Spring turkey season is right around the corner, and if a quick check of your gun safe reveals a lack of top-notch turkey ammo, the time to visit your local sporting goods store is now! But what should you buy?
Fact: Shotgun ammo designed specifically for killing gobblers isn’t cheap. But do you get what you pay for? Or are you just fine shooting at turkeys with leftover duck, goose or pheasant shells from last fall?
To find some answers, we picked the ballistically-inclined brain of Federal Premium Product Manager Mike Holm. Specifically, we wanted to know more about the company’s 3rd Degree turkey ammo. Listen to his advice and you might find yourself celebrating a quick, clean kill instead of cursing a miss – or worse.
OHUB: What was the No. 1 goal when designing 3rd Degree?
Holm: Most modern turkey loads have evolved to pattern more tightly and reach farther. As a result, most loads perform more like a shotgun slug at close range – which sometimes leads to missed birds. When we set out to create a new turkey load, we kept this problem in the forefront of our minds. The result is 3rd Degree, a load specifically crafted to cover any situation a hunter might face. Its stacked combination of three different types and sizes of shot results in a turkey hunter’s dream ammo – one load that works at all distances, from extremely close to extended range, plus everything in between.
OHUB: How did 3rd Degree get its name?
Holm: Its name represents its three stages of payload. Each stage is made up of different types of shot, which are different sizes and different densities. This variety combines to create optimal patterns for three ranges – close, mid and long.
OHUB: OK, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. Explain the recipe for the load.
Holm: The payload is a mix of FLITESTOPPER lead, copper-plated lead and our high-performance HEAVYWEIGHT alloy. Our specialized FLITECONTROL wad is also utilized to maximize the flight characteristics of all three shot types. And like all shotshells in our Federal Premium lineup, it uses top-notch hulls, a superior crimp, brass-plated steel heads, consistent powder and an ultra-dependable primer. We also color printed the 3rd Degree logo on the hull because some hunters like to use spent shells as part of a turkey beard display.
OHUB: You said 3rd Degree works well at close range. How?
Holm: The leading section of 3rd Degree’s payload – 20 percent of the total pellet count – is made up of No. 6 nickel-plated FLITESTOPPER lead pellets, the same used in our popular Prairie Storm pheasant loads. This unique shape and the fact the pellets release from the wad first cause them to disperse quickly and create a larger effective pattern inside of 20 yards than standard loads, even when using aftermarket turkey chokes. FLITESTOPPER pellets also have a distinctive cutting ring that creates a massive wound cavity through tissue, and crushes bone to ensure a deadly close-range pattern.
OHUB: Most turkeys hunters pull the trigger when birds are between 20 and 40 yards; how does it perform within that range?
Holm: Loaded behind the FLITESTOPPER pellets (making up the next 40 percent of the payload) is a layer of Premium copper-plated No. 5 lead shot, which creates a dense, even pattern at moderate ranges. This is the same type of shot that powers our popular Federal Premium Mag-Shok turkey line. Copper-plated pellets are ideal for the most common turkey-hunting situations where decoys are placed at 20 yards or closer, while still performing well out to 40 yards.
OHUB: You knew this question was coming – how does 3rd Degree handle long-range scenarios?
Holm: For far-out birds, the load contains ultra-dense HEAVYWEIGHT shot to deliver a consistent, long-distance punch. This is the final 40 percent of 3rd Degree’s pellet count. The tungsten-iron material’s high density (35 percent denser than lead) gives the No. 7 shot more penetration energy and velocity than No. 5 lead at 40 yards. Plus, the smaller shot size results in a higher pellet count and more hits on target. There are 339 pellets in 3-inch 3rd Degree shell versus to 297 in a comparable No. 5 lead load. The resulting velocity and penetration energy has what it takes to fill tags at 50 yards and beyond. And don’t forget, the entire payload of 3rd Degree is maximized by Federal Premium’s exclusive FLITECONTROL wad, which stays with the shot column longer for even, reliable patterns at greater distances.
