Hunting

12 Best Turkey Loads: Expertly Tried, Tested, and Reviewed

Here’s the fact. The high-density tungsten super shot (TSS) shotshells have reshaped the turkey hunting game. With state-of-the-art laboratories developing high-end shotgun loads with increased lethalities, it is left to the hunters to choose the best from a range of options.

However, simply loading up tungsten alloy pellets doesn’t make a turkey load the right choice. If you are looking for those applause-worthy one-shot kills there are other factors to keep in mind. Even so, the payload does play an important role.

So, we checked out the top performers on the market and weighed up their performances to list out the top options. Our objective is simple. To help you choose the best turkey loads.

Let’s jump right in.

apex turkey load

Apex TSS Turkey Loads

High performance, extended range TSS loads

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12, 20, 28
  • Shell length: 3″, 2 ¾”, 3 ½”
  • Buffered shots

Pros

  • A dense pattern
  • Precisely manufactured
  • High shot count

Cons

  • Very loud
  • Pricey

One reason that I am a big admirer of the Apex TSS loads is that they ensure more pellets hit the vital areas of the bird. For example, the No. 9 contains a high number of  477 shots that come with a great finish that provides excellent shot-to-shot consistency. Also, Apex products are hand-loaded to ensure quality control at every step. 

With these shots, you get a denser pattern and a clean kill even if your aim is a little high. The only gripe I have with the Apex TSS loads is they are expensive. Unfortunately, tungsten is not a cheap metal.

Even though they send more pellets downrange, these TSS payloads could be better when the distance is shorter. When the range is around 70 yards, only a tiny fraction of the pellets will hit the target. But between 40-60 yards, these premium-grade Apex turkey loads are one of the best options to pick.

hevi 18 turkey load

Hevi-18 TSS

A high-density tungsten super shot offering for turkey hunting

Key Features

  • Copper-plated lead shots
  • Gauges: 12, 20, 28, .410
  • 7 and 9-shot sizes

Pros

  • Heavy-hitting
  • Friction-reducing spherical buffer 
  • All-weather reliability

Cons

  • Expensive

Hevi-Shot manufactures these high-end tungsten alloy shells having a density of 18 gm/cc to deliver long-range performance. The pellets are shot out at a speed of 1,300 fps and the pattern is super-tight. If you are aiming at the neck region, you will get a clean kill. Besides, the brand uses clean-burning propellants and conforms to non-toxic standards.

With the consistent pattern that each shot delivers, you will get the confidence to take shots at 40 yards and beyond. Frankly, with each shot costing over $5, I wouldn’t want to miss any. But the ability to punch out further makes it worth the price.

Overall, this is a lethal turkey load from Hevi-Shot Plus. The Hevi-18 TSS shots are also available for .410 shotguns. While the .410 is more popular as a small game gun, with the Hevi-18, it can be useful for newbies getting used to shooting wild turkeys.

winchester double x turkey load

Winchester Double X

Known for its high velocity and heavy payload

Key Features

  • Shell length: 3″, 3 1/2″
  • Gauges: 12 
  • 10 rounds per box

Pros

  • Medium to high velocity
  • Affordable price tag
  • All-weather reliability

Cons

  • Contains lead
  • The range is limited

The Winchester Double X ammunition has been a favorite of turkey hunters over the years and with good reason. The original Double X Magnum turkey load was born in 1990, and the present-day Double X shots are made from copper-plated lead pellets.

The Double X’s strength comes in its nailed-down price-performance combination. The copper-plated shots deliver serious knock-down power and the powder is custom-blended to ensure high velocities. Oh, and you’ll find small granulated plastic material called grex used as buffer material.  

Overall, the lead pellets of the Double X deliver good consistency. While it’s not the best option for long ranges, the Double X offers excellent value if you hunt big woods turkeys frequently.

fiocchi turkey load tss

Fiocchi Golden Turkey TSS

Offers a blend of high performance and affordability

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12, 20, 28, .410
  • 7 and 9 shot sizes
  • Top muzzle velocity 1350 fps

Pros

  • High velocity
  • Affordable price tag
  • All-weather reliability

Cons

  • Best within 45 yards

With a solid pattern density, the Golden Turkey TSS from Fiocchi is good enough to drop the toughest gobblers. The shots have precision-manufactured hulls and wads and the powder is carefully loaded for precision. The combination of precision manufacturing and watchful powder selection makes it a reliable gobbler stopper.

