Best 12 Gauge Ammo for Deer Hunting: Buckshot vs. Slug
One reason why I love shotguns so much is their versatility.
They are used for hunting upland game, waterfowl, and small game. Yet, most hunters overlook using a 12 gauge shotgun for deer hunting.
A shotgun is plenty capable of taking a whitetail deer at close range.
However, having the best 12 gauge ammo for deer hunting loaded in your gun helps increase your odds of filling your freezer with a bit of venison or taking the trophy buck of a lifetime.
Below you'll find my top choices for 12 gauge shells that are certain to ethically kill whitetail anywhere it's legal to use a shotgun.
- Federal Power Shok 1 oz. Rifled Slug - Best 12 Gauge Slug
- Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil 1 oz. Rifled Slug - Honorable Mention
- Remington Slugger 7/8 oz. Rifled Slug - Honorable Mention
- Federal 00 Buck - Best 12 Gauge Buckshot
- Winchester Super-X 3-1/2" 18 Pellets 00 Buckshot - Honorable Mention
- Sellier and Bellot 00 Buck - Honorable Mention
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,610 fps
- Projectile: Rifled Slug
- Weight: 1 oz.
- Shell Length: 2 3/4"
- Inexpensive (when bought in bulk)
- High muzzle velocity
- Made in the USA
- High muzzle energy
- High recoil
- It doesn't work in rifled barrels
- You must buy in bulk to get the significant discount per round.
Federal Power Shok is one of the least expensive options for 12 gauge slugs, yet it has one of the highest muzzle velocities and muzzle energies.
The drawback to the higher velocity and energy is the increase in recoil, which makes follow-up shots much more difficult.
I really appreciate that the ammo is manufactured in the USA so that I can expect high-quality ammo at a reasonable price.
The 1 oz. slug is more than enough to ethically harvest most big game animals, including deer, at close range.
The rifled slug is ideal for smoothbore shotgun barrels, which is most barrels.
If you have a rifled barrel, I suggest using sabot slugs because they foul up the rifling less and perform better than rifled slugs in rifled barrels.
In my opinion, slugs are the better option for deer hunting because they are more effective at longer ranges than buckshot.
Hornady American Gunner Reduced Recoil 1 oz. Rifled Slug is for the recoil-sensitive deer hunter. They're an excellent round to introduce a kid to deer hunting with a shotgun.
The muzzle velocity and energy are not as high as other 12 gauge shotshell loads because of the reduced recoil. However, this slug can still ethically harvest a deer at a short range.
They're also a little more expensive, but I doubt you'll shoot these often, so the price isn't as much of a concern.
The Remington Slugger 7/8 oz. Rifled Slug is a top choice if you want a lighter slug.
The benefit of a lighter slug is slightly decreased recoil but increased muzzle energy and velocity.
The price of these rounds isn't terrible, but you will need to buy them in bulk to get the price break.
- Muzzle Velocity: 1,325 fps
- Projectile: Double-Aught Buck
- Weight: 9 Pellets
- Shell Length: 2 3/4"
- Reasonably priced
- High velocity
- Multiple projectiles
- It can double as a home defense shotgun load
- Not suitable for long-range hunting
- High recoil
- Banned in some places
Federal Power Shok 00 Buck allows deer hunters to have multiple projectiles instead of a single projectile at a reasonable price.
However, the increase in projectiles comes at the expense of decreased velocity and effective range compared to shotgun slugs.
Buckshot loads are also banned in some states and public land areas, so you should always check your local regulations before you head to the field to avoid getting a ticket.
You're able to use these buckshot loads for hunting deer and self-defense. So you're not limiting yourself to one use with this shotgun ammunition.
I prefer 00 Buck for home defense because of the lower chance of over-penetration compared to slugs, which keeps your family and neighbors safer.
If you enjoy the challenge of getting as close as possible to the deer, then Federal Power Shok 00 Buck is what you should purchase.
If magnum loads are your bread and butter, then Winchester Super-X 3-1/2" 18 Pellets 00 Buckshot is what you should buy.
