Field Test: Winchester 20-Gauge Long Beard

long beard
A 45-yard target with Winchester's 20-gauge Long Beard.Phil Bourjaily

The purpose of last week's Florida Osceola hunt was to test Winchester's 20-gauge Long Beard under field conditions. While our group of four was 100% successful, shots ranged from 12 yards (mine) to just over 30, which wasn't a much of a test of Long Beard's long range capabilities.

But, there was a range next door, and we had lots of leftover ammunition, so after tagging out, Winchester engineer Steve Meyer – the smart guy responsible for Long Beard – and I had the opportunity to shoot a pile of patterns. We started shooting at 35 and worked our way out to 50 yards.

The first thing we noticed is that patterning a bunch of 20 gauge turkey loads doesn’t leave you beaten up and flinching the way shooting 3 and 3-1/2 inch 12 gauge ammo does. That was refreshing. It’s one of the few times I ever thought patterning turkey loads was kind of fun. It helped, too, that we did our shooting with Winchester SX3 gas guns, which further reduced felt recoil. It’s easy to put pellets on target when you’re not getting kicked. The guns had factory turkey chokes, incidentally.

Second, Long Beard technology may put it far beyond anything else in lead ammo, but there are still limitations to a 1 ¼ ounce load. We shot both 5s and 6s and, while our 50 yard targets all had at least one hit in the kill zone, I wouldn’t be comfortable shooting 20-gauge Long Beard that far or telling you to do it. Forty-five yards was a different story. A typical 45-yard target is pictured above. I’d shoot 45 yard turkeys with Long Beard all day long if the conditions were right. About those conditions: we were in short-legged chairs with shooting sticks. We weren’t twisting around trees and our hearts weren’t racing, as they sometimes are when you’re turkey hunting. We could take our time to shoot and put the center of the pattern on target. Even so, we found that at longer ranges we had to dope the wind a little when we shot. According to Meyer, even a 10 mph crosswind can move a pattern eight or nine inches at 50 yards, which can be enough to put the pattern core off-target.

All that said, if you want to hunt turkeys with a 20 gauge – and more and more people do these days -- this is the stuff to put in your gun if you don’t feel like paying Hevi13 or Heavyweight prices.