Federal’s 20-Gauge Twist On Their
“Three-Stage” Shotshell Concept Proves
Itself A Kinder, Gentler Turkey Buster.
By Holt Bodinson
Mixing shot sizes to fill patterns or deliver more energy down range with a heavier pellet is old hat. I suspect in days gone by, when there was less technology available to accurately sort shot pellets by size and uniform roundness, mixed-size-shot charges were the norm rather than the exception.
The controlled stacking of differently sized shot, different density shot and differently shaped shot is quite new, and Federal has the process down to a fine science, offering stacked loadings in their Black Cloud waterfowl shotshell, Prairie Storm upland shell and, most recently, in their 3rd Degree 20-gauge 3-inch turkey load.
The 20-gauge is often overlooked as an adequate choice for turkeys. It shouldn’t be. The 20 has a lot to offer. The guns are light, handy and highly maneuverable in a tight turkey setup. They certainly don’t kick like a 10- or 12-gauge with a 3-inch shell, and if you’re calling while backed up to a tree, you’re not going to dislocate your shoulder taking the shot.
Frankly, the 20-gauge is ideal for youths, women and old-time hunters who are a bit long in the tooth but are smart enough to appreciate a lighter weight, lighter recoiling gun. With 3-inch chambers, modern loads and interchangeable chokes, the contemporary 20 gives up very little in the field to the 12.
Federal’s new 3rd Degree 20-gauge turkey popper is a sophisticated shell indeed. The “3rd Degree” moniker refers to three distinctly different types of shot separated and stacked on top of one another. It’s a true 3-stage payload.
Starting at the top of the 3-inch shell, just below the crimp, is a stack of lead No. 6 Flightstopper pellets composing 20 percent of the load.
Federal’s radical looking Flightstopper pellet has to be an offshoot design from Star Wars. It looks like an evil space station—round but flattened on both ends, with a sharp cutting band encircling its circumference. It’s purposely designed to spread out quickly and cut lethal wounds. For the 10-yard shot on turkeys, it’s the perfect answer. The Flightstopper pellet, incidentally, is also found in Federal’s Black Cloud and Prairie Storm loadings.
Holt found Federal’s 20-gauge 3rd Degree load plus Mossberg’s M500 Flex
to be a deadly turkey combo. The payload pellet lineup includes (below)
No. 6 Flightstopper, No. 5 Premium lead and No. 7 Heavyweight.
Just below the Flightstopper stack is a column of No. 5 copper-plated “Premium” lead pellets composing 40 percent of the payload—nothing exotic here, just high grade, extra hard pellets, delivering a dense pattern at 15- to 30-yard ranges.
Bringing up the rear of the Degree shot column is a stack of No. 7 “Heavyweight” pellets, making up the remaining 40 percent of the overall column. These heavy, dense pellets range out together at the core of the pattern and deliver lethal energy on target at 40 to 50 yards. Due to the inclusion of “Heavyweight” pellets, the overall payload of the 3rd Degree 3-inch 20-gauge shell is rated at 1-7/16 ounces at a velocity of 1,100 fps.
Holding this 3-stage payload together is Federal’s Flightcontrol wad. Rather than flaring out and opening up when it hits the atmosphere and releasing the shot column, the Flightcontrol wad holds the shot column together downrange until a set of air brakes at the rear of the wad slow it down sufficiently to “gently” release the shot column. This produces a dense, consistent, long-range pattern. In fact, during patterning, the Flightcontrol wad proved to be a secondary missile at 20 and 30 yards.
For testing, I selected one of my favorite 20-gauge guns in the Mossberg Flex 500 pump in O.D. green with a 24-inch ported barrel mated to a ported extra-full (0.584-inch) Accu-Choke turkey tube. (I also have a rifled slug barrel for this gun, which I used in an earlier story on hunting black bears in Alberta in the October 2014 issue.)
Mossberg’s Flex system is ideal for wringing out the utmost from one shotgun, since it allows you to quickly change out the buttstock, fore-end, recoil pad and barrel with no tools.
I did learn one important lesson from my O.D. painted M500. The barrel takedown screw on a Mossberg is permanently mounted to the barrel. When the O.D. coating was applied, it was also applied to the threads of the screw and the coating behaved like a thread locker. You have to brush off any coating from those threads or else you will have a dickens of a time unwinding the screw with finger-pressure alone.
At 40 yards things are getting a bit thin (above), but Tom would still be down.
The payload pellet lineup includes (below, left to right) No. 6 Flightstopper,
No. 5 Premium lead and No. 7 Heavyweight.
To see if Federal’s claims were accurate for their new 3rd Degree multi-stage rocket, I set up Birchwood-Casey’s turkey targets at 20, 30 and 40 yards. The targets clearly outline the brain cavity and vertebrae of Old Tom, which register lethal strikes in red when hit.
At 20 yards, Old Tom simply lost his head with multiple hits, wiping out his brain cavity plus a secondary missile attack from the Flightcontrol wad. At 30 yards, Tom’s brain cavity was pretty much neutralized with 6 hits plus 3 hits along the vertebrae, while the Flightcontrol wad was still performing like a slug at the 3 o’clock position on the target.
At 40 yards, the pattern was beginning to get seriously thin, but Tom would be down for the count with 3-solid and 3-scratch hits in the brain cavity and 1-scratch hit in a vertebra.
I would call Federal’s 20-gauge, 3rd Degree shell a solid performer out to 40 yards. Fifty yards would be pushing it, and, in my opinion, 50-yard shots are pushing it with any gauge or load.
So why not perfect your yelps and bring him in another 10 yards?
Federal Premium Ammunition
900 Ehlen Drive, Anoka, MN 55303