Tuesday, December 14, 2010
For non-hunters and hunters who do not use sabot slugs for deer, here's the bottom line of this post, right up front so you can close out and get back to work: Lightfield's 2-3/4 inch Hybred-EXP ammunition sucks.
After finishing the post mortem on the 2010 deer season (unless I sneak back out there sometime before Christmas for one more try) I have come to the conclusion that I need to make an ammunition change.
A brief background:
I and many of the guys I hunt with take full advantage of North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission's special permit hunting opportunities. Because many of these deer hunts take place in small gamelands areas with maximum hunter densities, the NCWRC requires the use of shotguns and/or muzzleloaders as opposed to rifles, which can send lethal doses of lead a long, long way. In my search for a dedicated permit hunt shotgun, I immediately decided to go for a platform with a rifled barrel that would shoot heavy lead slugs with accuracy. I tried my uncle's Remington 870 slug barrel in 12 gauge with some success over two seasons. Two mature does were felled where they stood at ranges inside 25 yards. A third doe received a flesh wound when I fired at 50 yards and grazed her belly. When that happened, I decided I needed to look into some options that would allow me to shoot 50-75 yards with confidence (and without having to spend hours and $$$ at the range).
In 2008 I borrowed my neighbor's Harrington and Richardson Ultra Slug Hunter in 20 gauge. His experience with the single shot weapon made expressly for deer hunting at farther distances than traditionally acceptable for shotguns was very positive. I can remember one of his kills being a nice 8-point at 110 yards. Needless to say, I was impressed by the story and thrilled to take it into the field. He told me the gun was zeroed at 100 yards with Lightfield Hybred-EXP sabot slugs and would perform flawlessly with that round. I bought a box (about $15 for 5 rounds) and a-hunting I did go. Coming out of the woods at mid-morning on the second day of the hunt, I and two companions blundered into a basket-racked 7-point buck standing off the side of the trail. Since I was the only one ready to shoot (they had their weapons slung over their shoulders) I did. The deer was walking slowly at 30 yards and quartering toward me. I hit him just in front of the shoulder, right where I was aiming. The buck stumbled off and fell 20 yards from where he'd been shot. There was an excellent blood trail to the deer and during the course of quartering him out that night, I recovered the expanded slug lodged in front of the opposite ham. It was a perfect lead mushroom and I was in love.
The following offseason, I bought my youth model H&R Ultra Slug Hunter in 20 gauge. Despite measuring just under 6 feet tall, for some reason I prefer my long guns to have short stocks. The H&R youth model feels like a sidearm to me and I love it for still hunting in heavy cover. I dutifully purchased a couple of boxes of the prescribed Lightfield ammunition, and also a box of Hornady SST slugs on the recommendation of my friend, Brian, who had bought the same gun a year earlier and found it to shoot more accurately with the Hornady ammo (which was also slightly cheaper). After an excruciating session at the gun range, I left with a weapon I was comfortable shooting out to just 50 yards (well under the 100-200 yard ranges both companies boast of) and convinced my shotgun performed better with the Lightfields.
Over the course of the 2009 North Carolina deer season, I fired the gun four times and brought home three kills. Though I initially chalked up the fourth shot as a miss, now as I look at the big picture of my experience with this ammunition, I'm not so sure. Of those three kills, all shots were within 40 yards. One doe dropped in her tracks. Another doe and a spike buck required tracking over a very poor blood trail (the buck did not bleed at all over the course of a 50-60 yard recovery, despite being hit squarely in the shoulder). The Lightfield slug did not pass through any of them (which is why the blood trails were so sparse) and fragmented in every situation (broke apart into many smaller pieces inside the deer). The "miss" occurred at 15 yards on a big-bodied buck. I shot at an awkward angle, but was absolutely confident I'd hit him either in the the shoulder or right behind it. The deer reacted as if it had been hit hard, but I could not find a speck of blood or a follicle of hair in more than an hour of searching on my hands and knees.
Nonetheless, I brought the H&R Ultra Slug Hunter (outfitted with a better scope) and Lightfield ammo with me to the first permit hunt of this year, around the Halloween weekend. Again, I had trouble sighting the gun in in the days leading up to the trip and felt confident out to just 30 yards with it - no more. On the first afternoon of the hunt, I stalked to 20 yards of a grazing button buck and dropped the hammer on him. The deer was standing broadside and I aimed right behind its shoulder. The slug went where it was supposed to and the deer dropped in its tracks. Despite the close range and frail body of the tiny buck (35 pounds on the hoof!) the Lightfield slug did not hold together and a fragment broke off and ripped through the stomach and intestines. The resulting mess meant that I had to throw away some tainted meat (including the tenderloins) that should not have been affected had the slug performed the way it should have.
Two weeks later, I traveled back east for another permit hunt and stopped at the gun range on the way out to see if I couldn't at least solve my distance accuracy issues. I tweaked the rig and the gun was shooting acceptably at 50 yards again. I also bought another box of Hornday SSTs just to see how they'd do a second time around, as my frustration was mounting with the Lightfields. To my surprise, the Hornady ammo shot just as well as the Lightfield, so I tucked three rounds into my fanny pack, just in case.
On the second evening of my hunt, I shot a doe and her yearling doe at 40 yards with the Lightfield slugs. The doe was hit behind the shoulder and died 40 yards from the spot she was hit. The blood trail was good, but again, the slug fragmented and there was no pass-through. The yearling was gut shot and went some 200 yards with scant blood. That one was my fault. I cannot complain about Lightfield's accuracy once it's been sighted in. The slugs have always gone where I aimed them.
I had finally had enough. The next afternoon, I loaded up with a Hornady SST and clobbered a 115-pound 7-point through the shoulder at 30 yards. The buck didn't go 20 yards on his death run and I heard him fall over, but unbelievably, I later found that even the Hornady slug fragmented and did not pass-through the deer's body. The blood trail was sparse and hard to follow. I am now at my wits end, though I have more confidence the Hornady's will prove to be a quality round in the future, as Brian has had great performance on five out of six deer he's shot with them so far.
As for Lightfield, I'm done. I'm convinced their ammunition is inferior - certainly not up to the performance I expect for the cost and not worthy of being loaded into any of my guns.