For the Right Wild Turkey Load, Pattern for Success


When it comes to wild turkey hunting, one key success factor is choosing the right shotgun load. To increase your chances of killing a turkey, it's best to hunt with a load that puts as many lethal pellets in the kill zone at the farthest distance, also known as shooting a "tight pattern".  By field-testing some of the available loads on the market, I have some results that should narrow the options, and give my fellow turkey hunters one more advantage they could use to harvest Mr. Longbeard this spring.

To identify the differences in shot patterns, I ran field tests with some of today's best turkey loads. I test fired a variety of loads - lead versus copper plated and alloy (HeviShot) buffered loads, and duplex shot versus single shot size. Duplex loads contain a variety of shot sizes in the same shell. I used a duplex that contained #5, 6 and 7's in one load.  The single shot size load is self explanatory, it's a load that has all the same size shot.  I used #5 shot for our single choice because it is a great "middle of the road" shot size. #4 shot is a heavier pellet with more energy at impact, but there are a lot fewer of them. Conversely, #6 shot is smaller and has less energy at impact, but there are a lot more pellets. But a #5 is a good balance between number of pellets and knock down power.

I test fired at ranges of 20, 35, and 50 yards using a Remington 870 Wingmaster pump with a 26" barrel and Super Full choke. The objective was to demonstrate the difference in the patterns at varying distances, and measure the number of lethal pellets.

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As expected, copper plated and HeviShot loads performed much better than the lead, with more pellets in the kill zone at farther distances. The reason for this is simple. When shot travels down the barrel, it is actually compressed as it is forced into the tighter choke. Lead shot, when compressed under tremendous force, may become disfigured. So when it takes flight it will be more likely to stray off course rather than continue in a straight trajectory. Copper plated and alloy pellets are much harder, and when compressed are much less likely to change shape, ultimately flying straighter in a tighter pattern. Lead loads are also lighter and softer then copper or alloy, which means they will have less energy (or knock down power) at impact.   The results with varying shot sizes were also consistent. The duplex shot had more pellets in the kill zone than single shot loads, no matter what distance. See the chart that details the number of lethal pellets as various distances.
The results are not to say that the most expensive ammo is the best. At a range of 25 yards or less, ANY load is going to lay out a bird. It's at farther distances that they demonstrate why they are more expensive, they put more pellets in the kill zone and tend to have more energy at impact. So if you are confident you can get that bird in close, go with the more inexpensive loads. If you are hunting more open terrain where it's tougher to get the birds in close, than the more expensive loads may pay off.

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Understand that the best approach is always to fire different rounds through your own gun to find out what load patterns the best. These tests that were performed are to serve as a guideline to help you figure out the best load to use by taking some of the guesswork out of it. By knowing what load you shoot best, you will have the confidence in your weapon as well as knowing your lethal killing range. And that can make the difference between going home with a bird or stopping at the supermarket for a Butterball.

Dan Stefanich -

Play hard in the outdoors!

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