As many hunters know, coincidences — otherwise known as luck — can be the difference between a successful hunt and going home empty handed. This was the case for me during a recent turkey hunt this April in southeastern Oklahoma.
After almost two days of walking up and down rolling hills and weaving my way through the property's thick timber on little sleep, I did what many turkey hunters have done when propped up against a tree waiting for a long beard to show. I fell asleep.
In one of those random hunting coincidences where time and circumstance meet, I awakened for no apparent reason just as three mature gobblers emerged from a thick section of trees and into view. I watched with rising anticipation as the three birds rushed to our decoy setup about 20 yards away, and then, unable to hold back any longer, I fired.
What definitely wasn't a coincidence, or luck, was the bird dropping. That was all courtesy of Winchester's new Long Beard XR Magnum turkey load.
Introduced this spring as an expansion on Winchester's Long Beard XR line, the company's new Magnum offerings provide enlarged payloads over its standard loads. Available in 12-gauge 3- to 3 ½-inch shells with payloads of either 1-7/8 or 2-1/8 ounces and in shot sizes of 4, 5 or 6, the new Magnum loads promise an added punch without compromising the well-known performance of Long Beard XR. The only area where the Magnum loads don't exceed standard Long Beard XR shells is velocity (1,050 feet per second instead of the standard 1,200), but the additional pellets downrange should help compensate for that.
While the bird I shot at 20 yards proved the load deadly on close-in birds, that's not really what Long Beard was designed for. As its name suggests, it's built to perform as distances stretch, advertising the ability to put twice the pellets in a 10-inch circle out to 60 yards. Winchester Long Beard XR has even won records for its performance, breaking three consecutive world records at 40 yards during the 2014 National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) Still Target Challenge.
To understand why and how these Magnum and standard loads are able to perform the way they are, it's best to take a closer look at their design.
A Long-range Solution
Tight, far-reaching patterns have always been a goal of manufacturers producing turkey loads. Anyone who has hunted turkeys knows that, while at times they can rush toward the decoy with reckless abandon (as the bird I shot did), they can also be notorious for hanging up just outside the effective range of most standard turkey loads.
Ammunition manufacturers have tried to solve this problem in several ways, but perhaps the most common is by incorporating pellets that perform better at longer ranges. Often, this has meant using shot with a combination of lead and another denser metal such as tungsten.
Although this is certainly a viable option, it comes at an increased cost, one that places these loads out of reach for many hunters. A box of five shells that use tungsten shot can cost upward of $30, while a box of 10 standard lead turkey loads might run anywhere from $10 to $20.
That's a potential price difference of around $5 per shell between the standard loads and those that utilize tungsten or other heavier metals, a factor that the average buyer simply can't ignore. For this reason, hunters have often opted for the "good enough" performance of affordable lead turkey loads over the excellent performance of some tungsten loads.
When Winchester made the decision to develop its Long Beard XR turkey load, which was released in 2013, the goal was a load with tungsten-like performance at longer ranges for a price similar to, or only slightly above, that of standard lead loads. The engineers at Winchester were able to achieve this not by adding a heavier shot to the payload but by encasing the pellets in a unique new substance the company refers to as "Shot-Lok."
The Shot-Lok resin is essentially a liquid that engineers pour into the shot cup before any of the pellets are inserted. Before the resin hardens, the pellets are added and allowed to move freely within the gel. The resin then solidifies, with the Shot-Lok completely surrounding the pellets.
This is important because once the load is fired, the entire Shot-Lok resin fractures into a powder-like substance that forms a protective barrier (called buffering) around the pellets. For those who aren't familiar with the use of buffering in shot, what it does is to help prevent shot deformation due to setback forces, which essentially refer to the pressure exerted by the first 80 percent or so of pellets on the last 20 percent as they move forward and eventually out of the barrel.
Shot deformation is one of the most prevalent reasons for fliers in shotgun patterns. When a circular pellet is deformed, it becomes less aerodynamic and more prone to veering off course during its flight, translating into wider and less consistent patterns. This is okay and can even be useful for wingshooters looking for a larger spread, but it's not ideal for turkey hunters trying to bring down a stubborn tom hanging up past 40 yards.
