First Look: Federal's 20-Gauge 3rd Degree Turkey Load

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With its new 3-inch, 20-gauge Federal 3rd Degree turkey load, Federal Premium offers 20-gauge hunters a load optimally suited for engaging birds that come in on a string, hang up at distance and everything in between.

Federal Premium solved the turkey-hunting conundrum in 2015 with its unveiling of 3rd Degree, a shotshell that, unlike its counterparts and competitors, bettered the odds of connecting with a tom at any distance.

Initially offered in 12-ga. 3-inch and 3 1/2-inch loaded with 1 3/4 ounces and 2 ounces of shot, respectively, developing the recipe for a 3-inch 20-gauge option required few changes.


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Key to Federal 3rd Degree's effectiveness is its multi-shot, three-stage, non-buffered payload. At the front of the shot charge is found 20-percent No. 6 FLITESTOPPER lead pellets, which, due to their circumventing band (and thus non-spherical shape), quickly migrate to and accentuate the fringe of the pattern. This is important because, for shots within 15 yards, where it's typically an all-or-nothing proposition, these peripheral-seeking pellets can make the difference between a bagged bird and disappointment.

Comprising 40 percent of the payload — and backing the FLITESTOPPER pellets — are No. 5 copper-plated lead shot. Plating with copper makes the lead pellets harder, which reduces deformation for tighter patterns at distance and enhances penetration due to their smooth surface, they're less likely to get wadded in feathers. Moreover, No. 5 is the quintessential shot size for the majority of turkey hunting situations and ranges.

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The final — and rearmost — 40 percent of the shot charge consists of No. 7 HEAVYWEIGHT. This is 35 percent denser than lead, but the pattern-filling, tungsten-based No. 7 pellets carry the energy of lead No. 5s. Because of their small diameter (less friction), spherical shape, and weight, the HEAVYWEIGHT pellets penetrate deeper than their larger lead and plated-lead counterparts. Lastly, because the hard pellets retain their spherical shape during setback and while traversing the bore/choke, they help maintain a tight pattern core for long-range effectiveness. All told, the 3-inch, 20-gauge load has 1 7/16 ounces of No. 5, 6 and 7 shot.


Tight patterns are also attributable to Federal Premium's legendary FLITECONTROL wad. To slow the wad and facilitate shot/wad separation, the petals of traditional-type wad peel rearward (or bloom). The process begins immediately upon exiting the muzzle and hastens pattern dispersion. For turkey loads this is undesirable.

The forward momentum of the FLITECONTROL wad, however, is slowed by six petals created by the flaring gas seal upon exiting the muzzle and three cutouts in the body that project outward and act as brakes. The FLITECONTROL contains the payload longer than any other wad design, thereby keeping patterns tighter at further distances. Best performance with the FLITECONTROL is attained when using chokes/tubes without porting or wad-stripping elements.

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Federal Premium's 3-inch, 20-gauge 3rd Degree turkey load has an average pellet count of 280. It works great in any turkey shotgun setup equipped with a full or extra-full factory (non-ported) choke. Close-range testing at 10 yards, conducted by Federal Premium ammunition engineers, revealed a pattern measuring six inches wide. This is a couple inches greater than common turkey loads fired with the same shotgun.

Pellet count at 20 yards in a 10-inch pellet circle was 174, and at 40 yards within the 10-inch circle was 76. Because the load's design uses three stages of very different shot types, this load is not only is a 40-plus-yard gobbler getter — testing proves it will get the job at closer ranges as well. This versatility gives the load its slogan: one load, any range.

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