First Look: Winchester Longbeard XR
September 23, 2013
When I first heard of Winchester's newest creation I thought it was an all-out oxymoron. Of course, we all want to be able to knock down that bird at 60 yards when he hangs up outside the deeks. In the past the solution was to let him hang or pop a shot and hope for a few magic pellets. Apparently that was all about to change.
Unlike other shotshell advancements, what makes Winchester Longbeard XR so remarkable isn't the wad or the pellets. Rather, what makes this load unique is what we can comfortably call a revolutionary new substance — Winchester's "Shot-Lok."
But Shot-Lok wasn't the genesis of this project. It was the solution, a way to bridge the gap. The initial problems Criner and company were trying to solve with Long Beard were threefold: Introduce a reliable long range turkey load to the market, present that extended range at the price of an affordable lead load and produce a viable replacement for the high-cost tungsten pellets currently on the market.
Through the years of testing came the Shot-Lok resin solution, a liquid that is poured into the shot cup before the pellets are inserted. When poured the shot migrates throughout the liquid, and the whole mixture is allowed to harden and cure. The Shot-Lok now completely surrounds the pellets and the shot column is purged of all air. A shot disc is then added and the shell is rolled and crimped.
OK, now we've got a load with plated lead shot locked tight in some weird space-age goop. What's the point?
This is where I needed Criner to step in and simplify chemical composition, aerodynamics and setback forces. So, I asked him to go all Bill Nye the Science Guy on me — as a writer I'm certainly not prone to science or math.
The breakdown he gave was simple in its complexity. Upon ignition, the Shot-Lok resin fractures forming a micro buffer, essentially a powder that surrounds the front of the load and protects the shot during in-bore acceleration. Picture it like a group of sumo wrestlers standing in a long line. The first big boy starts pushing on the second with the others following suit. Soon, the force of every wrestler is pushing on the last few guys in line. Now picture those last round sumo dudes as lead pellets and imagine the forces applied to the last 20 percent or so of the pellet payload. Those forces are what deform and destroy the shot, causing those pellets to be less than aerodynamic. These are what we all call flyers, pellets that don't contribute to a dense, uniform pattern at longer ranges.
With setback forces now eliminated because of the Shot-Lok buffer, the entire shot column remains round, allowing for more pellets on target at 40, 50 or 60 yards.
Presto, science explained.
With the confidence that I got the science and the expected result, it was range time. In our test box we had a selection of 3-inch 12-gauge loads in both No. 5 and No. 6 shot. Winchester's engineers said that the shells filled with No. 5 contained approximately 311 pellets, and the No. 6 contained approximately 405 pellets cased in Shot-Lok.
Our goal was to get at least 50 percent of those pellets on paper at 60 yards on a 12-by-12-inch square using an extra-full turkey choke. The other goal was ensuring that these loads didn't produce too tight of a pattern at normal hunting ranges (30 yards).
At 30 yards, things went as expected. The No. 5 shot covered the target with a dense pattern similar to many of the magnum turkey loads I'd shot before. About 80 percent of the pattern was contained within the target width, showing few flyers and a great pellet to square inch ratio. Next test.
At 60 yards I ran into a bit more of a real challenge. The first shot I let loose provided a sparse pattern at best. There was no need to even count the pellets. I knew I had made some kind of mistake, and set off to ensure all of the variables were taken care of. After checking the target and the hold, I couldn't figure it out. Decidedly perplexed, I just got back behind the gun and sent another Shot-Lok filled shell downrange. This time it was a hit — a big hit. The target board bounced on impact and dust and wood flew. I immediately imagined that being a turkey's dome, it's safe to say he would have been sandwich meat.
At 60 yards, the payload was still kind of light with only a little over half the pellets making contact with the 12Ã—12 square, but that's almost twice as much as Winchester's Double X High-Velocity turkey loads — about the same performance of the High-Velocity at 40 yards.
After shooting a bit more just for fun, I was convinced, but also aware of the load's and the shooter's limitations.
As Winchester's engineers say, aim diligently or use more open choke when hunting in situations where close encounters are probable. For the longer ranges, make sure you get comfortable with this load and test until you're confident and proficient.
Other than that, Criner and Winchester were right. This shotshell is revolutionary for hunters and bad news for long beards.