April 13, 2020
By Tom Keer
Discussions inturkey camp cover a lot of different topics. Calls and calling techniques are high on the list. So are set ups, hunting strategies and where the birds are roosting. Camo pattern and decoys get covered, but there never seems to be a lot of talk about chokes and loads. That’s probably because chokes aren’t as sexy as that handmade box call your buddy made over the winter. But chokes are where the rubber meets the road, so here are some ways to increase your kills.
Match your choke to your range
Calling a turkey into shooting range begs the question of what range are you talking about? For some, 20 yards is a long shot while others shoot birds up to 50 yards away. The distance you shoot should match your choke. If you’re shooting at birds that are 15 yards away then a more open choke like cylinder or Improved cylinder might be the best.
Extra-full chokes at that distance may blow the head off of the bird’s neck. But here’s the thing; if the turkey pulls back his head when you pull the trigger, that tight pattern delivered at a close distance creates a clean miss. The key is to determine your average kill range and set up with a choke that delivers enough pellets at that distance.
Do your math
It only takes a few pellets to kill a gamebird like a quail or a woodcock. It takes a lot of lead to put down an angry grizzly. But those are examples of body-shot game. Turkeys are different because they’re not body shot. A turkey is shot in the head and neck. Effective shots for turkeys require putting the correct number of pellets in the kill zone. Use some easy math to increase your odds.
A good rule of thumb is to deliver between 10- to 15 percent of pellets in your load to the turkey’s head and neck. Let’s take a general principal such as the number of pellets in a 1-ounce load.
Pellet count in 1 ounce
- Shot size: No. 6
- Number of pellets: 225
- Shot size: No. 5
- Number of pellets: 170
- Shot size: No. 4
- Number of pellets: 135
Based on that 1-ounce load, run the numbers. For a clean kill you’ll want 10 to 15 percent of those pellets in the head and neck. The percentages show that not many pellets of your load will actually hit the head and the neck.
Pellets in head/neck
Based on total number of pellets in 1-ounce of shot
Shot size: No. 6
- 10 percent of pellets: 22
- 15 percent of pellets: 33
Shot size: No. 5
- 10 percent of pellets: 17
- 15 percent of pellets: 25
Shot size: No. 4
- 10 percent of pellets: 13
- 15 percent of pellets: 20
I ran these numbers based on a standard 1-ounce load. Your favorite turkey load may be 1 3/4, 1 7/8, or even 2 ounces of shot. If you’re using heavier loads then there will be more pellets. Use the same math to find how many pellets from your favorite load will actually hit the mark.
Match your load to your choke
Now the fun starts. Set up a patterning board and run some rounds through different chokes. If you’re a good caller and consistently suck in gobblers to 15 or 20 yards a more open choke like cylinder or IC may be best. If you like a more moderate distance like 25 to 35 yards, you’ll need to tighten your choke. Run through different scenarios with chokes and distances.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what chokes your buddy shoots or what is popular at the time. All that matters is how many pellets hit the head and neck. Once you figure out those numbers simply keep a winning game plan. You can always go back to the patterning board to change up a losing game plan.
Range your Bird
A few springs ago, I watched my buddy kill a 19-pound jake. He swore it was long shot, and thought it was every bit of 50 yards. I paced it off and it turned out to be 28 yards max. Welcome to the complex world of range.
Turkey hunting is exciting, but don’t let that excitement cloud your judgment with regards to range. The guys who consistently put big longbeards on the ground keep a clear head.
Place decoys at different ranges
As you have different pins on your bow, set up decoys at range intervals. By placing them at different intervals you’ll have a quick view of whether your gobbler is at 20 yards or at 40 yards.
Use a range finder. Range finders are really helpful when the birds are at a distance. When they start coming closer, most hunters don’t want the extra movement associated with glassing the birds.
Open both eyes before you close one to take the shot. With both eyes open you’ll have a full range of depth perception. That’s lost when you close one eye. Keep both eyes open when you decide the gobbler is in range and you’re ready to pull the trigger. Then shut one eye and kill the bird.
Unstick Your Choke Tubes
Turkey hunting is a short season, so that means we go rain or shine. If your choke tube gets stuck in your muzzle then here’s how to get them out.
1. Give ‘em a bath
Soak the choke tube in Break Free CLP (Cleans, Lubricates, Protects). The penetrating solution breaks loose corrosion, dirt, and build-up on metal. It’s especially good on rusted threads. If you haven’t cleaned or lubed your tubes in a while then you’ll need to let it soak for a while. I take an old tomato paste can (cleaned of course), and add enough Break Free CLP so that it’s about 2/3rds full. Invert the unloaded shotgun, place the muzzle in the small can, and let it sit for an hour. Remove the firearm, and wipe off the excess liquid. Get your choke tube wrench and grunt as long as it takes to free the tube. If you can’t budge the tube after an hour then restand the choke tube wrench in the Break Free CLP and wait longer. Bad corrosion might require a day or longer.
2. Spin the wire wheel
When the choke is out of your muzzle, remove the loose rust from the threads with a wire wheel. When you’re finished inspect each thread. If there are broken threads then the tube will need replacing.
3. Clean the threads inside the barrel
Chuck a bore brush one size larger than your gauge in a drill. Meaning, if you’re shooting a 12-gauge then chuck a 10 gauge bore brush in the drill. Insert the brush into the muzzle and spin lightly until the barrel threads are clean.
4. Clean the shotgun
Thoroughly clean your shotgun to remove any Break Free CLP solvent or metal shavings.
5. Grease ‘em up
Grease the threads of the choke tube as well as the threads inside the muzzle. Install the tube and wipe off the excess grease.