Turkey Gun Patterning is Easy

Shotgun patterning involves shooting at large sheets of paper to determine how pellets spread across it. Some guns shoot high, low, left, or right. Some shells distribute shot poorly, leaving big holes or gaps. Chokes influence this greatly. When shooting at a target as small as a turkey’s head up to 50 yards away, it’s smart to pattern your gun so you KNOW you’re shooting the best load possible.

Here’s how to do it at minimum cost:

1. Get a large cardboard box or build a 4-foot x 4-foot or 3-foot x 3-foot frame to hold sheets of paper (newspaper offices might sell you some un-inked paper for this.)

2. Tape or draw a life-sized turkey head or neck (commercial targets are available) in the middle of the target paper/cardboard.

The author says to aim steadily just beneath the turkey head on-line with the neck and fire.

3. Place the target 50 yards out.

4. Choose the gun, shell, barrel, and choke you wish to test. Most turkey hunters use a full, extra-full or a turkey choke of some kind.

5. Rest gun fore-end (not barrel) on a bench or other steady surface to minimize movement/flinching. A Caldwell Lead Sled rest is great for absorbing recoil. A bag of lead bird shot against your shoulder also does wonders, but any kind of additional padding helps. So does good hearing protection.

6. Aim steadily just beneath the turkey head on-line with the neck and fire. Try not to flinch/jerk the gun.

7. Walk downrange and use a marker pen to ink each pellet hole. Note where the center of the pattern hit in relation to your aim. Many guns are a bit high. Hitting high or to either side a bit isn’t a huge problem if pattern distribution is even, but if you get an extremely close shot, which means the pattern will be tight, you could miss. Note also if there are any unusual concentrations of pellets in any areas with gaps in others (poor pattern distribution.) Count total pellet hits on the turkey head and neck and write this information down. Recognize that much of this target is non-lethal, i.e. wattles, skin, beak. Pellets need to strike the bones for guaranteed effect, so figure four hits minimum, but nine or 10 are better.

8. If hits were too few, either try a different shell or choke or move the target 10 yards closer and repeat. Eventually you will learn which shell/choke gives you maximum reach.

9. To double check, fire additional rounds of your best combo to make sure they’re consistently putting enough pellets on the head/neck.

10. To double-double-check, shoot from turkey field positions (sitting, standing, gun unsupported) to see if point-of-impact stays the same. Some guns shoot higher or lower when the fore-end is rested on a hard surface vs. your hands.

If you restrict your range to 35 yards or less, No. 6 pellets give you an advantage, according to the author.

When testing, you can also try different shot sizes. If you restrict your range to 35 yards or less, No. 6 pellets give you an advantage because there are more of them in a given weight of shot. Beyond that range, No. 6 shot begins losing energy and may not penetrate sufficiently to terminate a big tom. No. 5 shot is heavier and should work well to 40- or even 50 yards, but at that range you might want No. 4 shot. Just make sure you test it for adequate pattern density. Why not use No. 2 shot? Those are great for carrying maximum energy, but they are so large that pattern density suffers. Most turkey hunters consider No. 2 and BB shot as emergency backup ammo for body shots. Should you wound a big bird with small shot and it appears to be escaping, shoot for the body with the larger pellets.

This, then, is how most turkey hunters work: after testing and determining their best gun, barrel, choke and shell combo, they put that “head shot” shell in the chamber and follow it with two emergency “big pellet body load” shells. Some put another small-pellet head-shot load in as their second shot and just one body load as the third shot. Sometimes a turkey will jump at a missed shot, then stop and offer a second head-shot opportunity. It’s a gamble either way, but at least you’ll know you’re shooting the optimum load with your first shot, and that should be all it takes to get the job done.

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4 Responses to “Turkey Gun Patterning is Easy”

  1. Avatar

    Lee’s Summit Bill

    Turkey hunting should not be viewed as an asssination of game. 50 yards is not sporting. The objective is to change the natural behavioral traits of a male Turkey. Call him in close (within 20-25 yards) for a sure humain kill. Learn what is natural behavior for what your hunting and give the creature a fair break. Hunting is viewed by some folks in a bad light. We need to preserve it as a sport to be viewed as fair and not a setup.

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      Who are you to judge ethical? Is the turkey less dead if he doesn’t change his behavior before his head is removed. Unless you are talking behaviors that are deleterious to the population of the species you are hunting or illegal, I don’t see where ethics comes into play. I think we chose to believe one method is more virtuous than another because we don’t want to take ownership in the fact that we are killing another living breathing thing. If you choose to add additional barriers between you and your harvest because of preference that is fine but acting as if one legal method is better than another from a position of ethics is laughable. The hunting industry doesn’t need this kind of divisiveness.

  2. Avatar

    Ronald Buchanan

    Mr Summit Bill is right turkey’s that are taken more than 30yards are bushwacked turkey hunting is a skill & art that most modern hunters do not have. patterning your shot gun is verry important but not just to take a tom at more than 30 yards. so yes pattern your gun out to 50 yards to know the gun’s capabilities. but most of all work on your calling abilities so you wont need for shots grater than 30 yards. give the turkey’s a chance after all he was considered for our national bird.

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      WHAAAA..so…turkeys don’t have a chance at 50 yards?
      I personally will only shoot turkeys between 14.5 and 18 yards with a .410 loaded with semi- chewed juicy fruit. To do anything else is unsportsmanlike. Purists..give me a break. Maybe you just want them close so you don’t miss. That would be Okay.