It is that purpose for which Winchester's Long Beard is perfectly suited.
The evening before hunting in Oklahoma, I was able to pattern a few of the Long Beard XR Magnum loads at 20, 40 and 60 yards (Hunters looking to save time and money patterning their shotguns should check out Winchester's Pattern Board App detailed at the end of this article). This was certainly necessary to have a basic understanding of how the loads would perform on the hunt at varying distances, but it wasn't really much of a pattern test.
For this reason, I decided to conduct a test of my own at the range using a box of 12-gauge 3-inch No. 6 Long Beard XR Magnum loads I was able to bring back from the hunt. During the test, all shots were fired from a rest using a Benelli M2 Field shotgun with a standard Benelli Crio full choke tube.
Shots were taken at distances of 25, 40 and 60 yards, and no optics other than the shotgun's standard front bead sight was used. For each shot, I counted the number of pellets falling within a 30-inch diameter circle and a 20-inch diameter circle of the point of impact. I then divided these numbers by Winchester's estimated pellet count (425) for the No. 6 Magnum loads to determine the pattern performance and core density, respectively.
At 25 yards, which is near the distance where I shot my bird, the patterns were incredibly tight, with almost all of the pellets falling within the 30-inch circle. The averaged count was 413 pellets, which led to a pattern performance of around 97 percent. Core density, an especially important measurement for turkey hunters, was equally impressive, dropping off by only 2 percent.
There was very little reduction in performance as I extended the distance to 40 yards. An average of 391 pellets remained inside the 30-inch circle, resulting in a pattern performance of about 92 percent. The number of pellets within a 20-inch circle of the point of impact did fall off slightly, with approximately 339 pellets staying inside the circle for a core density of about 79 percent. This is still very good, and the patterns visibly illustrate that a turkey caught in this spread would certainly regret it.
As is to be expected with any load, performance tapered off more substantially at 60 yards. Even so, the Long Beard XR Magnum loads managed to deliver ample pellets on target. An average of 320 pellets struck within a 30-inch circle for a pattern performance of 75 percent, while an average of 198 pellets fell within a 20-inch circle for a core density of around 46 percent.
Without question, Winchester's new Long Beard XR turkey loads are a revolutionary new product for hunters hitting the woods each spring in search of a trophy tom. Long Beard XR's innovative Shot-Lok resin allows for incredibly tight patterns, even as distances stretch beyond typical shooting ranges.
Range results from my testing back up Winchester's claims about Long Beard's long-range capabilities, with core density never falling below 40 percent out to 60 yards. Although I didn't get a chance to test the lethality of Long Beard XR Magnum loads beyond 40 yards on an actual bird, based on the patterns seen at the range, I suspect they would be plenty devastating as long as the shooter's aim remains true. In fact, I would doubt my abilities at these ranges far more than I would those of Long Beard XR.
The Long Beard XR Magnum loads do recoil pretty stoutly, and I'm sure the standard loads aren't much different, but most experienced hunters should understand this as a normal part of turkey hunting. Those new to pursuing gobblers may find Long Beard's recoil impulse excessive, or at least surprising, but I doubt it's much more severe than most other magnum turkey loads out there.
With prices anywhere between $19 and $25 for a box of 10 shells, Long Beard XR is only slightly more expensive than standard lead loads but offers a significant increase in performance. For hunters, it is a reasonably priced compromise between inexpensive lead loads that may be lacking in performance and high-density tungsten loads that perform well but cost quite a bit more. Those hunters looking to experiment next season with new turkey loads or trying to find a load with increased performance that doesn't break the bank should strongly consider Winchester's Long Beard XR.
Winchester Pattern Board:
Available on a laptop, tablet or smartphone, the first-of-its-kind Winchester Pattern Board App allows hunters to see how different turkey loads pattern at varying distances without actually testing each individual load at the range. The app calculates these estimates using data collected by Winchester engineers, who fired more than 3,000 actual patterns at the range using several of the company's turkey loads.
Users of the app simply input shotgun gauge, choke constriction, shell length, brand, pellet size and distance of the shot; Pattern Board then generates a shot pattern based on these inputs. The app will also produce comparisons showing how Winchester's different turkey loads compare side by side, given similar input factors.