Spring Turkey Tip: Patterning Shotguns Matters

Just like reloading your own rifle cartridges, there's a specific recipe your gun will like better than others … your turkey gun is no different; there's a shotshell-choke combination it will favor

Spring Turkey Tip: Patterning Shotguns Matters
Before you head into the turkey hunting woods this spring, spend some time on the shooting range patterning your shotgun in a search for the most lethal shotshell load and choke tube combination. (Jeff Phillips photo)

Spring turkey hunting season is upon us.

And that means it's time to get all of your calls, camo and hunting gear together.

It also means it's time to pattern your turkey hunting shotgun set-up, making sure the load you prefer still shoots through your gun and choke combination with a reliable point of impact that will prove to be stone-cold lethal on a big old gobbler.

Given the efficiency of modern shotguns, I can hear some out there scoffing at such a notion, saying that all of this sounds like much to do about nothing.


Trust me, I know from personal and painful experience that a big gobbler at 25 yards isn’t a “can’t miss” target.


Unfortunately, I’ve learned that truth the hard way as one or two of my hunting buddies can laughingly attest to.

You know who you are and I'm still paying you to keep your mouths shut during the April and May turkey hunting season.

Or in my case, a time also known as the springtime "Witness Protection Program."

With that in mind, how does a turkey hunter go about patterning their shotgun?


In some ways the process is relatively simple; get a few different turkey hunting shotshell loads comprised of different brands, various shot sizes from #4 to #6, differing powder loads and a mixture of shot materials (lead, Hevi-Shot, copper plated lead, etc.).

Then head out to the range – with a shoulder-saving Lead Sled shooting rest if you have one – and set up a few turkey head silhouette targets.

Staple a few of those up on a target frame or onto the side of an empty box, then carefully measure off and mark distances at 20, 30, 40 and even 50 yard intervals.


patterning turkey shotguns
Think you can't miss a longbeard? Think again! Careful preseason patterning work can help keep that from happening. (Lynn Burkhead photo)

In general, the tighter the choke you are using in your shotgun (like Extra Full or beyond), the better off you are using smaller shot sizes in #5 and #6.

For modified, full or a generic turkey choke, try a larger #4 shot size through your gun and see how it all patterns downrange.

Admittedly, this is where the process gets a little more complex as hunters work their way through the various load and choke combinations.

As you do so, be sure to carefully mark the targets with important information that includes among other things the shotshell load fired, the choke tube used, the distance of the shot and the number of lethal pellet hits recorded in the turkey head kill zone.

What should a hunter be on the lookout for?

A silhouette target that ends up looking like a buzz saw went through the turkey head's kill zone, a swarm of lethal pellets that will quickly and humanely put the toughest old gobbler down for the count.

As a point of reference, at 40 yards, the National Wild Turkey Federation (www.nwtf.org) suggests that a hunter should be looking for 100 pellet hits consistently hitting in a 10-inch circle.

Find the load and choke combination that produces such results and then you’re ready to smoke a longbeard on opening day

If this all sounds like it will take a little bit of work (and it's in such patterning work that a Lead Sled shooting rest will pay off in spades), it does.

But in doing so, a hunter will quickly learn the killing abilities of their turkey gun.

In the end, such an effort before the season will allow a spring turkey hunter to effectively determine what the optimum lethal mix is for their gun during the season.

And that's something that we should all work to understand before heading afield.

When you do discover what produces the best number of hits and the greatest pattern density, settle on that combination and lock it in for this upcoming spring gobbler season.

Do so and about the only other thing that you'll need in April and May is your best wild turkey recipe for the kitchen.

And maybe the number of your favorite bird taxidermist on speed dial to display a double-digit beard and wickedly sharp limb hanging spurs.

Fail to comply with this very important preseason chore and you might want to stock up on your supply of $20 bills before the opener.

Because it may take quite a pile of Andrew Jacksons to keep a few snickering friends quiet.

Trust me, I know.

And no, I don't have any extra $20s to loan out; I'm all tapped out. From keeping a couple of my hunting buddies at bay.

And in shooting enough gobbler hunting loads through my turkey gun to make sure that such an embarrassing miss doesn't ever happen to me again.

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