Spring has sprung, the warm winds have begun to blow, and with them come lovestruck turkeys. That’s right, spring turkey season opens in just a few days across much of the nation and arriving soon after in the rest. Hunters across the country are gearing up to head into the woods and track down North America’s wiliest creature.
The shotgun is oiled up, decoys are ready and your camouflage de-scented and ready to go. However, one element still perplexes many new hunters—what shotgun load is best for bagging a long-beard? Once a turkey is in range, you only get one shot to take your tom. A missed shot means the bird—and every other turkey in a square mile—has probably run off for the deepest cover it can find. As such, it is critical that the load you choose be capable of dropping your bird.
Modern shotgun loads specifically designed for turkeys abound on the market today. It wasn’t so long ago that specialized turkey loads, extra full or turkey chokes, and custom shotguns” target=”_blank”>turkey shotguns were non-existent. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that ammunition manufacturers began to produce shotshell loads designed to perform well on turkeys at ranges out to 40 yards. At first, duplex loads, utilizing two differing sizes of shot were popular, but advances in ammunition and powder technology soon surpassed the need for duplex loads. Now you can find effective high-velocity turkey loads for almost any shotgun 20 gauge or larger with shell sizes ranging from 2-3/4 to 3-1/2 inches in length.
Probably the biggest breakthrough in shotshell technology is the heavier-than-lead non-toxic Hevi-Shot loads. Spurred on by the need to create non-toxic loads that perform as well or better than lead, Hevi-Shot set the standard for non-toxic loads. Previously, hunters in areas where lead-free shot was required had to use steel. The problem is, steel shot cannot be used on most chokes, and it carries significantly less weight than lead. The introduction of tungsten and other dense metal shot meant that these new shells could perform as well, or in some cases better, better than their lead shot counterparts. Lead-free shot is also available from other manufacturers.
Turkeys are tough birds, so it is important to get a large enough shot size to ensure adequate penetration, while still maintaining a decent pattern at 40 yards. When choosing a load, look for a high-velocity load that is capable of launching at least one ounce of shot to a minimum of 1,100 feet per second. When patterning a load for your particular shotgun/choke combination, look for a pattern that gives you 95% of the pellets within a 36-inch circle and a minimum of 6 pellets in the kill area of your target. Ideally, you will want 12 or more impacting the vital area. The maximum range at which you can achieve this is the maximum range for that load/choke combination in your scattergun. Play around with various loads to determine which gives you the best pattern at the longest range.
The tight patterns made by dense turkey loads do have a drawback. Nothing is worse than working hard to call a turkey into range only to fire a shot and have the gobbler scurry off into the dense underbrush. The dense pattern of turkey shells mean that it is far easier to miss a turkey than it is to miss waterfowl. At 40 yards, shooting a turkey is more akin to firing a rifle. Unlike wing shooting, turkey hunters need to get their head down onto the stock to obtain proper cheek weld. Many dedicated turkey guns are equipped with a scope, which helps not only with aim, but also requires that the head be down along the stock in order to get proper eye relief. Most missed turkey shots result from the shooter not having proper cheek weld or other shooter-induced problem and not from poor ammunition.
Compared to most other shotgun loads, turkey shells are expensive. This might seem to be an issue but, apart from patterning a shotgun, it takes a while to work through a box of turkey shells. Ideally, you will only have to pattern your particular shotgun/choke combination once to find the ammunition that performs best. Once you have determined what loads are ideal, it is not a bad idea to stock up, as brands and loads do change over time. Unlike waterfowling, a skilled turkey hunter might go through two or three shells a day when out stalking gobblers, so a stash of 10 boxes is generally more than enough to last many seasons of turkey hunting.
To help you find the best loads for your turkey gun, we have broken down our most popular turkey loads in a chart below to help you with your selection.
34667 Winchester Supreme Elite Xtended Range HD Turkey Load Shotshell, 3-1/2″, 2 oz., #4, 1225 fps
47318 Hevi-Shot, 3-1/2″, #4 Turkey, 2-1/4 oz., 1090 fps
65468 Supreme Double-X Magnum Turkey Load Shotshell, 3-1/2″ Shell, #4 Shot, (lead)
34867 Remington Nitro Turkey Load Shotshell, 3-1/2″ Shot, 2 oz., #6 (lead)
21029 12 Gauge Bismuth Turkey Magnum Load Shotshell, 3″ Shell, 1-5/8 oz., #4
34717 Winchester Supreme Elite Xtended Range HD Turkey Load Shotshell, 3″,
34341 Fiocchi Turkey Load, 3″, #4 Nickel Plated Lead Shot, 1-3/4 oz.,
36954 Hevi-Shot Turkey Load Shotshell, 3″ Shell, 1-5/8 oz., #4 Turkey Shot
15707 Federal Premium Mag-Shok Heavyweight Turkey Load #6 Shotshell, 3″, (lead)
34862 Remington Nitro Turkey, 3″, #4 Lead Shot, 1-7/8 oz., 1210 fps, 10 (lead)
47325 Hevi-Shot Turkey Load Shotshell, 2-3/4″ Shell, #5 Shot, 1-1/2 oz., 5
50269 Estate Cartridge High Velocity Steel, 2-3/4″, #4 Steel Shot
34340 Fiocchi Turkey Load, 2-3/4″, 1-1/2 oz., #6 Lead Shot, 1310 fps, (lead)
66455 Remington Premier Duplex Magnum Turkey Load, 2-3/4″, 4×6 Copper-Plated (lead)
14393 Winchester Xtended Range Turkey Load, 2-3/4″, #6 High Density Shot (lead)
14341 Winchester Supreme Double-X Magnum Turkey Load Shotshell, 3″ Shell, #4
61999 Hevi-Shot Hevi 13 Turkey Load Shotshell, 3″ Shell, #7 Shot, 1-1/4 oz.
41073 Remington Nitro Turkey Load, 3″, #5 Lead, 1-1/4 oz., 1185 fps