By Chris Benfield

Spring has sprung here in Idaho and the only thing on my mind is waiting in ambush for a Longbeard Merriam! I have already started the usual preparations; getting camo and decoys together, scouting the area I intend to hunt and practicing calling in the truck on my way into work.

The only thing left was settling on a choke and shot combination that would allow enough legs for a long shot.

Winchesters Longbeard XR

I am no stranger to these shells. Back in 2013 when the supply of Xtended Range Winchesters dried up I found myself needing something fast. I tried others but Longbeard hit the mark (all pun intended) not only in performance but price ($18.99 for 10).

The Longbeard XR employs Shot-Lok technology, allowing Winchester to deliver performance on par or better than that of hi-density shells that cost twice as much. If you’re interested in the technology behind Shot-Lok have a look at Winchesters site.

This coming turkey season I thought I would try an experiment. Three different shot sizes (#4, 5, 6) and three different chokes of varying constriction.

All three flavors of Longbeard would be in 12ga, 3inch, and 1 3/4oz shot at a rated 1200fps for consistency. The chokes used range in price from $25.00 to $60.00.

At the low end, HS Strut Undertaker XTHD choke with a .675-inch constriction. This choke is popular with my friends who shoot Heavy-shot and have killed several birds at 40+ yards.

Next is my reliable Kicks Gobblin Thunder with .665-inch constriction. I have used this choke for the last three years and have reliably killed birds out to 60 yards with it. The only downside is that the porting makes one wish earmuffs in the turkey woods were “in style”.

Lastly, Carlson’s Longbeard with a .660-inch constriction. This choke was designed to work with Winchester Longbeard XR. It has a stepped constriction that Carson claims reduces shot strings and pellet deformation. Carlson also claims 182 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yds. using #6 loads.

Testing Time

Early one morning I headed out to local BLM land with my trusty Remington 870, 10″ pie plates, and a Caldwell Lead Sled. My trusty pump has never failed to drop what it points at but, shooting upwards of 30 shot in one sitting caused me to reconsider “sucking it up”. The shotgun is equipped with a 2.5 power fixed scope from BSA that would be at home on a deer slug gun, in this application it allows for precise aim and not too much magnification.

Testing procedures called for shooting each pellet size with each choke. A spotter was fired ensuring the center of the shot group was regulated to point of aim at 40 yards. A fresh white paper plate with a black dot in the center was attached to the target frame, and three shots from either #4, 5, or 6 shot were discharged into it. At which point the plate would be removed from the target backer, marked with the size shot and choke used and a new target attached.

This process was repeated until all but one of the combinations had been tested (more on that later).

I am sure there are a few questions as to why 3 shots were taken at each target. This was done to ensure that variance from shot to shot could be accounted. I.E. Me screwing something up.

Back at home the number of pellets that struck each plate were counted and divided by 3 to get the average number of pellets per shot.  Using the standard weights of lead shot for each shot size, an educated guess at the number of pellets obtained in each shell was determined.

This information and the average number of pellets to strike the 10″ plate was used to determine the percentage of pellets that were delivered to the target area at 40 yards. This information accounts for the difference in pellet count between shot sizes and gives an honest assessment of performance.


Once the numbers were crunched the winner was an actual shock. The Undertaker choke coupled with Longbeard #4’s produced 47% of the total pellet load on target an average of 109 pellets. This barely beat the Carlson and #6 shot combination at 46% and a massive 176 pellets. Kicks choke had a respectable showing producing its best result with #5’s. 43%of the pellets in the shot and a 127-pellet average will surely knock any redheaded-feathered friend off his spurs.

Things To Consider

None of the top performing combinations would fail to cleanly kill at 40 yards. There are however tradeoffs for each.

The #4 shot offers twice the mass per pellet compared to #6 and would deliver more punch at 50 plus yards. The downside is that while 109 pellets is a great result, the reality is that this could leave gaps at the far end of the range (60+ yards). #5 shot offers probably the best of both worlds giving you 20% more pellets on target and enough grunt to kill at extended ranges.  If you limit your range to around 40 yards and you want to hear your taxidermist curse about having to find a donor head for your bird the Carlson choke and #6’s will deliver. While the Undertaker with #4’s was a surprise, the consistent performance of the Carlson with all three shot sizes hints that there must be something to the technology used.

If any luck holds- results from field-testing will follow. Good luck and good hunting! 

Let us know what you are shooting and if you are having similar results by commenting below.

Posted by Chris Benfield