Walk on the Wild Side

Brad Harvey: Turn dull days into productive ones before turkey time

March 5, 2014 

I really hate this time of year. The weather swings back and forth so much, you can’t ever count on having the opportunity to get outside and do anything which causes one serious case of “cabin fever” to set in.

The smart hunters are already looking ahead, since turkey season is almost upon us and they’re using all of this down time to start gathering up and going over all of their gear so that they’re ready when April 1 gets here.

After all, there’s nothing worse than scrambling around trying to find everything you need on the night before the big day.

It’s also pretty smart to be ready to run outside and spend a little time with your turkey gun when we do get the occasional good weather day so that you’ll know exactly how it’s shooting and what your patterns are looking like.

Even if, like me, you have a dedicated shotgun just for chasing longbeards, it only makes sense to take a few shots to be sure that it’s performing flawlessly. Finding a few free turkey targets to practice with is as easy as jumping on the computer and printing a few off and you’ll be ready to go.

Once you’ve done that, 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 simply pop in a couple of 2 ¾-inch, 8-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 still 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 and 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’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and test both your gun and chosen turkey loads for pattern density.

Typically, you only get one shot at a turkey and some shells simply perform better than others in most every gun. Just because your buddy’s Remington is putting plenty of pellets into the kill zone when shooting a particular 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.

Run out and buy a few different turkey loads. It might cost a little extra cash on the front end, but knowing exactly what makes your gun perform best is worth it.

Besides, you can lessen the expense by teaming up with your hunting buddies and splitting the expense.

What you’re looking for is the shotgun shell that consistently yields the most consistent pattern at various distances. Taking a shot on an old gobbler isn’t that much different than 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 so, naturally, the more pellets that you’re putting into those vitals, the better. That said, you still need some uniformity within the pattern to raise your odds.

A tight, baseball-sized pattern all the way out at 25 or 30 yards would be a bit too tight and result in quite a few misses 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 and 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 if 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.

Choosing your choke and shot size

The most effective shot sizes on an old Tom are 4, 5 and 6 but there is somewhat of a method to the madness when picking which to 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 measured number to look for that will tell you just how tight the constriction is.

Mine, for example, is a .670 that’s very tight, while a traditional full choke measures .694 and an extra-full is around .689. Both 5-shot and 6-shot loads tend to perform best in tighter constrictions such as mine and I shoot fives. The larger pellets of 4-shot typically do a bit better with a slightly larger choke.

Since the introduction of the 3½-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 setup.

The best shooting shell in my turkey gun is a 3-incher that is far more consistent and clearly outshoots every 3 ½ I’ve run through it. 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.

Well, there you have it. Hopefully those of you that are, like me, chompin’ at the bit just to do something will take advantage of this down time and make it productive.

I can guarantee you’ll be mighty glad you’re ready at the close of this month.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors.

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