March 30, 2023
By Dale Evans
Whether it’s working on my calling, learning new e-scouting techniques to locate potential hunting ground, or reevaluating my kit and finding the best new gear available, I try to find ways to improve my turkey hunting skillset every season. This year, I decided to try out a variety of different choke tubes—an easily overlooked tool in the turkey hunter’s arsenal—to find out which one functioned the best. Let’s face it, that overpriced box of super-charged TSS won’t mean anything if the pellets aren’t patterning appropriately.
Whether you’re shooting the latest and greatest TSS load or an old classic 3-inch with lead #5s, you need those pellets flying in a lethal pattern. For this test, I took seven of the top chokes on the market and put them head-to-head against each other. The test: Three shots through each choke tube with three different loads (one shot from each). The test gun is my tried-and-true 12-gauge Benelli Super Nova that’s been with me across the country on many a turkey hunt. Winchester’s Longbeard XR #5, Federal’s Heavyweight TSS #9 and HEVI-SHOT HEVI-18 Turkey #9 seemed to be appropriate loads to test as they—or similar loads—are commonly used by many turkey hunters. Atop the shotgun sits a Delta Point Pro from Leupold that is sighted-in appropriately. Every shot was taken from a bench using a Caldwell Lead Sled to mitigate human error. My goal was to see which would put the most pellets on a 10x10-inch paper target at 40 yards.
First up, the Trulock Pinhoti .650 nonported choke. With the Longbeard XR, the .650 put 123 pellets on target, 189 pellets from the HEVI-18 landed on paper and the Federal load had an astonishing 335 hits. This comes up to a total of 647 pellets. With the Federal TSS, the pattern was very evenly dispersed, whereas the majority of Longbeard XR pattern hugged the right edge of the target, and coincidently the Hevi-Shot did the opposite and had the majority of it’s pattern on the left. This illustrates how important it is to re-sight in your turkey gun when switching between loads.
Next up is the JEBS Head Hunter .660 constriction. This choke put 693 total pellets on paper across the three loads. This choke landed 149, 257 and 287 with the Winchester, Heavyweight TSS and HEVI-SHOT respectively. Though it didn’t come out on top for most pellets, I’ll give it kudos for sending each round downrange with a well-dispersed pattern. I’ve been impressed with JEBS over the years and have killed quite a few birds using their chokes.
The Carlson’s Heavyweight TSS .640 constriction was the tightest choke used in this test, but tighter doesn’t mean it’ll always perform the better. As its name implies, it is optimized for the Federal load. With the Longbeard XR it put 122 pellets on paper, though a good portion of the pattern was on the lower right-hand side of the target. The HEVI-18 didn’t perform much better with only 158 pellets recorded and similar pattern density. Regardless of those other two shots, it put a total of 699 pellets on target with an impressive 419 coming from the Heavyweight TSS. The pattern was extremely tight to the center of the target, and I was very impressed with its performance.
Trulock offers multiple constrictions with both ported or nonported options. Naturally, I gave each the opportunity to prove themselves. For the Trulock Pinhoti .660 ported choke, it put 785 pellets on target. The overall patterning was much more even during this round. The Longbeard XR shot 165 pellets, the HEVI put 295 in there and the Federal ended up with 325 pellets. All of these numbers were drastic improvements from the aforementioned Pinhoti choke.
Now we’re getting into the “nitty gritty” and the top three performing chokes of this test. Primos’ TSS Jellyhead put an impressive 810 pellets on paper. Nearly 20 years ago, I bought an original Jellyhead choke, and it always seemed to shoot Longbeard XR like a dream. For this test, it only put 154 pellets out of the Longbeard XR on paper. The HEVI-SHOT had 287 pellets hitting the target. The Federal Heavyweight TSS topped it out with 369 hits downrange.
Beating out the Primos choke by a thin margin was the Kicks Gobblin’ Thunder .660 which had 835 pellets connect. The Winchester load produced 184 hits, the Federal landed 250, and the HEVI-18 put 401 pellets on paper. The Longbeard XR did want to hold the right edge of the paper, but overall performed well. I also noticed a bit of a reduction in recoil/muzzle jump when shooting it.
The top spot might surprise you, and to be honest, the overall numbers blew me away as well. The Carlson Longbeard XR was the top performer, beating out the closest competitor by a landslide of nearly 150 pellets. The Longbeard XR put 984 pellets on target at 40 yards. As its name suggest, this choke was built for shooting Winchester’s Longbeard XR and it put 168 pellets on paper with that specific load. But what impressed me most was how well it shot both TSS loads. With the Federal Heavyweight TSS it put 383 pellets on paper, with a good majority being on the right half of it. Finally, the HEVI-18 connected with a crazy number of 433 hits. The Carlson Longbeard XR is the clear-cut winner of this choke tube test.
So, there you have it, seven choke tubes with three shots a piece from different loads, and the results do not lie. I performed this test to find the best plug-and-play choke for the average turkey hunter. Let’s be honest, each of these chokes would easily kill a gobbler standing at 40 yards, but a well-dispersed pattern helps leave room for error. Now, I will recommend that no matter what choke you have, to at least do your own pattern test before going afield. If you do have a red dot on your turkey gun, adjust it accordingly. If you are looking for a new choke tube to help tighten up your shots this coming season, give one of these a try. Each one of these can help make that moment of truth a breeze when you’re staring down the barrel at a strutter this season.
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