Gear Test: The Best New Turkey Loads

Not too long ago, turkey hunters had only spare No. 6 squirrel loads, low-end No. 4 buckshot, or goose-crushing BBs to choose from when taking to the springtime woods. But with the growing popularity of the sport came innovation in products designed specifically for serious turkey hunters--chief among them specialized shotgun configurations and high-performance shotshells. Today's turkey loads combine various smooth-flying metals and special pattern-enhancing wads to send hundreds of tightly grouped projectiles blistering downrange to wreak havoc on a turkey's relatively small vital target area of head and neck. The results have been choke and shotshell combinations that deliver payloads well beyond the once-accepted range of 40 yards. We put four of today's top loads to the test in a head-to-head showdown to determine which one you should be packing in your vest this spring.
#1 - Federal Premium Mag-Shok Heavyweight
$27/5 Federal's popular lineup of turkey takers gains a couple of new players in 2012. A pair of 2 ¾-inch loads promises to deliver the same deadly punch as their longer brethren, with considerably less kick. This will be welcome to recoil-sensitive shooters, helping them avoid that shot-jerking flinch that can be the difference between a missed bird and a filled tag. Loaded with Heavyweight shot, Federal has designed these No. 7s to deliver the same downrange punch as standard lead No. 5s. One particular test round (shot through a Mossberg 935 with a full choke) delivered 120 pellets inside the vitals zone of our turkey target at 25 yards. That ought to get it done. Overall: 3 out of 4 stars
Performance: B+
Price/Value: C
Gauge: 12
Length: 2 ¾ inches
Velocity: 1,300 FPS (as advertised by manufacturer)
Shot Size: 7
Payload: 1 ¼ ounces
Final Word: Federal's 2 ¾-inch mag-shok proves size doesn't matter: you can still get large-shell performance from a light-kicking load.
#2 - Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey
$18/10 Hornady first tested the turkey load waters through a special branding deal with Dick's Sporting Goods last year. The rounds proved so popular, they are now offering a full line of No. 4s, 5s, and 6s on their own. Based on the Magnum Turkey's performance in our test, it will please longtime Hornady fans and bring new ones into the fold. The Heavy Magnums use Hornady's Versatite wad, designed to maintain tight patterns even without a specialized aftermarket choke. In fact, Hornady suggests hunters go with a modified or improved cylinder choke in their turkey guns with this new offering, but our testing revealed better performance with a standard full. Overall: 3 out of 4 stars
Performance: B
Price/Value: B
Gauge: 12
Length: 3 inches
Velocity: 1,300 FPS (as advertised by manufacturer)
Shot Size: 5
Payload: 1 ½ ounces
Final Word: Great performance at a great price. Try this load with both modified and full chokes to see which works best for your gun.
#3 - Kent Ultimate Turkey
$18/10 With a lot of today's top loads being made from various high-tech metals and alloys that can run up the cost of shells as high as several dollars per round, it's nice to find hard-hitting, tight-patterning loads that are still economically priced. The Ultimate Turkey loads use Kent's Diamond Shot lead, a uniquely cut shot designed for better penetration. With 366 pellets stuffed in a 3-inch shell, this load packs the most shot of the test class, and it will unleash a deadly swarm of pellets on any gobbler that crosses your path. As we saw with the Federal Mag-Shoks, one test round delivered a whopping 120 pellets inside our turkey outline, again shot through the Mossberg 935. Overall: 3 out of 4 stars
Performance: B
Price/Value: B
Gauge: 12
Length: 3 inches
Velocity: 1,175 FPS (as advertised by manufacturer)
Shot Size: 5
Payload: 2 ounces
Final Word: Packed with plenty of shot, Ultimate Turkey will crush a longbeard's vitals zone. Can't argue with that price, either.
#4 - Winchester Supreme Elite Xtended Range HD Outdoor Life's Editors Choice
$34/10 Introduced in 2005, Winchester's Xtended Range HD turkey loads have accounted for a lot of dead gobblers over seven years. Winchester doesn't have anything new for turkey hunters in 2012, but given the performance of its Xtended Range loads in our test, it doesn't appear that a new load is necessary right now. The Hi-Density shot is 10 percent harder than lead, creating a powerful punch even at distances where traditional turkey loads are believed to fail. Despite containing one of the lowest pellet counts of the tested loads, the Winchester still delivered upward of 100 pellets inside the target's vitals outline at 25 yards. Overall: 3.5 out of 4 stars
Performance: A
Price/Value: C+
Gauge: 12
Length: 3 inches
Velocity: 1,225 FPS (as advertised by manufacturer)
Shot Size: 4
Payload: 1 ¾ ounces
Final Word: Our top pick. The Xtended Range produced the least overall drop-off in hit percentage--from 25 to 50 yards.

We tested four of today's top loads to see which one you should be using this spring. Find the results of our shootout here.