When the big tom stepped out of the tangled brush he was less than 15 yards from the end of the gun. He was in full-strut, with his head tucked low into his breast feathers. "Wait," was the word I was about to whisper to the hunter I was guiding.
But I was a split-second too late. He fired at the gobbler and poked a golf ball sized hole in his fan. A perplexed look appeared as his head-net came off. "What happened?" he asked.
My explanation to him took one-half hour and a half-box of shells. After I was told of his super-full turkey choke, I explained to him that he had virtually no pattern at that range with that choke. I also explained the three primary factors in preparing your pattern for a turkey hunt.
Traditionally we have been told that bigger is better when it comes to turkey guns and ammunition. To be honest, it is quite often "overkill." My boys successfully, consistently harvest gobblers with 2-3/4-inch, 20-gauge shot shells. Even though there may be legitimate hunting applications for 10-gauge magnum shells that could double as table legs, I think we can develop a program to help you find the need to pattern smaller shells with possibly smaller shot sizes.
Shot size itself can be important for you. Again, the larger shells of the past have been packed with heavy loads of large shot. Often 1-7/8 ounces to 2 ounces of #4 or #2 shot have been used for turkey hunting.
These intercontinental ballistic loads are often called "bone-breakers" because they are mostly fired at longer ranges in an attempt to break a gobbler down as opposed to causing a fatal hit. The added amount of shot is used to produce a denser pattern, but it also adds to an already abusive recoil.
My recommendation is a 12-gauge shotgun shooting 1-1/2 ounces of #5 or #6 copper-plated shot in a 3-inch shell. As you pattern this combination you will find a high-density distribution of shot at almost all ranges. The exact results of your pattern now fall to choosing which choke you shoot these shells through.
The most important single factor in being a conservation-minded turkey hunter is to know the limitations of your equipment and stay within those limitations, no matter what.
If you determine the lethal range of your gun, shell and choke combination is 35 yards, then do not ever take a shot beyond that range. If you pattern your gun at 15 yards and find you are putting teacup-sized holes in the target, do not shoot at a bird inside 20 yards.
Only you can make these judgment calls based upon the data you obtain by experimenting with different loads, using different chokes, at varying distances. Again, you are looking for a relatively dense, uniformly distributed pattern for the range at which you expect your feathered target to be.
This choke advice has been given to those of you with guns that accept screw-in choke tubes. Not every turkey hunter is lucky enough to own such versatile equipment. If your gun has a barrel with a fixed choke, your process is a bit different. You must pattern your gun to a specific distance, not necessarily of your choosing. Obviously, a full-choke gun will give you a bit more lethal pattern than an improved-cylinder.
I shoot a 12-gauge, 3-inch magnum with 1-1/2 ounces of #6 copper-plated shot. I pattern this gun at 20 yards using a modified choke tube. This combination, at that range, gives me the exact pattern necessary to be lethal every time.
I camouflage myself in brush and/or shadows and set-up decoys at 15 yards. I also decide ahead of time that I will shoot at no gobbler outside the range of the decoys. My last 20 toms have come at less than 15 yards -- between my decoys and me.
I always use soft, seductive, infrequent calls to not only attract the tom to come in, but to entice him into coming closer, for that 100 percent shot.
Patterning your turkey gun correctly by combining the right choke and the right shells for the right distance is essential to success. But also, these are just pieces to a bigger puzzle that is necessary for you to become a consistent turkey hunter.
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