The Box O’ Truth #46 – Shotgun Slugs, Sabots, and Smooth Bore Barrels

I have had a few folks ask the question: “I know sabot slugs are designed to be used with rifled shotgun barrels, but can they be used effectively with a smooth bore barrel?”

That is the question we will try to answer today. First a little terminology education.

A solid, single projectile fired from a shotgun is called a “slug”. In years past, the most common type was called a “rifled slug”. This name came from the common practice of manufacturers to put “rifling” grooves on the sides of the slugs.

These rifling grooves were mostly cosmetic, as they did not really impart much spin to the slug at all as it went through the barrel. A recent video was done that shows that the rifled slugs do indeed have some rotation, but it is very little and probably does not actually do much regarding accuracy. The main purpose, other than making the customer “feel like” his slugs would spin, was to allow the slugs to be swedged through any size choke. The manufacturers of the slugs could not know for sure what choke would be used by the customer, so they put these grooves on the slugs to allow them to swedge through any normal choke.”

We then must ask, “If the rifling does not spin the slug, then what causes the rifled slug to fly true?” The answer is that the slugs usually had a hollow base and they were heavier in the front than in the back, and flew straight for the same reason a dart flies true.

Some other types of rifled slugs, like Brenneke slugs, have a solid slug with a lighter-weight base that was attached to the slug. This method worked in the same manner.

But with the advent of rifled slug barrels, manufacturers developed a sabot type slug. (Sabot is pronounced “say-bow”, and comes from the French word for shoe.)

A sabot slug has a solid slug encased in a removable sabot that will be spun by the rifling in the barrel and then separate from the slug after it leaves the barrel. The slug will continue on without the sabot and continue to spin for stabilization. This results in much more accuracy for the shooter of the sabot slugs.

But our question today is: Can these sabot slugs be effectively shot through a smooth bore shotgun?

Well, only one way to find out.

First, we will shoot some sabot slugs through a rifled barrel. My friend Vern has a Remington 11-87 with a rifled barrel and a scope. We will be shooting at 50 yards today.

Some folks use these shotguns for much longer shots, but this is a more reasonable range for best accuracy.

One type of sabot slugs we will use today are some “Remington Premier Copper Solid, 1 Ounce Hollow Point Magnum Sabot Slugs”.

Quite a name, ain’t it?

Quite a price too. These slugs cost me right at $4 per shell.

That adds up quickly and I imagine not too many folks are willing to do a lot of target practice with them.

They are advertised at 1450 fps from the muzzle.


We will also try some “Quik-Shok Sabot Slugs”.

These slugs are a “pre-stressed” slug that is designed to separate upon impact into three parts, which will each create its own wound channel. They are 1 1/8 ounce slugs, and are a full .68 caliber.

They are advertised at 1500 fps from the muzzle.

These rounds sell for $13 a box, with 10 shells per box, so are $1.30 each.


We will then compare them to a standard rifled slug, some “Remington Slugger Rifled Slugs, 1 ounce Lead Slugs”.

These slugs cost $4.50 for a box of five, so they are about 90 cents apiece.

They are advertised at 1569 fps from the muzzle.


Well, let’s burn up some money. smilie tongue out

First, we will shoot a 5 shot group at 50 yards from a rest with the rifled barrel and scope.

Here's the set up.

Here’s the set up.

Here I am on the shotgun.

Here I am on the shotgun.

Notice that I am using a sand bag between my shoulder and the gun.

If you plan on shooting 30 slugs from the bench in one session, this is a good idea.

We will first try the Remington Copper Solid Sabot Slugs.


The group is slightly to the left of POA, but that does not matter.

It would be easy to adjust the scope to get it to hit at POA, but we aren’t here today to adjust the scope.

Notice that the group is about a 2 inch group.

Very nice for a shotgun.


Then we changed the rifled barrel for a smooth bore barrel with a Cylinder Bore (no choke)

We then shot a 5 shot group with the same ammo and a smooth bore.

Here it is.

It is about a 9 inch group. (These are marked with a triangle)

Much larger than with a rifled barrel.

46-8But notice this.

Here is a close-up of two of the rounds on the target.

Here is a close-up of two of the rounds on the target.

Notice that they are flying sideways and making a key-hole in the target.

This indicates that they were not stabilized and started flying sideways in flight.

Now, would this still kill a deer?

I’m sure it would.

