Ammo Review: Winchester Long Beard XR Turkey Loads

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When Winchester announced their new Long Beard XR turkey loads a couple of months back, they made a very specific claim about their latest galliform gouging shells. Thanks to their new Shot-Lok pellet packing idea, they claimed that their shot stays rounder coming out of a smoothbore than standard loose-packed loads. But they didn’t stop there. They also claimed that because of Shot-lok, Long Beard “offers the tightest patterns and longest shot capability of any lead turkey load in history—with twice the pellets in a 10” circle out to 60 yards compared to traditional lead loads.” I’m no ammo reviewer. I’ll leave blending batches of ballistic gelatin, examining shot deformation and measuring penetration distances to experts like Shooting the Bull. But when it comes to an easily verifiable claim like “twice the pellets in a 10″ circle,” I’m just the idiot to give it a try.

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And there you have the secret to Long Beard XR’s purported success. Shot-Lok’d shot. The wizards of Winchester don’t just plop their pellets into a shell with some powder and a wad like everyone else. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, they had a better, V8 forehead-slapping epiphany. Like an insect preserved in amber, they decided to encase their shot in resin. Picture your aunt Joan’s banana grape Jell-o surprise that she brings to Thanksgiving dinner every year and you’ll get the general idea.

But why, you ask? What does petrifying copper-coated lead shot do? Well, when the primer goes bang and the powder goes boom, the resin shatters and the resulting residual powdered resin forms a protective barrier around each pellet. No really. Winchy says that accomplishes two things; 1) it keeps their shot from clanking around, knocking into the wad and becoming deformed before it leaves the muzzle of the gun, and 2) the resultant rounder shot means tighter, more accurate patterns.

One of the first things I noticed about the Long Beards is their size. Since the rounds they sent me are apparently early runs meant for testing and evaluation purposes, they let it be known they’d prefer I didn’t photograph them because they hadn’t been tube-stamped like the stuff you buy over the counter will be. Normally I would, of course, have complied with their request. So let me first convey my deepest apologies to everyone in the greater Alton, Illinois area for the following photos.

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I had to include this shot because, as you can see, the Long Beard shell – these are all #4s – is, well, longer than competing 3″ loads by Remington (1/8″) and Hornady (3/16″). The extra length is apparently necessary to accommodate the volume of the Shot-Lok resin, a fact that may interest only me. I can hear you mumbling a question at your screen and no, I had no trouble at all cycling any of the rounds tested through my 3″ chambered scattergun.

And then there’s the crimping. Winchester isn’t closing the top of the shell on a bunch of loose shot when they manufacture Long Beards. Instead, they pour the resin in, then some shot and let things set. So rather than using a traditional crimp, Winchester pops on a solid plastic top with channels molded in to allow it to split when fired. You have to figure this non-conventional process not only costs more, but takes longer too and is reflected in the retail price. More on that later.

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Anyway, Winchester kindly sent three flavors of Long Beard (and some species-appropriate targets) for me to try, numbers 4, 5 and 6. So to put the new wunder-loads to the test, I bought two boxes of competing turkey loads in each size for a steel cage ballistic death match.

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Ammo in hand, I packed up my trusty Mossy 930 along with a shiny new Trulock turkey choke and traipsed out to the Busch Shooting Range in Defiance, Mo. to take advantage of their patterning range. Read ‘em and weep:

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#4 at 20 yards, Long Beard (L), Hornady (C), Remington (R)

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#4 at 40 yards, Long Beard (L) Hornady (C) Remington (R)

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#5 at 20 yards, Long Beard (L) Winchester (C) Remington (R)

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#5 at 40 yards Long Beard (L) Winchester (C) Remington (R)

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#6 at 20 yards, Long Beard (L) Hornady (C) Remington (R)

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#6 at 40 yards, Long Beard (L) Hornady (C) Remington (R)

Again, Winchester says their tighter pattern/more shot in a 10″ circle claim holds out as far as 60 yards. The bummer is the range I was using only goes out as far as 40 yards. Still, I think the results are good enough to draw some conclusions.

