First Look: Winchester Longbeard XR Shotshell
September 19, 2013
Editor's Note: When rumors of a top-secret new product hits our desk here at HUNTING it's like someone let loose a bunch of sugared up coonhounds. Once we get on the scent, there's no doubt that we'll get the story. When we learned of Winchester's newest shotshell this spring, editors David Faubion and Ben O'Brien set out to tag team the test. We hope you enjoy the results as much as we enjoyed pulling the trigger.
The Hunt Test — David Faubion
"Cutting edge technology" is an amusing, if not overused, expression associated with top-of-the-line, high performance products. More often than not, this catchphrase simply means the consumer must shell out ridiculous sums for minimal increases in performance.
Which explains my quandary as I sat against gnarly mesquite in central Texas this past April, racking my brain on how Winchester's new Longbeard XR turkey load was so different. As the first rays of light peeked over the horizon and a cacophony of insects hissed and creaked their lonely tunes, my mind kept returning to Brad Criner's key points surrounding this new ammo: unprecedented performance and a lower price point. Huh? Aren't those two mutually exclusive? Is this dude off his meds?
No, Criner doesn't need psych meds, but he is a unique fellow. On one hand, he's a good old Southern boy who likes to chase anything clad in fur, feathers or fins. On the other hand, he serves as Winchester's supremely talented senior product manager for the shotshell and rimfire divisions, which allows him to merge his passion for hunting with an uncanny ability to develop badass new ammo. In recent years, he was the chief architect behind not one or two, but three of the coolest new loads to shake the industry: the hex-shaped shotgun load called Blind Side, the speedy new .17 Winchester Super Magnum rimfire and the eye-opening AA TrAAcker shotshell wad.
And as I awaited flydown that morning in Texas, my shotgun was loaded with his next brainchild, Winchester's Longbeard XR load. Still months away from announcement, the load was very much hush-hush, and Criner wasn't taking any chances on the wrong ears hearing about his new load. In fact, he handed me and two other writers a white box of shells and told us to go kill turkeys. Later on, he promised, we'd find out what made this load different. Despite his impressive street cred, I wondered how Longbeard XR could live up to its hype.
"Pssst. Coyote at two o'clock," my guide Derek whispered.
Peering into the harsh morning sun, I made out the profile of a statue-still coyote eyeing our turkey decoy from 120 yards. Derek cast a few soft purrs at the dog, and he began a catlike sneak in our direction.
I readied my shotgun as he slinked across the field, eyes bulging in anticipation of a tasty meal. At 50 yards, he began to lick his lips like Uncle Bob at an all-you-can-eat buffet. At 35 yards, however, he realized something wasn't quite right.
But it was too late. My Benelli boomed, sending a Longbeard XR payload of No. 4s into his vitals. He crumpled on impact. While it wasn't a longbeard, the load performed perfectly, and I had my first kill with Longbeard XR.
The next day, after Criner showed us the intricacies of the remarkable new load, I did the same thing to a mature gobbler at 25 yards. The results were the same, but as we all know hunting situations don't often make the most fertile testing ground. I knew for sure it would kill birds and I had to know more, so I took the rest of the shotshells in that nondescript white box to the Petersen's Hunting office to let my cohorts get a look at Criner's brainchild.
The Range Test — Ben O'Brien
When Faubion returned to the office with his tales of long(er) range turkey loads, I just sat back comfortably in my office chair and smirked. It seemed to me that Winchester's newest creation was an all-out oxymoron. Of course, we all want to be able to knock down that bird at 60 yards when he hangs up outside the deeks. In the past the solution was to let him hang or pop a shot and hope for a few magic pellets. Apparently that was all about to change.
Unlike other shotshell advancements, what makes Longbeard XR so remarkable isn't the wad or the pellets. Rather, what makes this load unique is what we can comfortably call a revolutionary new substance — Winchester's "Shot-Lok."
But Shot-Lok wasn't the genesis of this project. It was the solution, a way to bridge the gap. The initial problems Criner and company were trying to solve with Long Beard were threefold: Introduce a reliable long range turkey load to the market, present that extended range at the price of an affordable lead load and produce a viable replacement for the high-cost tungsten pellets currently on the market.
Through the years of testing came the Shot-Lok resin solution, a liquid that is poured into the shot cup before the pellets are inserted. When poured the shot migrates throughout the liquid, and the whole mixture is allowed to harden and cure. The Shot-Lok now completely surrounds the pellets and the shot column is purged of all air. A shot disc is then added and the shell is rolled and crimped.
OK, now we've got a load with plated lead shot locked tight in some weird space-age goop. What's the point?
This is where I needed Criner to step in and simplify chemical composition, aerodynamics and setback forces. So, I asked him to go all Bill Nye the Science Guy on me — as a writer I'm certainly not prone to science or math.
The breakdown he gave was simple in its complexity. Upon ignition, the Shot-Lok resin fractures forming a micro buffer, essentially a powder that surrounds the front of the load and protects the shot during in-bore acceleration. Picture it like a group of sumo wrestlers standing in a long line. The first big boy starts pushing on the second with the others following suit. Soon, the force of every wrestler is pushing on the last few guys in line. Now picture those last round sumo dudes as lead pellets and imagine the forces applied to the last 20 percent or so of the pellet payload. Those forces are what deform and destroy the shot, causing those pellets to be less than aerodynamic. These are what we all call flyers, pellets that don't contribute to a dense, uniform pattern at longer ranges.
With setback forces now eliminated because of the Shot-Lok buffer, the entire shot column remains round, allowing for more pellets on target at 40, 50 or 60 yards.
Presto, science explained.
With the confidence that I got the science and the expected result, it was range time. In our test box we had a selection of 3-inch 12-gauge loads in both No. 5 and No. 6 shot. Winchester's engineers said that the shells filled with No. 5 contained approximately 311 pellets, and the No. 6 contained approximately 405 pellets cased in Shot-Lok.
Our goal was to get at least 50 percent of those pellets on paper at 60 yards on a 12-by-12-inch square using an extra-full turkey choke. The other goal was ensuring that these loads didn't produce too tight of a pattern at normal hunting ranges (30 yards).
At 30 yards, things went as expected. The No. 5 shot covered the target with a dense pattern similar to many of the magnum turkey loads I'd shot before. About 80 percent of the pattern was contained within the target width, showing few flyers and a great pellet to square inch ratio. Next test.
At 60 yards I ran into a bit more of a real challenge. The first shot I let loose provided a sparse pattern at best. There was no need to even count the pellets. I knew I had made some kind of mistake, and set off to ensure all of the variables were taken care of. After checking the target and the hold, I couldn't figure it out. Decidedly perplexed, I just got back behind the gun and sent another Shot-Lok filled shell downrange. This time it was a hit — a big hit. The target board bounced on impact and dust and wood flew. I immediately imagined that being a turkey's dome, it's safe to say he would have been sandwich meat.
At 60 yards, the payload was still kind of light with only a little over half the pellets making contact with the 12x12 square, but that's almost twice as much as Winchester's Double X High-Velocity turkey loads — about the same performance of the High-Velocity at 40 yards.
After shooting a bit more just for fun, I was convinced, but also aware of the load's and the shooter's limitations.
As Winchester's engineers say, aim diligently or use more open choke when hunting in situations where close encounters are probable. For the longer ranges, make sure you get comfortable with this load and test until you're confident and proficient.
Other than that, Criner and Winchester were right. This shotshell is revolutionary for hunters and bad news for long beards.