New technologies in turkey loads change the standard for ethical distance.
Wild turkeys are tough! I don’t know if that’s a characteristic that prompted Ben Franklin to write that Meleagris gallopavo would be better suited than the bald eagle as our national bird, but I do know it’s a characteristic many hunters witness firsthand. If you haven’t seen a big old tom shrug off a load of #5s like they were raindrops, you haven’t hunted turkeys much.
Not many years ago, finding a good turkey load was a simple matter of testing a few rounds through the tightest choke you could find and then hunting according to the results. Even with a good combination of load and choke, 30 yards was pushing it for most setups.
Today, thanks to some engineering genius from the folks at the ammunition factories, turkey hunters are able to fill tags well beyond the old 30-yard limit. I’ll leave it to turkey purists to debate distance etiquette for turkey shots but, make no mistake, today’s specialized turkey loads, when combined with the right choke, will drop even the toughest old bird right in its tracks out to 50 yards or more.
So what changed?
Recognizing the demand for denser, harder-hitting patterns, shotshell manufacturers set out to create loads specifically to put down turkeys. There have been several iterations of specialized turkey loads, but it’s difficult to imagine topping the most recent offerings.
Winchester tackled the problem from a pattern standpoint and created Long Beard XR. There are several factors that aid in Long Beard XR’s tight patterns, but Shot-Lok Technology — a resin packed around the shot to hold it together longer — is the key ingredient.
Federal and Remington took a different approach and experimented with the shot itself.
Remington now offers copper-plated turkey loads, as well as their Nitro loads that contain extra-hard lead. Both help keep patterns tighter for increased lethality.
Federal, meanwhile, has now gone away from lead completely and developed loads from super-dense (yet quite a bit more expensive) tungsten — a proprietary, even more dense version of tungsten at that.
They perfected the load for 2018 with their new FLITECONTROL FLEX wad and dubbed it Heavyweight TSS.
The result is a load that is 56 percent more dense than lead. In short, Federal is able to load up #9 shot of their tungsten that has significantly more punch than lead #5 and about twice the number of pellets. In fact, the pellets are so dense they only offer TSS in #9 and #7 shot. At almost $50 for a box of five shells, stores can’t keep them on the shelves.
“It is selling as fast as we can ship it,” said Dan Compton, product line manager in Federal’s shotshell division. “The test data has been phenomenal, and the write-ups and reviews have been really good. The response has far surpassed our expectations.”
Of course, ammunition is only half of the equation, and every good turkey gun needs a quality choke.
I’m neither a turkey hunting guru nor a shooting expert, but I regularly consult people who are both. Most are as loyal to a particular choke brand as a rabid NASCAR fan is to his driver. But they’ll also admit individual guns often favor one choke over another for reasons we might not learn even in the afterlife. Your buddy’s Mossberg 535 might like his Trulock Precision Hunter choke, while your identical gun shoots best with a Kicks Gobblin’ Thunder.
To make matters worse, those same chokes might shoot a particular brand and/or size of shot significantly better than others.
I believe there’s a perfect choke-and-load marriage for every turkey gun. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have the time, money or patience to shoot enough choke/load combinations to find that perfect marriage for our individual guns.
The good news is it’s not too difficult to get very good results with a quality turkey-specific choke and any of the ammo choices listed here.
Chances are if you’re in the market for a turkey gun, choke or ammunition, you’ve done some online research. Chances are just as good that the things you read contained confusing and sometimes conflicting information. That was the case for me as I prepared for the 2018 turkey season. We already covered some of the great ammunition choices, but which choke is best? And do you need a choke designed specifically for the ammunition?
Rather than try to sort the good information from the bad on my own, I decided to eliminate the middlemen and go directly to the sources.
It turns out, finding a good choke-and-ammo combination isn’t as complicated as it seems.
“When it comes to the effectiveness of Long Beard XR as it relates to chokes, I think you need to match it with the choke that yields the desired patterns you’re after for your hunting setup,” said Winchester Brand Manager Ben Frank. “Practicing at different ranges with different chokes is a great way to get ready for the season, as well as understand the capabilities of the setup you are using. Maybe that big tom hangs up at 58 yards. Or maybe he sneaks in quietly to surprise you at 15. However you see it playing out in your head, pick your setup accordingly, and Long Beard will do the rest.”
Several online pundits said Winchester’s Long Beard XR requires slightly larger chokes because of the Shot-Lok resin. Frank says no.
“I don’t think over-choking will hurt the accuracy,” he said. “I do think it makes hitting your target more challenging at close range. Long Beard XR achieves some of the tightest patterns possible. Thus, when choked properly, it can achieve deadly patterns at 60 yards and beyond. The trade-off then comes in those up-close encounters. Tight chokes leave less room for error.”
