What's New in Turkey Loads
September 28, 2010
New tungsten loads and shotshell designs are providing greater range for turkey hunters. (April 2007)
For most of my hunting life, I was a vocal critic of long shots on turkeys -- a long shot in my book being anything past 40 yards. I didn't care what claims the makers of hot-shot chokes or hot-shot loads or hot-shot sights were making; my experience and observations told me that clean kills at 40-plus yards on turkeys were mostly luck, and that even the best-matched loads, chokes and guns simply left too many holes in their patterns out there at that distance, and couldn't deliver the energy, to be counted on every time.
My thinking today is different. The reason is tungsten. The present generation of tungsten-shot turkey loads, combined with the best of modern wad design, has finally, truly, given us that long-sought 50-yard reliability on turkeys. Of course, you still need to work with your gun. You still need to be familiar with its pattern, and you need to pattern it enough at all distances to know that what you're seeing is reliable and not just occasional. But the simple fact is that whatever your most comfortable and preferred killing range was for turkeys before, today's best heavy tungsten loads add 10 yards to it. And the best of today's lead-shot loads, with new-technology wad design, are almost as good.
What's new about today's tungsten loads is that they pattern well. Tungsten is more dense and heavier than lead, but it is also much, much harder. It has to be mixed with something softer -- iron, tin, nickel, polymer -- to be used in a shotshell.
Initial tungsten-based loads didn't pattern particularly well and had smaller payloads than lead-shot shells because the wads had to be so thick to protect barrels from the extra-hard shot. They did have the lead-plus weight desired, but also the hardness problem of steel. The tradeoff was that the heavy and dense tungsten-alloy pellets carried their energy much farther than steel or lead, so a smaller shot size could be as effective as a larger lead pellet. All other things being equal, a tungsten-alloy pellet is heavier than a comparably sized lead pellet by 25 to nearly 35 percent, which in terms of energy means that a tungsten-alloy No. 6 shot edges a No. 4 lead pellet.
The patterning problem was finally solved with the unique tungsten-nickel alloy developed by Hevi-Shot in the late 1990s, which Remington started loading in 2002. Its success prompted Winchester and Federal to kick their own developmental programs into higher gear.
The Federal Heavyweight load line is presented as a "proprietary tungsten alloy" and is a tungsten-iron blend that is 35 percent denser than lead. However, a completely new manufacturing process and Federal's unique new Flitecontrol wad have overcome all the original version's deficiencies. The new wad is actually an inverted version of a conventional shot cup. Where standard shot cups have long petals that peel back from the front and "blossom" quickly to free the charge, the Flitecontrol wads feature solid tubes at the leading edge with short rear petals. These are pressed open by expanding gases and act like braking flaps on an airplane wing. The wad thus stays with the charge longer and gradually releases the pellets in a more uniform and denser manner. The result is extremely effective (Federal offers this wad system in its lead-shot turkey loads as well).
Federal Premium Mag-Shok Turkey loads with the Flitecontrol wad system are available in both lead and Heavyweight 12-gauge offerings in 2 3/4-inch loads. In addition, the Heavyweight loads will now be available in 3- and 3 1/2-inch No. 7 shot offerings. Also helping provide dense, tight and uniform patterns is the copper-plated, buffered shot in the lead loads. Heavyweight is 35 percent more dense than lead for tighter patterns and powerful penetration. The new No. 7 offering provides the energy comparable to that of No. 5 lead shot at 40 yards -- with a far greater pellet count for maximum impact on target.
Over at Winchester, the Xtended Range load series, utilizing a tungsten/copper/nickel/iron alloy, is nearly identical to Hevi-Shot in weight ratio, at 10 percent heavier than lead (although you will not find the word "tungsten" mentioned in any of Winchester's product descriptions). This particular alloy is the softest of the tungsten-based products currently in production, which gives it more patterning versatility, and the pellets are much more uniformly round than the rather random-shaped pellets generated by the Hevi-Shot process. Winchester makes the roundness a selling point, though there's actually some disagreement about whether roundness makes any significant difference. My experience is that it depends on the particular barrel/load/choke match-up. Pattern your own gun; see what works.
Most recently, Winchester has expanded its Supreme Elite Xtended Range Turkey load line with the addition of No. 4 shot in both 3- and 3 1/2-inch 12-gauge loads. Like the original Xtended Range loads, both of the new loads will have a muzzle velocity of 1225 fps. The 3 1/2-inch load will have 2 ounces of No. 4 shot, and the 3-inch load will have 1 3/4 ounces. New for 2007 is the Supreme Elite Xtended Range turkey loads in 20 gauge. The new 3-inch load uses 1 1/8 ounces of No. 5 shot, a very popular shot size among turkey hunters. The new 20-gauge load has a muzzle velocity of 1225 fps and delivers the energy and pellet penetration needed to take the longest-range boss gobblers. The complete line of 12-gauge Xtended Range Turkey loads also includes 2 3/4, 3 and 3 1/2 inches.
In 2005 the overall success of the tungsten revolution that Hevi-Shot started led to a decision by Environ-Metal Inc. (Hevi-Shot's owner) to part company with Remington and begin marketing its own line of loads. Environ-Metal's newest innovation is called "Hevi-13" and is slightly more than 20 percent heavier than lead (about 8 percent heavier than the Remington version of Hevi-Shot), which puts it in between the density of Federal and Winchester loads. The added weight is due to an increased percentage of tungsten in the alloy, with the added hardness compensated for by a slick molybdenum disulfide coating that allows the pellets to slide more easily around each other on their way down the barrel.
Remington's response to the departure of Hevi-Shot has been to introduce its own proprietary composite of Tungsten-Bronze-Iron shot in its new Wingmaster HD load. At 12.0 grams/cc, it's 10 percent denser than lead and is the scientifically proven optimum density for pellet count and per-pellet energy. Plus, its smooth, round shape allows Remington to claim improved aerodynamics and sustained payload energy. Wingmaster HD is also 16 percent softer than Premier Hevi-Shot, which makes it easier on a barrel. And it's significantly more responsive to chokes.
The bottom line is that the tungsten-alloy loads are deadlier at longer ranges than their lead counterparts, but the hunter must take the time to find the optimum choke
and the optimum range for the specific load in his specific gun, and he must be able to put the pattern in the right spot.
Of course, the attention given to the advantages of tungsten-based shot has not driven traditional lead-shot turkey loads off the market by any means. Based on overall turkey load sales, we see that a majority of turkey hunters, in fact, still use lead-shot loads in the same circumstances and setups and at the same ranges they have always used them. This was a good thing in particular for Remington, which promoted its lead shot loads to fill the void in its shotshell line opened by the departure of the Hevi-Shot alliance until the introduction of the Wingmaster HD this year, and also for leading lead-shotshell manufacturers like Fiocchi, whose position has actually been improved among lead-shot aficionados by the reduction in lead loads by the leading tungsten offerers.