Turkey Fever: Patterning Your Shotgun
By Moises Torrent
We’ve had a rough winter in New England and spring can’t come soon enough! Dreams and memories of past turkey hunts begin to flood the brain. With turkey season soon approaching, it’s time to start dusting the cob webs off the decoys, box calls, slates, diaphragms, shotguns, and turkey ammo.
You don’t have to have the latest and greatest turkey slaying gear. A 3 ½” magnum, NWTF endorsed 12 gauge will kill turkeys regularly. From my experience, I can tell you that using a 20 gauge can be a pleasure to carry and shoot. I’ve done most of my harvesting with a Mossberg 500. The most important factor is to know your weapon’s limitations and capabilities.
Chokes – A good turkey choke is an important piece of equipment that can easily get overlooked. “Turkey chokes” have more constriction than a full choke and they are usually called “Xtra Full” or “XX Full”. Constriction dimensions can range from .670 down to .640. Every gun and ammo combination is different, so try to experiment with different combinations to see which throws the best shot pattern.
Ammo – I can write a book on turkey ammo, but I’ll keep this short. In Connecticut, we’re restricted to No. 4, 5, or 6 shot for turkey. Again, experiment with different shot sizes, densities, and brands to see what your gun likes. There are so many options today, it can drive you crazy. Lead, steel, hevi-shot, hi-density, duplex loads (4×6), magnum, nitro, and so on. What’s the best load? Well, whichever one patterns best out of your gun. Being budget minded, I shoot a 3 inch Winchester Supreme #4 copper plated lead shot at $15-$18 per box. I’ve reached out beyond 50 yards successfully with this combination. These new high density loads are capable of reaching out to beyond 60 yards.
Patterning – Ideally, you should have 100 pellets in a 10 inch circle at 40 yards. This shot density provides enough pellets in the head/neck region to ethically kill a turkey. Additionally, 40 yards is the maximum distance promoted by the “Turkey Hunting Safety Task Force.” But again, KNOW YOUR WEAPON’S CAPABILITIES. If you’re getting more than 100 hits at 50 yards, then you’re good to go for that range. Below is how I like to pattern my guns:
- Use a large piece of cardboard with turkey vital targets, 10” pie plate, or draw a 10” circle on a piece of paper
- I like to start at 25-30 yards, just to make sure my pattern is centered (I have a scope). You can test your point of impact using cheaper loads. Once you’re dialed in, use turkey loads to assess load performance.
- Use a shooting bench or solid rest to minimize shooter error.
- In my early years of turkey hunting, I shot over turkeys because I wasn’t gripping the shotgun and following through with the shot. The kick of the gun will throw the pattern off, if you’re not gripping the gun firmly.
- Document the performance of each shot. You should list the following:
– Gun & choke
– Ammo (shot size, brand, etc)
– Hits inside the 10” circle or inside the kill zone (see my turkey target)
Figure 1″Photo” a Spring turkey target at 30 yards using 3” #5 shot.
You can use a marker or pen to color in each pellet hole and take note of pattern concentrations. (You can also shoot the target a second time and be able to distinguish the two individual shot patterns.)
- Double-check your best performing combination for consistency.
- Try shooting from different positions (sitting, standing, kneeling, prone)
- Pick the round that gives you the most consistent and densest pattern.
- Don’t forget hearing and eye protection !