If you're ready to set the spring turkey woods ablaze, you'll be fired up to know that Federal Premium Ammunition is offering a new turkey load in 2015. It's called 3rd Degree — a complex cartridge that was designed to accomplish a simple goal: kill more turkeys.
Peel away the layers of 3rd Degree and you'll begin to understand its inner workings. This turkey load contains a blend of three different pellet types, each strategically stacked on top of one another in Federal's Flitecontrol wad. From the crimp down, you'll find (by weight): 20 percent of No. 6 Flitestopper lead pellets; a 40-percent center section of No. 5 copper-plated lead; followed by 40 percent of Federal's No. 7 Heavyweight pellets at the base of the wad. This combination of shot might look more like shiny marketing candy than a practical recipe for roasting turkeys, but I can say from experience that 3rd Degree will live in my gobbler cookbook for seasons to come.
When you chamber a round of 3rd Degree in your turkey gun and drop the hammer, each of the three pellet types take flight at 1,250 fps with a distinct purpose. The Flitestopper lead opens up wide, making for lethal close-range patterns. Next, the copper-plated lead — a pellet type that has offered decades of consistency — moves downrange with a medium-sized pattern. Last in line are the Heavyweight pellets, which are also loaded in Federal's popular Mag-Shok long-range turkey load.
In 3rd Degree, the Heavyweights carry energy out to 50-plus yards with adequate velocity and penetration to knock down longbeards. In a nutshell, this shotshell gives you the best of three worlds: close-, mid- and long-range patterns for tagging toms.
In the Ammo Lab
Ballistic theories are intriguing, but the proof is in pudding '¦ or, in this case, paper and ballistic gel. A group of writers and I were invited to the Federal Premium Ammunition headquarters, where we pattern-tested 3rd Degree at the company's underground shooting range. It's amazing to consider the level of engineering that goes into killing birds. In the dark, dingy depths of the Federal factory, it felt like we were testing ammo for war rather than turkey hunting. But then again, I suppose I've battled more than a couple of tyrannical gobblers from the spring trenches.
After a full afternoon of extensive testing, our small army of turkey hunters marched away with full confidence in the power and promise of 3rd Degree. We fired the loads side by side with standard copper-plated lead turkey loads from 10 to 50 yards.
"Our factory testing has shown effective patterns to be 60 percent larger than comparable lead loads at 10 yards," explained Mike Holm, Federal Premium product manager.
That's exactly what we saw underground. It's easy to miss a bobble-headed bird at just five paces, so the extra inches gained at close range with 3rd Degree will undoubtedly help turkey hunters bust more heads.
"At 50 yards, 3rd Degree puts 69 percent more pellets in a 10-inch circle than comparable lead turkey loads," said Holm. "Whether your hunting strategy is crawling up on an open-field gobbler while holding and hiding behind a portable turkey decoy, or sitting with your back up against a large tree and calling up turkeys until they're practically in your lap, hunters are going to love 3rd Degree's forgiving close-range pattern. The fact that it will also harvest far-away birds if the need arises is just icing on the cake."
Again, Federal's specs rang true during our testing session, and 3rd degree is fully capable of reaching out to 150 feet to drop toms.
Premium Insurance Policy
Many turkey hunters spite the idea of shooting gobblers beyond 40 yards. While I love calling birds into my lap just as much as the next guy, I've also proudly killed my share of long-range gobblers — stone dead — on purpose, with the right gear of course. Regardless of where you draw your line, it's easy to misjudge distance in the heat of the moment. That's where Federal Premium's 3rd Degree provides an insurance policy, which I cashed-in during a late-March hunt in eastern Nebraska.
Four friends and I were collectively carrying 10 gobbler tags on the Winnebago Indian Reservation, and all of us had lofty dreams of filling each and every one. That dream came true when the stars aligned and we dropped our 10 birds in one epic day.
I stalked a rafter of birds that were resting in a small island of trees surrounded by plowed fields. On the western side of the tree island, a ditch and a steep hill gave me enough cover to put a sneak on the birds. Finally, I located the group after an intense belly crawl and a lone tom stepped into a clear shooting lane. I shot him and he went down, but so did I. My turkey gun (a borrowed shotgun that I was unfamiliar with) was equipped with a scope, which nailed me in the nose. As I writhed in pain, another bird stepped out from behind the downed bird to see why he was flopping in the dirt. I picked up the shotgun, aimed, braced for nasal impact and hammered the second longbeard.
Two dead birds, one broken nose. The second bird fell at 47 yards — farther than I had guessed him at — so I'm thankful I was loaded with 3rd Degree. I paid a bloody price for my gobbler double, but without an adequate load I would've probably added the insult of a missed or wounded bird to my injury.
Available in Spring 2015
3rd Degree turkey loads are available in 3-inch, 1.75-ounce ($21.95 MSRP) and 3.5-inch, 2-ounce ($24.95) shells for 12-gauge shotguns beginning in spring 2015. There are five cartridges in every box.
Dealing Out the 3rd Degree
Federal Premium Ammunition set out to design a turkey load that would be effective for 10-50 yards shots on turkeys. This goal was accomplished with the creation of the company's newest shotshell innovation: 3rd Degree.
10-yard Factory Test
The author visited the Federal factory to test the 3rd Degree load at an underground shooting range. As shown here, the 10-yard pattern (left) of traditional copper-plated lead turkey loads leaves little room for error when a turkey hunter is challenged by an in-your-face shot. The 3rd Degree load (right) was built to deliver a 10-yard pattern that's 60 percent larger, so less close-range longbeards will walk away this spring and beyond.
Even if you refuse to shoot turkeys farther than 40 yards, it's easy to misjudge distance in the heat of the moment. As you can see here, the 50-yard pattern of the 3rd Degree provides a long-range insurance policy. And yes, there's still enough energy in the pellets at 50 yards to offer deadly penetration into a turkey's vitals.
The author was the first outdoor writer to kill a gobbler with the 3rd Degree. He shot this Nebraska double on the Winnebago Indian Reservation. The bird on the left was a casualty of the 3rd Degree at 47 yards.
Aside from learning about the load's long-range capabilities, the author was once-again schooled in a basic hunting concept: Never use a turkey gun you haven't tested prior to your hunt. In this case, he suffered a broken nose from a scoped scattergun that didn't fit him properly. No pain, no gain.
Every Pellet Counts
Got turkey? You'd be lucky to ever see wild turkeys, let alone be able to hunt them, without decades of conservation efforts lead by the National Wild Turkey Federation
Federal Premium is also committed to conservation, so for every box of 3rd Degree that's sold, Federal will donate some of those dollars to the NWTF. This means you are also supporting the NWTF by purchasing 3rd Degree. Win, win, win.
The secret to 3rd Degree's close- and far-reaching killing power is in its three-pellet blend. Flitestopper
lead (top 20 percent of pellets) opens up wide, making for lethal close-range patterns. Next, copper-plated lead pellets (middle 40 percent of payload) move downrange with a medium-sized pattern. Last in line are the Heavyweight
pellets (bottom 40 percent), which carry energy out to 50-plus yards with adequate velocity and penetration to knock down longbeards.
A key to the long-range success of the 3rd Degree lies in the Flitecontrol
wad. This patented wad stays with the shot payload after it leaves the barrel, essentially controlling the dispersion of the pellets to offer longer, tighter patterns.
pellets are also critical in this reach-out-and-touch-turkeys formula. Heavyweights are composed of tungsten-iron material, making the 35 percent denser than lead. Increased density means more downrange energy and penetration.