CREAM OF THE CROP:
First off, you'll never consistently nail stand-out trophy toms if they're not in your neighborhood. Big birds don't come easy, and simply put: You need to "feed the beast." Wild turkeys aren't apt to grow to full potential without a solid, nutritious buffet to regularly fill their crops.
Founded less than 5 years ago, The Kentucky Proving Grounds is on the fast track to producing Booner bucks and a flourishing flock of gigantic gobblers. This impressive honey-hole is being built from the ground up—literally—and it all starts in the dirt.
Landowner Terry Hamby relies on robust Eagle Seed food plots to serve his animals the meals they need to flourish. Trouble is, the soil— in its natural clay state—isn't up to par … so Terry and his team make their own. It's called Antler Dirt, and it's filled with a select blend of nutrients, minerals, bacteria and all the other complex stuff that allows plants to yield maximum forage material for the demanding appetites of critters.
Whitetails and turkeys dine on Terry's scrumptious veggies year 'round. This diet allows the bucks to stack more bone on their heads, while the turkeys pack on pounds and put energy into growing long beards and heavy hooks.
The Kentucky Proving Grounds is a shining model of meticulous land management, with wildlife and hunters as the primary beneficiaries. The turkeys at Terry's are living like true kings of spring because their kingdom is ripe with resources.
The other beast you need to feed is your shotgun. My turkey taker was happily digesting the latest spicy addition to the Winchester menu—Long Beard XR. This new load is extremely impressive on paper,but the most stunning results are to be witnessed in the flesh.
Winchester might have actually achieved the pinnacle of lead turkey load performance with Long Beard XR. It all rests on the backbone of a proprietary glue-like substance that Winchester is coining as "Shot-Lok." At its core, the concept is beautifully simplistic: As Long Beard XR shotshells roll down the assembly line, Shot-Lok (in its liquid form) is poured into each shell. Then, the pellets are dumped into this pool of resin and the resin hardens around the pellets, effectively sealing all the tiny gaps between the pellets.
Ammo manufacturers have been loading lead pellets in their shotgun shells for decades. For a variety of reasons, lead as a material is difficult to beat. However, lead has a major downfall in that it's soft. When a lead shotshell goes bang!, the rear end of pellets in the shot column (closest to the primer and gun powder) experience "setback forces." As a result, many of these pellets become deformed—you might commonly call them "flyers." The flyers meddle with the aerodynamics of the shot string as it's sent toward your target. Odd-shaped pellets fly slower (i.e. decrease velocity and thereby penetration) and break up patterns. In Long Beard XR, the pellets are protected during that initial explosion. By the time the wad of shot exits your shotgun barrel, the Shot-Lok has turned to dust and your pattern consists almost entirely of perfectly preserved round pellets.
The result of Winchester's innovations ruthless patterns and penetration.
This load will spell certain death for many long-range limb-hangers. But if you plan to pluck birds from afar, the key is to tweak your turkey gun setup and take part in the necessary practice so that you can reach out to such distances reliably. Don't expect to go into the field without due diligence and shoot a bird at 70 yards—such shots require polished shooting skills and the proper equipment. Long Beard XR is an advanced turkey load, and it should be treated as such. Consider investing in a portable rest and optics, and spend time on the range to ensure your setup is sufficient.
On a similar note, be cognizant of how tight your close-range patterns might be with Long Beard XR. Choke your turkey gun too tightly and you'll likely have little room for error within 20 yards. But if you hit the bird where it counts, the results will be obvious.
Perhaps the most remarkable trait of Long Beard XR doesn't lie in its long range lethality. If you center your turkey hunting game around constant clean kills—and you should—then this load shines. When I spoke with Grant Woods about his opinions of Long Beard XR, he put it best: "Even with a load that's designed to effectively drop birds at a distance, I still expect to shoot most of my birds within 30 yards. So, what really excites me about Long Beard XR is its knockdown power. It's simple: Place your shot in the kill zone and the bird drops immediately—stone dead."
In the end, how one kills a turkey is a personal decision. If it's done legally, ethically and with safety in mind, more power to you.