We Put Shotshells and Choke Tubes to the Test
It’s Turkey Season again here in Middle TN, and we have the distinct pleasure of having an expert on hand. He’s the newest member of our team, Jacob. He took our choke tubes, Ammo Selection, and a few targets out, and put them through the ringer. Combining his knowledge of turkey hunting, with his experience in the field, he put together some great results on what the right kind of gear, in the right combination, can do for your turkey hunt. Want to drop more birds? Here’s Jacob with his findings:
A Turkey Season Experiment with Jacob
Hello Midsouth Readers,
With so much going on, I as many people, don’t get to hunt as much as I want to. So when I do get the chance to go after turkey this spring, I definitely want to capitalize on that opportunity. The last thing I want to do is miss my target or worse wound the animal. Knowing capabilities and limits of your equipment is paramount in filling your turkey tag. This was the driving force behind why I decided to do a pattern test for my newly dedicated turkey gun. So I set out to test a few choke tubes to see how each performed at various ranges.
Using the Hevi-Shot Magnum Blend shell in the past, I knew its ability to knock a bird down at extended ranges. Selling for around 5 to 6 dollars per shell, the price alone puts this ammunition into the premium category. The price is not the only factor making this a premium ammo. It produces dense patterns of a unique material called Hevi-Shot. It’s heavier than lead, so when smaller pellets of Hevi-Shot make contact with the target they can produce an energy transfer equal to that of a larger lead pellet. These Magnum Blend shells are loaded with an equal mix of #5, #6 and #7 shot all in one shell. Having a variety of shot sizes in one shell increases pellet count, ounce for ounce, over a standard shell loaded with the same size shot. More pellets in the shell means more pellets down range. We tested the 12 gauge 3” shells, along with the 3.5” shells, to see the how much variation there was between each pattern. The 3” shell is loaded with 2oz of shot and shoots at 1200 FPS. The 3.5” shell also shoots at 1200 FPS but has a 2-1/4oz payload. I tested both shell lengths at 40, 50, and 60 yards with the 4 chokes listed below. Click Here for a Rebate on Hevi-Shot Magnum Blend Shotshells.
- Choke Tubes Tested:
- Rhino Ported Turkey Choke .660 Constriction
- Indian Creek Black Diamond Strike Turkey Choke .665 Click Here for Pricing.
- Hevi-13 Turkey Extended Range .656 Click Here for Pricing.
- Carlson Ported Super Full Turkey Choke .665 Click Here for Pricing.
We also wanted to test a shell that was at a more economical price point. For this option I chose to test the Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey Shell. Selling for less than 1.30 a round, I wanted to see the how well this “budget” shell performed out of my gun. The Hornady shell has an unconventional wad design they call a Versa-Tite Wad (Click Here for Picture) . The use of specialized turkey choke tubes are not needed with this system to produce great patterns. Hornady actually recommends the use of a modified or improved cylinder choke while shooting these loads. So I really wanted to see how well these turkey load performed with my factory modified choke. These 12ga loads are 3” in length, with 1.5oz payload shooting out at 1300 fps. Hornady manufactures these shells with #4, #5, or #6 nickel plated lead shot giving you the option of what shot size you want.
The gun I used for testing is a 12ga Benelli Nova with a 26” barrel. Those that are familiar with the front bead on a Nova know that the large red bead is great in low light conditions. The down side to such a large front bead is that it covers a larger portion of the target when you try to shoot long ranges (50 yards plus). That is one of the reasons why I wanted to outfit this dedicated turkey gun with a red dot sight. I chose to outfit the Nova with the Burris FastFire 3 with a 3 MOA dot. The Fastfire 3 is simple to operate and install, with one button to turn it on and control the brightness settings. Hit the button once to turn it on to the automatic brightness setting. Push the button again to cycle between the manual settings of high, medium, and low. Press the button one more time to completely turn the unit off. Although the Burris Fastfire 3 is covered by the Burris Forever Warranty, I chose to outfit it with the protector mount for added durability. I wanted a red dot that would be reliable because equipment failure is the last thing I want when I have a gobbler strutting at 40 yards. The Burris FastFire 3 with protector mount fit the bill for me.
