One of the big differences between deer and turkey hunting, at least the way I practice them, is the level of activity. Deer hunts are passive affairs, sitting and waiting for something to come your way. Turkey hunts often start out that way, but if the birds fail to cooperate you can always go out and make something happen.

Those were the instructions given to Stephen Meyer, a new-products engineer for Winchester Ammunition. I recently had an opportunity not only to talk with Meyer, but to test one of his latest efforts under both range and field conditions on an Oklahoma turkey hunt.

Because they’re shooting at a stationary target, turkey hunters want the densest shot pattern possible with the most down-range energy. Standard lead loads will get the job done, but have some inherent albeit minor issues.

Lead is relatively soft. When a shotgun is fired, pressure compresses the pellets and some are deformed, creating what are known as flyers – pellets that diverge from the flight path of the shot string.

Winchester coated lead pellets with copper to make them harder and reduce deformation. It added plastic powder to buffer the shot.

Winchester also developed a better performing, nontoxic alternative to steel shot by using a tungsten alloy. Because it is denser and harder than lead, Winchester’s Supreme Elite Xtended Range loads deliver better patterns and down-range performance. The down side was higher cost, and these loads got even more expensive when the price of raw tungsten quadrupled.

The current price is still not bad when you consider the average turkey hunter may only fire four loads a season – two to pattern his gun and two to fill his tags. All the same, the Winchester folks tasked Meyer with finding a middle ground between their copper-coated, buffered lead and their tungsten loads.

“Make something happen,” they told him.

Meyer came up with the Longbeard XR. Rather than a loose buffer, pellets are added to a liquid resin that fills the empty space in the shot cup, then hardens. The resin effectively shatters into dust, but holds pellets more firmly together through the forcing cone.

Speaking of forcing cones, constriction at the muzzle is a factor in turkey load performance. Winchester also worked with Trulock Chokes to help them design a choke tube specifically for Longbeard loads. Results were impressive.

We tested the loads and choke combination by first patterning them from a bench test. Three-inch loads with No. 5 shot provided lethal patterns out to 60 yards. Ethically, I wouldn’t recommend shooting at a turkey that far away, but the loads will make up for any errors in range estimation at shorter distances.

The loads performed equally well in the field. Several of the birds taken on our hunt were shot at ranges formerly unthinkable in the days of standard lead loads. Again, hunters should err on the conservative side because there are more variables under hunting conditions. Though the choke/load combination is capable of solid performance out to 60 yards under controlled range conditions, I would suggest limiting yourself to just over 40, with a margin of error of 5-10 yards.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]