Can I Hunt Deer with a Shotgun?

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Come deer hunting season, and you shouldn’t be the hunter who is still wondering ‘Can I hunt deer with a shotgun?’ The answer is yes. In many states, shotguns are about the only hunting weapon you can legally use against deer. 

Arguments Fronted by Hunters around Shotgun Deer Hunting

Among hunters, opinions run high on the issue of using a shotgun to hunt deer. Aside from the legalities and efficacy factors, some see a scattergun as overkill, a wasteful and inhumane way to kill an animal.

And they do have a point since a shotgun is only accurate for up to 100 yards. Beyond that, the shot flies haphazardly and might lead to an injured, unrecovered animal.

Other hunters view the weapon restrictions that leave them with only a shotgun to kill deer as a civil rights infringement. The sense here is that these regulations on rifles or certain shotgun gauges will later become an outright ban on shooting as a means of hunting. 

Some hunters see the same restrictions as a safety measure that’s essential for sufficiently populated hunting grounds. Whether you are using slugs or buckshot, shotgun projectiles don’t carry as much velocity or muzzle energy as rifle bullets.

This reduces the chance of stray pellets or slugs that may cause unintentional injury or property damage. Shotguns make hunting safer, helping to counter the claims of those that find excuses to campaign for an outright hunting ban. 

What to Consider for Successful Deer Hunting With a Shotgun 

Hunting deer with a shotgun offers two essential benefits for the hunter. There are also downsides to using shot as opposed to rifles or muzzleloaders. 

Let me share here what I’ve learned, after burning my fingers on slug or shotguns. In essence, this is experience picked up the hard way.

Shotgun Design, Slug or Shot Placement

Many shotguns are designed for clay pigeon shooting and waterfowl hunting. Shooting at land-based stationary targets brings the Point of Impact (POI) a few inches higher than is desirable.

Shotgun hunting novices will typically place a bead right on top of the deer’s shoulders. This sends the buckshot or shotgun slug whizzing harmlessly over the back of the deer. 

When I shotgun for venison, I find it vital to put Point of Aim (POA) on the base of the torso above the deer’s front knees. At close range, the shot should be placed on the deer’s front knees. 

This is essential to place the POI on the deer’s vitals, almost midway up the torso at the front of the shoulder. 

Shotguns will deliver POI that’s between six and 12 inches higher than the POA. At least that’s what I get with mu 12 gauge 870 Express with a 26-inch barrel and IC choke.

I use two and three quarter inch slugs or 3-inch 00 magnum buckshot. This may sound like excessive force but with game or trap birds; my shotgun lays the bead dead on. 

Aiming High for Improved Accuracy

To ensure accurate placement, aim your shotgun high. Use the front bead or sight of your sporting shotgun to practice accuracy. 

With a .308 for instance, I can shoot a half dollar coin from a hundred yards. it’s a whole new ballgame with a shotgun, which can barely hit a deer from 50 yards. 

Using the Right Ammunition

I prefer using a 3-inch 00 buck magnum for shot confidence since I need exact penetration for effectiveness on deer.

This ammo is useless for self-defense situations, which are usually at close ranges against human or animal attackers. Hunting deer presents a different variety of requirements. 

You must consider that each 12-gauge 00 buckshot is a 54 grain and .33 caliber projectile that’s traveling at barrel velocities of approximately 1,300 fps.  

Compare this to a single round from a long rifle; say a .22 caliber which is hardly sufficient to stop a 400-pound deer.

With a standard 2 ¾ inch shell, you have nine of such pellets; giving you compounded stopping power. The downside is that at 50 yards, these pellets have slowed to around 1,100 fps. This is about 85% of the original muzzle-leaving velocity.

Since energy is equal to velocity², this brings your 50-yard velocity to about 72% of original power.

A 3-inch shell by comparison has 15 pellets, leaving the shotgun’s barrel at between 1,350 to 1,400 fps. This is not only faster but delivers more mass and about 67% more stopping energy from the pellets alone.

Add the extra speed at around 7%, translating into 16% more power which gives you 183% hitting energy and stopping impact. 

At point-blank range, a standard 2 ¾ inch shell does the trick.  But it loses energy quickly and you won’t be shooting deer at point-blank range except maybe to put it out of its misery. 

What you need more is superior downrange performance, and this you get from the 3inch magnum. 

Some argue that the 3inch magnum abuses the shoulder with knock-back recoil. I however can’t recall having issues with recoil, especially not when I am hunting. 

Preparing for Follow-Up Shots 

Make certain that your shotgun is ready for the right follow-up shot. It’s possible to miss with a shotgun, unlike what Hollywood would like us to believe. 

I always place I ounce slug of 23/4 inch next to my tube for when the shot goes high against stationary and land-based targets. Sometimes the pattern doesn’t spread according to expectation, and all I get is a glancing blow.

This is particularly true for moving deer beyond 50 yards. 

I might take down the animal with the first shot, but I am always ready should it rise again. My 1 ounce of .432-grain slug at 1,500 fps delivers about 2,150-foot pounds of kill power.

Though this is less than the 3,300 ft. lbs. of my initial 3inch magnum 00 buckshot, it’s concentrated in a single, far-reaching and penetrating slug.

My Views towards Hunting Deer with a Shotgun

When answering the question ‘Can I hunt deer with a shotgun?’ all the above scenarios have some truth in them, but most of the arguments need qualification.

Shotguns do have diminished accuracy beyond the 100-yard mark, but the opposite remains true when shooting close range. It’s my experience that nothing puts down a deer quicker, more humanely, and reliably than a 12 gauge shotgun.

Although rifles offer more slug momentum and energy, a 12 gauge shotgun will deliver more stopping power and impact to the target. A well-placed shotgun shot often leaves the deer dead before the body hits the ground.

A rifle, especially a .30-06 or a .308 will rarely deliver an instant kill, even with expert shot placement. I have seen deer bolt off or bound for a few yards before dropping when hit with a rifle bullet. 

Where I hunt, there are people not less than several hundred yards through the woods. Unless I was in a dire self-defense scenario, like when confronted by bears or wolves, I wouldn’t use a high powered long-range rifle without risking human lives.

A well-placed shot of 00 buckshot from a 12 gauge shotgun is guaranteed to hit your target and not travel further into the forest. Even in the rare chance that happens, the shot will have diminished velocity after 100 yards and anything struck unintended will only be slightly seared.

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