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The Expert Witness

Advice for the Shooter

One thing that “Court TV” and other court room television shows, including some infamous criminal trials has exposed us to is the “Expert Witness”. We’ve routinely seen each side in a case call its expert witness to testify on its behalf.

That process usually begins by the expert witness reciting his Curriculum Vitae or credentials and then telling us exactly why things are or can not be as we might believe them to be.

Some time later, another expert witness, for the other side, equally well educated with years of experience, will tell us exactly why the prior expert witness was absolutely incorrect in his statements and why things are exactly as he, the current expert, states they are.

Go to any of the many shooting/hunting message boards and forums today and you will find much of the same. One poster will state his absolute certainty of a fact being 100% true and will cite an expert witness that states the same, supporting his incontrovertible statements. Within a short period of time, another poster will state a contrarian view and will cite yet another expert witness who supports his statements and gives 100% certainty to his position. In the words of a famous or perhaps infamous fictional crime-family boss, “Wadda gonna do?”

Absolutes are hard to come by in any part of our life. Oh, there are some but shooting is one area in which you can, at times, find little agreement on some subjects. None perhaps is more controversial than that of what kind of shotshell produces the “best” patterns. Why is this so complicated?

Well, a lot of it has to do with the variety of shotshells that are available to us. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s just address shotshells designed for turkey hunters. What do we have readily available to us today?

In no particular order, I’ll list a few choices from the “Big 3“ and Environ-Metal.

Winchester Shotshell Ammunition
Supreme Elite™ Xtrended Range Hi-Density

Remington Shotshell Ammunition
Wingmaster HD™
Nitro Turkey Buffered Loads
Premier® High Velocity
Magnum Turkey Loads
Premier® Magnum Turkey Loads
Premier® Duplex® Magnums
Nitro-Mag® Buffered Magnums
Remington Hevi-Shot. (No longer produced but still widely found on dealer shelves.)

ATK/Federal Premium Shotshell Ammunition
Mag-Shok® Lead with FLITECONTROL®
Mag-Shok® HEAVYWEIGHT® Turkey
Mag-Shok® High Velocity Lead with FLITECONTROL®
Ultra-Shok® High Density™
Game-Shok® Hi-Brass

Environ-Metal Shotshells

There are other brands of turkey shotshells but I believe this gives us a pretty good idea of what’s available…in brands. Now, let’s talk about shot sizes and shell case lengths.

All of the above brands make shells in at least 12 gauge and 20 gauge.
There are case lengths in 2.75”, 3” and 3.5”.
Shot sizes offered in some but not all brands, include #7, #6, #5 and #4.
Materials range from chilled lead shot, magnum lead shot, copper-plated magnum lead shot and "hard" shot of various compositions of tungsten and other metals, depending upon brand.

So, what is the best shotshell? In our country, for the past several years or more, bigger has been considered to be better. If you don’t believe that, take a look around…at everything. The SUV, the pickup truck, our homes, the food we eat and of course our shotshells.

The 12 gauge  3.5“ “Super Magnum” with 2.25 oz. (or more) of some tungsten-based shot is the only turkey shotshell that some consider to be worthy of the name!

What expert proclaimed that to be an incontrovertible fact? Well, Mossberg and Federal got together many years ago when non-toxic shot was mandated by the U.S. Wildlife authorities  for waterfowl hunting and designed a gun and a shell that would hold more shot to give us a better chance of killing a duck or a goose with the very inefficient steel loads that were available at the time. Expert opinion: “The shot is not very good, so let’s just throw a lot of it and hope some will do the job.”

At that time and for the technology of the time, the experts were certainly correct. Fast forward to 2009 and ask that same expert today if the 3.5” shell with its extra capacity is needed with all we’ve learned in the intervening years. Then ask that same expert if the need ever existed for a 3.5” shell for turkey hunters.

It’s almost impossible for us to realize how the sport of turkey hunting has grown in the last 30 years. The numbers of turkey hunters and turkey hunting opportunities have grown exponentially. Many hunters who will go to the turkey woods this spring were not even born when the Mossberg 835 with its 3.5” chamber and Federal’s first 3.5” shotshell were introduced to the market. The “Super Magnum” gun and shotshell have always been a part of what they know as turkey guns. That’s makes it very understandable how they and many more have also come to believe that the 3.5” shell has more range and more power since it’s bigger. Some have accepted the notion that to be a true turkey hunter you must shoot the biggest shell out there and that going to the turkey woods with anything less than a 3.5” chambered shotgun, loaded with 3.5” shells would be foolish and even...unmanly!

Some of our expert witnesses would agree with all of the above. They would state their case very clearly with little room for doubt. The 3.5” chambered shotgun stoked with 3.5” shotshells will throw better patterns and kill turkeys much deader or is it more dead, than any other gun. Thus, you’d be foolish to take anything else with you to the woods. Case closed!

Then why do they make all those other shotshells? Why is it that thousands of turkey hunters go to the woods each year with guns loaded with 3” shells and even 2.75” shells and kill their fair share of turkeys with them? Are they just blissfully ignorant and also very lucky?

Or, is there another expert witness who can tell us more about this?

It’s pretty clear that this argument could go on and on with expert witnesses being called for all sides, the volume of the debate would rise, tempers would flare and very few minds would be changed.  The battle lines have been drawn and there are also some vested interests that must be served.

So, what’s the “truth” of the matter? Shall we see if we can establish a format that would put the debate over which is the best turkey shotshell to rest?  Would this work to settle the debate?

What if, we fired 3 of a company’s shells designed for turkey hunting; a 2.75” shell, a 3” shell and a 3.5” shell, through the same shotgun, using the same turkey choke, on the same day, at the same distance and counted the pellets in the best 10” circle fired by those shells? We could also subjectively, evaluate the 10” circle for density of pattern. Would that settle the issue?

What if we repeated the test, perhaps several days apart to allow for differing weather conditions? Perhaps do this 3-4 times to determine if results were repeatable, would that help us to determine which shell was best?

That would seem to answer the question but then again, what if there were no appreciable differences in either pellet count or density of pattern?

Would some argue that each shell would need a different type, brand or design of choke tube to function most efficiently?  

Would some argue that a 2.75” shell will only shoot best in a gun with a 2.75” chamber and a 3” shell will only shoot best in a  gun with a 3” chamber? Conversely, will some argue that a 2.75” shell and a 3” shell will actually shoot better in a 3.5” chambered gun?

Would some just not believe the results because they had not performed the tests themselves?

Then we’d need an expert witness to testify…

To be continued…

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