Looking for turkey loads that pattern to perfection? Our shotgun expert shares his six top choices for the spring season.
Time was that hunters went after gobblers with No. 2 lead shot and whatever shotgun they owned. And for those just getting in to turkey hunting, that’s just fine. Yet, just as turkeys have proliferated, so have shotguns, chokes and shells. Full chokes normally measure .030 to .035, but specialized turkey tubes now go into the .060 range, ensuring that a compact swarm of pellets takes ol’ Tom instantly to the ground; pellets from a highly refined group of shotshells.
Understanding the engineering that goes into today’s specialized loads (and why some loads fetch such a high price) takes some education. We’ve done the legwork to gather six of the best loads out there to help you determine just the right load to use this spring when you head into the turkey woods along with some tips about sighting in and chokes that will put you right on target.
The core of today’s specialized loads is “hard” lead pellets. Lead, by nature, is a soft metal, but by alloying six-percent antimony the lead becomes harder. Thin copper and nickel plating adds some additional hardness, but more importantly, these platings add lubricity to the pellets as they slip and slide around when violently launched down the barrel. All turkey-specific loads, lead or tungsten alloy, retain plenty of downrange killing energy long past the practical shooting range of a turkey.
The broad spectrum of shells available, mainly for the 12, but also the 10 and the increasingly popular 20 gauge, are all effective gobbler-getters. Below are some of the more expensive, feature-laden loads available. Depending on the complexity of the load, costs run from about .80 cents a shot to nearly $8! However, budget-conscious turkey hunters need not feel like they’ve been left out. There are plenty of less expensive shells available that will also do a good job on gobblers. Just shop around and you’ll quickly discover just how wide an assortment of great shotshells are available for turkey hunting this spring.
Specs: 2 ¾-, 3- and 3 ½-inch. No. 4, 5 and 6, velocity 1,200 fps.
Details: This load uses Winchester’s Shot-Lok technology that encases the pellets in a shot-protecting resin that disintegrates upon leaving the muzzle.
Price: $17.99 - $23.99 | 10 rounds
Specs: 2 ¾-, 3- and 3 ½-inch., velocity 1,250 fps.
Details: Federal’s 3rd Degree load utilizes three different pellets; 20% No. 6 Flitestopper, 40% No. 5 copper-plated lead and 40% No. 7 TSS Heavyweight contained with a FliteControl wad that releases the shot charge farther down range. The premise is that the Flitestopper pellets with their circumferential band will spread providing a wider patter at close range while delivering more downrange lethality.
Price: $17.99 - $20.99 | 5 rounds
Quick tip: Specialty shotshells for turkeys can be pricey, but remember, there are rebates available, and you should always check your local stores for sales. You might even consider splitting the cost of several boxes of shells with a friend, so you can both test to see which shotshells pattern best in your gun.
Specs: 2 ¾-, 3- and 3 ½-inch. No. 4, 5 and 6, velocity 1,210 fps.
Details: A standard-style load using Nitro Mag extra-hard lead shot with a polymer buffer in a Power-Piston wad. Remington suggests 80-percent patterns at a bargain price.
Price: $7.99 - $15.99 | 10 rounds
Specs: 2 ¾-, 3- and 3 ½-inch. No. 5, 6 and 7 blend, velocity 1,200 fps.
Details: Hevi Shot, products known for their heavier-than-lead tungsten-nickel pellets, uses a moly coating in this triplex load of three different-sized pellets to product a “cone of lethality.”
Price: $22.99 - $26.99 | 5 rounds
Specs: 2 ¾-, 3- and 3 ½-inch. No. 4, 5 and 6, velocity 1,285 fps.
Details: Diamond Shot employs extra-hare lead shot that is polished and then coated with a proprietary material that provides excellent down-range patterns. Mainly used in their competition target loads, its extension to turkey shells is a good move.
Price: $7.99 - $8.99 | 10 rounds
Specs: 3-inch. No. 5, velocity 1,300 fps.
Details: Old timers will remember the Herter’s catalog that paved the way for Cabela’s, who now own the Herter’s trade name. Loaded in Italy, these are bargain-priced loads for the cost-conscious hunter and will bring ol’ Tom to the dinner table and still leave some dollars in your wallet to celebrate with.
Price: $7.19 - $7.99 | 10 rounds
Specs: 3- and 3 ½-inch. No. 7 ½, 8 and 9.
Details: Apex TSS turkey loads use a tungsten-blend pellet with the increased density of 18.0 gr/cc as opposed to 11 gr/cc for lead. This allows the use of much smaller pellets thereby increasing pattern density. Be advised that at this writing, their website states they are completely sold out of ammunition, but they promise to have a supply soon.
Price: $39.99 | 5 rounds
No matter which ammo you choose, it is absolutely critical that you know how your shotgun will perform both where and then how it shoots.
At a safe place to shoot, measure exactly 16 yards and set up a target about 30-inches square at eye level and mark the center. Then, standing at the 16-yard mark, fire three aimed shots. If they impact dead on, fine, but if they deviate even a bit, measure from the center of the aim point to the center of the pattern. For each inch off the center, your stock needs to be adjusted 1/16 of an inch. For example, if the impact is two inches low, you need to raise the stock’s comb ⅛ inch. To put this into perspective, if the pattern is two inches low at 16 yards it can be as much as a foot or more low at 40 yards.
Once your shotgun is properly sighted in, you can move to determining what choke/ammo combination works best for you. The industry standard is 40 yards, but if you consistently lure birds to within 30 yards, then set up for that distance. Target sheets should be about 40 inches square, but because we’re looking for 80 percent of the pellets to be in the head and neck region, smaller sheets will work. (You can buy them ready made from Hunter John.)
Shooting from a solid rest, like sand bags, a rifle pedestal or Lead Sled, fire a shot, then change the target and fire another for a total of three targets. If the shot appears to be all on the paper, three may be enough. If there’s any doubt, shoot two more for a total of five. Then carefully look them over. You want the concentration of shot to be heaviest around the center of the pattern.
Keep in mind that extremely tight choke tubes can deliver devastating pellet numbers to a turkey’s head and neck, but . . . often times a more open choke will deliver a more even pellet distribution. Only you can decide how you want your shotgun to deliver the shot to the bird. When you get there, you will have all the confidence in the world that when a love-sick Tom eyes your decoy, he’ll be headed to the oven.
John M. Taylor has been writing about shotguns and loads for more than 40 years. He has hunted upland birds and waterfowl all over the world and is a frequent contributor to many of America’s most popular firearms publications including Petersen's Hunting, Gun Dog, The American Rifleman and Outdoor Life. His latest book, Fine Shotguns: The History, Science, and Art of the Finest Shotguns from Around the World, is available on Amazon.