Browning’s TSS Tungsten Load: Pattern and Power

An Idaho bear-hunting adventure changes course with the opportunity to test new tungsten loads on strutting toms.

Browning’s TSS Tungsten Load: Pattern and Power

The author dropped a pair of Idaho turkeys with Browning TSS Tungsten ammunition, which proved deadly at various distances. (Photo: Jace Bauserman)

I’d visited Idaho’s north country twice before but never for turkey. Spring bruins were always the focus, and that again was the case with this hunt. However, when Twisted Horn Outfitters owner Brian Lewis nudged me in the lodge the evening before our hunt and said, “Hey, I hear you’re a turkey nut,” a wide smile slid across my face.

Truth be told, I’m a turkey junkie. Few things make my heart race and send adrenaline coursing through my veins like a gobbling tom. I can’t get enough of them, and while sighting in rifles and patterning shotguns on the eve of our opening day, I saw birds. Lots and lots of birds. Brian must have noticed my eyes glaze over, and my jaw drop when we pulled into a field with 13 strutting toms. All he said at the time was, “We have lots of turkeys in this part of Idaho, and boy are they fun to hunt.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like bears. With that noted, watching a pot-bellied omnivore creep through the woods and then bury his face in a smorgasbord of pastries isn’t even in the same ballpark as a thundering longbeard closing the distance. When Brian followed his “turkey nut” comment by suggesting we skip the morning bear hunt and get after some of those turkeys, it was hard not to start hugging him.

Special Country

I’ve yet to see a landscape as ruggedly beautiful as northern Idaho’s backcountry. Rivers teeming with life slide through jagged canyons and steep-sloped highlands rise toward the heavens. It’s magnificent.

Small drops of rain dotted Brian’s windshield and the fresh smell of pine flowed through the windows. I took a deep breath, smiled, and finally, after a stressful day of airline travel, I relaxed. I was in my element, and life was good.

I wasn’t ready for the view when the truck topped out on the mesa. It was flat. Steep peaks had been replaced by rolling acres of agriculture. Brian must have spied the nervous looks on our faces.

“Not to worry, gents. I get those looks a lot,” he said. “This looks more like upland bird country and it is, but all these fields have canyons around them. Some are massive and deep; others small and shallow. Make no mistake, though, the bears are here. You’re going to freak out the first time you walk into one of these fields and a canyon materializes out of nowhere. It’s special country for sure.”

Deadly Pattern

After getting my Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle dialed, I switched to the shotguns. The bed of the truck housed a number of Maxus Wicked Wing and various Cynergy 12-gauge models. I was like a kid in a candy store.

Sitting down against the wheel-well of the truck with a Maxus Wicked Wing, Winchester media relations manager Nathan Robinson tapped me on the shoulder. I removed my ear plugs and gladly took the box of Browning TSS Tungsten Turkey he was holding.

“This is our newest turkey ammo,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s the most lethal turkey ammo on the market. This is a 3-inch, 1 ¾-ounce load. The shot is a mixture of tungsten seven and nine, and it leaves the barrel at around 1,200 feet per second.”

I wasn’t at all jacked. I’ve killed piles of turkeys over the years. While my brand of shotshell has varied, the load has always been the same: 3-inch, 1 ½-ounce No. 5 shot. Seven and nine shot were just too small. For grins, I shouldered the Maxus and squeezed the gold-plated trigger. I couldn’t believe the shoulder surprise the load produced, and the pattern on the 35-yard turkey target was insane. While I don’t know the exact pellet count, I will say Browning can fit a lot of tungsten in shot sizes of No. 7 and No. 9 in a 3-inch shotshell.

“That’s what we want,” Robinson said as we inspected the pattern together. “These loads are 60 percent denser than lead, which allows us the ability to use a smaller shot size. Though I like to get turkeys really close, we’ve had guys tell us they’ve killed them as far out as 80 yards with this exact load.”

After hearing that, I decided a field test was in order. The sun was sinking low in the western sky, and distant towering peaks were robbing the landscape of light. Still, the red front fiber-optic sight on my Maxis glowed, and I pressed the trigger into action on an 80-yard target. Then, just for grins, I grabbed the Cynergy Ultimate Turkey and Cynergy Wicked Wing and sent a few rounds downrange. While the Wicked Wing sports an ivory front sight, I still had no trouble settling in.

