The time-honored tradition in turkey hunting seems to revolve around the 12 gauge. After all, there's no denying a 12 gauge shotgun gives the best range and excellent patterns that are effective for bringing those smart old Toms down. Literally millions of turkeys have been felled using these shots, and many hunters see little reason to switch things up. Which is more than fair. Although there's also something to be said for being able to use a gun that's lighter and has more tolerable recoil. The 12 gauge can kick like a mule, and that may make it intimidating to use for younger hunters, those with smaller frames, or older hunters who simply want to down a turkey dinner without bruising their shoulder in the process. One of the options is to downsize slightly to a 20 gauge. Many people don't even consider 20 gauge loads or shotguns for turkeys, which has allowed it to fly somewhat under the radar as an effective turkey tool. We'll examine some of the top turkey loads on the market today, and you'll quickly see that the capabilities of these shotshells fit most hunters' needs rather easily.
Behind the Trend of 20 Gauge Turkey Hunting
We'll get into the specifics behind different turkey loads in second. First, it's worth taking a moment to examine the benefits of a 20 gauge in the turkey woods. There's been a major trend in recent years of turkey hunters moving away from the old standby of large, 3 ½-inch magnum turkey loads that kill plenty of birds, but also aren't exactly the most fun things to shoot, thanks to a few important reasons.
When you factor in the price point of turkey ammunition and the updated, improved performance of something like the .410 bore, which has really taken off as an effective turkey load, it's easy to see why that trend has started. The only downside is that .410 bore is not legal for turkeys in every state. This is where the 20 gauge can come into play. It offers a nice in-between of the two bookends of 12 gauge and .410. Hunters can expect a lighter turkey shotgun that's easier to tote and offers less recoil.
That makes the 20 gauge a nice option for youth hunters, women with smaller frames, and hunters who just want something that's easier on the shoulder. A good 20 gauge is always going to be lighter than a 12 gauge, which provides an advantage for those who do a lot of running and gunning through the brush to get their birds every year.
The only downside to 20 gauge is you might lose some of the range you're used to with a 12 gauge; it really depends on the type of choke tube and shot size you're using. If you're willing to experiment a bit, it's possible to put together a gun/ammo/choke tube combo that offers comparable performance. With that said, let's have a look at some of the best turkey loads on the market right now.
Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS
The TSS in this Federal Premium ammo's name stands for tungsten super shot. If you're unfamiliar, it's a tungsten-alloy material that is usually used as a non-toxic lead alternative. That means it's usually safe for you to use on public lands with prohibitions on the use of lead. Some hunters opt for TSS regardless of regulations, since the material is denser than lead and gives the shot some excellent knockdown power. You're able to reach a muzzle velocity of 1,000 to 1,100 fps, depending on what variation you go with. Federal Premium makes several different variations to include shot sizes 7, 9, 8 and 10, and 7 and 9 in three-inch loads. The downside is the price. TSS rounds are not cheap, but the 20 gauge versions go for around $20 less than the 12 gauge offerings.
Federal Premium 3rd Degree with TSS
These turkey loads combine the knockdown power of TSS with copper plated lead. It's what Federal Premium calls a "three-stage payload." Basically, it has No. 6 FLITESTOPPER lead for close range, copper-plated No. 5 lead for middle ranges, and Heavyweight TSS pellets for long range, capable of reaching out to 40 yards. One shell will have you covered for whatever scenario the birds decide to present to you. The price point is about right in the middle between traditional lead and high-grade TSS offerings.
Winchester Long Beard XR
While turkey hunting is traditionally thought of as a close game, Winchester says their Long Beard XR lead loads are designed to pattern best at 40 to 60 yards. That means you can finally ambush birds in places they'd previously hung just out of range. You're looking at a muzzle velocity of around 1,000 fps with both the No. 5 and No. 6 shot offerings. The only real downside is they don't offer much of cost-savings when compared to a 12 gauge. But that's almost to be expected with today's premium turkey loads.
Winchester Double X
For hunters looking for an affordable lead offering, it's hard to beat Winchester Double X. These turkey shotshells are loaded with copper plated shot, and they pattern nicely in 20 gauge shotguns. Winchester offers 1 ¼- and 1 5/16-ounce loads in No. 4 or 5 shot. You'll see 1,185 to 1,200 fps of muzzle velocity, and a box of ten will run right about $15, which makes it a very affordable option for hunters looking to get more for their money.
Hevi-Shot Magnum Blend
Available in shot sizes 5, 6, and 7, these 3-inch magnum loads offer a great combination of speed and lethality. These lead shotgun shells are a little more expensive than most lead shot options on the market today. However, Hevi-Shot is trusted by many seasoned pros to bring down big gobblers season after season. Expect muzzle velocities in the 1,100 to 1,200 fps range from their 20 gauge shells.
Kent Bismuth Turkey
Bismuth shot is another high-density material, and these Kent shot shells are built specifically for turkey hunting. The upside to bismuth is it is a non-toxic shot, so this is a great option for public lands. Kent makes their 20 gauge offering a 1 1/8-ounce load in No. 5 shot that's doing about 1,300 fps. Another nice plus is that these loads are extremely affordable for hunters on a budget.
Browning TSS Tungsten Turkey
Another tungsten turkey option built for long-range stopping power. Browning offers two three-inch 1 ½ ounce load options in shot sizes 7, 8, and 9. Expect a blistering 1,200 fps muzzle velocity out of these rounds. Browning is claiming accurate, tight patterns out to 70 yards with these shotshells.
Remington Premier Magnum Turkey
For anyone really looking to save some money, Remington's Premier Magnum Turkey loads are probably your best bet. This lead shot is available in No. 5 shot in a 1 1/8-ounce load. You're going to achieve about 1,300 fps, so it's got great speed. The price is just under $10 a box in most areas making it one of the most cost-effective turkey loads out there. It's also going to be one of the easier ones to find if your area is still experiencing an ammo shortage.
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