Fiocchi uses tons of synthetic buffering to reduce pellet deformation and I love it. That level of buffering reduces deformation and helps increase the downrange efficiency. Also, these shots have good penetrating power and are effective in rough-weather conditions.

If you ask me, there’s really something special about hunting a turkey by luring it within a distance of 30 yards. And for that, you can’t go wrong with the Golden Turkey TSS.

federal tss turkey load

Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS

Known for its extremely dense tungsten shot and tight patterns

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12, 20, 28, .410
  • 7 and 9 shot sizes
  • Top muzzle velocity 1350 fps

Pros

  • High downrange energy
  • Flight Control Flex wad
  • Consistent shot distribution

Cons

  • Expensive

If you are aiming to make a shot over 60 yards with your turkey setup, then the Federal Premium heavyweight is your best bet. The no. 9s have a high payload number of 544 which is equivalent to a small ravaging army of tungsten. Even the .410 load contains 295 pellets.

A lot of the credit goes to the special design of the Flight Control Flex wad that Federal uses. This wad is heavier and has a combination of brake fins and side vents. That delivers payload separation at the exact moment for an ultra-tight pattern.

Considering the stinging price of a box of Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS shotshells, you might hesitate. However, when compared with the other shots the performance of the Federal Premium is something different. 

Now, I’d not recommend taking a shot from a distance of around 70 yards unless you are warming your hands frequently in the range. But if you are, the extra range of 20-25 yards that these shots provide makes a difference.

browning tss turkey load

Browning TSS Tungsten Turkey

A reliable choice for those seeking tungsten super shot loads

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12, 20, .410
  • 7 and 9 shot sizes
  • Top muzzle velocity 1200 fps

Pros

  • Consistent tight patterns
  • Excellent penetration
  • A buffered payload

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Not the best overall pattern

Loaded with a payload of TSS ammo, the TSS Tungsten Turkey offers increased lethality. Now, Browning claims that you can drop gobblers from a distance of 70 yards with these shells. The design objective behind these shots is simple- clean headshots and maximum range.

At 60 yards, the penetration in ballistic gel was more than 1.5 inches. But I have seen the TSS Tungsten in action at ranges above that. It dropped gobblers like they had been hit by Thor’s hammer. 

The payload is buffered to deliver a tight pattern and the penetration of the shot is excellent too. If you are shooting a 12 gauge, a choke diameter of .660 should be good enough with the TSS Tungsten Turkey.

While I am a sucker for Browning’s technical reputation, the high cost is a downside of these loads. However, the confidence of having the ability to ethically shoot turkeys is one worth the price you pay.

boss tom turkey load

Boss Tom Tungsten Shotshells

Non-toxic and environmentally friendly with dense tungsten shot

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12, 20, 28 .410
  • Hand-assembled full-length wad
  • A six-petal fold crimp

Pros

  • High knock-down power
  • Affordable price tag
  • Outstanding core pattern

Cons

  • Limited payload options
  • Limited availability

To be honest, Boss is a brand that’s less familiar to me. Even though it is a new brand, Boss claims to invest a lot of effort in the shell design while keeping their copper-plated loads non-toxic. Each of their No. 9 shots contains an incredible 905 pellets and the pattern distribution is excellent.

Let’s assume you miss a turkey at 30 yards. Yikes! Now, with a Boss Tom, you get an even distribution of peripheral and central pellets in the 10-inch circle. This provides a higher chance of a kill even with a missed shot.

Boss mentions that for each load there is a detailed method of powder selection and pattern testing at different distances. These shells also come with fiber buffering that reduces shot deformation. That means you get a performance-oriented shell design for consistent results.

On the downside, you will have to buy them directly from the Boss website, which makes them less readily available.

winchester long beard turkey load

Winchester Long Beard XR

Offers increased penetration and long-range accuracy

Key Features

  • High penetration
  • Muzzle velocity of 1,273 fps
  • Shot-Lok technology

Pros

  • High knock-down power
  • Affordable price tag
  • Good for longer ranges

Cons

  • Contains lead
  • Patterns can vary for different guns

The Winchester Long-Beard XR is similar to the Double X- well, almost. What makes me love it to death is a special resin called Shot-Lok. Once loaded with the pellets, the resin hardens and helps to retain pellet shape when you fire. In addition, you will find the pellets holding on to a tight formation and penetrating deeper, even at 50 yards.