His point is a good one. As we strive for tiny patterns, we also give up a lot of our wiggle room when it comes to close-up shots. One of the reasons I was doing so much shooting this spring is because I added a scope to my setup. Several die-hard turkey hunting buddies asked why I wanted to put a scope on a shotgun.
The reason is simple: If I have a gun that’s shooting patterns as tight as 6 inches at 25 yards, I want an aiming mechanism that is dead on. But that’s just me.
Frank is a big enough proponent of having more spread that his setup consists of Long Beard XR in #5 shot combined with a factory full choke.
“I’ve killed many turkeys over the years with Winchester Supreme with that same choke and shot size,” he said. “Long Beard XR has stretched my comfortable effective range by more than 15 yards. That said, the tighter after-market chokes would help me extend that a bit farther, but I like that my pattern is a bit more open up close.”
There’s plenty in a turkey rig that is pure personal preference, and there’s no shortage of sources willing to tout their setup as the best ever. Online sources are fine, as long you separate the fact from the fiction.
In addition to the rave reviews on Federal’s new TSS ammunition, some folks are making false warnings based on previous Federal ammo. Also note most of the choke manufacturers haven’t yet updated their websites with information on the new TSS shotshells.
In the interest of brevity, I’ll just say there are no special choke requirements or restrictions on TSS shotshells, or Long Beard XR for that matter.
“With the original Flight Control Wad, we used to recommend hunters stay away from ported chokes,” Compton said. “But TSS incorporates the new FLITECONTROL FLEX wad, and there are no such restrictions. We’ve seen excellent results from all types of chokes.”
Asked if the smaller size of the tungsten pellets required any choke size considerations, Compton said no — just use whatever works best with your gun (within reason).
“We’ve had feedback from guys who have used chokes as tight as .640 on #9 TSS, but I wouldn’t recommend going any tighter than .650 on the #7s,” he said. “We’ve been working with several of the choke manufacturers, and a .665 on the Indian Creek choke has done very well. If you already have a quality aftermarket choke, just try it with TSS and see how it does.”
Compton also corrected an assumption I had made regarding TSS. I was sure the #7 shot would be the go-to load, but he said #9 is the main product.
“We kept the #7s for the guys who have been shooting our previous #7 turkey loads, but we really think the #9 shells are the way to go,” he said.
There is one caveat to using TSS in #9 shot: Make sure it’s legal where you hunt. Several states have minimum shot sizes for hunting turkeys. Those laws were written to prevent the use of under-powered, lower-energy lead shotshells, and Compton said it’s just a matter of time before the DNRs evaluate TSS and realize the super-heavy tungsten loads are perfectly suitable and ethical for turkeys. Don’t get a ticket because you were too busy to check the law, however.
If you’re choke shopping and get confused about the sizes, just keep it simple. Virtually all the choke companies list their products by exit diameter in inches, and not the amount of constriction. So, the lower the number, the tighter the choke.
Also note the lower number chokes in a given company’s range of offerings are best paired with the higher shot size of your chosen ammunition.
For example, when selecting a choke for my gun using Winchester XR in #6 shot, Trulock recommends a .660 choke. If you wanted to switch to #5 shot, the recommended choke would be a .665. Kicks Industries recommends a .655 and .660 for #6 and #5 shot, respectively. Even though the two companies differ slightly in exit size, they are consistent about using a larger diameter exit with bigger pellets (lower shot number).
Finding the right choke-and-load combination requires a little range work. There’s nothing wrong with getting opinions from friends, but that won’t guarantee good results from your gun. On the other hand, it’s as good a start as any.
Based on my conversations with Frank and Compton, along with my experience testing several chokes with Winchester Long Beard XR and Federal TSS ammo, you could do a lot worse than try a .660 or .665 choke from your favorite brand.
I should also mention that was for 3-inch shells. If you choose 3 1/2-inch shells, it’s not a bad idea to go up to the next larger size choke.
If you already have a quality aftermarket choke, give it a whirl like Compton said. Shoot turkey targets at 25 and 50 yards. If the results indicate you can kill birds at both distances, walk away and practice calling.
If your results aren’t so good, try a different size shot. At this point, it’s often better to shoot a large blank target with a discernible aim point. You want as much room as possible on the target to get a better idea of what the pattern is doing. In some cases the pattern is good, but not true to center. That can usually be corrected easily with a sight adjustment.
If you still don’t get the pattern you’re hoping for, try a different brand ammo. If that doesn’t help, try another choke, even if you have to borrow one from a friend. There seems to be much less variation in individual chokes than individual guns, so if your buddy’s choke performs well, the same model and constriction size should do well for you.
Thanks in no small part to some fantastic advancements in turkey loads, odds are you’ll find a worthwhile combination long before you reach total frustration.