My first takeaway is, if I ever actually go turkey hunting, there’s no way in hell I’m buying any Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey loads. Whether my particular gun/choke combo doesn’t like them or because they’re just awful, it’s obvious that – especially at longer distances – the Hornadys just don’t put enough pellets on the target. And yes, I’m aware that the Hornadys have a little less shot (1 3/4 oz. for the Long Beards vs. 1 1/2 oz. for the Heavy Magnums) but that small difference doesn’t account for how amazingly sparse the Hornady patterns were at 40 yards.

But back to the real story. To test Winchester’s claim, I needed to tote up the number of hits. Given how tight the patterns were for all the rounds at 20 yards, I figured that counting the shot on the 40-yard targets would be the most meaningful. Just about anything you feed your smoothbore ought to kill ol’ Tom at 20 yards.

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I selected the best-performing competitor at each shot size. And to compensate for my sometimes questionable aim, I drew my own 10″ circle from what appeared to be the center of the pattern on each target. Then I gridded them out, took off my shoes and socks and commenced to counting. Here’s what I came up with:

 

Long Beard XR

Remington Premier Magnum

#4 at 40 yards

94

83

Long Beard XR

Winchester Super-X

#5 at 40 yards

135

74

Long Beard XR

Remington Nitro Turkey

#6 at 40 yards

220

120

Now if you look at my pathetic #4 target at 40 yards, above, you can see that I probably didn’t give the Long beards a fair shake. Translation: I barely hit the side of the barn on which the target was hung. So I’m thinking it’s fair to throw that one out. Be that as it may, based on the results for the #5 and #6 targets, sure enough, just about twice the Long Beard pellets hit my 10″ circles compared to the competing loads.

And that’s not all. While I didn’t tote up the hits on the 20-yard targets (all the hits look lethal as hell), check ‘em out, above. The #4 and #5 targets show clearly tighter, more giblet-perforating patterns than the competitors. The only load where the Long Beard was bested was the #6 at 20 yards. The Remington Nitro Turkey clearly looks to have done better at that distance. Though as the 40-yard comparison for the same ammo shows, the Long Beard XR was almost twice as good as the Nitro at the longer range.

So what does all this mean? I think it’s fair to say that Winchester’s claim that their Shot-Lok’d shells make for tighter groups at longer distances – more holes in your gobbler – isn’t just a load of marketing malarkey. If you plan on lying in wait to blast your own Thanksgiving dinner this year, a box of Long Beard XR loads seems like a good way to go. But what will this new exotic round run you?

For reference, I bought all of my competing ammo on line through Cabela’s. Here’s what it cost me before shipping:

Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey #4 – $13.99
Remington Premier Magnum Copper Plated Turkey Loads #4 – $15.99
Winchester Super X Magnum Turkey #5 – $10.99
Remington Hi-Velocity Magnum Copper-Plated Turkey #5 – $15.99
Hornady Heavy Magnum Turkey #6 -  $13.99
Remington Nitro Turkey Loads #6 – $9.99 each

Cabela’s price for 3-inch Long Beards is $18.99 so you’re definitely looking at more bucks for your bang for the new stuff. But if that means a better chance for a clean kill at greater distances, a few extra samolians seems a small price to pay.

Specifications:

Gauge: 12
Length: 3 inches (3 1/2 inch loads available, too)
Sizes: #4-6
Loads: 3″ – 1 1/2 oz. (3 1/2″ – 2 oz.)
Price: 3″ – $18.99 (3 1/2″ – $22.99)

 

Ratings (out of five stars):

Pattern: * * * * *

In almost every case tested, the Long Beard XR loads clearly resulted in tighter, more lethal patterns, particularly at longer distances.

Value: * * * *

Yes, they’ll cost you more for a box of ten shells than competing copper-plated loads. But unless you’re sure you’re going to be shooting from almost bad breath distance to your would-be dinner, the Long Beards give you a better chance of making a clean kill.

Overall * * * * 1/2

Again, I’m not a turkey hunter. And even with the Long Beard XRs, I’m not sure of the ethical advisability of pulling the trigger if you’re 60 yards away. But given the fact that judging your distance out in the bush can be tricky, as long as your aim is true, Long Beards would seem to give you a better chance at a clean kill than any of the other brands I tested. Save the dark meat for me.