I’ve to add that this technology notches up the price by a few dollars per box. But in return, the Long Beard XR offers exceptional pattern density when you are shooting a 12 gauge. Plus, the softball-tight pattern also has an edge in close range. Even if you miss a bird, chances are, it will be a clean miss.

While Winchester claims this to be a great 65-yard load, I’d be more conservative in my approach. However, when we tested it within 50 yards, the Longbeard packs one hell of a killing power.

remington nitro turkey load

Remington Nitro Turkey

A widely available lead option known for its tight pattern and affordability

Key Features

  • Extra hard lead shot
  • Specially blended powder recipe
  • Power Piston wad

Pros

  • Affordable option
  • A tight pattern
  • Optimized propellents

Cons

  • Contains toxic lead
  • Limited range

Firstly, Remington’s dedicated Turkey load is one of the most pocket-friendly options you can pick. When I checked the shell, one thing that popped out to me was the absence of copper or nickel plating. That and the loads’ no-frills design help keep the price down.

The Nitro Turkey has been around for a long time and many hunters swear by it for making a kill shot within 40 yards. Remington uses an advanced version of their Power Piston one-piece wad in these shells and combines it with polymer buffering. This creates a tighter pattern than traditional lead shots and the pellets hit the target with more power.

Coming to the cons, the shots contain toxic lead. If you are committed to keeping your gobbler hunting trips lead-free, choose another option. Still, unless regulations prevent its use, you might find lead payloads offering excellent value in the gobbler season.

federal 3rd degree turkey load

Federal 3rd Degree

A unique blend of shot sizes for close to mid-range hunting

Key Features

  • Three-pellet combination
  • 5, 6, and 7 shot sizes
  • Forgiving close-range dispersion

Pros

  • Great versatility
  • Dependable downrange lethality
  • Well-controlled recoil

Cons

  • Not ideal for all choke types

A common complaint with ultra-tight patterns is that they are a handicap at short distances within 20 yards. In that case, the Federal 3rd Degree is an unconventional specialty load that you should consider. However, all that behind-the-scenes wizardry comes with a steep price tag.

The 3rd degree is a combination of 20% No. 6 Flitestopper, 40% No. 5 copper-plated lead, and 40% No. 7 TSS Heavyweight. The unique three-stage payload is great for close and mid-ranges. 

Now, I haven’t used this offering on a turkey, but the pattern testing indicated a wide range and devastating patterns between 10 to 50 yards. On top of that, it uses a Flitecontrol Flex wad that delays the release of the and keeps the pattern tight.

Thanks to the science-backed innovation, these babies scored effective hits at 50 yards in our tests. That places it on par with brands that focus on long-range lethality. Though stretching the range it beyond sixty yards reduces its lethality significantly.

kent ultimate turkey load

Kent Ultimate Turkey

Offers a blend of No. 5 and No. 6 shot for maximum effectiveness

Key Features

  • Gauges: 12 and 20
  • 4 and 5 shot sizes
  • Loaded with proprietary Diamond shot

Pros

  • Good for close ranges
  • Affordable option

Cons

  • Limited range
  • Low count in patterns

Kent Ultimate Turkey is the shotshell I used in my first hunt in the Pocomoke State Forest. Quite simply, it’s a good choice for beginners shooting within 25-30 yards and the penetration was more than 2 inches at that range. But, beyond 35 yards, the margin for error is minimal and the pattern density comes down.

The Diamond shotlead comes with heavy payloads and a high antimony percentage to ensure a good knocking power. Kent uses pellets of uniform shape and custom-made powder for uniform patterns. 

The lower count in the patterns could be because the shot is non-buffered. Or else, there might be fewer pellets per ounce

However, these shots are a cost-effective choice as well. But you need to be shooting at close ranges.

federal grand slam turkey load

Federal Grand Slam

Key Features

  • Gauge: 12
  • Shot size: 6
  • Buffered copper-plated shot

Pros

  • Consistent patterns
  • Affordable option

Cons

  • Contains lead
  • Not easily available

In the last few years, Federal has downsized its lead turkey load ranges and the Grand Slam is one of the last ones still around. While these loads look like typical copper-plated lead pellets, lying underneath is the high-end craftsmanship from Federal that makes them special. 

