Supply chain shortages aside, we live in the golden age of turkey hunting ammunition. The integration of tungsten super shot (TSS) into the lineup of longbeard loads has revolutionized the sport immeasurably from those early days of finicky paper shells and fixed chokes.
Tungsten’s incredible payload makes copper-plated lead seem like cheap steel by comparison, and it patterns as densely and purposefully as a swarm of angry hornets. Let’s also not overlook its benefit as a heavy-hitting nontoxic alternative that keeps lead off the landscape. If you can’t tell, I’ve been an advocate from the first time I chambered a TSS load in my old 12 gauge, and I don’t plan on going back.
The mind-boggling ballistics of this tungsten alloy have revealed opportunities with smaller bore shotguns and extended the down-range killing power far beyond what we former lead lovers have grown accustomed to. For me, it’s this latter point that hits a nerve like two hot ounces of #9s, and one that I think turkey hunters need to check when touting the benefits of this trendy element. Just because tungsten loads allow you to kill a turkey at 80 yards doesn’t mean you should.
First, a caveat: I’m of the mindset that hunters need to support one another in the legal and ethical pursuit of game, especially when the anti-hunting community relishes in our infighting. Don’t misinterpret my gripe as a desire to limit opportunities to put white meat on your table. Instead, think of it as airing a pet peeve.
While not widespread, I’ve noticed a concerning trend of one-upmanship in the turkey hunting community involving the lethal range of tungsten shot. Boasting how a load of 7½s crushed a gobbler at 75 yards only peppers our ethics for the benefit of our egos. This technology should enhance our shotgun performance at traditional lethal ranges, not foster a dependency on space-age projectiles to span distances formerly closed with keen woodsmanship and experience. While ballistically possible and perfectly legal to kill a gobbler from across a football field with modern shot, the desire to flex tungsten’s range for sport, in fact, erodes everything sporting about turkey hunting.
Admittedly, I have a tendency toward being a turkey hunting purist, a preference (and perhaps a flaw, depending on one’s perspective) I’ve come to embrace over the years. Consider it a sort of traditional Southern hardwoods mindset set loose in my Merriam’s zip code. For me, turkey hunting is an undeniably intimate sport. That same form of intimacy seeps into the souls of like-minded hunters who bowhunt whitetails or bugle in September bulls, and it’s every bit as addicting. Being close to game is a large part of the appeal.
There’s a reverence for the sound of strutting wings dragging the ground, the full-sensory experience of a close-range drum that rattles your insides, or the richness and transformational complexity of a gobble one can only hear and appreciate a stone’s throw away from its source. None of these treasures are gleaned by touching off a 3-inch shell and folding that tom from halfway across the back 40, even when tungsten technology has made it possible. It’s this piercing intimacy that keeps me guarding my spring calendar year ‘round or smiling at the intrusion of a 3 a.m. wakeup call.
I also rely on TSS for its unquestionable lethality at 30 yards, not for the chance to lob one at him in desperation. Hand-to-hand combat with the wood’s most paranoid prey stokes the turkey hunter's heartfelt adoration for their quarry. When I’ve finally bested him, squeezing the trigger releases a flood of elation stained with remorse for closing the final chapter of my favorite springtime story. While I have a reverence for all game birds, my love for the wild turkey runs deeper. Out of respect, I want his death to be a swift and merciful blow that counters the killing with compassion and softens the otherwise primal nature of hunting wild game. TSS—in all its power—does this exceptionally well.
Spring turkey hunting has always revolved around how close you can bring a gobbler in, not a chest-pounding contest to see who can kill one farthest away, no matter what tools we have at our disposal. At the risk of being flamed, I’ll go so far to profess that if you can’t pull that gobbler in closer than 50 yards, you haven’t yet beaten him. Don’t tarnish that longbeard’s keen survival instinct and mastery of his domain with a desperate poke you wouldn’t have taken in the lead era. Instead, polish up your woodsmanship, fine tune your strategy, and battle him again tomorrow.