Photograph by Joe Mac Hudspeth, Jr. ·


Is 20 the new 12?

From the Spring 2018 issue

With advancements in ammunition technology, it seems like the 20 gauge is slowly making it’s way into the limelight more and more these days in the hunting scene. What was once widely regarded as a “youth cartridge” is being transformed into an all-around gun for hunting ducks, upland birds, and more recently, turkeys all across the country. Why though? Why is it so popular right now?

To begin my hunting career, I started off with a 20 gauge shotgun. Actually not just any old 20 gauge but a Remington 870 youth model with a 21” barrel to be exact. That little gun was toted a many a miles as I grew up chasing squirrels, ducks, rabbits, and a myriad of other game. Somewhere along the way, I “graduated” to a 12 gauge and put the little 20 gauge in the safe. I would occasionally get it out to shoot but I was determined the 12 gauge was a “better” hunting gun.

Fast forward to last year. Turkey season was approaching and I came across an article about some new shot that people were shooting and it piqued my interest. I had already decided to put forth a more valiant effort to actually turkey hunt last year which is what lead to my research to begin with. I saw something called “TSS” mentioned so I started looking more into the Tungsten Super Shot (or TSS) and realized, there was no need in setting up my 12 gauge for the upcoming season when I had the little 20 gauge sitting in the safe. A 20 gauge for turkeys? I got that question a few times. I admitted, I was not a die-hard turkey hunter (not yet at least) but I was a “gun guy” from way back and comfortable with the little shotgun and the research I had done on the shell combination corroborated the cartridge’s potential. After a good friend graciously gifted me 5 of those “new” shells (that he had been loading for several years by that point) that were comprised of Tungsten Super Shot, a metallurgic composition that is the heaviest shot available today, weighing about 18 g/cc. I had a new project. A little background on the “why” it works. Because of its weight, you can use smaller shot sizes than traditionally thought of as a turkey load – for example, 7.5, 8, and 9 shot is commonly used with TSS. Do you think I’m crazy yet? I thought it was a little crazy myself as I was only familiar with those pellet sizes in low brass shells shooting target or dove loads. That was until I saw the patterns friends were getting with them and then finally shot it at paper myself. The density of the pellet allows for a smaller shot size which means more pellets on target as mentioned earlier. Why is that significant? Putting numbers to that statement may help explain a little.

There are approximately 345 +\- #5 lead pellets in a 2oz 12ga load. Now with #9 TSS, you get 362 pellets per ounce so a 1 5/8oz 20 gauge load would be able to carry 590 pellets of TSS. That is significantly more shot than the payload of the 12 gauge load but in a much smaller, lightweight, and less recoiling gun. But why not just shoot a #5 lead out of a 20 gauge? Density. When a larger, heavier pellet is used, it is subjected to gravity at a faster rate and wind resistance due to its increased surface area (think “drag”). As the pellet begins to fall, it also begins to lose speed pretty drastically. The pellet’s surface area creates a large amount of drag, thus reducing the speed of the pellet. Finally, the reduced speed, even though it is coupled with the greater mass, begins to lose its energy. It’s hard to wrap around the fact that you can shoot a smaller pellet at lower speeds and get better results but the density of the shot allows just that to happen.

So back to last turkey season and that old 870 20 gauge. Well, it got a little makeover and then, on its 3rd turkey hunt, it got promoted from safe queen to full time turkey gun. The TSS did it’s job and did it well. Take a look into the TSS if you are in the market for a new turkey load. The only downside to shooting it is the cost, but as with everything, it’s relative. You are allowed 3 turkeys in Mississippi during the spring season. With the amount of time and effort put in to chasing turkeys, why wouldn’t you spend a little more for the best performing shell available? Several commercially loaded offerings are available at the time of this article being written with more rumored to be in development. I have a feeling those offerings will greatly increase in the years to come.