These include advanced buffering and the Federal special Flightcontrol Flex wad with petals opening from the rear. Simply put, all this Chinese algebra helps the pellets retain their round shape and create a uniform pattern. The Grand Slams are a dependable option at a higher range too.

Just like the Federal TSS turkey ammo, the pattern remains consistent irrespective of choke design. Plus, the lead shots will cost you less. Personally, I prefer using non-toxic turkey shotgun shells. But you might prefer hammering gobblers with old-fashioned lead shots.

How We Tested the Best Turkey Loads

When it comes to  “patterning.”, it all depends on the combination of the choke and the shotshell.  Besides every material has different properties that affect the velocity and the energy transfer.

To keep things simple, we used two guns, a Remington 870 with a full choke and a Benelli M2 with an improved cylinder choke, for testing the best turkey loads. Besides, we also consulted some veteran turkey hunters and took their advice to judge the results.

Here are the main aspects that we focused on.

Penetration

Penetration is the most important factor that determines pellet performance. For this, we created a few ballistic gel pieces by using Knox gelatin mix. It took us some time and a large bucket was used as the mold for settling the gel. 

We kept the gel concentration constant as the increased concentration would lead to reduced penetration. The target was placed against a thick wooden block to stop the pellets.

Pattern

I always prefer turkey targets that show the actual X-ray of the turkey’s head. That helps to point out the exact penetration points of the pellets. Then we set up the paper target as 10-yard increments to a distance of 60 yards.

As per experts, the primary target is the skull and cervical vertebrae of the turkey. A hit in this zone will ensure a very fast kill for a big tom. 

However, we prefer to target a little below the neck, just before it connects the body. This area remains relatively fixed compared to the upper half of the neck. That way, you are less likely to miss if the turkey moves its head. And they do that frequently. 

Velocity

No matter how much initial velocity the payload may have air resistance always wins. It will slow down the pellets and open up the pattern. So, at short and mid ranges, high-velocity loads will hit like a truck, but at longer distances, the impact comes down.

Measuring muzzle velocity outdoors is a tricky business. To ensure accuracy we got hold of the dullest piece of shooting equipment you’ll ever find- a ballistic chronograph. We set up the chrony on a tripod in line with the muzzle. Since the chronograph measurements depended on light conditions, there were some slight variations depending on the time of the day and cloud cover.

carbontv general cta

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At the same time, we are flexible and enjoy overcoming the challenges that we face. While we have a few old-timers in our team, we don’t hesitate to take support from the latest technology to generate meaningful conclusions.

FAQs about the Best Turkey Loads

Is a 5 or 6 shot better for turkey?

You can use copper-plated 5s to 45 yards and lead 6s to 35. In theory, a pellet needs to carry a minimum of  2 foot-pounds (ft-lbs) of energy to penetrate a turkey’s vertebrae or head. 

While a No. 6 lead turkey load may fail to penetrate that target area at 40 yards, TSS shots can hit the mark at over 50 yards. Note, that a No. 7 tungsten pellet is heavier than a No. 5 lead. So a TSS No. 9 can deliver a punch even at 70 yards.

Why are turkey loads so expensive?

While many turkey hunters find TSS turkey loads incredible, the TSS prices can make you gasp. The primary reason for that is tungsten is not abundantly available and the sourcing is more expensive than lead.

What is the best TSS turkey load?

We will suggest choosing between the Hevi Shot HEVI-18 and the Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS. Both are top-notch performers for putting down a tom turkey. That said, no two shotguns will deliver the same pattern with the same TSS load. So patterning your shotgun to determine the correct load and choke combination is vital.

Which choke is best for turkey?

In general, a full choke is the best option for longer distances around 50-60 yards. Within 35 yards a modified choke is a good choice. I’d suggest testing multiple chokes with your gun to determine the choke pattern for each one. 

Final Thoughts

There you have it, folks!

We have listed the best turkey loads for you to make the right choice. These are some awesome options that combine the best of modern TSS technology and old-school lead magic. Now all you need is the right gear and a shotgun that delivers.

Now even after choosing the best 12 gauge turkey load, you might wonder, “Why did I miss that gobbler?”

There are plenty of other factors beyond the payload that determine your success. So, before you visit the turkey woods, make sure to pattern your gun. Also, understand how turkeys move and see to make every shot count.

Want to learn more about some other game? Read up on our guide on the top pheasant hunting tips!

Happy hunting!

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