Tips For Patterning Your Turkey Shotgun
Preparation often defines a hunt. No one wants to be left leaning against a tree wondering what went wrong as a big old longbeard is flying away. You did everything right up to that point . . . you scouted hard, found where the Tom was roosted, had the perfect decoy setup, and called the longbeard into range. All that was left to do was to finish the job with a well-executed shot. You could’ve sworn you had the bead right on the turkey’s neck, but when you squeezed the trigger the bird ended up flying away instead of flopping on the ground. What happened? Chances are it wasn’t your aim, but rather the gun/choke/ammo combination you were using. So, did you pattern your turkey gun before heading afield this spring?
Whether it’s your first turkey season or your thirtieth, it’s imperative to pattern your turkey gun before the hunt every season so you don’t end up watching Mr. Longspur fly out of your dreams. In this article, we’ll walk you through the right way to pattern your turkey gun.
How to Pattern Your Shotgun
Before we dive into the importance of ammo and choke selection, we’ll breakdown the right way to pattern your gun from a setup perspective. First, you’ll want to be shooting in an area where you can safely shoot at 20, 30, and 40 yards. Shooting at different distances will help you understand the pattern and your maximum range. Plan on having plenty of turkey targets on hand because you’ll need them to compare patterns at different distances, in addition to comparing different types of ammo.
Before you shoot, label each target with the distance and type of shotshell you are shooting. For instance, 20 yards, Longbeard XR, #5 shot would be what you’d write on the target. This way you can easily compare targets after you are done shooting a variety of loads at varying distances. In addition to labeling the targets, it’s a good idea to have a solid shooting rest like the Caldwell Lead Sled to minimize any type of user error.
Once you’ve got your patterning range and supplies in place, it’s time to start shooting.
Over the last couple of years, turkey ammo has made enormous leaps and bounds in terms of delivering a lethal pattern. There are two main technological advancements that are at the forefront of this turkey ammo revolution – the first being shot encapsulation, and the second being the introduction of combo loads. Many of the top brands are now using shot encapsulation as a means to hold a tighter pattern at longer distances. In short, shot encapsulation relies on a newly designed wad to hold and push the shot through the barrel in a perfect circle. In other words, the wad capsule protects the shot from becoming deformed before it leaves the barrel, thus the round shot flies truer and holds a tighter pattern for a longer distance.
In addition to encapsulating wads, some turkey loads like the Federal 3rd Degree, use a combination of shot sizes packed into one shell. By offering #6 shot, #5 Shot, and Heavyweight TSS all in the same load, your patterns are as lethal at 20 yards as they are at 40 yards. Combo loads deliver larger, more forgiving patterns at close range, while still providing deadly performance at long distance.
Most shotguns have a specific brand or type of shell that will shoot better than the next. For this reason, it’s a wise idea to buy a few boxes of different turkey loads. Some of the most popular loads include Winchester Longbeard XR, Federal 3rd Degree, Federal Heavy Shot TSS, and Hevi-Shot Triple Beard. Once you’ve got a couple of different shotshells on hand, shoot one at each distance for comparison. You’d be shocked at how different some of the patterns shoot. Based upon your target comparison you can decide which one fits your gun the best based on the accuracy and number of pellets in the vital kill zone.
What Turkey Choke Should You Use?
When turkey season rolls around, don’t forget to change out your choke unless turkey hunting is all the gun is used for. If you’re lousy at remembering the simple things, like swapping out a choke at the end of your barrel, you may end up missing a solid opportunity because your pellet pattern didn’t jive with the distance between you and the bird. As a rule of thumb, choose a choke that centers most of your pellet pattern within a 10-inch circumference.
Adding a turkey choke to your shotgun is a great way to turn your gun into a dynamic turkey killing machine. A turkey choke is basically an extra-full choke that will hold a tighter pattern at further distances, thus increasing your effective range. There have been thousands of turkeys killed with full chokes as well, so don’t think you have to go out and buy a turkey choke. However, it’s advised that you don’t use a shotgun choked with a modified or improved cylinder to kill turkeys, as this pattern is better designed for shooting birds of flight. Do a little research to find out what turkey chokes other hunters are using with the same model shotgun as you and test it out. Test the pattern of your chokes at twenty yards, thirty yards, and forty yards to determine your effective range.
By the time you are done patterning your shotgun, you should have all the information you need to determine what turkey load and choke tube works best in your gun. Don’t let a few extra dollars spent on another box of shells be the reason that longbeard flew out of dreams.