Patterning your shotgun is an easy process and the most important step to being successful in the field. Learning how to hunt long beards in your area, how to call, and having the basic gear only gets the bird close enough to kill. Its your weapon and your preparation that makes the difference in going home empty-handed and eating turkey sandwhiches. Remember these basic tips the next time you pattern your gun and you will be dusting their heads with every shot.
- Pattern your gun each season: Just like a deer rifle, the sights on your turkey gun can get knocked off-center by the abuse taken the previous season. Inspect your weapon each spring to ensure your beads are present and tight, scopes are aligned, reflex or holographic sights have fresh batteries and are functioning properly.
- Pattern from the bench: The old saying “the gun is only as good as the person holding it” rings just as true for a shotgun as any other firearm. To eliminate shooter flinch, or inconsistent aiming points, shooting from a solid rest will allow you to determine the true pattern placement on the target and allow you to make adjustments to your sights or aiming point to get you centered. Once your pattern is on target, then practice from varying hunting positions to get a feel for the “real life” situations.
- Use turkey targets: Specialized targets are sold in most sporting goods retailers that include a photo or silhouette of a gobbler’s head, neck, and upper chest. These targets are ideal for not only patterning your gun, but to practice specific aiming points, and the mental preparation of shooting an animal and not a round bullseye. If the target comes with a 10″ circle drawn on it, great! If not, draw your own with the center point on the bird’s neck. The area within the circle will be the “kill zone.” Ideally, you want to pack as much shot into this area as possible.
- Try different loads: Each “turkey load” will pattern differently and there are dozens from which to choose and most are not cheap. So how do you narrow down your selection and find the right load without breaking the bank? Well, word of mouth is a great start. There are plenty of online forums etc. from which to get advice from actual hunters on the performance of different loads. I have taken birds with Remington Nitro and Winchester Supreme shells but recently tried Winchester Long beard XR’s and found an incredibly tight pattern at 35 yards. In fact they have impressed me so much, they will be my go to shell this upcoming season. Adam swears by Federal Flite Control shells and he has the beards and spurs to back it up. Point being each will perform differently at different ranges, in different shotguns with different choke tubes. So do a little experimenting to find the one that works for you.
- Shoot from various ranges: Today’s choke tubes and turkey loads are engineered to keep patterns as tight as possible to give the hunter extended range. Ultra-full, extra-full, super-full etc. style chokes should be used for turkey hunting. Full chokes do not deliver enough shot in the kill zone at ranges beyond 25 yards. Modified chokes should never be considered for turkeys as the pattern is far too open. But even with the appropriate choke, the spread of the pattern will grow with range. Start out shooting at 35 yards. This is a reasonable distance to which you should be able to entice a bird and will give you a good “middle of the road” result of your pattern tightness. Once your centered and on-target, step back to 40 and 45 yards and take several shots (fresh target for each shot) and count the number of hits in the kill zone. One lucky pellet may hit a gobbler in the brain and drop him at 70 yards but that’s far from an ethical shot. You want to stack the odds in your favor to increase the chances of a successful kill for you and a humane death for the turkey. So when the load fails (too few shots in kill zone to be effective) use that as your maximum range for a clean kill.
Hunters can become distracted with the thought of maximizing their down range effectiveness that they often forget about the birds that walk into your lap. I have literally called birds in to the back of the tree I was sitting against and taken birds under 20 yards. You may think that such short shots are a “gimme” but to the contrary. The same chokes and loads that are designed to extend down range effectiveness create extremely tight patterns at close range. So be sure to take a shot from 15 or 20 yards to see exactly how tight it gets and don’t lose your focus just because he comes in close.
A tight pattern that is on-center will help make sure there is a bird flopping after you pull the trigger and not one running away!
Also check out our video demonstrating these tips in action.
The above patterns were fired through my Mossberg 835 pump-action shotgun at a range of 35 yards with a Mossberg Accu-mag Ultra Full choke.
DEER30 Outdoors, LLC has no affiliation with any of the product companies featured in this post. Shot results will vary among shooters and their weapon setups.