Check out the TFL Merch Store

Get Some TFL Merch!

How Far Can a 12 Gauge Down a Turkey? | TSS vs Lead

product reviews Mar 28, 2024
How Far Can a 12 Gauge Down a Turkey? | TSS vs Lead

How far can a 12 gauge shotgun kill a turkey? This may seem like a simple question, but there's a lot to it. Are you curious about what the answer is? We were too, so we dug into the matter. There are a lot of factors that go into answering this question such as shot size,  type of metal in the shot, energy, and pattern performance. With all these variables, we simplified our test using known data while focusing on the best-performing shot available. The results surprised us and they may surprise you too.

Please let us know YOUR limit for shooting turkeys on the TFL COMMUNITY!   


Before delving into our test, it's important to note that just because a shot is possible, doesn't make it ethical. What is an ethical shot? We will let you come up with your own defined parameters for that, but let's just say an ethical shot is having a strong confidence that when we pull the trigger, there is a high likelihood that we will have a dead or immobile turkey. At the end of the day, that ethics call is up to you as the responsible shooter. To make that call, you'll want to know your equipment, skill level, and pattern performance.

Equipment Setup: 

Testing Standards: In preparation for this test, we did a lot of research. Not only do we need to test what our pattern will be at various distances, but we also need to know the energy of the shot as the further out your target is, the less energy your shot will have, eventually dipping to a level that is not effective.

For the energy data, we reached out to Adam Moser, an engineer at Federal Premium. Adam explained that penetration energy was better data to look at than ft/lbs of energy. The reason for this is that you can have a smaller pellet, carrying less ft/lbs of energy, but because it is smaller it can have greater penetration energy or lb-ft/in².

The data below records penetration energy at different distances (across 3 different shot types) The Heavy Weight TSS that we used was a combination of #7 sized shot, and #9 sized shot for a total of 570 pellets. The graph below shows the penetration energy of each of these shot sizes compared to a standard #5 lead turkey load. We've labeled each shot size at the distance that we shot them for this test. (The higher the number, the higher the penetration energy)


Tom Rosters Study: During our research, we stumbled upon a study by Tom Roster. Tom and his team took farm-raised turkeys and shot them with various loads and at various distances up to 45 yards. (This is why we're starting at 45 yards) What the study was trying to find out is what it takes to down a turkey and what loads were the most effective. He categorized his findings under three different labels depending on the results and variables of each shot he took. The three categories are:

"B-1": Dead or immobile within 30 seconds

"B-2": Alive and mobile, but retrievable

"B-3": Wounded, able to run off

What Tom found in this study is that to achieve "B-1" status, you need an average of 6.8 pellet strikes in the head and neck, and an average of 2.8 pellet strikes in the skull and vertebrae of the turkey with enough energy to penetrate the bone. 

Tom only used lead and steel shot in his study and our objective was to find out at what distance we could accomplish a "B-1" level shot with a higher-performing round of TSS.

Testing Distances:

  1. 45 Yards:

    • Beginning our experiments at 45 yards, we observed the formidable performance of TSS rounds. With penetration energy measured at 490 lb-ft/in² for the number seven shot and 338lb-ft/in² for the number nine shot, TSS exhibited remarkable penetration energy. For comparison, the #5 lead would be carrying penetration energy of around 212 lb-ft/in².
    • A total of 32 pellets struck the head and neck area of the turkey target, with 14 pellets penetrating into the vertebrae and skull. These results affirmed the effectiveness of TSS in delivering quick and ethical kills.
  2. 60 Yards:

    • Advancing to 60 yards, TSS continued to demonstrate impressive performance. Despite the increased range, both number seven and number nine TSS shot maintained substantial penetration energy.
    • 19 pellets landed in the head and neck area, with five pellets penetrating critical areas. While there was a decrease in pattern density compared to the 45-yard test, it remained within acceptable limits for ethical hunting, ensuring a high probability of clean kills.
  3. 75 Yards:

    • Transitioning to 75 yards, concerns surfaced regarding pattern consistency and accuracy. Although TSS rounds retained notable penetration energy, with #7 shot registering at 312 lb-ft/in² and #9 shot at 195 lb-ft/in². At this point, the #7 TSS is carrying more penetration energy than the lead #5 at 45 yards, while the #9 TSS is slightly less than #5 lead at 45 yards.
    • 14 pellets reached the target area, with none penetrating critical areas. This prompted reflection on the reliability of shots at this distance for achieving ethical kills, underscoring the importance of considering both penetration energy and pattern density. And to be sure, we shot at 75 yards 3 times. 
  4. 100 Yards:

    • At 100 yards, we confronted significant challenges in maintaining pattern consistency with TSS ammunition. The TSS pellets at this point had less penetration energy than #5 lead at 45 yards. The #7 TSS was 195 lb-ft/in² and #9 TSS at 130 lb-ft/in². While the #7 is only slightly less in penetration energy than #5 lead at 45 yards, we are getting to a questionable level of performance. At 100 yards the TSS pellets had minimal penetration into critical areas at an approximate depth of 1-1.5 inches. Would this be be enough to penetrate bone?
    • More so than the energy issue is the fact that only a few pellets managed to reach the target area. This starkly diminished the likelihood of achieving an ethical kill at this extended range, emphasizing the importance of responsible shot distances while hunting.


Our findings underscore the importance of responsible hunting practices and informed decision-making. While TSS ammunition showcases an incredibly impressive performance, it's crucial for hunters to consider both penetration energy and pattern consistency and density when determining ethical shooting distances.

So how far can you down a Turkey? 100 yards is possible with TSS, but based on our tests and the insights gleaned from the referenced case study, we are not taking that shot because of the high likelihood of a wounded Turkey. With the shooting skill to match the performance of TSS, distances of  60 yards and maybe slightly more emerge as possible and ethical options for turkey hunting using TSS ammunition.

In conclusion, achieving an ethical kill requires not only understanding the capabilities of one's equipment but also respecting the limitations imposed by distance and accuracy. By adhering to these principles, hunters can ensure a humane and successful hunting experience while preserving the integrity of the sport.                             

Whether our targets in the field or our targets in life, we will only hit what we are focused on, so live the #targetfocusedlife   

Get notified when we publish a new blog post

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.