In late 2007, I was asked by several readers to test various 20 gauge turkey loads and report the results. I had earlier published some results of my tests for Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) with #7 and #8 shot and some of those results and targets can still be seen at their site http://www.tungstensupershot.com/ After some consideration, I decided to expand the tests to include a variety of chokes from different manufacturers and with different exit diameters.
I began my testing and immediately ran into a stretch of unpredictable weather conditions. That caused me to reconsider my procedures. I decided that I'd test an equal number of shells through the various chokes at each session but that I'd spread those sessions out over several months as weather conditions allowed and average the number of hits recorded for each combination. In that manner, I'd have a fair representation of each combination over an expanded period of time. Temperature, humidity levels, barometric pressure, wind direction and wind speed varied greatly over that time. My range is somewhat sheltered from wind but the other factors were of course beyond my control, exactly as they are when hunting turkeys.
I knew that some shooters would be interested in how many holes were in 10" or even 3" circles however, this test was done for hunters who want to know if a choke tube with a particular shell will give them the ability to cleanly kill a turkey at up to 40 yards. This test had priority over every other consideration.
I did perform a 10" circle test on many targets and also checked for the best 3" clumps on several but that is not the subject of this report. I used 18"x18" wrapping paper because it was convenient and the total surface area corresponds favorably to the area in a 20" circle. (Please see the comparison below) I understand the constraints and limitations of rectangular or square areas when looking at shotshell patterns but it is one of the compromises that I made due to the number of shells and patterns shot.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of hits that showed up on a regular basis with all of the shotshells tested. Some patterns were of course much better (more dense) than others but all could have killed a turkey. Since I did not include pictures of targets (a monumental job considering the number of targets shot) the reader is not able to see how the patterns looked, only the numbers of holes in the paper. Again, some patterns were much better than others and some did have holes in the pattern that it could have been possible for the head or neck of a gobbler to have escaped but he’d had to have been a very lucky bird!
Tungsten-based shotshells, with a comparable size of shot, put more hits on paper than the lead shotshells with some exceptions. The Federal loads with 85 more pellets in each shell, consistently out performed the other lead shotshells and on some occasions, out performed a tungsten-based shotshell with the same size shot. With lead at least, the quantity of shot does matter.
It should be noted that both the tungsten-based and lead Winchester turkey loads appear to be at a distinct disadvantage in 2 ways. First the tungsten-based load has a smaller shot payload (1.125 oz. vs. 1.25 oz.) and secondly both are only available in #5 shot and not the #6 shot of the other brands. Since there are fewer #5 shot per oz. than #6 shot and since the tungsten-based load also has less weight, the number of actual hits would be expected to be fewer.
I have recorded percentages of the shot payload that hit the paper but in the final analysis, it's number of hits and not the percentages that count.
This work took a number of months and a good bit of time to complete but I believe that the results may be at least interesting and perhaps will be helpful to the reader in making a choice as to what shell is appropriate for his/her use.
I've only published results of my tests at 40 yards because that distance is the maximum range at which I'd recommend any of these shells to be fired at turkeys. Each of these shotshells performs in a superior manner at ranges under 40 yards and I'd certainly encourage anyone to attempt to call a bird in to 30 or even 20 yards if at all possible.
Shotshell - Average Hits - % of payload
W -76 - 36%
H - 196 - 76%
R - 114 - 44%
W -149 - 84%
Shotshell - Average Hits - % of payload
F - 123 -42%
R - 95 - 34%
W- 81 - 38%
H - 188 - 73%
R - 156 - 60%
W -142 - 78%
Shotshell - Average Hits - % of payload
F -136 -46%
R -112 -40%
W- 82 -38%
H - 159 - 62%
R - 123 - 48%
W- 112 - 63%
1.312 oz. #6 shot - 295 pellets
1.250 oz. #6 shot - 281 pellets
1.250 oz. #5 shot - 212 pellets
1.250 oz. #6 shot - 258 pellets
Remington WHD (R)
1.250 oz. #6 shot - 258 pellets
1.125 oz. #5 shot - 178 pellets
All shots were fired at a distance of 40 yards at 18"x18" paper. This area is comparable to a 20" circle in surface area, 324 square inches vs. 314 square inches. Other counts were made both for the best 10" circle and the best 3" circle but only the 18" x 18" counts are included in this report. Test shots were fired over a period in excess of 5 months under various weather conditions. An equal number of shots were fired at each session with each shell under those various conditions and only averages are reported.
The purpose of this study was to determine how various lead and tungsten-based 20 gauge shotshells responded to different choke tubes.* Consecutive shots were fired with each brand of shell without benefit of cleaning either the choke tube or the barrel.**
A Remington 870 Express shotgun with a 26" factory barrel was used for all testing.
*Tests were also made with tighter chokes but these 3 produced the best results
**Many shells had their best counts and best overall patterns with the 4th shot without cleaning. With many, no degradation was noted until the 7th or 8th shot. Please note that best in this case, does not equal consistent. Many shells shoot consistently with squeaky clean barrels but those shots are not their best.
The preceding may be enough information for many readers and if so, you may want to conclude here. I know that some may like to know just a bit more about the testing procedures and the balance of this report is devoted to that.
