I can vividly remember the first turkey I killed, and the equipment I used to take it. In the mid 1990’s, the idea of using special loads for turkeys was just catching on. Most shells were just heavy upland bird load disguised as turkey ammo. For my first bird, it probably wouldn’t have mattered, as low-brass #8’s through a full choke at 20 yards likely could’ve killed that bird. Which of course, sums up the opposing argument: “How dead do you need your turkey to be?” Point taken, as birds that strut into the 25 – 35 yard sweet spot probably won’t make it out alive provided your aim is true. That said, anyone who hunts turkeys long enough can come up with more than their fair share of stories as to how very killable birds at reasonable ranges end up living to gobble about it at a later date.
Like most turkey hunters, I care a good deal about how my gun performs on any given day with the proper load and choke combination. It just so turns out, I’m a bit obsessive about it. So much so, that when new shells hit the market, provided they have the potential to best my previous top-performer, I’m buying a box or two to run through my gun. From there, I measure the amount of pellets that perforate a 10” circle at 40 yards. That’s right, I take a marker and simply touch the holes in the paper until I have a firm pellet count. To turkey hunters, web bloggers, and internet turkey forum junkies everywhere, this is the ruler by which you measure a load’s performance. Through experience, I know that with factory loads, I can achieve nearly 200 hits in that zone, and I’m constantly looking to best that performance.
Why you may ask? Because I consider the wild turkey to be one of the fairest critters in the land, surely deserving of the cleanest and quickest death possible. That, and a fellow named Murphy likes to hang out around the turkey woods from time to time. Anything that can go wrong, typically does when the moment of truth is near, and that’s before your nerves even kick in. Unseen brush, low light, poor aiming, and improperly ranged birds, among many other variables, lead to poor shots. However, you’ll not find me tuning up my gun in the hopes that I can get a bird to topple at the 70 yard line. Heck, I’m not even curious as to what my pattern does past 50 yards, but I am interested in putting as many pellets in a tight window at reasonable turkey ranges as possible for the many oddball shooting situations you can get yourself into.
So maybe I’ve talked you into maximum pellets per square inch, but you’re not about to drop $25 for 5 shots? Think again, as it’s been my experience that for the most part, pricier loads like the Mag Blends I use are worth their weight in turkeys. When Hevi-shot and other tungsten, nickel, and iron alloys came out advertising their “heavier-than-lead” performance, I was lost on the downrange energy part (though improved) because I was so enamored with the patterns. Many ammunition companies load heavier-than-lead alternatives now, and although the price is high, so is the performance. Pellet counts don’t lie, and they’ve improved so much in the past few years, that I’ve got a 20 gauge youth gun for my son that patterns far better than many 10 and 12 gauge guns shooting 3.5”es of lead. Also, with denser shot types, the finer shot sizes (#6 and #7) provide enough downrange energy to kill your bird, allowing more payload and punch than your average #4 or #5 shot of old.
So if you’re still unconvinced, consider this. I’m about to pattern some quite pricey handloads out of Missouri through a custom Rhino choke tube designed for my gun and that shell type. What’s more is that I can’t wait to do it. These loads have the potential to put 300 or more pellets in that magic 10” circle at 40 yards, and from everything I’ve seen while hunting turkeys, max-pellets downrange is the premium no matter when or where you hunt. Do you need a target stills champion gun to kill turkeys? Absolutely not, but you might consider all of the money you spend on gas, tags, calls, camo, etc. and think of your ammo like good fishing line is to an angler; the most critical link between you and your turkey this spring.