Slug Country Debates: Rifled Barrel Versus Smooth Bore

They are questions that come up many times each year:

  • Do I need a rifled barrel for my slug gun or can I just get away with using my smooth bore?
  • Do I shoot sabot slugs or just rifled slugs?
  • Can I shoot slugs through a shotgun with a choke in it?

Well, we’re here to help so keep reading if you’re curious.

Rifled Barrel or Smooth Bore?

Rifled Barrel versus Smooth BoreWhat’s the difference?

A rifled barrel has lands and groves that cause the projectile to spin when it exists the muzzle (end of the barrel). A smooth bore is exactly how it sounds, smooth. A smooth bore has no lands and grooves.  A smooth bore does not encourage the projectile to spin like a rifled barrel does.

When to use rifled barrels.

A person would use a rifled barrel if they are looking at shooting longer distances. Here at the gun shop, we tell folks that if you’re planning on taking shots over 100 yards, then a rifled barrel is a good option to consider. The reason for that is that when the projectile spins like it does when it exits the muzzle of a rifled barrel, it tends to fly farther and straighter. Thus, it would be more accurate when your target is at a greater distance.

Flight Patterns of Rifled Versus Smooth BoreWhen to use a smooth bore.

Many shotguns come standard with a smooth bore barrel because that’s what you need to have to shoot shot (shells that have bbs or multiple projectiles – these are used in bird hunting and other sporting situations). In addition to shooting shot, you can also shoot slugs out of a smooth bore barrel. If you are taking closer shots (less than 100 yards), a smooth bore may be sufficient. The projectile looses energy after a shorter distance than a rifled barrel because it doesn’t have as much spin… and yes, I said it doesn’t have as much spin. When using a smooth bore, your projectile will still have spin on it because the projectile will be rifled.

The long and short of it.

The morale of the story here is that if you’re planning on making close range shots with your slug gun, you probably don’t need to invest in a rifled barrel because it will be just about as accurate as a rifled barrel. If you’re planning on taking longer shots at your target, a rifled barrel is a good option to consider.

Do I Need Sabot or Rifled Slugs?

Sabot Slugs versus Rifled SlugsWhat’s the difference?

Sabot slugs are slugs that contain a sabot component. Sabot is defined as, “a device used in a firearm or cannon to fire a projectile, such as a bullet, that is smaller than the bore diameter, or which must be held in a precise position. Since a strong seal is needed to trap propellant gases behind the projectile, and keep the projectile centered in the barrel, something is needed to fill the undesirable but necessary gap between projectile and barrel, a space referred to as the windage, and this is the role of the sabot. Firing a small size projectile wrapped in a sabot raises the muzzle velocity of the projectile,” according to Wikipedia.

A rifled slug is, again, just how it sounds, a slug with rifling. 

When do I shoot sabot slugs?

A sabot slug is what you want to shoot out of a rifled barrel because the barrel will put the spin on the projectile. Because the barrel is rifled, the projectile does not need to be rifled.

A rifled slug is what you want to shoot out a smooth bore barrel. Because the barrel is smooth, the projectile will not rotate appropriately unless it has rifling on it. 

What happens if I mix them up?

Your gun won’t explode if you end up shooting sabot slugs out of a smooth bore barrel or, vice versa, if you shoot rifled slugs out of a rifled barrel. It just won’t be accurate. Your groupings will be all over the place because if you use the wrong type of slug, it could end up just tumbling end over end because it doesn’t have the proper spin. Kapesh? 

 Can I shoot slugs through a choke?

Precision of Shotgun ChokesYes! You actually can shoot slugs through a choke. Be careful though and consult your manual for your particular firearm and choke situation.

As a general rule of thumb, and we all know there are exceptions to the rule, you can shoot a slug out of a shotgun barrel that has a choke if you are using a modified choke or larger. So, as a general rule, you can shoot a choke through a cylinder choke (or one that matches the bore of your shotgun… so it’s essentially just protecting the threads), an improved cylinder or a modified cylinder. 

Just a reminder, as far as common types of chokes go, cylinder is the largest in that it offers the biggest opening for the projectile, improved cylinder is slightly narrower, then modified, improved modified and full. 

What happens if I shoot slugs through a choke more restricting than modified?