Shotgun Ammo photo

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn more ›


I had a chance to shoot a Beretta O/U in .458 Win Mag a while ago. I’d never fired a big-bore rifle, but I pulled the trigger, the steel plate target clanged, and honestly my first thought was: “That was nowhere near as bad as a turkey load.” In fact, it was kind of fun, so I shot the plate about twenty more times.

Last time I fired that many 3 1/ 2 inch turkey loads, my shoulder, neck and head hurt when it was over. In my dazed state even simple tasks like casing guns and loading them in the car seemed very difficult.

A .458 shooting a 510 grain bullet at 2100 fps out of a 10.5 pound double rifle generates a 53 foot-pound shove of recoil. A 3 1/ 2 inch, 2 ounce turkey load at 1300 fps in an 8 pound pump smacks you with 66 foot pounds. When a cartridge made to kill elephants before they kill you is more pleasant to shoot than a shotshell for 20 pound birds, something is wrong.

The idea behind the 3 1/ 2 when it was introduced by Federal and Mossberg back in 1989 was to increase case capacity to hold more bulky steel BBBs and Ts for pass shooting geese, and it worked. Because steel is light, the payloads weren’t very heavy, and recoil was tolerable.

Had 3 1/ 2 inch loadings remained steel-only, all would have been well. Unfortunately, someone looked inside the new hull and said “Hmmmm. I wonder how much lead fits in there?” The answer is up to 2 3/8 ounces. As you increase payload, you increase recoil, and 3 1/ 2 lead loads are awful.

I got yelled at once by a famous turkey hunter after I palmed the 3 1/ 2 shell he gave me and loaded one of my own 3-inch shells into the gun I borrowed from him. He didn’t know I had made the switch until I shucked the hull out of the gun. The turkey, lying 35 yards away, was long past caring whether it had been shot with a 3- or 3-1/ 2 inch shell, but the FTH yelled at me anyway.

If the turkeys I shot got up and ran away, I might agree there was a need for a
3 1/ 2 inch turkey load. But they don’t. They fall over dead. So, someone please explain to me: why a 3 1/ 2?