Anyone who has shot multiple brands of shells though any gun will know some of the obstacles and challenges to tests such as this. Many times a different shell will impact in a different point using the very same gun and choke tube. Add to that fact that I was using a variety of popular chokes and you begin to see some of the challenges to a test like this one.
I had to learn where each shell/choke combination impacted the patterning board and adjust the point of aim to accommodate each combination. I did this by first firing each combination a series of times, noting the POA/POI relationship, just to sight in the combination. These shots were not included in the study but used only for sighting in purposes.
I understand that I could have used Big Paper and counted the best 20" pattern. That is the kind of pattern that is most often reported on various hunting forums, etc. and there's nothing wrong with that as long as the reader understands what he's reading.
For these tests, I wanted a point of aim to point of impact result. That meant a lot of extra work on my part because I had to determine the POA/POI for each choke tube of each size and for each brand of shotshell. I felt this would be more realistic for the hunter, since most often turkeys don't let us choose our best pattern when we shoot at them.
I read many times of shooters cleaning their barrels and chokes between each shot. My experience in still target shooting and testing shotshells and chokes has taught me that when you do that, you never know at which shot your particular combination shoots best. It may be the first, with a very clean barrel/choke or it may be the 4th , 5th or some other shot. Consequently, I did not clean the barrel or choke tube until I changed brands of shotshell. I found that some combinations did not degrade with as many as 7 or 8 shots through a dirty barrel and choke. All would degrade after that point, some rather dramatically.
I elected to use the averages of all the shots. To be fair and better represent the overall performance, I threw out the lowest and the highest counts. Hopefully, that will help to eliminate the influence of the hot shell and/or the bad shell on the overall results. I wanted to be as certain as I could be that there would be a reasonable expectation on the part of the reader of duplicating these results, with enough shots fired on their part.
Another question became whether or not to mention brands of chokes that were used in these tests. I elected to test several popular brands of chokes and to average the results of those chokes, within the same exit diameters. There were differences noted in different brands and some of those were striking as far as evenness of patterns or the number of clumps within the patterns. While that information might be of value to still target shooters, it seemed to be of little value to most shooters or hunters. The total number of hits and the possibility of a turkey escaping from the pattern thrown were the primary concerns. As mentioned earlier, any gobbler would have had to have been very lucky to escape any of these patterns. Some weren't too pretty but most would have been very effective.
I have concluded that is possible to become too enamored with a pellet count or perhaps the “beauty of a pattern. The true measure of the effectiveness of a pattern is its ability to cleanly kill the game we're after. If that game is a turkey, it only takes a few pellets in the head, neck, spine area to be fatal. We need to know how our guns shoot and practice enough to be competent with whatever combination of choke and shell we choose.
It certainly appears from all of my tests, that both shotshell manufacturers and choke tube manufacturers have greatly improved their products in the last 7 years., when few shells or chokes were available for the 20 gauge shooter to use for turkey hunting. I found that most if not all combinations that I tested, would kill a turkey cleanly , even at 40 yards.
Lastly, there are any number of ways to compare or evaluate patterns from shotguns. I most often look for coverage of a particular area, as opposed to the actual number of pellets that strike that area. That can easily turn into a subjective evaluation. There have been computerized programs developed that do exactly that however. Those programs measure the POA/POI relationship and then assign a value to the number of hits and yield a score for that combination of choke and shotshell.
We often see patters that are the "best of". The shooter fires at a large sheet of paper and locates the "best of" for a particular diameter circle. That can fairly evaluate the combination of shotshell and choke tube by taking most of the human element out of the picture. I utilize that exact procedure many times in evaluating some combination. My concern with that type of procedure is that not all shooters may understand it and may expect to see patterns shot from their guns at a target, yield the same or similar results. I've accounted for POA/POI differences and have the luxury of being very selective of the "best of" the patterns, in this process.
I have no quarrel with either of these methods and I'm sure that I'll use both of them again in the future.
As mentioned earlier, I elected to use a POA patterning process for these tests. It was a bit more cumbersome to administer but at least in my way of thinking, the results may be more realistic, for a shooter once he/she has a gun zeroed with a particular combination.
While I noted weather conditions at each session, I did not attempt to report them in this synopsis of results. There were differences but by using the averaging procedure, not enough to effect results and frankly, there's just nothing we can do about those conditions when we hunt. The altitude here is 410' and results could be more favorably influenced by a higher altitude and a rising barometer than any of the other conditions I encountered.
My purpose for completing this study was to provide as much information for the hunter as possible as objectively as possible. I felt that it was necessary to identify brands of shotshells but since many manufacturers make turkey chokes with identical exit diameters, I could use that as an identifier without my otherwise objective tests becoming a commercial for any particular brand of choke tube.
Barrel length many times effects patterns. This seems to be especially true with 20 gauge shotguns. I chose to use a 26" barrel for these tests because that length barrel consistently yields better patterns, in my experience, than shorter barrels but I see no advantage, other than decreased muzzle whip, in longer barrels.
Obviously, you may have different results from these tests with your particular shotgun. That may especially true if you fire a limited number of shells or on a limited number of occasions. I certainly understand anyone who does this, given the ever increasing cost of all ammunition and also the time factor that is involved in extensive tests.