It seems as though every year turkey guns improve to let us turkey hunters shoot farther and farther. Back in the day, most turkey hunters were content with a 12-gauge waterfowl gun mounting a fixed, full choke and a stiff load of No. 4’s or 5’s. Range was set at a maximum of about 40 yard. For the most part, this system was good enough.
Enter the 21st century. The development of modern shotshell ammunition along with special barrels and choke tubes has been head-spinning. The range war had begun, and now about 20 years down the pike we are seeing turkey guns and loads in combination that can hammer a gobbler to the range of an old-time center fire rifle round. The fact is, today the shotgun has all but equaled a reasonable shot with a centerfire small bore rifle. But, in this case, no one is saying a word about the possibility of some hunters becoming engaged in excessive-range limits as applied to the modern scatter gun.
KILLING MACHINEWhat then makes the modern shotgun such a deadly new age long-range tool? For the most part, two separate areas in the designing of shotshells has turned the whole business of shotshell ballistics on its ear. The first is the material shot is made from. The second is the type of propellant used to charge a shotshell load.
1) Turkeys Fear TungstenIn the shot-material department, the big change has come with the development of tungsten-based shot types. Hevi-Shot, Winchester Xtended, Remington HD, and several types of Federal Cartridge ATK high-density shot have made pellets in all sizes shoot farther with far more deadly effect.
When it comes to high performance turkey loads. you could almost say lead is dead. Because tungsten has a very high level of density each pellet is heavier. A pellet of say No. 4 tungsten shot is about equal to a lead shot No. 2, but with far more pellets in the No. 4 pattern. With a dense pattern and heavy-weight shot, you have a modern killing machine at hand.
Back in the day, we had to mix shot sizes and slow down loads with big payloads of shot to get anywhere close to the net effect of the modern shotshell load. Even at that we could not shoot good patterns much beyond 40 yards. Today, with the right choke, a load of Winchester Xtended or Federal High Density can spatter a gobbler stone dead at 60 yards.
Hunting with a group in Nebraska last year, two hunters took birds well beyond 60 yards. The loads were made up of tungsten shot in Winchester Xtended, and the guns were Mossberg 835’s shooting special .695 constriction X-Factor chokes.
Chokes were once constricted to about .40. The modern turkey choke tube is choked down to .60 or more. These super-tight chokes send long narrow shot strings at turkeys with devastating results.
2) Propellants Gone WildAfter chokes comes propellant. No, not powder. The two are different. Shotgun propellant creates gas and drives the wad and shot. Currently updated propellants are making pellets move faster with less blown core holes in the pattern down range. I am currently testing Remington’s new Hypersonic shotshell that moves a full 1 1/4 ounces of steel shot at close to 2,000 feet per second from a 12-gauge. Now add an advanced wad systems to the mix and you have space-age ballistics mechanics driving turkey loads down range.
What range is ethical, now that we have the ability to deliver tight patterns far down range?
In most cases, I like to get my shot inside 40 yards. In fact, a tight 30 yards is about the best. I know many professional hunters who never take a shot beyond 30 yards.
Should that be the rule? No, but you need to assess your equipment, ability, and specific situation when making that decision.
Last year, during a hunt in Arizona’s White Mountains, turkeys were hard to come by at any kind of workable range limit. I ended up taking a nice tom but at a range based on a standard Remington 887, turkey choke, shotgun sights, and a 3-inch shot load that was a stretch for the setup. I got lucky, but that’s not always the case.
Those dreams of long-range shots sell equipment well in the sporting good store, but when you have to account for the drop of the payload pattern down range, wind drift compensation, and energy loss regarding each pellet, your playing into the Twilight Zone of turkey shooting with a scatter gun.
In my opinion, I think more turkey kills at long range are made around the fire in camp, or on a word processor by writers then actually ever take place.
The best advice I can give here is to bring together a dedicated turkey gun if you intend to hunt the birds at least once a year. After coming up with a gun, choke, sights, and loads, take the time to put that combination on paper by way of a good turkey head neck target. Birchwood Casey makes a splat-style target that is outstanding for this kind of work. At 40 yards you want a nice coverage in the neck and head area of the bird. Lacking that performance level, you’re heading down the road toward some crippled and lost birds.
In general a payload pellet count on target of at least 30 pellets is workable, If you can get more hits that’s great. Very dense patterns at 40 yards (40 or 50 hits ) are saying that your gun and load can be stretched a bit more to 45 or even 50 yards. But first pattern the loads at that extended range before you bring your sights to a bird.