Is TSS Really the Best Turkey Load?

Is TSS Really the Best Turkey Load?
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A generation ago, a turkey gun was simply the best gun you owned, and turkey loads were the same lead shotshells used during pheasant season. Specialized turkey shotguns, featuring shorter barrels and stocks with Picatinny rails for mounting red dots, didn’t exist at the time. Nor did production loads of tungsten super shot, known more commonly at TSS. Some hunters have hand-loaded TSS at their reloading benches for years, but large ammo houses such as Federal Premium or Remington only started making TSS turkey loads within the last decade.

Today, TSS turkey loads are widely popular due to their 18 g/cc density, which allows ammunition manufacturers to load more, smaller pellets that retain energy longer than any other shot type. But TSS is expensive, costing as much as $20 per shotshell. So, turkey-specific lead offerings remain popular due to their affordability (around $2 per shell or less) and effectiveness at reasonable distances.

I wanted to find out how traditional upland loads, like lead No. 4s and 6s my father and uncles hunted turkeys with, perform against TSS to see if spending all that money on tungsten is really worth it.

What Is TSS?

TSS is a non-toxic tungsten composite from China. It’s very hard, so it must be loaded with the same kind of wads used in steel offerings to protect shotgun bores from damage. Because TSS is so hard, it will exit the muzzle of a shotgun virtually undeformed, which results in higher pattern percentages. Lead (11.3 g/cc) is a soft metal, so all the pellets will not remain perfectly round once the shell is fired. Due to its 18 g/cc density, TSS should retain more energy at the target and has more penetration potential than any other shot type. Its high density also allows for a smaller-diameter pellet to be as effective as a lower-density, larger pellet. For example, a No. 7 or 8 TSS pellet is equivalent to No. 4 lead.

Testing TSS against Lead

To see how TSS stacked up against lead, I patterned three different tungsten loads—Hevi-Shot Hevi-18, Fiocchi Golden Turkey, and Salt Creek Cold Turkey—through a 12-gauge Remington 870 Fieldmaster paired with a Carlson’s Longbeard XR .660 constriction choke at 30 and 40 yards on 35”x35” butcher paper. Then, I shot two traditional lead offerings—Federal Wing-Shok and Prairie Storm—plus Winchester Longbeard XR, a lead turkey load, using the same platform and at the same distances.

Once the shooting was complete, I found the core of each pattern, drew a 10-inch circle around it, and counted the number of pellet strikes. Since I shot each load five times, I averaged the number of pellets per shotshell and also recorded the best overall pattern. The results of my testing are in the charts below.

Pattern Results at 30 Yards

Shot Type Length Shot Size Charge Weight Total Pellet Count 5-Shot Avg. Best Pattern Pattern %
Hevi-18 3” 9 2-oz 717 421 430 59%
Fiocchi Golden Turkey 3” 9 1⅝-oz 583 399 415 68%
Salt Creek 3” 9 2-oz 717 438 446 61%
Longbeard XR 3” 5 1¾-oz 301 243 252 80%
Wing-Shok 2¾” 4 1¼-oz 169 87 98 51%
Prairie Storm 3” 6 1⅝-oz 363 166 171 46%

Pattern Results at 40 Yards

Shot Type Length Shot Size Charge Weight Total Pellet Count 5-Shot Avg. Best Pattern Pattern %
Hevi-18 3” 9 2-oz 717 194 204 27%
Fiocchi Golden Turkey 3” 9 1⅝-oz 583 148 154 25%
Salt Creek 3” 9 2-oz 717 196 203 27%
Longbeard XR 3” 5 1¾-oz 301 121 125 40%
Wing-Shok 2¾” 4 1¼-oz 169 46 49 27%
Prairie Storm 3” 6 1⅝-oz 363 68 72 19%

What the Pattern Tests Show

The pattern work speaks for itself. If you have the discipline to shoot turkeys inside 30 yards, the traditional upland loads—Wing-Shok and Prairie Storm—will suffice. But once you stretch them out to 40 yards, the pattern percentages and number of pellets that impact inside a 10” circle drop off dramatically.

Each load of TSS performed well at both distances, as did Longbeard XR. In some cases, the TSS offerings put more than three times the number of pellets on target at 30 yards than the traditional upland shotshells. Looking strictly at pellet strikes, the Salt Creek load had the best pattern of the test at 30 yards, placing 446 No. 9s inside the 10” circle. Compare that with the Wing-Shok 4’s 98 pellets inside the circle and you are looking at a difference of 348 pellets. Wing-Shok is capable of anchoring a gobbler at 30 yards, but you’re leaving a lot of pellet strikes on the table if you choose traditional lead offering over TSS.

In-the-Field Results

Patterning your shotgun is extremely important, but field experience is valuable, too. Having shot lead, Hevi-Shot (12 g/cc), and TSS on turkeys, there’s no denying that the tungsten loads are superior. They are also beneficial to inexperienced hunters, who don’t know as much about judging distance in the excitement of a spring turkey hunt as a seasoned hunter might.

A few years ago, I was hunting Merriam’s in Wyoming with friends. Prior to that, I had only hunted Easterns in tight cover, so most shots were never more than 30 yards. But when the bird flew down on my Wyoming hunt, he had to walk more than 200 yards in a wide open flat between two mountains in order to get to us. Having never seen a turkey come from that far away, I misjudged the distance when I took the shot. The turkey died after a follow-up shot, but when I walked it off, the tom was more than 50 paces away from where I was sitting.

Fortunately, I was shooting a round of Federal Heavyweight TSS No. 7/9 blend. From previous pattern testing, I knew that it performed well at extended ranges, and decided to use it in case such a scenario played out on the Wyoming hunt. I doubt either of the traditional lead loads in this test would have anchored that bird, which would have been disappointing considering our group had logged 15 miles of hiking the day prior without hearing a single gobble.

TSS Gives You a Buffer That Lead Does Not

There are hunters who laud TSS because it can kill turkeys at a distance. But you shouldn't set out to kill a gobbler at extended ranges. TSS’s two best qualities are that it puts more pellets on target and retains energy better than any other shot type. This gives you more room for error than if you are shooting lead–no matter the distance.

It is expensive, but you’re not shooting pallets of TSS. Hopefully, you only need a single shot after the pattern work is done. And when you are taking time away from work and family to scout, paying for gas and licenses, and waking up early to beat the competition to the best spots, it makes sense to give yourself the best opportunity to tag out. That’s why, for many hunters, spending the extra cash on TSS makes sense.

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