By Josh Boyd
If you have turkey hunted for any period of time, you have undoubtedly been tasked with fighting a losing battle against a gobbler that is absolute in his refusal to break strut and journey into range. These are the times when a hunter would likely give up their favorite call in exchange for 20 more yards of effective range at the end of their pattern.
This exact scenario has led countless turkey aficionados to continually seek out the highest quality turkey loads commercially available. After all, an extension in effective range past the typical 40-yard benchmark, could very easily account for quite a few more successful hunts when hung-up toms become the norm.
Winchester has claimed to have succeeded in making this dream a reality with their Long Beard XR line of shells. But how do these turkey loads stack up against other market offerings, and what, if any, gains in effective range can a hunter expect with the use of Winchester Long Beard XR shotshells?
Winchester boasts some substantial claims in performance toward its Long Beard XR line. The long-lived ammunition and firearm manufacturer specifies that their flagship turkey load is capable of delivering twice the pellet count payload of any traditional turkey specific shotshell at distances out to 60 yards. This is made possible with Winchester’s proprietary Shot-Lok Technology.
Additionally, Winchester claims that Long Beard XR shotshells will provide 10% greater penetration than any traditional turkey load on the market at distances over 50 yards. This promises clean and efficient kills, at distances far greater than what would have previously been thought to be possible.
Winchester Long Beard XR can be purchased in several different shell and shot sizes, with multiple muzzle velocity ratings. For children and smaller-framed adults, a 2 ¾”, #5 offering is marketed with a muzzle velocity of 1300 FPS. For those looking to pack a little extra punch, both 3” and 3 ½” options are available in #4, #5, and #6 shot, with 1000 FPS, 1050 FPS, and 1200 FPS variants all offered.
How Do They Pattern?
As any turkey hunter is likely well aware, patterns can vary greatly between one gun to the next, with the same being true for differing choke tubes. With that being said, I have patterned both 3” and 3 ½”, #5 variants out of my go-to turkey gun, a Remington 870 Express Super-Mag, with a Primos Jelly Head Choke in .660 constriction.
To say the least, at 40 yards, the patterns from both the 3” and 3 ½” shotshells were devastating. To my surprise, however, the 3” pattern was actually more impressive, with fewer outliers in the pattern than that of the 3 ½” variety. The 3 ½ inch pattern seemed to be “blown” slightly, and could have likely benefited from a less constricted choke.
In all, the patterns from both loads were extremely dense, with little in the way of voids and dead space. From 30 yards and in, a fist-size hole was blown through the center of the pattern, making this perhaps the tightest shooting turkey load that I have utilized to date. At an extended range of 60 yards, the pattern remained dense, looking similar to that which would be expected from a traditional turkey load at half that distance.
In The Field
After spending some time patterning Winchester’s Long Beard XR turkey loads, I decided to take them afield in place of my previous shotshell of choice, Hevi-Shot Magnum Blend. I made this change over three seasons ago, and have yet to find a reason to stray from it.
I have taken several gobblers during this time with the Long Beard XR loads, and so far, they have performed flawlessly, doing everything I have asked and more. During this time, I have taken several turkeys at, or shortly past 40 yards, resulting in clean, quick, and efficient kills in every instance.
Perhaps the most eye-opening experience that I have had while using the Long Beard XR loads took place this past spring.
After an hour-long battle with two stubborn toms that I had thrown everything including the kitchen sink at, I finally had the reluctant birds to a distance that I knew my gun, choke, and shotshell combo was capable of handling, even though the shot was at the far extent of my range.
At the report of the shotgun, one of the two toms went down without so much as a twitch. Upon standing to retrieve my bird, I realized that the shot had been far further than I had previously figured. After stepping off a distance of 64 yards, I realized that despite my inaptitude for judging yardage, the Long Beard XR had done its job superbly.
A Shell That Delivers On Claims
As strongly worded as some of Winchester’s claims were upon the Long Beard XR load’s release, it appears that they were only stating what is factual. At every turn, these shells have not only validated Winchester’s claims, but exceeded them as well.
With a price point far less than its heavier than lead counterparts, and a myriad of available shell and shot sizes, I cannot think of one solitary reason why an individual should not have a turkey vest pocket full of these shells at the ready this spring.