But why pay $4 per round for sabot rounds if they are not going to fly straight and make use of the hollow point bullet?

Next, we tried some of the Quik-Shok Sabot Slugs from the rifled barrel.


Here's the results.

Here’s the results.

About a 6 inch group.

Not as good as the Remington in this rifle, but remember that rifled shotgun barrels have preferences for certain brands of shells.

This one seems to like the Remingtons better.

Let’s try these shells through the smooth bore.

Looks like about an 8 inch group (these are marked with triangles), almost as good as the rifled barrel.

Who would have thunk it?


I took this picture to remind us of an important fact.

A bead-only sight, which is very common on shotgun barrels, is not conducive to precision marksmanship.

The bead covers a lot of target at 50 yards.

I honestly believe I could have shrunk these groups in the smooth bore, if I had rifle sights or a scope.


We picked up some of the sabots from the Remington shells.

Here they are.

Here they are.

They were found at about 25 yards from the gun.

We recovered some of the wads from the Quik-Shok shells.

They were actually found behind the target, indicating that they stayed on the slugs all the way to the target at 50 yards.


Let’s compare that result to standard rifled slugs from this smooth bore.


We will first use the 11-87 with the smooth bore barrel.

The group was about a 5 inch group, and would have been a 2 to 3 inch group without the flier.

That’s pretty amazing in my opinion.


I decided to try five older Remington rifled slugs through my 870 Remington Riot Gun.

It is cylinder bore and a 19 inch barrel.


Here's the results.

Here’s the results.

The five shots went into about 4 inches.

Very nice.

But also notice the change in POI with my gun compared to Vern’s 11-87.

This reminds us that we need to check different shotguns to determine POI with slugs.

I was about to load up and go home, but Vern said, “Why don’t we try some of the non-sabot rifled slugs through the rifled barrel.”

I told him it might deposit lead in the rifling, but he said we could clean it up when we got home.

So, I loaded up the rifled barrel with the non-sabot rifled slugs and asked Vern, “Okay. What’s it going to do? Small group or big group?”

He thought it would cause more spread.

I thought it might shoot a tight group.

I told him. “One thing for sure, one of us is wrong.”

Here we go.


Here's the resulting group.

Here’s the resulting group.

All five went into a 3 inch group (they are marked with squares).

Without the flier, it would have been a 2 inch group.

Very surprising.

Lessons learned:
  1. Sabot slugs in a rifled barrel are very accurate.
  2. Shooting sabot slugs through a smooth bore is a waste of money. They will “work” but accuracy suffers and there is no reason to spend the extra money for sabot slugs if you are going to shoot them through a smooth bore. Besides, if they are not flying straight and nose-first, they will not expand as designed.
  3. Different shotguns “like” different loads. Just like rifles and pistols. You must try different loads to find what your gun “likes”.
  4. Shooting a non-sabot rifled slug through a rifled barrel can cause them to shoot into very nice groups.
  5. When we got home and cleaned the rifled barrel, the five non-sabot, rifled slugs had not really deposited any lead that we could notice. The barrel cleaned-up sparkling clean very easily.
  6. It’s fun to shoot stuff.

Thanks to Vern for the loan of the shotgun and for help hauling all the equipment.

20 Comments on The Box O’ Truth #46 – Shotgun Slugs, Sabots, and Smooth Bore Barrels

  1. I have a 870 20ga . I shoot rem 2 3/4 inch shells at 50 yards 1/2 oz are very accurate . Three shoot groups under 1 1/2. The barrel is smooth bore with mod choke. I feel this is a very good shell. Never tried any sabot slugs.

  2. I may have missed it but did you ever shoot the Remington’s Slugger out of a rifled barrel? That is what I was interested in finding out.

    • Yes. That was the last thing they tested. Very accurate.

      • No, the last test were the rifled slugs through smooth bore.

        • “I was about to load up and go home, but Vern said, “Why don’t we try some of the non-sabot rifled slugs through the rifled barrel.”

          I told him it might deposit lead in the rifling, but he said we could clean it up when we got home.

          So, I loaded up the rifled barrel with the non-sabot rifled slugs and asked Vern, “Okay. What’s it going to do? Small group or big group?””

