Pattern your turkey gun now, not later
Years ago I was invited to tour the Winchester ammunition plant at East Alton, Ill., and among other things I had the opportunity to discuss turkey loads with a senior ballistics engineer.
He flat out said that the best 12-gauge turkey load was a 2-3/4-inch shell loaded with 1-5/8 ounces of No. 5 shot (nowadays slightly reduced to 1-1/2 ounces). He said that exhaustive tests showed convincingly that this load had the ideal balance of power, speed, and pattern. And he also said that Winchester could not market it – that is, it could not sell much of the load to turkey hunters.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted more shot, three-inch shells, more and more bang for the buck. The ballistician proceeded to explain that cramming up to two ounces of shot in a three-inch shell simply resulted in a long shot column out the barrel that was so dense it blew holes in itself and resulted in poorer patterns. Plus, the heavy dose of shot reduced space for powder, so pellet speed in the three-inch shell actually was slower than in the 2-3/4. Likely the blown-pattern problem is even worse today, what with 3-1/2-inch 12-gauge Roman Candles. But then, we now have Zombie gobblers to kill, right? It’s your shoulder.
I have continued to follow the smart advice and have killed my share of gobblers over the years, most of them with that 2-3/4-inch No. 5 load. Never had one get away, or do anything but drop on the spot and flap out. My longest kill was a measured 43 yards – right out at the limit of ethical shooting. Guess the Winchester man had something, marketing hype of bigger-better-faster-shinier notwithstanding.
What with Ohio’s spring gobbler season right around the corner, and being an enthusiastic shooter who always likes an excuse for a session on the range, I decided to re-test the load recommendations. I used loads on hand – the reliable standby 2-3/4-inch No. 5 at 1-5/8 ounces, and 3-inch No. 5 at 1-3/4 ounces of No.5s.
I patterned my old Wingmaster with 30-inch full choke barrel at turkey neck-and-shoulder targets at 30 and 40 yards. Consistently at both ranges, the 2-3/4-inch load outperformed the 3-inch, significantly, with far more vital pellet-strikes and denser, more evenly distributed pattern.
Yes, the 3-inch load, with noticeably more recoil, produced acceptable kill patterns on the silhouettes. But I know what load I will be using come time when I sight down that long, cam-taped barrel and put the glow-bead on a gobbling bird’s neck, the 2-3/4. Go ahead and disagree with the foregoing and use your own favorite load. But find out what it will do first. The moment of truth in the field is too late to do a test.