Zeroing the red dot:
To innately zero the FastFire 3 I shot light field loads at 10 steps on a fresh sheet of paper. I chose field loads for two reasons. 1.) They are a lot less abusive to your shoulder than a turkey shell. 2.) They are a lot less expensive. At that distance, there was just a big hole in the target where the shot and wad went through, which is what I wanted to see. The choke that was in the gun while shooting at this distance was the Rhino. After a few shots and some windage and elevation adjustments to the Fastfire 3, the dot was right on the hole in the target. Just like different rifle ammo has varied results out of the same rifle, the same holds true for shotshells. So next I shot the 3.5” Magnum Blends at 50 yards to see where the pattern was hitting the target. After shooting one shell each through the four chokes, it appeared that the pattern was just on the top half of all the targets. After making elevation adjustments, I was satisfied.
Here is how the shot sequence went:
(Click Each Choke Tube Name for Target Image)
|– Magnum Blend 3” at 50 yards – Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson -Targets 12-15|
|– Magnum Blend 3.5” at 50 yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson -Targets 16-19|
|– Magnum Blend 3.5” at 40 yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson – Targets 20-23|
|– Magnum Blend 3” at 40yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson – Targets 24-27|
|– Magnum Blend 3.5” at 60 yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson – Targets 28-31|
|– Magnum Blend 3” at 60 yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Hevi-13, Carlson – Targets 32-35|
|– Magnum Blend 3” at 25 yards- Rhino, Indian Creek, Indian Creek, – Targets 36-38|
I tested the Rhino, Indian creek, Hevi-13, and the Carlson in that order at all previously specified distances. Each shell, choke, and distance combination was shot on a clean target. The targets that were used for testing the Hevi-Shot shells were a 16” bullseye. For each shot I held the 3MOA dot right in the center of the bullseye. The wind that day was blowing from left to right at about 10-15 mph. There were some shell/choke combinations that patterned well, but you could tell that the pattern was pushed to the right. I am sure it was a combination of shooter error, wind, and not having the gun sighted in for each set up that resulted in some patterns being pushed right (trust me, my shoulder was feeling each shell that was sent down range.) I am sure that it had an effect on my accuracy throughout the testing. All tubes provided good patterns but I did find each shot to be a little different. The Fastfire 3 red dot seemed to be sighted in better with Rhino. As a result those patterns landed more center on the paper. That doesn’t mean that the other tubes produced bad results just that their pattern is off to the right. So when you look at all the targets below keep that factor in mind. A few adjustments of the red dot can have that shell/choke tube combination hitting dead center. Not wanting to change the setup for each choke tube I continued the test. During the shooing I did not analyze how each pattern was hitting the targets. After I was done with the test I took the targets home to count holes in the paper. One thing that I noticed while evaluating the targets is that pattern was shifting down at 60 yards depending on the shell/choke combination. This tells me that all shots 50 yards and closer, I would put the dot on the wattles of the turkey. At 60 yards I think it would be better to shift my point of aim up to the bird’s head.
After shooting at 60 yards, I wanted to see how the pattern hit at 25 yards. Targets 36, 37 and 38 were all shot at 25 yards. First shot at 25 yards was with the Rhino and then with the Indian Creek. The pattern on target 37 was good but you can tell I pulled the shot to the right. Target 38 proved that to be true, as the pattern was in the center of the paper and there was no change in the setup. I ended up running out of the 16” bullseyes targets and then switched to the turkey target with a 10” circle for target 36 and 37. Click Here for a small chart on hits within the desired area for the Hevi-Shot Magnum Shotshells.
After shooting the Rhino at 25 yards I was ready to test the Indian Creek. I began to unscrew the Rhino tube and noticed it was extremely hard to unscrew. I just thought that the threads had gotten dirty and it was causing some resistance. Once the threads were exposed on the tube, I expected the resistance to be gone. It wasn’t. I continued to work the tube free and noticed that tube had swollen. There were scratch marks on the choke tube where it made contact with the internal threads on the barrel. I called Rhino to ask them about the issue. The man I spoke to on the phone basically told me that the choke was ruined and there was nothing they would do about it. He told me that Hevi-shot, from time to time, would have a batch of “hardened shot,” and that was the reason the tube was damaged. I asked him if there was anywhere on the package or website stating that it may be harmful with the use of Hevi-Shot. He said no. The package does state that it’s not rated for steel shot but it says nothing about Hevi-Shot. His explanation did not satisfy me, as all other chokes tested did not have any indication of deformation, just the Rhino. The company basically told me I was SOL. I don’t think I will be buying another Rhino choke to replace the damaged one. He did offer to inspect the barrel for me if I shipped it to him. He stated that if the tube was bulged then it was a possibility that the barrel was bulged as well. Instead of paying the shipping to send my barrel to Florida to be inspected, I took it to a local gunsmith. The gunsmith measured the internal diameter of the barrel in several places and assured me the barrel was safe for use. Click Here to see the choke tube for yourself.
