Turkey season has opened in a few Southern states, while the rest of the country anxiously awaits the chase of an old, hard-gobbling longbeard. There is no better time than now to make sure that your shotgun is ready to go when you hit the woods this spring.
Whether a new turkey hunter, or purchasing a new shotgun to chase those longbeards, a hunter must pattern his or her gun prior to hitting the woods. No two guns will shoot the same and no turkey load will pattern the same in every gun. This is why it is imperative to get out before the season and shoot several different kinds of turkey loads at different ranges, to see how your gun shoots.
The first recommendation is to purchase a good quality turkey choke, such as Hunters Specialties Undertaker line of choke tubes. A modified or improved cylinder choke used for rabbits or birds in the fall, probably won’t make the cut for spring gobbler season. It is important to have an extra full or full choke when chasing turkeys. These tighter chokes allow the turkey hunter to reach out to 40 yards and consistently take turkeys.
Since every gun shoots differently, it is important to try different shot sizes and shell lengths. Many turkey hunters prefer the 3 ½ inch magnum loads to knock down a bird, however these shells kick on both ends and I have found them to be overkill a lot of the time. Oftentimes, a 2 ¾ inch or 3 inch shell will shoot a better pattern than its larger counterpart. The most popular turkey shot sizes are 4, 5, or 6’s with some of the newer loads containing combinations of the three.
For example, I have two Remington shotguns that I hunt with. Both have the Undertaker choke tubes in them. My 870 has a scope on it that I needed to add, to bring my patterns to center. This particular gun will only pattern well with #4 shot. My other is an 11-87 that will only pattern #6 shot well. I have shot just about every different brand of ammunition and size shell out of these two guns. Only after many different tests, did I find the best loads.
The key to patterning a turkey gun, is to start off at 40 yards, which is the standard distance that is recommended to shoot and test shotgun patterns. I always use Hunters Specialties paper Turkey Targets to pattern my guns, as they depict the head and neck of the turkey as well as the internal structures, such as spine, brain and blood vessels that need to be hit in order to kill the bird. A lot of people will aim directly at the head of a turkey. While this may kill the bird, you actually want to aim at the base of the neck, where the waddles and feathers meet. This ensures that the majority of your shotgun’s pattern doesn’t go over the top of bird's head.
Step back to forty yards, sit down as you would be sitting in the turkey woods and begin shooting the different turkey loads. Use one shell per target and make sure to write down the distance, the choke used and the shells used in the corner of each target, so you know which loads shoot the best. Narrow it down to one or two loads that your gun likes and then shoot one target at fifty yards and then another at twenty yards and then ten yards. These distances will show you what your gun will do at the outer limits of the effective range, as well as how tight your pattern will be when that bird is in close and right on top of you. Many birds are missed at close range, because hunters never pattern their guns up close. At short distances, these chokes are so tight, that the shot doesn’t have a chance to open up, resulting in missed opportunities. However, the hunter that knows how his or her gun shoots at ten yards is at an advantage and can make the necessary adjustments to get the job done.
If a gun consistently shoots a good pattern but the shot is not in the center of the target, the shooter may want to consider putting a scope on the gun. As I mentioned, I had to put one on my 870, to center the pattern. My gun consistently shot high and to the left. By adding a scope, I was able to bring my pattern down and over and now I have a super deadly turkey gun.
As far as which shells to use, there is no one recommendation as each gun shoots differently. I can say that the high density shells, such as HEVI-Shot have an incredible knockdown power and the shot usually passes through the birds head and neck, whereas lead loads are stopped short of exiting. These heavy hitters put birds down with little to no flopping after the shot. As far as the length of the shells, many turkey hunters think that bigger is better and favor the 3 ½ inch shells. I was one of those hunters at one time. It is all a matter of what patterns well for you and preference. I have since found shorter shells that shoot a great pattern and save me the shoulder pounding that the 3 ½ inch shells deliver.
So, before hitting the turkey woods this spring, make sure that you have patterned your gun at all of the desired distances. Choose the shell that shoots the best out of your gun and remember to respect the game you hunt and do not take shots that are too far and risk crippling a bird. The fun of turkey hunting is getting the birds in close. Good luck this spring!