As the first signs of spring emerge in the Deep South, the distant echoes of last year’s gobbling start to reverberate in the very souls of turkey hunters. Dreams of past turkey hunts become more frequent and the ones that went bad begin to haunt us. Awakening from a convulsive sleep, our thoughts go to one place: “What happened?!” Though there’s nothing we can do about the past, we can do something about future events. Being prepared, knowing our quarry and our shotguns and a little range time can, and will, prevent the nightmares that humble us now.
Mine is bigger than yours
This is the mindset of hunters across the spectrum when choosing a truck, an ATV and a gun. There’s something about big things that draws out the machismo in us. Some will tell you if you’re not shooting the latest and greatest 3½-inch turkey slayer, then you’ll never kill a bird. Well, I can tell you from experience, that a 20 gauge will do so as well and is much more enjoyable to shoot and carry. So, when choosing a shotgun for turkey hunting, choose a gun that you are confident and comfortable shooting.
Chokes and such
A key element to a good turkey gun is a good turkey choke. A turkey choke has more constriction than a Full choke, and they are often labeled Extra Full or XX Full. The dimensions for a 12-gauge turkey choke may range from .670 inches down to .640 inches. The tighter chokes in the .640- to .655-inch range are designed for smaller No. 6 or No. 5 shot. The more open constrictions are better suited for larger pellets such as No. 4s.
Can you have too much constriction? Yes, you can. Depending on your gun and the ammunition you’ve selected, you can over constrict the shot to the point where the pattern falls apart. In this case it is possible for the pellets to bounce off of each other or become deformed, leaving large holes in your pattern. The solution for this is to go to a more open constriction or smaller shot size.
The ammunition you choose can drastically affect your pattern. Each gun-choke combination will shoot a specific round better than the others. The only way to determine which is to shoot a variety. Vary your shot sizes and brands from several distances and stick with the one that gives you the most consistent pattern.
What’s in a pattern?
What is the difference between a bad pattern and a good pattern, and what can you do to improve the pattern of your shotgun?
The ideal pattern for turkey hunting is 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. This density means that there should be plenty of pellets in the small vital area of the turkey’s head and neck to kill it ethically.
If you prefer No. 6 turkey loads (approx. 222 pellets/oz.), then a two ounce load of No. 6s should pattern about 25 percent of its shot in the 10-inch circle. Two ounces of No. 5s (approx. 171 pellets/oz.) should give you a pattern of about 30 percent. Two ounces of No. 4s (approx. 135 pellets/oz.) should result in a 37-percent pattern. These numbers are based on lead pellets, so heavier- than-lead alloy pellets will have fewer pellets per ounce and the percentage will differ slightly.
Why 40 yards?
We pattern our turkey guns out to 40 yards because that is the maximum distance promoted by the Turkey Hunting Safety Task Force as the proper range to ethically and cleanly kill a turkey with a shotgun.
Dial it in
Initial pattern tests should be on a 30-inch target. Sheets of butcher paper or craft paper are great for targets. Draw a small two-inch circle in the middle and color it in with a marker, then draw a 10-inch circle centered on that. Measure off 40 yards or use a laser range finder to mark your distance. Use a shooting brace/bench to reduce human error and shoot a single round at each target. Write the results on each target and note the choke constriction, brand, etc… as well as the ammunition you used. Shoot a few different types of ammo and then compare the results. Pick the round that gives you the densest pattern.
If one combination gives you a great pattern, but just isn’t centered in the 10-inch circle, adding rifle sights, a scope or red-dot-type sight allows you to truly tune your shot pattern. You can move the gun’s point of impact so the densest part of the pattern is at the point of aim.
After a few trips to the range, you’ll sleep peacefully once again. You will have the confidence that your gun can produce the needed results when a gobbler struts to within 40 yards.