Choose Your Weapon

Dead Turkey with 3rd Heavyweight TSS package

Decades ago, in the early days of modern turkey hunting, it was said the number one killer of gobblers was a size 10 boot. Although it was meant to get a chuckle, the exaggeration was rooted in truth: Armed with general-purpose shotshells pushed through standard chokes, patterns were often sparse and pellets didn’t always hit hard enough to deal tough birds a knockout blow.

As turkey reintroductions took hold, bird numbers exploded, and new generation of hunters were reacquainted with gobblers, it sparked a revolution in guns, chokes and the ammunition that fed them. Today, hunters have more—and more effective—ammo options than ever before. The only downside is choosing one. But with an understanding how these loads stack up to one another, it’s easy to find an option that matches how you hunt.

Top Toms

One of the biggest breakthroughs to hit turkey hunting has been the integration of non-lead pellet materials, specifically tungsten alloys. The benefits are many. Since these materials are much denser than conventional lead shot, the pellets retain velocity and energy farther from the muzzle. This, in turn, allows the use of smaller shot, increasing a given payload’s pellet count, which improves pattern density and extends lethal range well past 50 yards, depending on the specific gun and choke.

12 Gauge Heavyweight TSS package

Federal Premium HEAVYWEIGHT TSS loads lead this category. TSS stands for Tungsten Super Shot and is the highest-density tungsten-alloy material on the market. At 18 gm/cc its density is 22 percent higher than standard tungsten and 56 percent more than lead. The result is the most energy and highest velocities at extreme range. Its rear-braking FLITECONTROL FLEX wad performs flawlessly through ported and standard turkey chokes for the most consistent, deadly patterns possible.

All Is Forgiven

As turkey guns and loads have advanced, the trend has always been toward extending range to knock down stubborn birds that hang up just out of reach. Although loads like TSS have accomplished that, there’s a cost: Patterns are often so tight it can be easy to miss a bird that sneaks within 20 yards. A gobbler’s last-instant head-bob or a bad cheekweld to the stock can turn a gimme shot into an airball.

12 gauge 3rd Degree HeavyWeight TSS combo packaging

That drove Federal to develop 3rd Degree. Rather than simply pattern tightly like conventional turkey loads, 3rd Degree uses a three-stage payload of No. 5 copper-plated lead, No. 6 FLITESTOPPER lead and No. 7 HEAVYWEIGHT TSS. The FLITESTOPPER pellets are ringed with a raised cutting edge that causes them to spread faster than typical spherical shot. This significantly enlarges the effective pattern at close range. And with standard copper-plated lead and HEAVYWEIGHT TSS pellets in the payload, the loads still provide the pattern density and power needed to kill birds past 40 yards.

Heavy Metal Longbeards

Despite all the changes in ammunition over the decades, lead payloads remain effective options in the spring woods, and modern advancements have made them even better. Although lead simply can’t beat most new loads in head-to-head comparisons of energy, velocity, pellet counts and maximum range, it does offer some practical advantages, especially for hunters who target birds in terrain and cover that limit shots to less than 40 yards—or for those who simply love to call birds in close before closing the deal.

For starters, there’s simply more lead loads from which to choose, with a wider range of payload weights, shot sizes and gauges. Along those lines, lead loads are significantly less expensive than their tungsten and specialty counterparts, which makes it more manageable for hunters to experiment to find the one that patterns best in their gun. And by shooting more, hunters will also become intimately familiar with where their pattern’s center impacts, which will make it easier to drop birds in the field.

12 gauge Grand Slam packaging

Federal Premium Grand Slam embodies all of these advantages while proving that lead turkey loads continue to evolve. Like Federal’s other turkey offerings, its FLITECONTROL FLEX wad system works in both standard and ported turkey chokes, opening from the rear for a controlled release of the payload and extremely consistent patterns. The high-quality copper-plated lead pellets are also cushioned with an advanced buffering compound to reduce pellet deformation at ignition, which reduces flyers, keeping more pellets in the pattern’s core for more hits on gobblers.

Shot Size And Payload Tradeoffs

No matter which type of load you choose, it’s important to understand that, all things being equal, shot size and payload weight choices are tradeoffs. Although larger pellets carry energy father downrange than smaller ones of the same material, you get fewer pellets per payload. Smaller pellets improve pattern density, but they might not carry enough punch to penetrate tissue and break bone at longer distances—especially with lead shot. Larger payloads have more pellets, but more punishing recoil—and heavier ones don’t necessarily pattern better. The list goes on.

And that’s where the ball falls in your court. Every gun, choke and shooter combination performs differently. The best way to pin down what meets your needs is to shoot a variety of loads from 10 to 50 yards and compare the number of hits within a 10-inch circle. Go with one that gives you the most hits at the ranges you expect to shoot, and you’ll be wrapping a tag around a hook-spurred gobbler leg before spring’s out.