There are few certainties in turkey hunting, but among them are you can’t kill a turkey sitting in camp, and sooner or later you’re going to miss. The remedy for the first is fairly simple: get out in the woods. To possibly prevent the second, we need to look at why we occasionally miss.

First there’s the close miss. Sometimes we let birds get too close; sometimes they find a way to get in tight before we have a shot. Either way, it’s quite possible to accomplish a clean miss with a shotgun on a turkey that’s well within bow range. You can blame it on your equipment, but it’s ultimately your fault.

For years, ammo makers have strived to extend the effective range or turkey loads, ultimately developing versions that hold a lethal pattern out to 50 yards. To do so, they’ve occasionally had to sacrifice. If the pattern is tight at 50 yards, it’s going to be super tight at 15 and under, where aiming just off target could result in a clean miss.

Fortunately those shots are the exception rather than the rule. Most turkeys are shot between 15 and 35 yards. That leaves hunters to decide on the most effective shot size.

You can choose the heavier knockdown power of size-4 shot or the higher pellet count and denser pattern of 6s. I typically split the difference and go with 5 shot, at least when using traditional lead loads. Some companies use copper-plated lead to produce tighter patterns and achieve greater pellet penetration.

If you miss here, it’s your fault. Perhaps you didn’t pattern your gun before the season. Guns shoot loads differently, and you should try several to see which provides the best pattern in your gun. You should also make sure whatever sights you’re using are dialed in properly.

The third area, and probably where most birds are missed, is at longer ranges. I like to get my birds inside 30 yards. If you can do that you’ve won, whether you ultimately knock down a bird or not. But some folks can’t resist those longer shots, or can’t get their birds in closer.

It’s for them that ammo manufacturers have made the greatest advances. By using some combination of irregularly shaped shot, heavier alloys, and wads that hold the shot string longer in flight, they’ve created loads that hold a tight pattern at formerly inconceivable ranges. Heavier-than-lead alloys also allow you to use a smaller shot size and gain a denser pattern at longer distances.

But finding a load that’s most effective at short, medium or long range sometimes means sacrificing one for another. Turkey hunters need a load that patterns at all three ranges.

I recently hunted turkeys in Oklahoma with Adam Moser, a design engineer with Federal Premium. After the first morning, I asked him about the concept behind Federal’s new 3rd Degree turkey load. “It utilizes a three-stage payload,” Moser said. The first 20 percent of the payload consists of irregularly shaped number 6 nickel-plated Flitestopper lead pellets, designed to spread out quicker at close range. “That gives you a more open, effective pattern at close range.”

The next 40 percent are number 5 copper-plated lead, for those mid-range shots. That’s followed by another 40 percent of number 7 Heavyweight shot. “It’s a tungsten-iron pellet so it retains greater down-range energy and velocity than number 5 lead pellets,” said Moser. And the smaller shot size means more pellets and a denser pattern. Additionally, Federal uses a Flitecontrol wad that opens from the rear and stays with the shot column longer than conventional wads.

Over the hunt, we witnessed the 3rd Degree’s effectiveness at both extremes, my bird falling inside 15 yards and Adam’s at 47 paces. Several other hunters in our group fared equally well in the middle range. Given those results, I’d say the 3rd Degree provides a lethal load whether the birds are on top of you, just inside the limit of your effective range, or anywhere between.

A portion of the proceeds from 3rd Degree shells will go to the National Wild Turkey Federation. For more information on Federal Premium, go to

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

[email protected]

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