Turkey hunting isn't necessarily tough. Scout for signs, get into position before sunrise, know a few basic calls and that's pretty much the basics of it. Unfortunately for us, turkey hunting is very marketable. With various camo patterns, calling devices, and dozens of types of turkey loads it can get quite expensive if you aren't careful.
Today we're going to compare 5 of the most common, budget-friendly turkey loads that you are most likely to find on your local store's shelf. We're going to see which is the best affordable brand and try to help point new turkey hunters in the right direction.
It should be noted that every gun shoots a little bit differently. It is always a good idea to pattern your shotgun for the best results.
For this comparison, we will be using a basic budget setup. We will be shooting standard 12ga 3-inch shells at 40 and 70 yards. Our shotgun will be the Remington 870 express and our choke tube will be a Carlson's Flush Mount Choke Tube sized in "Turkey" (or 0.680 restriction) which you can pick up here:
While reviewing our results you can click on any image to open it in a new tab to get a better look. You can also click on it again while its open in the new tab to zoom in even further.
For those of you interested, our target stand is just a simple wooden pallet with a leg screwed into each side. Then we use a staple gun to attach the target and we're good to go. This type of stand is cheap, easy to make, and quite sturdy. Also if you only use a single screw to attach the legs you will be able to fold the stand down flat, which makes for easy transportation.
40 Yard Comparison
To start off, we'll be comparing some common turkey loads at a typical range of 40 yards. This is a good range to pattern at for the average turkey hunter.
To start things off we begin with an old favorite. In this first round we shoot with Federal brand sized in #5 with 3" shells. The distance is 40 yards.
As you can see here these Federal rounds performed flawlessly with exceptional patterning at 40 yards. This would be one dead bird.
For this round we're using Winchester brand Super X shells sized in #5 shot with 3" shells. Distance is 40 yards.
The Super X's seemed to pattern very well. Not as tight as the Federal #5's but tighter than the Remington Nitro #5's. Also worth noting is the spacing between pellets is very even. This makes the load predictable and therefore reliable at this range.
Up next is Winchester brand Double X 3" shells. This shell is actually sized in #4 shot. This is important because a bigger pellet size means fewer pellets in the shell. Its worth noting that the larger pellets will have a larger mass and therefore retain velocity better at longer ranges. The distance of this round of the comparison is 40 yards.
I had high hopes for this round but sadly it performed quite horribly. We did a few tries with this round and they all came out pretty much the same. Poor patterning and a tendency to group "high" has lead me to the conclusion this load sucks compared to the others.
For this round, we tried Winchester brand Super X shells in 3" again. But this time instead of #5 we jumped up to #4's just to see what happens. Again, the range is 40 yards.
Even though this Super X and the Double X from the last round are both #4 pellet sizes they are world different. The Super X blows the Double X out of the water. The #4 Super X can even keep par with some of the #5 shots in terms of patterning, which is quite impressive.
The winner of the 40-yard tests is hard to choose. The Federal shells in #5 shot had a nice tight cloud of pellets, while the Winchester Super X's in #5 had incredibly even spacing making for a very predictable load. Even the Super X's in #4 performed quite well for a #4 load beating out the Winchester Double X in #5 and standing on par with the Remington Nitro #5.
If I had to choose a round to go with for me personally I would choose the Super X in #5 for closer ranges. The load is quite predictable with a fairly tight pattern.
70 Yard Comparison
Coming up in the next round of tests is going to be the exact same loads as before, only at a distance of 70 yards. Most of us will be shooting at around 40-50 yards when we hunt but we just wanted to press the limits of these loads and see what they were capable of.
Up next is once again Federal brand 3" shells in #5 shot. Only this time we are shooting at 70 yards instead of 40.
Even at a long distance of 70 yards this load is still performing admirably. It may not look tight, but for 70 yards, this is a pretty tight pattern. That thunder chicken would be done for.
Here we are using Remington brand Nitro 3" shells sized in #5 shot. The distance is 70 yards.
While it may not be as evenly spaced as the Federal at 70 yards, the Nitro is still performing fairly well for this kind of distance. You can see in the image the patterning is kind of wonky with large gaps in between pellet clusters, but that's to be expected at this range.
Up next is the Winchester brand Super X 3" shells in #5 shot. Distance is 70 yards.
Patterning is not tight at all on this one, but it is spaced fairly even. As long as you don't mind some pellets in your bird I would consider this one dead but be aware there are better choices.
For this round of the test, we use the Winchester brand Double X 3" shells sized in #4 shot at a distance of 70 yards. Bear in mind that the #4 loads may not have as many hits as a #5 load, but each of those pellets will hit harder and penetrate deeper than a #5.
Well, like we expected, the patterning on this round sucks at long range. Mainly because its a #4. With that much space between pellets, there is a good chance you may only wound your bird, or miss altogether. There are definitely some better choices out there for this kind of range.
Our last test will be using Winchester brand Super X 3" shells again. Only this time the shot size is #4 and the distance is 70 yards.
This load is all over the place, even for 70 yards. There appears to be a huge gap in shots right in the center which is pretty annoying. I wouldn't even qualify this bird as dead and would definitely require a follow-up shot in the field.
The winner of the long 70 yard shots is hands down the Federal in #5 shot. The Winchester Super X in #5 is a close second, but the federal just seemed to hold its patterning better.
Out of the #4's the Double X really surprised me. I thought for sure the Super X would have better patterning based on the 40 yard tests but the Double X seemed to prevail.
Overall I think the Federal brand shells in a #5 shot is the best choice if you only carry one type of shell. They do cost a dollar or two more than the other brands so that is something to keep in mind if you're on a tight budget. And if that is the case the Winchester Super X came in very close second and is one of the cheaper loads on the list.
It all comes down to how you choose to hunt. Hunting a field edge may mean you need some longer-range loads. In that situation, a #4 might be worth carrying along, but those are ideally better for those fat fall birds when you need some deeper penetration. But, if you like to hunt a ridge or somewhere in the deep woods a #5 may be all you need.
Out of all the loads we tested here today I think I would load up one Super X in #4 shot in the chamber, followed by one or two Federal or Super X's in #5. This way if can close the range you have a chance at nailing them with that #4, but if you do shoot and either wound them or miss completely you have a reliable tight pattern to follow up with.
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