, the Hornady broke up on impact. However, penetration was 18 inches. This is on the long end for personal defense, but ideal for facing felons who are heavily clad. Also, the shards were not found in the jugs but were thrown out of the water jugs, as evidenced by exit holes in the #2 and #3 jugs. We had to place the water jugs in a large plastic waste can to capture the fragments.
We feel that this is an excellent load for personal defense in many situations. Despite the full-power velocity, recoil was not excessive. For those favoring 18 inches of penetration to be certain of reaching the vitals, this is the load. We would rate it an A for personal defense and a B for animal defense.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Federal Premium Vital-Shok 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 1-oz. TruBall Hollow Point Rifled Slug
We bought these in five-round boxes for $4.19 from CheaperThanDirt.com. This load is similar to the Hydra-Shok load tested. A low-recoil loading, the TruBall hollowpoint breaks 1175 fps with a 1-ounce slug. Control is good and so is accuracy. Compared to the Hydra-Shok, recoil is subjectively the same. In water testing expansion is less—not that 0.87-inch average is a poor result. The Vital Shock slug penetrates 18 inches of water. Some will like this performance. This is service grade, suitable for police use. The TruBall system was developed for superior accuracy.
Our tests cannot confirm this out beyond our test distance, but the slug is accurate. The slug kept its weight and drove straight, which some prefer to the Winchester segmented load. It isn’t as ideal for personal defense as those with less penetration, nor as good as the slugs with more penetration for animal defense, but it sits in the middle and is affordable.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
Lightfield Hybred EXP 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 1.25-oz. Sabot Slug LF-12
We bought boxes of five for $12.99 at Cabelas.com. This load breaks 1206 fps on average, but the slug weighs 547 grains. Recovered weight was 450 grains. The slug expanded and has plenty of energy. While advertised at higher velocity, we were using a riot gun with an 18-inch barrel. A 28-inch barrel would likely perform better in terms of fps and energy. Expansion was good, with actual expansion rather than flattening. Penetration was 14 inches.
Water is hard on soft lead slugs, as we have discovered. Recoil isn’t difficult to control and accuracy was good. While the load is heavier than most would care to manage for home defense, it isn’t out of the question. For hunting thin-skinned game, this is a credible loading. It would also serve for defense against all but the smaller bears.
GUN TESTS GRADE: A-
Remington Express Managed Recoil 12 Gauge 2.75-in. 1-oz. Rifled Slug 20290
We bought these for $5.29/5 at Brownells.com. We really liked the Remington Managed Recoil slug. As one of the raters noted, what is not to like? This was by far the easiest slug to shoot well. At 1113 fps average velocity, this slug still threw a ball with 1203 foot-pounds of energy and penetrated 33 inches of water. This load uses two fiber wads in the shell. Interestingly, the first fiber wad was found in the third jug at 18 inches and the second in the fourth jug at 24 inches very consistently.
This load isn’t fast and doesn’t deform, but it seems to have plenty of penetration for defense against most animals, save, perhaps, for the largest bears. It would be too much for home defense, we feel. We rated it down based on penetration. If considered for animal defense, it is short on energy compared to the other loads, but penetration is clearly there.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Lightfield Bucks, Boars and Bears 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 465-gr. Sabot
We bought this for $13.10/5 at Tarhunt.com. It penetrated 12 inches and fragmented. Velocity is 1320 fps. This is a fast load with too much recoil for home defense, we believe, although wound ballistics would be superior to the lighter loads for animal defense. The soft lead slug left large shards in the water jugs. Accuracy is good. We rated it down for animal defense based on penetration.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Lightfield Hybred-Elite 12-Gauge 3-in. 1.25-oz. Sabot Slug
The Lightfield 3-inch saboted slug has “Maximum Expansion” as part of its box description. This is marked for use in rifled barrels, but it’s safe to use in smoothbores. We bought the shells for $12.99 at Brownells.com. This 547-grain load breaks 1550 fps. Recoil is certainly there in our 18-inch riot gun. Penetration was right at 18 inches, and the slug fragmented. Although there were some shards in the water, we could not find a piece of lead larger than a few grains. This is dynamic penetration and expansion and should prove deadly against thin-skinned game. Unless you’re looking for this kind of fragmentation, we think there are better choices above.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Lightfield Commander IDS Plus 12-Gauge 3-in. 1.375-oz. Sabot Slug LFCP3-12
We bought the Lightfield Commander IDS Plus for $13.99/5 at Tarhunt.com. This is the heaviest Lightfield slug tested at 600 grains. Velocity was high at 1555 fps. Energy was the highest of any load tested at a surprising 3220 foot-pounds. There is a lot of power in that big slug. Penetration was 18 inches.
The water jugs, including the ones backing the first four or five, were thrown about like nothing we have ever seen. The slug fragmented, with heavy shards of lead found in the third jug. It was consistent to find an average of 390 grains of lead in the third water jug. It is the strongest Lightfield slug and earned an A for penetration and energy. We rated it down a grade based on fragmentation.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
DDupleks Broadhead Hexolit 32 12-Gauge 2.75-in. 495-gr. Expanding Steel Slug
We bought this for $9.95/5 at SGAmmo.com. This all-steel slug is designed to offer greatly improved wound potential and limit ricochet. The 495-grain Hexolit slug is similar to the Monolit in appearance but with the additional component of a ring of six shard-like projectiles sheathed in a polymer housing on the nose of the slug. The slug travels through the bore in this sabot-like carrier. Average velocity is 1472 fps. Accuracy is good, but not on the level of the other loads, with a three-shot 50-yard group of about 5 inches. (All slugs were tested at 25 yards for accuracy. If we had a sufficient supply, some were tested at 50 yards.) This is acceptable since the Hexolit is intended to be used at moderate range; one of the other slugs would be better suited to long-range use. When fired into water, the Hexolit slug demonstrates the loss of the nose section. The manufacturer, DDupleks of Latvia, claims that the six metal pieces of the nose will be pulled away from the main slug in a radial pattern with a hard impact, and radiate from the nose in other situations.
Per our testing, the nose of the slug did shed the petals in every instance. As an example, in the first test firing, there were holes in the second and third water jugs from the petals, but only one petal was actually found in the water jugs. Average penetration was 24 inches. The Hexolit slug demonstrates impressive wound ballistics. We feel that of all slugs tested, this slug offers excellent wound potential for personal defense and for use against light-skinned animals. We rated it down a grade on accuracy. It might not have the ideal penetration for home defense, as it is a little on the long side, and recoil is greater than the reduced-recoil slugs. However, this slug, for some reason, had less apparent recoil than the power factor would indicate.
GUN TESTS GRADE: B
Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.