Pictured is the results of an 85-yard shot on a target with close to 100 pellets penetrating.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, when I was hunting waterfowl quite a bit, lead shot was the only choice available for shotgun shells.

I was using a Remington automatic 12 gauge, 3-inch magnum, with a 28-inch full choke barrel. For ducks, I shot Winchester 1 & 5/8 oz. of buffered copper No. 6's. I rarely missed when shooting from under 30 yards.

For geese, I used the same shell with No. 2 size shot...One & 7/8 oz. Steve Merlo once told me that I had, what he called, the unofficial consecutive long run record for downing geese here in the southern San Joaquin Valley...Twenty-six in a row.

I honestly was not counting, but he said I finished one season with 14 downed birds taking 14 shots, and started the next season with 12 in a row. If that was true, I owed it to the great ammo I was using.

For pass shooting on high flying flocks I often used a 3-inch shell with a No. 4 buckshot. This had 41 large pellets and could really do damage at 40-to-50 yards.

Fast forward to present day ammunition for bird hunting. The choices are mind boggling. The old stuff I used had a muzzle velocity of 1200 FPS.

Some of the shells today travel at 1700 FPS. Shooting a duck over decoys at 25 yards would require only daylight, or a foot, of lead.

And you can choose from steel, bismuth, or tungsten for shot. You also have a choice of mixed shot sizes in the same shell, as well as different shapes of shot. Real crazy stuff.

My good friend and hunting partner, Steve Newbrough, stays on top of this stuff all the time. He comes by my house and throws out words like "kinetic energy in a shot shell is 1/2 mass times velocity squared."

What? Or, "momentum is mass times velocity." Duh!! Way over my head.

He is really into these things. A couple of months ago he said he had seen an ad for a turkey load that would kill a turkey at 85 yards. I said, "No way."

He swore it was true, so he ordered some of these loads. Would you believe 10$ per shell....fifty dollars for a five pack. He said he was thinking about the spring turkey season that was coming soon and we might be able to use them.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I opened my front door to knocking, and came face to face with a 18" x 18" target with Steve's head behind it.

He yelled, "Ken, look at this. It's unbelievable."

He had just come from west of town after taking one of those turkey loads and patterning it at a well-paced 85 yards. He was using a 12-gauge 3 1/2-inch load with a No. 7 tungsten. The shell is nicknamed "TSS" ...Tungsten Super Shell. We counted close to 100 pellet holes in the target.

Using a rest, his holding point was his end bead right on top of the red-center marker. Virtually dead on with no drop of shot. It would almost be like using a rifle.

I can't tell you how giddy we both were sitting and looking at this target over and over. It was just amazing. What's next? Turkey season is just around the corner and we will be heading to the Coast Range or the Glenville area to try one of these loads out.

Steve and I have had some great shoots in years past, with him doing the gunning and me doing my usual video taping. I have a film of a young "Jake" turkey walking no more than four feet from me while I was sitting on a log in full cammo.

It was one of a flock of about 25 passing through. There can't be a better turkey caller in this area than Newbrough. He uses only a mouth call and it is really something to see him and a full strutting gobbler talking to each other.

I watched him bring one in from close to a half-mile away one time. Right up to 20 yards...then boom.

I also have a terrific video of Steve Merlo bagging his first gobbler some years ago. At least a 50-yard shot with old lead ammo. Stay tuned for what's coming up in a few weeks.

One last item: Readers may recall that in one of my past columns I stated that the biggest surprise of my life was when I was inducted into the Kern County Bob Elias Sports Hall of Fame. That now ranks second.

Two weeks ago my daughter Jennifer invited me to lunch at Mexicali for my 80th birthday. I was greeted in the back room by almost 50 people including my sister, all five of my children, seven of eight grand-kids, old high school buddies, waterfowl partners, and long-time skeet shooting friends. I was stunned to say the least.

Just an awesome get together. I thank each one of you from the bottom of my heart, and I love you all so much. Especially my daughter Alyce who came from Texas. Very sneaky!!

Ken Barnes is a record setting shooter and longtime outdoorsman from Kern County. Email him at with comments or column ideas.

(1) comment


Here in Oregon the turkeys are so plentiful they are a nuisance. At any time we have no less than 10 turkeys on our property and depending on the time of year 30 - 50 turkeys. No need for a shotgun a high powered air gun will do the trick, how close?? They come within 12' - 25' so I wouldn't really call them wild turkeys....

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