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The Great Inch Debate


A few years ago I did a video on my YouTube channel that I titled “Why I do Not Shoot 3 ½” shells” The plethora of comments on the negative side has far outweighed those on the positive side. It is interesting to note that I had an injured shoulder and used a large pad to protect it, from the recoil. Still, the outcry has been at times hysterical and sometimes demeaning.

But let me say that most of the comments are about what a wimpy guy I am that I don’t like to shoot the big three and one half inch shells. When they watch the entire episode and hear my logic, most of the comments are very favorable. So let’s discuss here, the pros and cons of the magnum round verses the standard 3” shell used for turkeys.

First I would like to point out that before the advent of the three inch version, a lot of turkeys were killed with a 2 ¾” shell. And the smaller version is still very capable if they can be found. If looking for the 2 ¾” shell for turkeys, do not look in the turkey packaging shells. It is not there. Manufacturers learned a long time ago to change the boxes on the bigger shells and they can charge more money. A standard “high brass #5 or # 4 is sufficient at killing ole tom. Now back to the debate.

A test I did in the video shows that on that day, the number of pellets placed into the target at 40 yards was within 5% of one another. And for my money and abuse, that does not justify the recoil difference between the two.

The three inch shell of Winchester Long Beard # 5 is more than capable of killing turkeys out to ethical ranges. The 3.5” does not give you enough extra range to justify the abuse on the other end. After talking with dozens and dozens of hunters, and at the risk of offending many out there, the people who shoot 3.5” shells are trying to prove manhood and durability more than killing turkeys. I have said it before and will continue to say it, testosterone has never killed a turkey and still won’t.

Becoming a better woodsman, better caller, better hunter and you can get the birds in so close a rock will work. I believe the 3.5 inch shotshell was designed to sell more shotguns, and more ammunition by creating a false sense of hope that this particular gun and round will make up for poor hunting skills and tactics. “Shoot the 3.5” and kill that turkey out to seventy yards.” Can that be done? Probably, should you take the shot at 70 yards? Absolutely not. But convincing those who would shoot 4 inch shells if they made them is like trying to convince a skunk not to spray, you can try all you want, but he is still going to do what he wants to do and there is nothing you can do about it.

The three and one half inch shotshell does not make a turkey more dead. It does not increase your options, or improve your odds. What it does do is give a recoil akin to an angry mule. I shoot .45-70 rifles with 400 grain bullets and the recoil from my 3.5” shotshells is significantly worse! So no, I will not shoot these big shells again, because I choose to call the birds in closer and make ethical shots.

Turkeys are too difficult to kill, and too majestic not to allow him the honor of getting in close and offering a shot that does not cause the hunter to flinch and make a poor shot.

But in case you were wondering, here is my video.