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Pattern your Shotgun for Turkeys

Posted by Dirk Durham on
Pattern your Shotgun for Turkeys

Turkey hunting starts on paper. I constantly look for the opportunity to take new turkey hunters out and help them shorten their learning curve.  A few seasons ago, one instance comes to mind. I was contacted by a young man, Brett who I already knew through family connections.  He wanted to give turkey hunting a try. I knew he was already a successful big game hunter and a duck hunter as well. We talked on the phone and made a plan to meet up. 

That morning before the hunt I asked him about his familiarity with his shotgun and what choke he had in it for this hunt. He wasn’t sure but thought it was a full choke. I also asked if he had ever put it on paper to know what kind of a pattern he was shooting. He said no, he had never done that.  He though since he had no problem taking ducks with it, it should be easy to take a turkey. With that statement I was a bit concerned since we had no idea what to expect.

 Not long into the morning we had a great strutter coming in to the call, glowing white & blue faced. He strutted all the way up the mountain from a hundred yards away in plain view into  30+ yards for great clear shot. The shot rang out and the bird ran off without a feather missing back down the mountain. Brett was shocked that he missed but was now hooked with this first experience in the turkey woods.  My concerns were now growing with the results of that shot!

A few more hours into the day we were back in it with three more great birds gobbling on their way in. All three appeared, walking in a line for a side shot at 30+ yards. Once again, the shot rang out, and once again the results were the same! At this point I knew we likely had a serious pattern issue that needed to be delt with rather than take any more chances of likely injuring a bird. I called the hunt off till Brett could take the time to properly pattern his gun.

Patterning your turkey gun on paper before going out on a hunt is imperative. Before every season it’s essential to know what will happen at different distances and different shell loads by shooting at a Turkey Head Target. I still take this time before every season.  If I’m not changing anything from last season, I might just put one shell through my gun to be sure nothing has changed.

 So, pick up some Turkey Head Targets and head to the range and set them out at varying distances. I like to start someone at 15 yards if it’s the first time they have ever done this.  Any lower priced bird or trap shell can be used just to see if your aim is off first. Or possibly pick up a laser bore sight to check your aim point before wasting money on expensive ammo. Once you know your aim point is accurate it’s time for a pattern check. I prefer to shoot patterns at 20, 30 & 50 yards as these distances are typical of what I’m going to see on a turkey hunt.

You should experiment with different turkey loads and turkey choke combinations to see what is going to work best in your gun. This allows you to know your gun’s effective kill range. Allowing you to know what is going to give you the most amount of hits inside of a 10-inch circle at different distances. What you want to see is a good even spread without large open areas in that circle, and lots of hits in the kill areas (neck bones & brain) of that turkey target. Once you understand what is going to happen when you pull that trigger it will not only increase your confidence, but will increase your chances of effectively killing a turkey and greatly lower the chances of you wounding one as well. You can even switch hands to shoot the opposite direction just in case that sneaky old educated Tom should come in from the opposite direction. That’s a good one to try!

Back to my hunter story. So, Brett did put his set up on paper and it was not good at all. Even closer than 30 yards there were no hits in the kill areas. He asked me what he needed to do after sending me numerous pictures of what was happening. I suggested, first of all get a good quality turkey choke for his gun, and a decent turkey hunting sight to aim better. Either a good adjustable tall front sight with an adjustable rear sight like the Truglo Gobble Dot Sight, or a good red dot sight like to Vortex Venom. He set his gun up proper before the 2021 season and he put a bunch of time on paper at many different distances and sent me new pictures of the results. He was definitely ready!

I had the pleasure of going back out with Brett on the 2021 spring season, and the first bird we called in was at 50+ yards and he dropped him clean! His First bird, and our first ever 21st bird of any season. It was epic!

So, get busy on paper and know your gun with practice before the spring season creeps up on you!

 Author- John Weik

If you want to see the progression of these two hunts you can view them on our YouTube channel at Northwest Spur Chasers. The 2020 Spring Season hunt with the clean misses is titled, A Good Day of Learning. The 2021 Spring Season hunt with Brett taking his first bird is titled, Hunt #26, Brett’s Redemption Hunt.

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