With the start of our 2013 turkey season just a few days away, it makes sense to start pulling out all of your gear in preparation for that first day of April.
You’ll need to dig out your turkey vest, locate all of those calls and be sure to have your camo ready. Remember to find your facemask, gloves and all of those other little parts of your turkey stash that, though small, would ruin your opening day if you didn’t have them along.
Of course, you’ll need to make sure that your shotgun is in good working order and ready to go as well!
Even if, like me, you have a dedicated shotgun that’s just for chasing longbeards, it only makes sense to take a few shots to be sure that it’s performing flawlessly and finding free turkey targets to practice with is as easy as jumping on the computer and googling “free turkey targets.”
There are tons of them to be found online and a sheet of regular printer paper is as big as it needs to be. Just tape it to a larger piece of cardboard, set it up on a stake or something similar and you’re ready to go.
After coming across one that suits you and printing it off, your first move should be to take a few shots from just around 10 yards away. There’s no need to bust your shoulder with turkey loads at this point, so just pop in a couple of 2 2/3-inch, eight-shot shells. Besides, those turkey loads can get expensive in a hurry.
All you’re looking to find out at this point is whether or not your gun is shooting where you’re aiming. Even with 8-shot, your turkey choke will be giving you a tight enough pattern to determine whether or not it’s placing all the pellets around your aiming point. This is especially true when shooting at such a short distance.
Most hunters are shocked to learn that there are tons of shotguns out there with barrels that aren’t straight. Other issues that can affect your point of impact include improperly inserted choke tubes and adjustable sights that have been bumped.
If your barrel does happen to be bent, that doesn’t mean you should trash the gun. A gunsmith can straighten the barrel on a jig or you can simply replace the barrel itself. They’re not that expensive.
After determining that your gun is shooting where you’re pointing it, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and test both your gun and chosen turkey loads for pattern density. This will help you determine what loads and brand of shotgun shells will perform best for you when it’s time to take that shot that actually matters.
Often, I’ve discussed this topic with hunters that are just getting into chasing turkeys and they’ll usually give me a funny look as we hit this part of the conversation. They’ll usually ask something like, “Won’t any turkey load do the job?”
Well, yes and no.
Typically, you only get one shot at a turkey, and some shells simply perform better than the others in most every gun. Just because your buddy’s Remington is putting plenty of pellets into the kill zone when shooting a particular Federal turkey load doesn’t mean it will give you the same results- even if both your shotgun and turkey choke are the same models as his.
In a one shot sport do you really want to take chances if there’s a shotgun shell that will do a better job for you?
Run out and buy you a few different turkey loads. It might run you a little extra cash on the front end but knowing exactly what makes your gun perform best for you is worth the cost. Besides, the fact that you’ll only have to do this once to know, you can lessen the expense by teaming up with your hunting buddies and split the cost so that all of you can do this.
What you’re looking for is the shotgun shell that consistently yields the tightest pattern at various distances. Taking a shot on an old gobbler isn’t that much different than if you were hunting deer with a rifle since the vitals on a turkey are small. You’re only aiming at the head/neck area of the bird. This means that the more pellets that you’re putting into the vitals, the better. Still, you need some uniformity within the pattern to raise your odds.
A pattern that’s not much bigger than a baseball all the way out at 25 or 30 yards would be a bit too tight and result in quite a few misses out there in the turkey woods. This is why today’s loads are designed to be both tight patterning but somewhat uniform in how the pellets disperse downrange. A more even density to the pattern is guaranteed to raise your chances.
Take shots at various distances out to 35 or 40 yards and then count the number of pellets that are hitting within the vitals. Look at things such as are there any holes within the pattern where none of the pellets hit? From this it’s easy to determine exactly which shotshell is working best for you.
What I’ve given you there are the basics of shotgun patterning for turkeys but there are some factors to be considered beyond this. One big one is what shot size should I use?
The most effective sizes on an old Tom are 4, 5 and 6 but there is somewhat of a method to the madness of picking which you should try. It all comes down to the constriction of your choke.
Turkey chokes are typically labeled as “full” or “extra-full” but there’s an actual number to look for that will tell you just how tight the constriction is. Mine, for example, is a .670 made right in McConnells by Bill Davis at Pure Gold shotgun chokes and it’s very tight, while a traditional full choke measures .694 and an extra-full is around .689. Both five-shot and six-shot loads tend to perform best in tighter constrictions such as mine and I shoot fives. The larger pellets of four-shot typically do a bit better with a slightly larger choke.
Since the introduction of the 3 1/2-inch shell, many turkey hunters blindly choose them because they believe that they’re the ultimate “gobbler getter.” That couldn’t be further from the truth as it still all comes down to finding the right shell for your set-up.
The best shooting shell in my turkey gun is a 3-incher that is far more consistent and clearly outshot every 3 1/2 that’s on the market. While it’s true that the larger shell packs more punch at longer ranges, that punch isn’t worth much if the pellets aren’t hitting where they need to be.
Besides, I’ve taken birds at ridiculous ranges that were much farther out than I realized and they ended up taking a ride home in the truck.
Just remember to concentrate your efforts from ten to forty yards and you’ll be good to go.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his web site at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter- @BHarveyOutdoors