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Patterning Your Shotgun for Turkeys

Knowing how and where his gun shot enabled my son to get his first Turkey (photo by Pete Rogers)

Admittedly, the majority of turkey hunters in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia use a 12 gauge shotgun to hunt turkeys. We know there are those who only hunt with archery equipment (Next article will cover this) and some who use sub-gauges such as a 12, 20 or even the .410 to hunt turkeys.  Then there are those who believe that you can never carry too much gun and shoot the monstrous 10 gauge – all eleven pounds of it! And lastly I have known a few who use crossbows and even muzzle loading shotguns (both flint lock and percussion of every kind)

This piece however will focus on the use of shotguns, it really doesn’t matter what gauge you shoot, so long as you know WHERE your particular gun shoots. And the only way to know for certainty is to shoot it!

There are many different methods to do this, but perhaps the easiest and best method is to pattern your shotgun using a patterning board. Having been accused in the past as being frugal, I opt for using four foot pieces of 1/8” plywood – also known as luan. This material is inexpensive and I can get two patterning boards out of it. Surprisingly it takes a good beating before it becomes useful.

By placing a life size turkey head target on the luan, shoot at 30-40-50 yards respectively to see where and how many pellets hit within the kill zone of the turkey. Since most hunters know that head shots are really the only ethical shot, we won’t go into the reasoning for shooting turkeys in the head, suffice that it’s the only place to shoot them.

Once you know where your gun is shooting, now is the time to experiment with different loads and chokes. My personal arsenal is a 12 gauge Benelli Nova chambered for 3 ½”. After testing, I have learned that the Winchester Turkey Supreme in # 5 shot 3” using my MAD super full choke tube will put 70% of the pellets in the kill zone out to 50 yards – Inside 30 the pattern is very tight and I need to be aware of that when shooting inside 30 yards. Having said this, I also know that inside 30 yards, the Winchester Turkey Supreme in # 6 is better – and still capable of killing them out to 45 yards if necessary. Knowing this lets me choose the right ammo for the situation. If I am hunting open fields, clear-cuts or agriculture land, I will always choose the # 5 in 3”. However, if I am hunting the woods, then I opt for the # 6 shot.

Now about the 3 ½” shells. As a good friend of mine and a turkey hunting legend said to me the other day when discussing the use of 3 ½” shells for turkeys, “There were a lot of turkeys killed with 2 ¾” shells before they made the 3 ½” so the only result is a pounded shoulder. This leads to exactly what I have seen in my research. A good pattern out of a 2 ¾” or even a 3” will outperform a 3 ½”   almost every time. So save your shoulder from the abuse and stick with the smaller shells.

Those shooting sub-gauges should shoot the 3” when possible – in the 20 and .410 particularly. If you are fortunate enough to own a 16 gauge that isn’t an option for you and the 2 ¾” will have to do.

Regardless of which gauge you shoot, its worth the effort and time afield to shoot your gun, get used to it, and know where it shoots. Find the best shell for your gun and when that gobbler steps into range you will have full confidence that when you pull the trigger, you will have your bird.