Patterning your turkey gun is an important part of turkey hunting that sometimes is an after thought to many hunters. Having a finely patterned gun, especially at long-range shots of 40 yards can be the difference of placing a tag on a bird or watching it run away from you. Use these tips provided to ensure you have a pattern that will kill turkeys once you pull the trigger.
Patterning your turkey gun first starts off with your choice of gun. In my opinion any shotgun 20-gauge or larger will be fine. While I know there are turkey specific guns on that market today chambered in 3 ½” with a XX Full choke there really isn’t a need to go out and buy one of these guns unless you absolutely want to. In my opinion most hunters own a gun that would make for a good turkey shotgun. At the end of the day the most important thing you can do when choosing your gun is to feel comfortable and confident shooting it. You can always adjust the pattern of most guns at the range to meet the requirements of being a good turkey gun.
Next, you must know what a good turkey pattern is. The rule of thumb is to have your gun placing 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 100 yards. This will ensure enough pellets hit the small vital area of a turkey’s head and neck to kill it ethically. The 40 yard mark is used because that is the agreed upon maximum distance the Turkey Hunting Safety Task Force promotes to ethically kill birds.
Keep in mind that the number of pellets in turkey loads differ based of the size of shot you are shooting, but the goal is to still get 100 pellets into the 40-yard target no matter what size shot you prefer. Most turkey hunters will use No. 4, 5, 6 lead shot. A No. 4 size shot turkey load will have approximately 270 pellets in a two-ounce load. Of this shot 37% of the pellets should hit that 10” circle. A No. 5 turkey load with the same amount of powder will have approx. 340 pellets, meaning you should have pattern of 30%. A No. 6 size turkey load typically has 440 pellets in it and a pattern of about 25% is ideal. Loads that use heavier than lead pellets will typically have fewer pellets in them, in return the percentage of that shot will differ from the above numbers.
Now that you understand what a good pattern is and the anatomy of a turkey load it is time to hit the range to test out your initial turkey gun setup. Before you head out to the range I would suggest placing a full choke into your gun if you already haven’t done so. Any choke less constricted than a full choke isn’t recommended for turkey hunting.
Initial pattern tests should be done so on a 30-inch target. Cardboard boxes, butcher paper, or craft paper make great targets. In the middle of your target draw a two-inch circle and color it in with a red marker. Then draw a 10-inch circle around the center of the circle. If you want to spend a few extra dollars there are pre-maid 10” turkey targets on the market that have the turkey’s head on the paper. All you have to do is attach in the center of your 30-inch target. Make sure you construct several targets as you will most likely want and/or need to fire several shots of ammo. Next mark off a distance of 40 yards and while using a shooting bench fire a round at the red circle you placed on the target. Count the number of pellets that hit the 10-inch circle. If you consistently get 100 pellets into the circle then your gun would be considered to have a good turkey pattern.
If your gun isn’t getting the desired amount of pellets into a target don’t worry you still have options of patterning your gun for turkey season. The first option is to bring several different brands and shot size of ammo to the range. All ammo is created differently and will have different patterns out of your gun. While at the range shoot several different sized shot and brands of ammo at targets to determine what brand and size shoots best out of your gun. On the targets you shoot write down the brand of ammo and the number of pellets in the 10-circle. This will help you determine what round is best for your gun.
If you notice that your pattern is tight but shooting to the left, right, above, or below the target you may want to adjust where you are aiming or add rifle sights, or some sort of scope to your gun to ensure you are moving your densest part of your pattern to the 10-circle.
Once you have experimented with the ammo and your gun still isn’t performing how you want it to I would suggest purchasing a “Turkey Choke” for your gun. Chokes, as I am sure you know affect the size of your pattern. The tighter your choke the more constricted your pattern will be, exactly what we are wanting for turkey hunting purposes. Most turkey chokes will be labeled Extra Full or XX Full. The dimensions of turkey chokes typically range from .670 inches down to .640 inches. Once you have purchased a choke it is time to experiment with ammo at the range again to see what brand and shot size shoots best out of your new choke. Keep in mind that tighter chokes that range from .640” to .655” are designed to shoot smaller shot sizes such as No. 6 and No. 5 loads. The more open chokes above .655” will be good for No. 4 sized shot. When you purchase a turkey choke make sure it will work with your gun. A lot of chokes are gun specific, check the packaging on the box or ask a store employee to assist you in order to get the correct choke.
Its important to note that too much constriction on your pattern can have negative results. A pattern that is too tight might cause the pellets to bounce off each other or become deformed if they are hitting against other pellets leaving your pattern erratic. If you have a choke that is giving you holes in your pattern you may have too much constriction and need to buy a more open turkey choke or try another brand of ammo.
Lastly, make sure and pattern your gun at different yardages. It is just as important to know what your pattern is at 20 yards than at 40 yards, especially if you are using a turkey choke. If you are using a turkey choke the pattern will be extremely small coming out of the gun, any movement off of the vitals of a close range turkey may result in a complete miss…I have seen this done first hand. Needless to say it was an embarrassing moment for the perpetrator!
I know the above sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn’t. Most of the time with a few trips to the range and possibly a few additions to your turkey gun you are ready to go. Take the time before the season starts to pattern your gun and you will be confident when there is a Tom looking back at your gun come this spring.