For some time, there’s been a move towards the use of slugs for long-range airgun shooting. Now that’s gathering momentum, with more manufacturers entering the arena and more shooters discovering their benefits.
But what do we mean by slugs?
Simply put, they are solid, un-waisted airgun projectiles. Unlike the traditional diabolo pellets which we know and love, slugs are shaped something like firearm bullets. They’re basically cylindrical, with a pointed nose, parallel sides and a flat (-ish) base.
In fact, there has been some confusion about what to call them. Sometimes they’ve been called bullets, but slugs – not to be confused with shotgun slugs, of course – has now become the standard name.
So slugs it is. But what is leading to their popularity and why now?
Basically the cause is the rapid development of technology and capability in PCP air rifles and their support systems. We’re experiencing significant increases in air rifle power as designers perfect valve and regulator systems. High Pressure Air brings the potential for power and that potential is being used more efficiently than ever before in new air rifle designs.
As the power potential of PCP air rifles has increased, so has the caliber. Larger calibers are essential to transmit the power inherent in large volumes of High Pressure Air, so no longer is .22 – or even .25 caliber seen as a “large” bore diameter for air rifles. Now we have .30 cal, .375, .45 caliber and above.
Of course it’s true that big bore – say about .30 caliber like the Benjamin Bulldog above – airguns have a long and honorable history. But in the past they were generally hand-built, custom pieces built in vanishingly small numbers for specialist, enthusiast users. Now that’s changed.
These big bore calibers are available as standard product from multiple manufacturers in mass-production build quantities. Customer demand has expanded to match supply. Although few PCPs – let alone big bore PCPs – have yet penetrated the “big box” chain sporting goods stores, they are increasingly strong in specialist online stores – like AoA, of course – where most knowledgeable airgunners make their purchases.
Below, the Huben K1 works well with slugs.
This means that .177 PCP air rifle sales are in relative decline. Let’s think about that for a moment…
Apart from specific target shooting disciplines, the fact is that less and less people are buying .177 caliber PCPs! Even .22 cal. is threatened as more and more airgun shooters consider .25 caliber and above to be the “new normal” for PCPs.
Large caliber PCPs use vast amounts of High Pressure Air. So – guess what? – this demand has been met by a growing number of HPA compressors at ever-lower prices. Think Omega Trail Charger, for example. Lower-priced, more available compressor technology encourages more shooters to move to PCPs.
What we have here is a technology-driven “virtuous cycle” of improvement in airgun performance, price and power. With this technology shift has come the desire to use the capability of increasingly-capable PCP air rifles to shoot at ever-increasing distances.
So we see more and more interest in competitions such as Extreme Benchrest, with airgun target shooting out to 100 Yards.
Such long range shooting blows the capabilities of .177 caliber completely out of the water. Ditto for springers, of course.
All of which focuses attention on the projectile…
As high power, long-range, HPA-powered airgun performance becomes ever better, there’s a natural demand for improved ammunition to maximize the capabilities of the hardware. Basically, the need is for heavier projectiles that can absorb the increasing power available in larger caliber PCPs at velocities that – preferably – remain subsonic (less than say 1,100 FPS).
With this comes demand for a Ballistic Coefficient that’s superior to anything that can be achieved with the traditional wasp-waisted diabolo pellet for long-range accuracy.
That is leading to experimentation with non-traditional airgun pellet designs and a move towards cylindrical, non-waisted airgun ammunition. Yes, we’re back to slugs!
So should I shoot pellets or slugs? That’s a question being asked by many owners of high power PCP air rifles right now. Airguns of Arizona gives you a choice because they carry both pellets and slugs – with a steadily-increasing range of the latter.
As with many things in life, the answer is not always clear, however…
One thing that’s apparent is that slugs can be appreciably more accurate at long ranges than diabolo pellets. This is confirmed by the rules for Extreme Benchrest, for example. Slugs are not permitted to be used.
The accuracy benefit of slugs is found particularly in their resistance to changing wind conditions. At least compared to a traditional diabolo airgun pellet.
But this improved long-range accuracy potential is not a given for any air rifle. Firstly, you need a powerful air rifle: say 40 Ft/Lbs muzzle energy for a minimum. This – in itself – rules-out .177 caliber as a viable slug caliber and further drives the move to .22 caliber and above.
Then you need a barrel that works well with slugs.
Being designed for the ballistic characteristics of traditional waisted pellets, it’s hardly surprising to discover that many airgun barrels do not give good performance with the completely different ballistic characteristics of slugs. This means that airgun manufacturers are working on the development of barrel profiles optimized for slug use.
Here we have another technology cycle in the making, based around barrel and slug design. Daystate is one company leading the charge towards new barrel designs, as we’ve discussed on a previous occasion.
So far, we’ve talked about slugs in the context of accurate – primarily target – shooting. But realistically, it needs to be recognized that competitive airgun target shooting in any form – benchrest, Field Target, 10 Meter etc – involves a relatively small number of airgun shooters, compared to the number who hunt.
For hunters, the overwhelming requirement is to deliver the maximum amount of kinetic energy downrange for an ethical, single-shot knockdown. Pinpoint accuracy, while important, is (just) the secondary requirement, particularly if you’re aiming to take down a bear or buffalo – as is now becoming possible with the most powerful big bore air rifles, like the Western Big Bore Bushbuck, for example.
In this case, there’s no competition! The Ballistic Coefficient of slugs is far superior to anything that can be achieved with diabolo pellets. That means more energy further downrange, combined with less susceptibility to wind. Providing practical accuracy is acceptable, slugs are the obvious answer.
So, while long range competitive shooting is the headline-grabbing area of slug development and shooting right now, in the long run, it’s the capabilities of slugs for hunting that will drive their broader adoption across the country.
Slugs? They’re here to stay!