About 15 years ago I shared a turkey camp with some guys who had jumped on the small-shot-is-better-for-turkeys bandwagon. The idea was that more is always better, so a massive charge of No. 7½ shot must provide an advantage over a shell loaded with more traditional pellet sizes such as No. 4, 5 or 6.
Hunters who dropped a few turkeys with the small shot swore by its effectiveness, but I was skeptical about whether it was a reliable way to make clean kills.
The success stories I heard were merely anecdotes. If you told me you killed a turkey at 25 or 30 yards with a load of No. 7½ shot, my reaction would be, “So what?” If you hit any type of bird in the head with enough pellets of any size at that distance it’s going to go down.
But what if you misjudged the distance and that turkey was really at 40 or more yards? A No. 7½ lead pellet fired at 1,300 feet per second retains about 1.3 foot-pounds of energy at 40 yards. If that doesn’t sound impressive, that’s because it isn’t. I contend there’s a very good chance your shot will result in a wounded gobbler. (For comparison, a No. 4 lead pellet fired at the same velocity hits with nearly 5 foot-pounds of energy.)
Pellets kill by penetrating deeply and breaking bones. The idea of overwhelming a bird with a dense cloud of small shot sounds neat, but I’ll put my money on fewer but larger well-placed pellets that I know — not hope — will penetrate a turkey’s skull and break vertebrae.
Heavier and Better
Hevi-Shot, which became as common as camouflage for turkey hunting nearly 10 years ago, changed the shotshell energy equation. Because tungsten/nickel/iron Hevi-Shot is about 10 percent denser than lead (12 g/cc vs. 11g/cc), it delivers more punch per pellet. A No. 6 Hevi-Shot pellet, for example, impacts with energy closer to that of a No. 5 lead pellet.
You get the best of both worlds: It’s easier to achieve acceptable pattern density (there are about 220 No. 6 Hevi-Shot pellets to the ounce vs. 170 in No. 5 and 136 in No. 4) and each pellet provides more killing power than a lead pellet of the same size.
Current heavier-than-lead products include Winchester Xtended Range, Remington Wingmaster HD and Federal Heavyweight. Environ-Metal, the original manufacturer of Hevi-Shot, now also offers Hevi-13 (13 g/cc).
Federal claims to produce the densest pellet yet. Its Mag-Shok Heavyweight Turkey loads are said to be 30 percent more dense than lead. And because of that, Federal apparently felt confident in adding a No. 7 pellet to its original Heavyweight offerings of Nos. 5 and 6. The 12-gauge loads are available in 3-inch shells with 1 5/8 ounces of shot and 3½-inch shells with 1 7/8 ounces of shot.
It’s difficult to compare the energy of Heavyweight pellets with others without shooting into ballistic gelatin or a similar medium, which I haven’t done — yet. Manufacturers don’t routinely provide energy statistics on their tungsten-alloy offerings. I know, because I’ve asked but gotten little response. So let me tell you what I know, and then what I think I know.
Sorting it Out
You get nearly 500 pellets in Federal’s 3-inch load of No. 7s and nearly 600 in the 3½-inch shell. Sheesh! That’s roughly 30 percent more pellets than you would get in an equivalent-weight load of No. 6 pellets and around 60 percent more pellets than you would find in a like load of No. 5s.
Now, if you run that load through a turkey choke that results in an even pattern with a dense center, you have taken that “best of both worlds” thing to a whole new level.
I’d heard the buzz around the introduction of the No. 7 Heavyweight load two years ago but hadn’t had the chance to try it. Then, on an Oklahoma hunt with Rut-n-Strut Outfitters last spring, I finally got the chance.
Jason Evans, product manager for Benelli USA, had brought an arsenal of Super Black Eagle II shotguns with SteadyGrip stocks and Crio Turkey chokes, along with an assortment of Heavyweight shells. I grabbed a box of No. 7s and eagerly went to the shooting bench behind our cabin. I shot once at 30 yards and blistered the paper with a ridiculously tight swarm of tiny — by turkey load standards — holes. I didn’t even need to adjust the sights. Sweet!
The Flitecontrol wad had traveled all the way to the target and stuck halfway through the thin plywood backing. (This specialized wad is designed to stay with the shot charge way downrange instead of peeling away soon after exiting the barrel.)
I was giddy with thoughts of all the ways I would test these loads. By my calculations, (which I admit are sometimes based on fuzzy math) shots were hitting home with the energy of a No. 5 lead pellet. But first it was time to hunt. The tom I shot at 22 yards during a rainstorm the next morning proved nothing except that I didn’t miss.
Then the wind began blowing the way it can only blow in Oklahoma, followed by more rain, so I didn’t get to shoot again. Except for the weather, it was a fun trip, but I hadn’t concluded much.
Finally, on a hot August morning, I borrowed fellow editor Jake Edson’s SBE II, screwed another Benelli factory Turkey choke in and headed to the range with a handful of 3-inch Heavyweight 7s. I shot patterns at 40 and 50 yards.
Patterns weren’t as even as I had hoped for, but my three-shot average in a 10-inch circle was 134 pellets, which is mighty fine by hunting standards.
At 50 yards, I still averaged 94 pellets in 10 inches. Would the tiny No. 7s drop a turkey at that distance? Don’t know — more and different testing required. The bigger question at this stage, I think, is how to improve the pattern. With that many pellets, I’m certain some more experimenting would result in more reliable performance.
I consulted with Clark Bush, proprietor of allaboutshooting.com and a still-target competition fanatic who has fired literally thousands of Heavyweight shells through every conceivable gun/load/choke combination. He says shells using the Flitecontrol wad are extremely finicky, but when you find the right combination it can be an exceptional performer. His recommendations for wringing the best performance out of Heavyweight loads:
1. Use unported choke tubes only. Tubes with vents grab the wad and don’t allow it to stay with the shot charge.
2. Keep your barrel squeaky-clean; Flitecontrol wads perform best with a slick, no-friction exit from the barrel.
3. If you aren’t getting the results you want, try a slightly more open choke. Heavyweight loads probably will not respond well to super-tight chokes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I’d like to hear from readers who have had good results with Heavyweight shells. What gun/shell/choke combo works best for you? Log on to the Shooting section of our forum to share your experiences.