  3. Thank you for your great articles and tests in “The Box O’Truth”. I would like to have seen the Lyman 525gr. sabot slug tested in both a smoothbore and a rifled barrel. I, myself, shoot these out of a smoothbore, and have shot figure 8 two shot holes pretty consistantly at 30 yards. I will be doing longer range testing when the weather breaks. I load these myself, but consider each one to be a work of art, and have now upgraded to a beautiful roll crimp with BPI’s tool, so I don’t shoot more than I deem necessary to prove a point. Thanks again for your extremely well done articles.

  4. Very good information Old Painless !

  5. Very interesting and helpful article! thank you!

  6. Thanks a lot for this very useful step-by-step explanation. I was just about to buy some sabot slugs for a smooth bore shooting and your article has saved me tons of money.
    As long as a rifled barrel shotguns are forbidden here in Russia, we usually use smoothbore barrels with a regular full bore slugs for a cylinder bore and subcaliber slugs (can be called a kind of a sabot ones) for barrels with chokes. My best result with these both types is a 2 inch group in 55 yards (50 meters) with a bench rest and iron sights through my Fabarm XLR 12 ga. shotgun.

  7. Charlie Smith // April 2, 2016 at 11:03 am // Reply

    I have a Russian single shot 20 gauge, with a chrome lined IC barrel, I made an epoxy rear sight for it and use the bead as a front sight, it shoots marvelously well with Challenger Brenneki style slugs. Will keep a consistent 4″ group at 75 yards, (which is what I consider about their practical energy limit.
    I one time outshot a rather fancy laminated thumb-stock, scope mounted .308 in an impromptu offhand competition. You could not knock the grin off my face with a shovel.

  8. so,rifled slugs through a smooth bore.and sabot through a rifled [email protected]

  9. Thank you, very interesting article and test. I was looking for information about sabot slugs and rifled/smooth bore barrel and found your article. I found information about shooting sabot slugs through a smooth bore extremely useful.

  10. “Without the flier, it would have been a 2 inch group.” What do you mean by “flier”? Thanks

  11. You missed the main takeaway from your article: that at the distance you shot the smooth bore with rifled slugs (if you had put a scope on it) would have been I dentical in accuracy to the rifled barrel using sabots that did have a scope on it. This means don’t waste your money on a rifled barrel.

    Reason why: Your data showed about 2″ groups using premium smooth slugs in a rifled barrel using a scope. But in your smooth bore 870 Rem riot gun WITH NO SCOPE and using rifled slugs you got a 4″ pattern. This means that if you had used a scope you would have achieved about a 2″ spread which is the SAME as you got using the scoped rifle barrel with sabots. Bottom line: two scoped shotguns, one rifled and firing sabots yields the same accuracy as does a scoped smooth bore shooting rifled slugs!! The fact that a smooth bore shoots slugs as accurately as does a rifled barrel is the most important take away from your data so why didn’t you say so? This also means that at these distances you don’t need to spend extra money to get a rifled barrel.

  12. Daniel Boutin // January 22, 2017 at 10:08 am // Reply

    I have a Winchester M59 with a full choke barrel. As it is, I can’t use this gun for wildfowl as it’s impossible for me to get bismuth shot. Can I shoot slugs through this barrel? Can I cut the barrel in order to have no choke? It would make a great gun for ruffed grouse and rabbits.

  13. Old_Painless // January 27, 2017 at 11:14 am // Reply

    Hi Jim. Sorry for the slow reply. You are correct that at 50 yards it didn’t make much difference. But at least in southeast Texas, most shots at deer are at longer distances. At 100-125 yards, the scope and rifled barrel and sabots would shoot more accurately than a normal rifled slug from a smooth bore.

  14. Joseph Esposito // January 28, 2017 at 8:04 pm // Reply

    I shot 5″ groups with Remington rifled slugs in a smoothbore 870 20″ barrel with open sights @50yds. When I switched to Federal rifled slugs they were all over the target. Lesson: you are right, find the ammo your particular gun shoots best.

  15. I have a combo gun – 223 over a 12ga. It has nice sights, so I tried both regular slugs and sabot slugs to see if I could take advantage of the good sights.

    Regular slugs shot well. The sabot would shoot a few of the slugs to a tight group but some fliers, much farther out than you had. Conclusion was sabot are only for rifles barrels. Might work in a rifled choke, too. Have not tried that.

  16. Hi, I just read your post on shotgun slugs. very interesting and helpful, but my question actually concerns barrels. Do you know of any company that manufactures an 18.5″ long, rifled barrel? I’ve searched the internet a lot and can’t find one anywhere. Is such a barrel simply not made? Thanks for your help.

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