I guess I never got into turkey hunting like many outdoorsmen because we don't have enough birds to justify a hunting season where I live—wild turkeys just don't adapt well to Saskatchewan's bitter winters and late frosts. That said, of all the game birds in North America, the wild turkey is the one I enjoy pursuing most whenever I get an invite to hunt "down South."
Even though I'm far from being an expert on turkeys, I can share important information on one vital aspect of turkey hunting—killer ammunition. In preparation for this column I interviewed some of the top authorities on stopping a gobbler in his tracks. These experts work for the major ammunition factories and truly know their stuff.
Sure, generic magnum No. 4s or No. 6s designed for ducks or pheasants will kill a longbeard, but today's turkey hunter is better served by using specialized turkey loads designed to enhance the capabilities of tight-choked shotguns. In fact, some of the new heavier shot types actually enable 20 gauge guns to outshoot older 12 gauge loads, and the same goes for the latest 12 gauge loads vs. older 10 gauge lead shot loads. I believe shotshell ammo is so good nowadays that most bird hunters—turkey hunters included—take for granted the level of performance offered.
Kent Cartridges are very popular with my waterfowl outfitter buddies in Saskatchewan. I talked to Kirk Elliott, vice president and general manager of Kent Gamebore Canada about its Ultimate Turkey ammo. "We purchase the best components available and assemble them with precision," he said. "That's why our ammo is so successful. We get the highest velocities and tightest patterns possible. Our Ultimate Turkey load is available in all three hull lengths in 12 gauge, plus the 3-inch 20 gauge. We offer No. 4, 5 and 6 shot sizes in all of our loads."
Jason Nash from Federal Cartridge walked me through its line-up of turkey loads, including nine 12 gauge loads and excellent 10 and 20 gauge offerings. "Our Flight Control wad offers tighter patterns," Nash said. "Our engineers came up with a unique design that releases the shot from the cup after about 19 feet of travel from the muzzle. The wad slips back from the shot charge so the pellets stay together longer." Nash says Federal's Flight Control wad is being refined for waterfowl loads, too.
Federal's Premium Mag-Shok lead load with the Flight Control wad is offered in 23/4-, 3- and 31/2-inch shells with No. 4, 5 or 6 shot. Federal's Premium Mag-Shok Heavyweight Turkey 12 gauge offering is loaded in 3- and 31/2-inch hulls with No. 5, 6 or 7 shot. Ten gauge shooters also get a Mag-Shock High Velocity lead load. Federal also offers its Premium Wing-Shok Magnum load in both 12 and 20 gauge. For the more economical minded hunter, the Strut-Shok 3- and 31/2-inch 12 gauge loads are available with the choice of No. 5, 6 or 7 lead shot.
Eddie Stevenson from Remington Arms told me the performance of his company's new Wingmaster HD pellets requires the shooter to reconsider his maximum killing range. "These new pellets are perfectly round so they retain velocity better," he said. "They're also heavier than steel and lead so they extend your effective range. We sell the Wingmaster HD turkey loads in five-round boxes so the hunter can test them in his particular shotgun more economically."
Remington offers turkey hunters a wide range of shotshells. The top-of-its-line ammo is the new Wingmaster HD featuring Remington's HD shot. For 2007 the Wingmaster HD Turkey loads are available in 3-inch and 31/2-inch 12 gauge offerings. The 3-inch shell is loaded with 15/8 ounces of either No. 4 or No. 6 shot. The 3½-inch shells are loaded with 17/8 ounces of No. 4s or No. 6s. In addition, a 3-inch 20 gauge load comprised of 11/4 ounces of No. 4s or No. 6s is available.
Big Green also offers lead shot turkey loads in its Nitro Turkey and Nitro Mag Buffered Magnums. Copper-plated lead loads are available in Remington's Premier line of shells. This includes the Premier High Velocity Magnum Copper-Plated Buffered Turkey Loads, Premier Magnum Copper-Plated Buffered Turkey Loads and the Premier Duplex Magnum Copper Plated Buffered Turkey Loads that uses a blend of No. 4 and No. 6 shot.
The lineup of Remington turkey ammo is comprehensive, ranging from 23/4-inch to 31/2-inch hulls in 12 gauge, with No. 4, 5 and 6 shot available in charges weighing from 11/2-21/4 ounces. In addition, turkey hunters who prefer 10 and 20 gauge guns haven't been overlooked. New for 2007 is a 20 gauge 3-inch Nitro Turkey Magnum offering from Remington. This shell is loaded with 11/4 ounces of No. 5 shot.
An impressive array of turkey loads is also available from Winchester. The company's Supreme Elite Xtended Range Hi-Density loads are available in 23/4-, 3- and 31/2-inch 12 gauge loads. New for this year from Winchester is a 20 gauge 3-inch load using 11/8 ounces of No. 5 Hi-Density pellets. I discussed turkey loads with Stephen Meyer, Winchester's shotshell products engineer, and he explained the importance of the payload, stressing that the number, size and density of the pellets has much to do with the killing effectiveness of the pattern. Meyer's very impressed with the new Hi-Density tungsten based pellets, particularly how they outperform both lead and steel counterparts for turkey and waterfowl hunting.
Winchester also offers its Supreme Turkey load in 10, 12 and 20 gauge. The 10 gauge 31/2-inch loads contain 2 ounces of No. 4, 5 or 6 shot. Twelve gauge loads are offered in 23/4-, 3- and 31/2-inch hulls. Shot charge weights range from 15/8 ounces in the 23/4-inch hulls to 21/4 ounces in the 31/2-inch magnums. No. 4, 5 and 6 shot are available in all loadings. Twenty gauge shooters can choose from 3-inch No. 5 and No. 6 loadings. Winchester also offers an economy turkey load in its 12 gauge Super-X 3-inch hull loaded with 17/8 ounces of No. 4 shot.
No discussion of turkey loads would be complete without looking at the products sold by Environmetal Inc., makers of HEVI-SHOT. The company's primary turkey load offering features HEVI-13, which is essentially moly coated HEVI-SHOT. The HEVI-13 Turkey loads have slightly reduced velocity that results in tighter patterns. HEVI-13 Turkey ammo is available in 12 gauge only, in 3- and 31/2-inch lengths. No. 4, 5 and 6 pellets are available in a variety of charge weights. This ammo is packaged in boxes of five or 10 shells. Twenty gauge shooters haven't been forgotten by HEVI-SHOT as 3-inch shells containing 11/4 ounces of No. 4, 5 or 6 shot are loaded in boxes of 10 cartridges.
Although I must admit to being more of a rifle guy than a shotgun guy, there is one thing I really enjoy doing with shotshells—fired shotshells that is. I crack a huge smile every time I sniff the odors wafting from the warm hull. The smell of burned shotgun powder is truly one of life's little pleasures.