The turkey load has seen its share of evolutions in the last few years with the introduction of heavier metals and specialized wads designed to cut patterns tighter than Oprah's pants. Those improvements -- plus the popularization of extra-full chokes and optics -- have pushed the effective range of the most competent turkey hunters out to 50-yard territory.
Winchester is looking to nudge that distance even further with its new Long Beard XR shotshell. The shell is unremarkable in everyway - copper-plated lead pellets, standard wad, and standard brass - except for one feature: a paste-like resin the company calls Shot-Lok. The resin fills in the gaps between the pellets and binds them in the wad. Immediately after the shell ignites, the resin fractures and turns to powder. This process creates a tighter shooting shotshell and more pellets on target, according to Winchester. The company officially announced the load today and it will start showing up on shelves in November or December.
Theory Behind the Design
In a standard lead shell, the pellets at the rear of the shot column (about one-third of the pellets closest to the primer) are squished and deformed under the force of ignition. These deformed pellets are less aerodynamic and are prone to flying off course. As the shot column travels farther down range, more of these deformed pellets are lost from the pattern.
Because Shot-Lok eliminates the space between the pellets, they retain their round shape and fly truer.
I had the opportunity to field test Long Beard on some Texas Rios last spring. Our group of four hunters all killed birds at ranges of 20 yards to about 50 yards, and all the birds we hit flopped over without much fanfare.
Earlier this summer a buddy and I patterned the load from 10 yards to 70 yards in 10-yard increments. We shot 3-inch No. 6s and No. 4s through a Mossberg 835 Turkey THUG with an 18-inch barrel and an XX-full choke. Both shot sizes did extremely well from 30 yards to 50 yards. Past the 50-yard mark, the 6s pulled away, outperforming the 4s and absolutely whooping the standard Winchester Double X high velocity rounds we shot as a control group. With No. 6 shot at 70 yards, we were able to sink about a dozen pellets in our gobbler target's head and neck (see some of our patterning photos below), and we saw 1 ¾-inch penetration in our ballistics gel test.
If Long Beard XR has any downside, it's that the close-range pattern is almost too tight. At 10 yards the shells delivered a hand-sized pattern and at 20 yards the pattern stretched to about 16 inches in diameter. However, you're not going to get much different results shooting any other turkey load through an extra-full choke at these close ranges.
The Shot-Lok concept could become a game changer for Winchester, and as you read this, the company is looking at incorporating the technology into some of its other lead loads. One of the benefits of a tighter pattern is that it allows you to move down in shot size and still deliver plenty of pellets on target. There are potential applications for Shot-Lok in home defense, predator hunting, and 20-gauge rounds, Winchester Product Manager Brad Criner says. Shot-Lok could be used in any application that calls for lead pellets and tight patterns. The resin will not likely be used in steel shells because steel is harder than lead and not prone to the same deformation, Criner says.
How Long is Too Long?
Winchester isn't advocating for every turkey hunter to start killing birds at 70 yards, and neither am I. The most enjoyable part of turkey hunting, of course, is calling birds in and shooting them at close range. Every hunter must decide on his own ethical and effective killing range. With the Long Beard XR round, Winchester is simply giving you the option to push that range just a little farther.
Price: $20-$24 (box of 10)
Gauge/Chamber: 3-inch, 3.5-inch; 12-gauge
Shot sizes: 4,5,6
Oz. Shot: 1 ¾ (3-inch); 2 (3.5-inch)
Velocity: 1,200 fps