I love hunting. It’s hard to choose which game I like best: turkey, duck or sheep. But there’s no doubt which animal’s the hardest to harvest. For those of you who have never shot turkey before, it’s all about the calling. When a tom starts responding to your calls, you’re suddenly Dr. Doolittle. You’re having a conversation with another species. It’s all lies, of course . . .
No matter what I’m telling him, I am, in fact, not a lonely hen looking for action. Nor am I a rival tom out to steal his girl. But I’m doing my dead level best to make him think I am.
Some people are born with this gift of trans-species vocal deception. Some must work for years to acquire the acumen. I’ve been practicing for many years and I’m still a long way from being a master turkey caller. Don’t get me wrong. Early in the season on a lonely tom, or pretty much anytime on a jake, I can call them in. But later on, or when they’re surrounded by their harem, I have a hard time getting them to come for a ballistic cuddle.
I try and call-in the toms as close as possible. The “right” distance is subject to a number of variables including equipment, environment, turkey behavior and, of course, skill. It’s never a done deal; any advantage I can find is welcome. Enter Winchester’ Long Beard XR ammo, offering the “longest shot capability of any lead turkey load in history.”
I headed off on my most recent turkey hunt equipped with the 3” 12 gauge version of Winchester’s new ammo, loading into my designated turkey gun (the first shotgun I ever bought): a Krylon’ed up Remington 870 with front and rear Tru-Glo adjustable sights and a Briley extended turkey choke.
I’ve been pretty successful with Remington’s high-velocity turkey loads in the past but I’ve never tried them outside of 30 yards. Shotgun patterns are just as tricky as rifle groups. You have to find the ideal combination of gun, ammunition and choke. So just because Winchester touts 60-yard shots with Long Beard XR ammo doesn’t mean I can get 60-yard shots with my set-up. There’s only one way to know for sure where you’re shooting and how tight your pattern is: get down to the range and try it out.
I set the supplied (classy, Winchester!) turkey target up on the bottom two plates of a dueling tree and backed off 40 yards to one of the many piles of brush I’d recently cut down. Although I didn’t put the shotgun on bags to test the accuracy, I did have a pretty solid rest on the brush. I loaded up three rounds and took a breath. I was a little surprised at what happened next . . .
Even at 40 yards the top plate the target was hanging on slammed over. These plates usually don’t swing with a 115gr 9X19 round at 25 yards. The Winchester Long Beard XR hammered this plate over.
Inspecting the target, I was a little to the right, but the rounds worked as advertised. Pellets riddled the neck and head of the bird. Even though I was a little off, the bird would have been instantly deceased. If I’d been dead on, it would have likely cut the neck in half.
Just for fun, I put a few more rounds into the plates, moving them every time at 40 yards. The recoil was stout, but manageable. There’s no reason a competent shooter can’t go through 10 shells or so to pattern their shotgun without issue.
Moving back to 50 yards was a confidence booster as well. Using the same setup, I tapped the plates hard. They didn’t quite slam over like the 40-yard shots did. Still, plenty of pellets made it into the kill zone, even though I was more than a little high.[ED: so to speak.]
Based on the last rounds terminal location, I aimed at the head at 50 yards, expecting a significant drop. I didn’t get one. Most of my group is right at head level. I put in a few more rounds, and decided that 50 yards was as far as I would take a bird with this combination. Maybe I could have pushed it another 10 yards, but that was getting pretty sketchy. Besides, 50 yards is a whole lot farther than I’ve ever tried to take a bird before.
With the range time out of the way, it was time to bag a bird.
I’d taken a turkey on the first day of the season, but hadn’t had much luck since. There’s a big gobbler on my ranch that I’ve called in a few times but he’s never moved close enough to shoot, even using 50 yards as my outer limit. On one of the last days of the season, on a warm afternoon, I tried one more time to call him in.
I don’t have a turkey blind. I generally just look for a sign, call and sit at the bottom of a tree. I don’t call much, I don’t usually use decoys either. I just sit and wait. That’s the other great thing about turkey hunting. Sitting down in the woods during the springtime in the Texas hill country is never a bad way to pass the time. It’s not exactly wasting time, but almost.
I sat a little closer to the edge of a field where I’d heard him call before. I’ve seen him on the other side of that field, but just never got him to cross it. As usual, I used a laser range finder to note the 50 yard mark all around me using rocks, trees, and bushes. I called that the limit of my shooting. Everything within that line was mine, I just had to get him there.
I called a few times, and then waited. I rarely call more than once every 20 minutes or so, unless I get a call back. Then I’ll work the tom in pretty aggressively until I can actually see him.
About an hour after I sat down — and OK maybe I was sleeping for 30 minutes of that — I heard the first gobble of the afternoon. It came from where I’d heard the big tom before, in some thick trees, far away on the other side of the field. I cut a few times, and he called back, this time a little closer. He was moving my direction. I gave out a few excited yelps as loud as I could, and I waited for him to call back. And kept waiting.
Nothing. Just nothing. No gobbles, no yelps from the tom, no wings dragging the ground, just nothing. Skunked again. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a little movement from behind a log. It was him, and just him. He had walked all the way around me and come up from behind me to my left.
He wasn’t 50 yards away. He was about 15 yards away, looking straight at me. My location was blown. I tried to gently shift to my left to aim. He started walking away. As I swung a little more, he bolted. I fired.
My shot hit him a little low, at the base of the neck. But it stopped him in his tracks at 30 yards away. He was a great looking big tom, nice and heavy with a beard a hair’s width under 11 inches. So I guess the ammo was true to it’s name. I didn’t need a 50-yard shot this time, but it was nice to know I had it if I did.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you an old tom is too tough to eat. After some brining and smoking, the reward is well worth the work, if work is what you want to call it. Store-bought, plastic-wrapped, plumped-up pale meat has nothing on a wild bird.
That was my last turkey hunt of the spring. Fortunately, Texas has fall and spring seasons. I look forward to going after another tom and thinning out a couple of those bearded hens when the light gets a little shorter. I’ll have a new Winchester shotgun to pair with the Long Beard XR. With a bit of luck, I’ll take a tom from further out to prove the ammo’s claims. Watch this space.