7 Tips for Shotgun Pattern Perfection
Courtesy of the National Wild Turkey Federation
Every year, more than three million hunters flock to the hardwoods, bottomlands, rolling hills, pine forests and numerous other landscapes in pursuit of the wild turkey. And, every year, some of them walk out of the hunt with a hollow feeling of disgust, because they missed their turkey.
Though there’s nothing these folks can do about the past, they can do something to keep from missing their shot in the future. Being prepared, knowing their firearms, and spending a little time on the shooting range can, and will, remedy shooting problems that have humbled many turkey hunters.
“Knowing how your shotgun patterns is only part of the equation to having a successful turkey hunt,” said National Wild Turkey Federation CEO Rob Keck. “But it is a very important part. Practicing the shot before the season will leave you confident with your shooting abilities, and you’ll be able to focus on other important parts of the hunt.”
This year, try these helpful hints from the experts at the NWTF to help make sure the next time the opportunity presents itself, you walk out of the woods with a turkey over your shoulder.
1. Does size matter?
When choosing a shotgun for turkey hunting, choose a gun that’s comfortable to shoot and one that you have confidence in. Shooting magnum turkey load can lead to a bad case of “the flinches.” More than one longbeard has lived to gobble another day because of “the flinches.”
2. Chokes and such
A key element to a good turkey gun is a good turkey choke. A turkey choke has more constriction than a Full choke, and are often labeled Extra Full or XX Full. Tighter chokes are designed for smaller pellets such as No. 6 or No. 5 shot. The more open constrictions are better suited for larger pellets such as No. 4s.
Can you have too much constriction? Yes, you can. Depending on your gun and the ammunition you’ve selected, you can over-constrict the shot to the point where the pattern diminishes. It is possible for the pellets to bounce off each other or become deformed, leaving large holes in your pattern. The solution for this is to go to a more open constriction or to a smaller shot size.
The ammunition you choose can drastically affect your pattern. Each gun-choke combination will shoot a specific round better than the others. The only way to determine which it likes, is to shoot a variety of ammunition. Vary your shot sizes and brands from several distances and stick with the one that gives you the most consistent pattern.
4. What’s in a pattern?
The ideal pattern for turkey hunting is 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. This density means that there should be plenty of pellets in the small vital area of the turkey’s head and neck to kill it ethically.
If you prefer No. 6 turkey loads (approx. 222 pellets/oz.), then a two-ounce load of No. 6s should pattern about 25 percent of its shot in the 10-inch circle. Two ounces of No. 5s (approx. 171 pellets/oz.) should give you a pattern of about 30 percent. Two ounces of No. 4s (approx. 135 pellets/oz.) should result in a 37 percent pattern. These numbers are based on lead pellets, so heavier-than-lead alloy pellets will have fewer pellets per ounce and the percentage will differ slightly.
5. What’s so magical about 40 yards?
Turkey guns are often patterned at 40 yards because that is the maximum distance promoted by the Turkey Hunting Safety Task Force as the proper range to ethically and cleanly kill a turkey with a shotgun. However, knowing how your shotgun patterns at distances less than 40 yards is also very important.
6. Dial it in
Initial pattern tests should be on a 30-inch target. Sheets of butcher paper or craft paper work great. Draw a small two-inch circle in the middle and color it in with a marker, then draw a 10-inch circle centered on that. Pace off 40 yards or use a laser range finder to mark your distance. Use a shooting brace/bench to reduce human error and shoot a single round at each target. Shoot a few different types of ammo through different choke tubes, record the information and then compare the results. Pick the round that gives you the densest pattern.
Using the NWTF’s patterning targets http://turkey-shoppe.nwtf.org/product251.html— the official target of the Outdoor Connection Inc., World Wild Turkey Still Target Championships — also allows you to make sure your pattern is perfect by practicing on realistic turkey targets.
7. Be ready to shoot
After a few trips to the range, you’ll have the confidence that your gun can produce the needed results when a gobbler struts to within 40 yards.
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