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Turkey Guide

Find Your Range - by James Powell

It's generally acknowledged we live in a veritable Golden Age of shotshell technology. For the past several decades, engineers have pushed the boundaries by making them faster, better-patterning and harder-hitting, eventually culminating in the introduction of high velocity, tungsten-based shot shells. Originally designed to provide a better-performing alternative to steel shot shells, tungsten-based shells like Winchester’s Supreme Elite Xtended Range shells have proved to be much more than a simple "alternative" to steel.

How much more? We've all heard the talk for the past several years now, guys sitting around tables and talking about how the new generation of tungsten-based loads are "hot" loads, how they have "devastating" knockdown power and even that they extend your range "as far as you're capable of shooting." True? To some degree. But not entirely.

Tungsten-based loads can be "hot" and "devastating" when utilized properly, but they're no miracle cure for poor shooting technique or bad judgment. In my experience, loads like Winchester Supreme Elite's can and will extend your effective shooting range, but only if you practice using them regularly and make good decisions when a shot presents itself.

What are the major benefits?

Turkey hunters can expect the following, in general:

  • Excellent patterning at extended ranges
  • Uniform shot patterns
  • Knock-down power often exceeding traditional shotshells at similar velocities

I've had great success on gobblers the past two seasons shooting tungsten-based shells, and have found I can make clean, ethical kills a good 10-yards further out than I could with lead/copper shells (45 yards is now my realistic and ethical effective range), but results can and will vary greatly depending on eyesight, skill and experience.

And yes, tungsten-based loads do cost more than their predecessors, but in my mind they represent true value when you look at them from a cost/performance perspective. The key is to know when they’ll effectively and ethically extend your personal kill range on turkeys – and the only way to know that is to grab your favorite shotgun/choke combination, a couple boxes of tungsten-based loads and plenty of turkey targets and hit the local shooting range.

When practicing at the range, keep in mind the basics of patterning and determining effective range:

  • Turkeys don't stand 20-yards out and broadside in the woods. Shoot at a variety of distances — from 10 to 50 yards, and from different positions and angles.
  • Shoot 2-4 times at each distance and at a clean target so you'll accumulate an idea of what an average shot at that distance, not just your best shot, will look like.
  • Take detailed notes on how dense and uniform the shot pattern is at each distance. Is the pattern holding together effectively enough at that range to put a dozen pellets in the kill zone, or only two or three? Do you start getting large holes in your pattern? If so, that distance is too far out for clean, ethical kills.
  • Determine your personal maximum effective range. Just because your buddy has excellent eyesight, depth-perception and technique and can put a dozen pellets in the kill zone at 50 yards doesn't mean you can. Tungsten-based loads offer better performance, no question, but know and understand your personal limits as an effective shooter.

In short, tungsten-based loads are good — very good — but they won’t make your eyesight, technique or depth perception any better — only practice on the range can do that. These loads are truly groundbreaking, and they hit harder and at longer ranges than ever before, but they’re only as good as the hunter pulling the trigger.