Mat Manning’s thoughts on the rise of airgun slugs

Mat Manning shares his thoughts on the rapidly increasing popularity of airgun slugs, what they offer for shooters and what that could mean to the trade.

Slugs, like the HP from H&N, can deliver power up to 49ft/lb at the muzzle

Anyone with a connection to the airgunning grapevine will know that airgun slug ammunition is currently causing a serious stir. And if you don’t already, you will very soon, because the popularity of this unusual ammo looks set to continue growing over the coming months and years.

I’ll be the first to admit that I initially thought that the sudden interest in slug ammo was simply a fad that would soon pass but, over the last year, it has grown from curious experimentation to a serious movement.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it an ammo revolution but it’s not far from it; and plenty of shooters with a hunger for high-powered airguns and super-long-range performance would say it has already passed that stage.

For anyone who has yet to get their hands on some airgun slugs, these projectiles look much more like the bullets fired by power-burning rifles than the shuttlecock-shape pellets that have established themselves as standard airgun fare for as long as most of us can probably recall.

The profile of a slug means that it has more contact with the barrel than a waisted pellet, which in turn means that it needs a greater propulsion to overcome the friction.

However, their aerodynamic shape results in a better ballistic coefficient than that of a conventional pellet, thus enhancing their potential long-range performance.

A Slug Problem 

Slugs do have their faults, though, and one of the big ones is the fact that it can be very difficult to find one that works well in a barrel that has been rifled for standard airgun pellets. Friends of mine have tried as many as a dozen different brands before finding a good match for their barrels but all of them thought it was worth the effort.

These shooters use high-powered FAC-rated airguns (guns that can easily deliver sufficient propulsion to overcome that increased friction) and were delighted with the results at 100m and beyond once they managed to find a slug that worked well with their guns.

The difference between a good match and a bad one can be tiny, and several people I know have noticed huge changes in performance between batches of slugs with seemingly negligible weight variations of just a couple of grains – even from the same brand. 

Manufacturers appear to be working hard to overcome this barrel-fussiness and several are now producing barrels that are made specifically for use with slug ammunition.

FX Airguns have developed a slug-liner that can be used with their airguns which feature interchangeable barrel liners. I have been using an FX Impact MKII with a slug-liner in its barrel for my testing and it gave reasonable results right from the outset.

My experimentation with slugs is still very much in its infancy. Tests with the Impact have so far only been conducted with 27-grain H&N Slug HP ammo. The gun produces 49ft/lb at the muzzle and the slugs are still delivering 42ft/lb at 50m, 40ft/lb at 75m and 34ft/lb at 100m.

That is a heck of a lot of retained energy and you really can’t shoot this ammo with your “airgun head” on. The potential risk of carry and ricochet appears to be far greater than that with conventional pellets so you have to be super-conscious when it comes to safe backdrops.

As for accuracy, I have been consistently achieving five-shot groups measuring around 15mm from centre to centre at 50m, 20mm from centre to centre at 75m, and 32mm at 100m.

Given that I have only tried one brand of ammo so far, there is clearly huge potential for improvement in that 100m group. Working from a 75m zero, the groups show an average rise of around 12mm at 50m and an average drop of around 90mm at 100m.

My tests so far have been carried at meagre ranges compared with those of real slug aficionados. World Hunter Field Target Organisation vice president and British team captain, Roger Lait, has been obsessed with slug ammo since he started carrying out serious tests last year.

He has pushed his experimentation out to 250m and beyond, proving that slugs really do have remarkable long-range potential.

“Slugs are the latest big thing in high-power airgun shooting and they really do work. They have taken over in America and seem to be doing the same in the UK – find a brand that your gun likes and you will open up a whole new world of airgunning. It might take a bit of fiddling with power outputs and different brands but I certainly think it’s worth the effort,” he said.

“Normal rifled barrels will shoot slugs but you need to be prepared for a bit of trial and error. When you do get it right, you will have something that has the potential to shoot far, far further than pellets.

I use a 54ft/lb Daystate Red Wolf and have been getting amazing results out to 250m. While it wouldn’t be ethical to target live quarry at such ranges it is very satisfying to be able to hit tins at extreme range.”

Tried And Tested

The huge interest in slugs looks set to create a massive opportunity for the industry. Experimentation seems to be the byword with slug shooting, and gun shops with customers who shoot FAC-airguns and have an interest in long-range accuracy can expect to start receiving requests for slug ammunition, if they haven’t already. Roger listed Pro Hunter, JSB, H&N and Nielsen as the brands that currently rate high on his list.

Airgunners who take their slug experimentation seriously are also likely to want good-quality chronographs and decent bench-bags to support their guns for long-range accuracy testing. The extra contact and subsequent additional friction with slugs also results in increased barrel fouling.

Regular cleaning is essential to maintain accuracy so slug shooters will be stocking up on patches, pull-throughs and other accessories to help keep their barrels spotless. Ammo lubes also seem to have a role to play in reducing barrel fouling and improving downrange performance, so more and more shooters are likely to have them on their shopping lists.

The slug stampede has so far been based around high-powered airguns and mostly in calibres of .22 and upwards. It will be interesting to see how things develop – I’ve already had numerous shooters ask if .177 calibre slugs are being produced, and indeed they are. Lets see if the slugs keep surprising us in 2020. 

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