The trio of guns were fitted with Invector-Plus extended Ultimate Full Turkey chokes. Even without a scope, each shot would have, if the TSS Tungsten shells lived up to their energy hype, dropped a bird. Each gun, at a distance of 80 yards, put numerous pellets in the head and neck area of the target.

Two Birds

“I know that field Brian showed you is good, but this is one of my little honey holes,” said guide Marc Warnke. “I killed a few birds in here early, and yesterday morning while I was scouting, there was tom gobbling his head off.”

We slipped through an open field in the darkness and reached the edge of some rolling country that dropped into a massive canyon. By the time we stopped, a pair of birds already were putting on a morning symphony.

Warnke and I started working the duo right off the roost. While they were answering our seductive hen sounds, it became apparent their minds were set on a morning snack. It was late in the season, and their stomachs trumped their desire to breed.

Our back-and-forth bantering with the birds, however, sparked another gobbler. The bird was making his way across another field, and it was obvious with each gobble that he was getting closer. We beat feet, but I wasn’t able to get to the field edge before the bird. Warnke kept calling, and while the bird would get close to the field edge, he would never pop over.

I crept forward while Warnke stayed on the calls. Finally, at a distance of 52 yards, I saw his head. It was stained red and not white, a sure indication of a bird losing interest. I settled my bead and took the shot. The bird crumbled. I dashed to the field edge, unsure if a follow-up shot was needed. It wasn’t. The TSS Turkey load had knocked the bird stone dead. I couldn’t have asked for a better field test. The ammo’s performance was undeniable.

Sitting by the bird, Warnke and I took in the majesty of the morning. There wasn’t a breath of wind and the air, though crisp, was warming quickly. The Browning Wicked Wing paired with the TSS Tungsten ammo had performed flawlessly. Talk was of simple things; family and where we would hunt bears that evening. Then, in the distance, a pair of birds fired.

From the location, it appeared it was the birds we were trying to work off the roost. We were in perfect position. We crept back around the field and I belly-crawled up to the edge. A deep swell in the countryside kept me from a visual, but each time Warnke yelped, the duo answered. I slithered into the weeds and stayed prone. There wasn’t much cover, and I didn’t want to silhouette myself. It didn’t take long. A few more yelps and clucks were all the birds could stand.

Scanning the swell, I spied not two but three birds easing up out of the bottom. The first two birds blew up into strut, while the lesser tom hung back. With no decoys to spike their visual interest, the birds worked cautiously to my right.

If Warnke hadn’t stayed behind me, I’m not sure I would’ve been able to get a shot. His locale was perfect, and at 40 yards the mature toms broke into a trot. It was a race to see which could show itself to the hen first. I triggered the gun at a distance of 26 yards and the lead bird dropped. The balance of the over-under Cynergy was amazing.

Just like that, I was tagged out in the great state of Idaho.

More Proof

That evening, I killed my bear. Never in my life had I killed a pair of turkeys and a big black bear in one day. I doubt I ever will again. I was thrilled, and for the next few days spent time helping Lewis and Warnke call in birds for some other hunters in camp.

Rafe Nielsen, my good friend and Browning’s director of marketing and communication, took to the field with me and Lewis the following morning. Toting a Maxis and the same TSS Tungsten load I’d used, Nielsen hammered a monster tom at a distance of 32 yards. The results were the same; not so much as a flop.

Later in the hunt, Leupold’s Shawn Skipper, toting a Maxus topped with a DeltaPoint Pro Red Dot sight, hit paydirt. The bird was 60 yards and wasn’t coming closer. Skipper took careful aim and melted the longbeard. Impressive. The Browning shotguns, when paired with Tungsten TSS ammo and Invector-Plus extended Ultimate Full Turkey choke tubes, proved poison on birds.

Worth the Price

At a cost of $40 for 10 rounds, I’ve heard the argument that Tungsten TSS shotshells aren’t worth the price.

Here’s my take: You wait all year for turkey season and when you get in the woods and that tom hangs up at distance, you want to be able to harvest him quickly and cleanly. If the bird is close, you want a devastating round that throws a ton of shot. This is that round.

You read earlier that I love a 3-inch No. 5 shotshell. I still do. However, with the Tungsten TSS No. 7 and No. 9 shotshell, I get an exact 50/50 mix of No. 7 and No. 9 shot. A No. 9 tungsten delivers as much energy as a No. 5 lead. Plus, I get roughly twice the number of pellets. That’s a great recipe for turkey success.

To date, I’ve killed 10 birds in 10 shots with Browning’s TSS Tungsten load. Just food for thought.


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