A recent hunt in South Dakota offers a key reminder of why choosing the right turkey load can make the difference between success and failure.
Outdoor writers Doug Howlett and Brad Fenson were riding with fellow hunter Ken Byers, scouring the rolling country side for birds strutting in the open when they spotted a strutter near a remote corral, fan spread to impress three feeding hens.
The group slid from the truck, scrambling behind the cover of the terrain to get close; their plan to slip to where they were level with the gobbler, show him a turkey fan, and pull him into close range by raising his ire at what he thought would be a strutting intruder.
When they edged to the top of the hill, however, the birds were gone. As they looked around, the men spotted the three hens scrambling up another hill. Somehow they had been spotted. But where was the gobbler?
As they eased across the flat where they had first spied the tom, the hunter’s anxiously scanned the surrounding terrain. The tom wasn’t with the hens, so had to be nearby. Howlett, armed with a camera on this hunt, turned and spotted the tom behind them, slipping into a ravine. As soon as the bird was out of sight, the hunters scrambled his direction. Creeping to the lip of the ravine, they peered down. The gobbler stood, head stretched out looking, just over 50 yards away
With confidence, Fenson slowly leveled his shotgun and fired, dropping the gobbler in its tracks. It never moved again, not even to flop.
Not too long ago, 40 yards was widely considered the accepted reliable lethality of a lead turkey load. While certainly some loads in some conditions could still kill birds farther, such shots were far from a “gimme.”
But Fenson was shooting Winchester’s Long Beard XR loads, the revolutionary lead loads with Shot-Lok Technology, which utilizes a liquid resin loaded with the shot that then hardens, holding shot together and keeping it from bouncing off each other during travel down the barrel. Upon exiting the muzzle, the resin fractures and falls away from the heavier shot, which has been held tightly together down the barrel for longer distance and truer patterns. Effective patterns out to 60 yards have been reliably recorded from many turkey gun and choke tube combinations. Indeed, at the beginning of the hunt, the hunters tested their guns and the loads in conjunction on targets finding the patterns to be effective well out to the distance billed.
Up close, Long Beard XR also works. Just that morning of Fenson’s successful hunt, Howlett and Byers had decoyed a big Merriam’s tom to within 7 yards when Howlett decided that was close enough.
While the allure of spring turkey hunting remains pulling gobbling or strutting toms to ranges that are up close and personal, birds that hang up just outside of that 40-to 50-yard distance can be frustrating. But with Long Beard XR, those once aggravating hunts can now be successful hunts.
Prior to hunting with any new load or choke tube, hunters must pattern their load out to various distances such as 20 yards, 30 yards, 40 yards, 50 yards and even 60 yards. You should also check to see which size shot…No. 4s, 5s or 6s pattern best. No. 6s will hold the most shot, but it is smaller, while No. 4s, being larger, also may not pattern as well in certain XXX Full or XX Full choke tubes.
Make sure patterns are even with a good percentage of the shot load penetrating the head and neck area on a turkey target. As soon as the number of pellets drop off below 20 pellets in that area, or you begin to see overall patterns stretch so thin as to be ineffective, you will know that is the range at which your shotgun and load are no longer reliable. Don’t shoot any further than the distance where the load is consistently even.