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The Best Shells for Turkey Hunting


Last season I searched seventeen different stores looking for a 2 ¾ inch 12 gauge turkey load. I never found it. Not in the big box stores, not in the “World’s Largest Outfitter” local gun stores, none had a turkey load in the old standby 2 ¾ inch shells. Everything was in 3 inch and in 3 ½ inch. This was very frustrating for someone who was looking to find a load to kill a turkey in the way of the old legends. So this year I gathered up some high brass number 4 that I use for rabbits in thick cover and some high brass number 6 to try. But neither of these are turkey loads. Or are they?

Turkey hunting and turkey killing has become a boom business for packaging engineers and ammunition manufactures. Many of these companies are taking standard loads, putting them in a box of ten, changing the color of the box and the image and selling them for twice the money to willing hunters who believe the box more than the contents. Check the specs of a “high velocity” rabbit load in # 4 and the specs on a “Turkey killer” load in # 4 and they are identical. Both pushing 1200 feet per second, both using the same size shot and both in 3” offerings. Nothing is different except for the color and the image on the box and sometimes the actual color of the shell itself.

Sit at the pattern board with a load of # 4 rabbit loads and a load of # 4 turkey loads and you will see no difference. Having said that, I want to highlight a few loads that are definitely different, some that are definitely better at killing twenty pound birds better than killing one pound rabbits. Although dead is dead, some loads just perform better under different circumstances.

I have not shot them all, I have shot several and have shot a lot of turkey targets, both paper and alive and believe that when matched with the appropriate choke these loads are exceptional.

Winchester Long beard in the 3 inch number 5 is in my opinion the best turkey load that uses lead as its main material. These loads will place plenty of lead in the head, brain, and spine of any turkey inside fifty yards in the right hands. They are one of the best mass produced loads available and I personally believe they are difficult to beat for performance and for the price.

Remington Nitro Turkey in 3 inch number 6 is another great load. While I personally do not like shooting smaller shot than a number 5. I have a lot of confidence in this particular load and have had a lot of success using it. The Remington Nitro express has taken turkeys at average distances with a full choke as well as an extra full choke. This load also comes in the # 4 and it is also a great load for a tad bit further distances.

When it comes to the non-lead shot, it is difficult to beat those made by Hevi-Shot. These loads are extremely efficient at killing turkeys and at killing pocket books. The 3 inch Hevi-13 and the Magnum Blend are some of the best available. The Magnum blend has dominated the National Wild Turkey Federation’s still target competition for almost a decade. These shells are some of the best available without question. These blended shells pack # 4,5,6 all in the same shell providing better patterning at all ranges. But at a cost of almost eight dollars per shell, they are expensive! As good as they are, dropping thirty five dollars for five shells it better be a good shell! For many top turkey hunters the blends are the best of both worlds. They allow you the option to kill a turkey at a long range if necessary, but also provide good patterns at close ranges.

As one well known turkey hunter once told me, “The last thing between me and that ole gobbler is the shell and I want the best available.” Confidence in what you are shooting is essential when that old tom you have been chasing all season finally relents and comes into range. Missing is not an option, so get the best shell you can afford.

While there are more shells available and many excellent ones I did not mention, these are the ones I have personally used successfully and have a lot of confidence in to get the job done when the time is critical. Again, get some and try them for yourself. While it is expensive to pattern different shells, if you have a hunting buddy, split the shells and the cost is better for both. When we are trying new shells, a group of us each buys a box and we all shoot from them all and that allows us all to shoot different shells at the cost of one box.

While my personal favorite is the Winchester Longbeard in my Benelli 12 gauge. By Browning 20 gauge is a fan of the Remington Nitro Turkey, shooting them all allows me to see which ones my gun shoots better and thereby provides all the confidence necessary when it is time to perform.