Yes, the muzzle velocity is slightly lower; however, the 3 1/2" shotgun shell holds twice as many 00 Buck pellets as a 2 3/4" shell of the same shot size.
The increased payload means more recoil and cost, so prepare your shoulder and wallet when you snag a box of these Winchester rounds.
Sellier and Bellot 00 Buck is an inexpensive option, especially when you buy it in bulk. These clear 2 3/4" shells offer a solid muzzle velocity, so you can rest assured they're fast enough to harvest a deer ethically.
Shotguns are incredibly versatile because of the numerous types of shot you can load into a shotshell.
From birdshot to turkey loads, to buckshot, to slugs, you can cover the spectrum of hunting without changing the gun. You can even practice shooting clays simply by changing the type of shotgun shell you use.
Understanding when to use the different shot types is overwhelming for beginner shotgun shooters.
This is why I've broken down when to use buckshot vs. a slug when deer hunting.
Spoiler alert - I'll choose a slug 9/10 times for deer hunting.
This is because of a slug's increased knockdown power and effective range compared to buckshot.
The one time I wouldn't use a slug is when I'm on a tight budget, and I plan to use these rounds for deer hunting and home defense.
Neither of these shotgun loads is for the faint of heart. They both have a strong kick, so be prepared for the recoil no matter which one you choose.
While I only recommended one size of buckshot above, several other sizes are worth checking out if you find 00 Buck isn't the best shotgun shell load for you.
In order of smallest pellet diameter to largest-
All of these shot sizes can be used for deer hunting; however, 00 and 000 buckshot have proven to be the most effective.
There are two types of slugs used for deer hunting, the rifled slug, and the sabot slug.
Each has its function and place, which can be frustrating and dangerous when misused.
Rifled slugs like Federal Premium Hydra-Shok 1 oz. have grooves or rifling on the slug. The rifling helps the projectile to spin, which makes it more accurate.
Use a rifled slug when you're shooting a smoothbore shotgun. Most shotguns have a smoothbore barrel, so a rifled slug will likely be your best option.
If your shotgun has a rifled bore, you'll need to purchase sabot slugs, a smooth projectile encased in the wad or bore sleeve.
These slugs are more accurate at longer distances than rifled slugs but don't function well in smoothbore barrels.
Even if you are using the best 12 gauge ammo for deer hunting, you might still be at a disadvantage if you do not use the correct shotgun.
Different shotgun styles perform best under specific situations.
An over-under shotgun is often used for shooting clays and would not be an excellent choice for deer hunting.
A semi-auto is a good choice for deer hunting and can be used for most situations.
The biggest problem with semi-auto shotguns is they jam easily if you don't keep them clean.
My preference for a hunting shotgun is a pump action shotgun. They won't bust your budget and will go bang when you pull the trigger.
On most shotguns, the choke tube screws into the end of the barrel and forces the shot to hold together for a specific shot pattern. There are many different sizes of chokes, and it's essential to use the correct one with the shot you're firing.
Some shotgun loads like Federal Law Enforcement FliteControl 00 Buck require a specific choke to function correctly, or the shooter risks damaging the gun or injuring themselves.
There are four main choke tube configurations-
- Open/ Cylinder Choke
- Improved Cylinder Choke
- Modified Cylinder Choke
- Full Cylinder Choke
An open choke will allow the pattern to expand rapidly. This means the effective range will drastically decrease.
Improved and modified chokes are the middle ground and what most hunters prefer.
A full choke will have the tightest pattern of the four, but it's not recommended for deer hunting.
It's best to consult the gun and ammo manufacturers to determine which choke is best for your situation.
Once you've purchased a choke, pattern it so you know where to aim when the time comes.
When I'm deer hunting with my 12 gauge shotgun, I load it with Federal Power Shok 1 oz. Rifled Slugs.
It's reasonably priced for a slug and made in the USA by a reputable ammo company. Even with the high recoil, I believe this is some of the best 12-gauge ammo for deer hunting.
If shooting rifled slugs isn't for you, you can always choose to shoot 00 buck!
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