OHUB: Several times you’ve mentioned the FLITECONTROL wad. What exactly is it?
Holm: Federal Premium Black Cloud waterfowl loads put FLITECONTROL on the map. Unlike conventional wads, the FLITECONTROL wad opens from the rear to stay with the shot column longer. Combined with specialized payloads (such as the one in 3rd Degree), the system results in a pattern that’s tailor-made for specific situations. Today you’ll also find the FLITECONTROL wad combined with shot to match it in our personal defense buckshot loads, pheasant loads and many of our other turkey loads.
OHUB: You obviously must have tested the heck out of this load at the range before bringing it to the market. Can you share some results?
Holm: An ideal turkey load will put 80 pellets in a 10-inch circle, with at least 10 pellets in the kill zone. Our testing of the 3-inch load at 40 yards revealed that 3rd Degree delivers approximately 95 pellets in a 10-inch circle, with more than 20 pellets in the head and neck. At 50 yards, the average pellet in the 10-inch circle dropped to 65 pellets, yet there were still 10 or more pellets where it counts. That said, we know 3rd Degree isn’t going to win any long-range patterning contests, but that’s fine by us. We didn’t set out to create the ultimate long-range load. Instead, we focused our efforts on what hunters really need: a load that kills turkeys more effectively through a realistic range spectrum of 10 yards to 50 yards, perhaps a touch farther.
OHUB: Let’s talk close range; how does 3rd Degree look on a 10-yard target?
Holm: Again, the FLITESTOPPER lead portion of the payload spreads quickly. Our factory testing has shown effective patterns to be 60 percent larger than comparable lead loads at 10 yards. As the photo below shows, the first test target is shot with our 3-inch 3rd Degree load. For comparison, the second test target is shot with a No. 5 lead turkey load. Both shots were taken using a Mossberg 930 semiauto with a 24-inch barrel and extra-full turkey choke. You can see the 3rd Degree has much more wiggle room due to its wider, close-range pattern.
OHUB: How does 3rd Degree look on paper at longer distances?
Holm: The No. 7 HEAVYWEIGHT and No. 5 Premium copper-plated lead portions of the 3rd Degree payload create dense, high-energy patterns at long range. At 50 yards, 3rd Degree puts 69 percent more pellets in a 10 inch circle than comparable lead turkey loads. This test is based on a five-shot average of patterning targets shot with the 3-inch load through a Mossberg 930 with a 24-inch barrel and extra-full turkey choke.
OHUB: Shooting into ballistic gel often reveals more than shooting into paper. Any interesting findings?
Holm: At close range, the farthest outside edges of the pattern were FLITESTOPPER pellets. And you could definitely see that these pellets produced impressive damage to the gel. At extended long range, the majority of the pellets, more than 60-percent, were HEAVYWEIGHT pellets. This is because HEAVYWEIGHT remains at the pattern’s core due to its density and resistance to deformation. The gel test proved the different types of shot did the jobs they were intended to do.
OHUB: The National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) logo appears on the edge of the box. Why?
Holm: Many hunters know Federal Premium is a long-time supporter of turkey restoration. The company continues this effort with 3rd Degree through an on-box ammunition royalty program. For every box sold, Federal Premium donates a portion of the proceeds to the NWTF’s habitat and education programs.
OHUB: Give a quick recap on 3rd Degree offerings.
Holm: 3rd Degree is available in five-count boxes. In 12 gauge, we offer a 3-inch, 1 3/4-ounce load, and a 3 1/2-inch, 2-ounce load. For turkey hunters who prefer 20 gauge, you can get 3rd Degree in a 3-inch, 1 7/16-ounce load. Give it a try this spring. I think you’ll be impressed.
Editor’s note: A quick check of the Cabela’s website shows a sale right now on Federal Premium 3rd Degree ammo. Click here to check it out!