In terms of range and accuracy, today’s crop of rifled-barrel slug guns are a far cry from the old smoothbore/pumpkin ball combinations your grandfather used. Whitetail hunters in shotgun-only regions are by no means handicapped, considering that shots in excess of 100 yards are by no means out of the question witha good gun loaded with high-tech sabot projectiles.

I recently had the opportunity to try out a pretty representative specimen of a dedicated slug gun in the form of Mossberg‘s pump-action 535 ATS Slugster. The ATS stands for “All Terrain Shotgun.” With its utilitarian matte finish and black synthetic stock, the Slugster doesn’t look like it needs to be babied much. The gun is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, but since it also features adjustable open rifle sights, we decided to stick with the irons.

The first order of business was to round up a menu of slugs designed for rifled barrels–which means, more or less, sabot loads. What I dug up, although not vast in diversity, was pretty impressive ballistically. The lot included Federal Premium 3-inch Barnes one-ounce hollowpoints, Hornady Light Mag 2 3/4-inch 300-grain SSTs, and Winchester Supreme 2 3/4-inch 385-grain Partition Golds. Factory velocity figures are as follows The Federal loads clock 1,530 fps, the Winchesters clock 1,900 fps and the Hornadys clock 2,000 fps.

(Generally, we like to run the loads over our chronograph to check our figures over the published ones. However, we stopped doing this with sabot slug loads ever since an errant sabot instantly deactivated our chronograph about a year ago.)

I was a bit taken aback about having to shoot a 3-inch load (the Federals), feeling that a magnum slug load was a bit of an affectation. Yep, it did buck more, but it led the pack in accuracy results at 50 yards with a average group size of just under two inches.

As far as the Slugsters pros and cons, first off, I like the tang safety; it’s big, positive and easily accessible. The recoil pad was generous and effective in dampening recoil. It’s no fun to shoot any slug gun off the bench–tolerable is the best you can hope for. In that respect, the ATS Slugster measured up; after 60 rounds or so, I remained remarkably unbruised.

Although in retrospect I probably should have scoped the gun, I found the U-notch/thin front blade/bead combo to be a bit tough for precise aiming at targets beyond 50 yards ( I did try), and without whining about my aging eyes too much, I would have preferred a square notch rear and a medium, flat-topped post in front.

Still, this is probably a nickel-and-dime gripe. Most hunters will likely scope this gun and are going to do better than I would’ve with any iron-sight configuration. Another plus for the gun was that its trigger, which broke at a smooth 4 1/2 pounds, was surprisingly good for an out-of-the-box anything. It’s not going to drive varmint hunters or benchrest riflemen into paroxysms of delight but, hey, rifled bore or not, it’s still a pump shotgun.

There were a few malfunctions in which the extractor failed to yank the empty out of the chamber on four occasions. This was usually remedied by forcefully slamming the action shut and trying again. Only once did I have to resort to dropping a cleaning rod down the barrel to kick out the empty. This simply could be the result of a flawed extractor, since it didn’t exhibit a bias toward any one particular load.

The 535 ATS Slugster is a powerful big-game tool. Although the 3 1/2-inch capability is academic for its purpose, it would be a bonus if you wished to swap out the slug tube for a smoothbore barrel for waterfowl or turkey. It’s a solid, no-nonsense gun and a good deal considering it goes for less than $400.


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