Best Shotgun Shells for Turkey Hunting | 3 Factors to Consider

Best Shotgun Shells for Turkey Hunting | 3 Factors to Consider

Every year when we are out there chasing gobblers, we get a bird that hangs up just a little too far away. Sometimes we shoot a bird and don’t get quite enough shot on target, and he ends up getting away. Turkey hunting is frustrating enough, but when you finally find a gobbler, get him to come into your setup, and have a shot opportunity, the last thing you want is for your shells to limit you. So today, we are going to look at what you should be paying attention to when buying shells, and show you a few of our favorite shells too.

turkey carcasses displayed with shotguns on post

Turkeys & Shotguns

Chasing turkeys every year is what many of us live for. There is nothing like hearing a gobble way off, closing the distance, making the perfect set, and calling him in. The last step is taking the gobbler! Some crazy hunters choose to chase turkey with a bow, and my hat is off to them, but the majority of us use a shotgun. 

Historically, shotguns are not that great for long range shooting, but with modern day ammo, we can reach out nearly twice as far as we used to. With the right loads, you can pattern just about any 12 gauge out to 40 yards, and with a little know-how, and the right shells, you can bust birds even farther away.

What's Important When Choosing Shells To Hunt Turkey

Before you buy any old box of shells with a turkey on it, you need to look at a few factors. Of course, the first thing you should look at is the length of the shell, and make sure your shotgun is made for it. The last thing you want to do is shoot a 3 inch magnum load out of a shotgun action that is only rated for 2 ¾ inches.

Tungsten Vs Lead

Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) has been all the rage for the last 5 years or so. This kind of load uses pellets made of tungsten (95% tungsten and 5% nickel) instead of lead or steel. Lead has been used for decades in the woods chasing small game and turkey and over the wetlands where we chase waterfowl. Though it is fully outlawed for waterfowl now, but it can still be used for turkey hunting since it does not have as much of a negative impact in wooded areas as it does in bodies of water.

Tungsten is heavier than lead, and therefore, we can get smaller pellets that weigh the same as lead. That leads to having more pellets in the shell, and creating a heavier load overall. Tungsten shot is fairly good at penetrating too. They also stay in a tighter pattern, letting you shoot further. 

If you are shooting in open fields, a lighter pellet is likely fine. Although if you might need to shoot through a little foliage, a heavier pellet is going to do much better. The size of your shot also factors into how far you can shoot. Lighter shot like #6 will not be reliable at as long of a range as say, #4 shot.

Patterns & Pellet Count

The next thing we want is a good pattern, and to be honest, what my shotgun patterns well with, your shotgun may not. It is a lot like rifles, some rifles just prefer a lighter or heavier grain, and it can differ from gun to gun, even if they are the exact same model. Needless to say, you will need to try out a few different loads to get the absolute best pattern, that is, if you are not okay with a “good enough” pattern out of the first box you buy.

One thing you can look at is pellet count. Depending on the material that the shot is made of, two shells that are otherwise the exact same, can have a vastly different amount of pellets in the shell. With more pellets, you have a denser/better pattern, especially if those pellets are fairly good at penetrating. 


The last thing we will consider (likely the first thing most of us will consider when buying) is the price. Tungsten is by far some of the best ammo out there, but you can easily pay over $12 a shell. Lead shells cost much less than $2 a shell. Steel falls somewhere in the middle. While we may all want the best of the best, you can’t blame a hunter for using some more affordable shells. 

Now that you have a good idea of what we are looking at, let me show you a few examples of our favorite shells. Many of these shells can be found in multiple gauges, so there is something here for everyone.

 Turkey carcass, turkey call and shotguns shells

The Most Powerful Shell For Turkey Hunting - Winchester Double X

Winchester Double X is a shell that has been around for a very long time. It is a copper plated lead pellet that is protected by Grex buffering and does a number on turkeys. You can get the Double X in #4, #5, or #6 shot, and it comes in a 3 inch or 3.5 inch shell. You can also get it in 10, 12, or 20 gauge. This ammo is highly rated in the community, and is a great all around turkey shell that will help you take down a tom past 40.

The Best Long Range Shell For Turkey Hunting - Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS

Now if you want to shoot gobblers as far away as possible, the federal premium heavyweight TSS is the shell you need. Some shotguns can get solid patterns as far away as 60 yards with this load! You can find this load between 7 and 9 shot, and in a 3  or  3.5 inch shell.

The Most Versatile Shell For Turkey Hunting - Federal Premium 3rd Degree

This MeatEater sponsored load is quite unique. The “3rd Degree” portion of the name refers to the 3 stages/shot sizes that come in this pellet. With one trigger pull, you send #5 shot copper plated lead, #6 shot copper and nickel plated lead, and #7 heavyweight TSS down range at the same time. That’s a deadly combination at every range. 

The Most Affordable Shell For Turkey Hunting - Remington Nitro Turkey

This is a shell that is a go-to for many hunters. You can get a box of Remington Nitro Turkey shells in a variety of shot sizes and calibers for around $2 a shell. It shoots hardened lead shot, which they claim is just as hard as copper plated shot. You also get 80% pattern density, which means those pellets are staying on target longer.

Any of these shells will do the trick for you this year, just make sure to remember what we taught you about picking out shells if you go with something that isn't on this list. Goodluck out there!

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