Play Time Is Over – Turkey Shells

| Last Updated May 4, 2020

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I have heard so many people tell me about turkey shells, all I have to say is prove it. Here is the test that I put many different shotgun shells to the test. Only two really came out with any great improvement over the standard lot.

The first myth that someone tried to lay on me was that a 12 gauge, 3 inch could out shoot a 3 ½ inch shotgun. Let me be frank, not on your best day. Shooting out of the same gun using Winchester supreme shells, and copper plated #4 lead shot, both the 3 and 3 ½ inch shells got enough lethal hits to cleanly kill a turkey. But the 3 ½ inch clearly saturated the head and neck like no other.

It is not about opinion, its the plain truth. But rather than listen to old hand turkey hunters just because they have killed a lot of turkeys, which means nothing in a study of ballistics, extensive test were ensued to know how and why.

The old turkey hunters pride themselves with a high rate of turkey harvest giving themselves credit as being experts on everything turkey, sorry this is really what you are good at. It is calling and patience to get in close for a shot. I have discovered over the years that range estimation is not the old timers forte. They will tell you they shot the turkeys head off at 50 yards, when in reality it was more like 20 to 25 yards.

Most of these guys use nothing but a bead sight and number six shot. That is a good thing too, as most of them have no idea what the pattern actually does when the shot leaves the muzzle. Truth is if you get a turkey in that close you can kill him graveyard dead with a 20 gauge and a dove load.

So if this is true what do you need all the magnum stuff for? Because turkeys are really hard to get in past the 40 yard mark, unless you are Michael Waddel the greatest turkey hunter of all time. Well I'm not so I need a rig that will make the 40 yard shot.

My personal turkey gun is a Remington 870 Supermag 12 ga, 3 ½ inch, it has a Bushnell turkey scope that perfectly centers the pattern which the Remington “Ventilator” turkey choke around .650 inch throws a tight pattern of copper plated #4, about the size of you hand and out stretched fingers at 40 yards. Our tests at the Ft Polk Shooting Complex show an average of 12 lethal spine and brain hits with a Winchester Supreme lead turkey loads, with the 3 ½ inch shell. That seems just about right on the Birchwood Casey standard turkey head target. Now with this I'm setting a standard.

Is there something better? Yes. Nitro Ammunition Company Shotgun shells, not to be confused with Remington Nitro Shells. With the NAC shells, you automatically double the lethal hit ratio on the target all things being equal. When you do that you really have an improvement over the standard. Still you don't want to shoot over the 40 yard mark. This is the reason why.

I have talked about maximum turkey guns before and one only needs to go back and look at the article “Turkey Gun Science” to see the same things I'm saying here. Even with the harder hitting “Hevi” shot, the law of diminishing returns will not get you past the 40 yard mark. If you are not the marksmen #6 shot is better and with that “Hevi” shot is better. If you are the sharpshooter with a scope lead #4s are just fine. So now it becomes a sole search, as you study the Art of War by Sun Zu, do you know yourself? Most likely not.

The one thing you won't get a turkey hunter to do is practice with a turkey gun, the shells are expensive and they kick like hell from the bench. But you have to do just that to achieve the maximum effect with the turkey gun. It all depends on how many hard whacks you can take from a 458 Winchester magnum from the bench, magnum turkey guns are just a little bit worse.

Yes I did it, and yes it really hurt, but now I know something about turkey guns. We have a lot of target style turkey shoots at the Fort Polk Range, probably the oldest and most popular shooting game we have. We shoot at life sized turkey head targets and it is a lot of fun. About 50 % luck one pellet must hit the lucky X on the turkey target. But we find that at a range of 25 yards from a turkey choke the turkey head target is completely destroyed even with the light skeet loads we use. If you switch to the magnum turkey loads they will snap a two by four at that range. No wonder the old timers killed so many turkeys.

Therefore if you don't want to spend a lot of money on shells at least use the best you can buy off the shelf, and that would be the Winchester Supreme line of shell. If you go all the way, then Nitro Ammunition Company makes the very best in custom turkey loads at a premium price. Nitro website is easy to find, and they have complete test results on each type of shell they make. Pay close attention to the choke diameter and barrel length that they use in their testing, a very interesting study. You find out why their motto is “Playtime is over,” Pass it on.

My name is Caleb and I am obsessed with hunting, fishing, and foraging. To be successful, you have to think like your prey. You have to get into the mind of your target - and understand Big Game Logic. If you have any questions, or just want chat about your latest hunting score or big catch, you can reach me at Read more about Big Game Logic.