Testing the Hornady shells I wanted to see how the pattern of different shot sizes varied at 30, 40, and 50 yards. Because these shells are loaded with the Hornady Versa-Tite Wad system I put the extended turkey chokes away. The targets I used to test the Hornady shells had a turkey printed on them with a 10” and a 3” bullseye on the turkeys head. I tested all three shot sizes with a modified choke at 30, 40, and 50. With a standard shell you would use a full choke to achieve a dense pattern at longer ranges. So I tested all three shot sizes at 50 yards with a factory full choke because I wanted to see the results and I had three targets left.
Here is how the shot sequence went:
(Click Each Shot Number for Target Image)
|– Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey – Modified Choke 30 Yards – #4, #5, #6, -Targets 40-42|
|– Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey – Modified Choke 40 Yards – #4, #5, #6, -Targets 43-45|
|– Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey – Modified Choke 50 Yards – #4, #5, #6, -Targets 46-48|
|– Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey – Full Choke 50 Yards – #4, #5, #6, -Targets 49-51|
First round of shots were at a distance of 30 yards. As you can see by the pictures all three shot sizes did extremely well at 30 yards (targets 40-42). As expected, the #6 put the most shots in the 10” circle with 68 hits (target 42). At 40 yards, again all three shot sizes produced good patterns that would result in a filled tag. The #6 had the most hits in the 10” circle with 24. Surprisingly the #4 were close behind with 22 hits in the circle. With the modified choke, all three shot sizes put pellets on the turkey at 50 yards but you can tell the pattern has some gaps in it. The 50 yard shots with the full choke had interesting results. It seemed to improve the results of the #6 shot but made the #4 pattern worse.
After looking at how the Hornady Heavy Magnum shells performed, I came to the conclusion that if I plan on only shooting 40 yards and closer, the #6 is a great choice. For myself I plan on using the #4 shot size. The #4 produced great turkey killing patterns out to 40 yards. If I am going to have less pellets on target at 50 yards, I want the pellet to be as large as possible. The larger the pellet, the more knock down power it has. Larger shot sizes also mean less pellets per shell. When I was younger I just went middle of the road and assumed #5 shot size what I wanted to shoot while turkey hunting. Before testing I assumed the #5 were going to be what would shoot best out of my new turkey gun. But that did not seem to be the case. Knowing how your gun patterns with the ammo you use allows you to make educated decisions. Without testing, all you can do is make assumptions. That’s why it is important to test the equipment you use. Knowing the limits and capabilities of your equipment, will allow you to have confidence when the time comes to take the shot. Click Here for a quick tally of shot totals for the Hornady Heavy Magnum Shot with Modified Choke.
The Hornady shell and the Hevi-Shot shell are two different breads. Yes they are both turkey shells but they serve different functions. If you never take a shot beyond 40 yards and are looking for a more price conscious option, the Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey load is the shell for you. Let’s face it, if the cards fall just right you might have to shoot the turkey in self-defense at 5 yards. I have seen it happen. Everyone that has hunted before has also experienced the opposite situation. A tom strutting 60 yards away with hens all around him and won’t take one step closer. No matter if you are an excellent caller and have the best decoys money can buy. When a mature long beard is with the real thing it is hard to talk him out of it. That’s when the Hevi-Shot magnum blend comes into play. With its ability to hold patterns at extended ranges, it is making gobblers feel not-so-safe anymore at 60 yards. No matter what gun, shell, and choke combination you have, knowing the capabilities of your gear is the first step on taking an ethical shot. Don’t just take my word for it, go test your own equipment and find out for yourself what your setup can do.
Thanks Midsouth Readers!
P.S. Although I enjoyed doing this test. Next time I think I need to test something with a lot less recoil. I’m thinking something to do with 22lr! Stay Tuned!