Monday, April 15, 2013

Turkey Hunting Shotguns: Patterning, Loads, Choke Tubes and More - Spring Gobbler Hunting Series

Welcome back to my Spring Gobbler Hunting Series. In this video, as you probably guessed, we are going to discuss everything related to your Turkey Shotgun, including Turkey Loads, Choke tubes, patterning and more.

Before we head to the range and actually pattern, lets cover a few couple things. If you’ve watched any of my other videos, you probably know by now, I’m the type of guy that likes to be prepared. Mentally, tactically, spiritually, and of course, gear wise haha. Unfortunately, the process of patterning your shotgun can get rather expensive, aftermarket chokes can easily run over $50, and some turkey loads cost more than a few dollars a pop. Fortunately for us there are other hunters just as OCD as us, that have done their homework with enough attention to detail that would make a scientist proud and I’ve used that information to make this process easier for us.

Here’s I’m going to present some considerations you may want to make so your shotgun is the best turkey slayer it can be. Keep in mind what I’m discussing with you is just what I’ve decided to use based on my own preferences.

• 12 gauge – I use a Weatherby 12 gauge, but plenty of turkey have been harvested with smaller gauges. I went with 12 because this gun serves multiple roles for me, but 20 gauge has killed plenty of turkeys and has gained popularity in recent years, especially with women and children. But there are plenty of pro-hunters who swear my 20 gauge. As new creative shot shell metals and wads are developed I believe this will expand even further.
• Barrel Length – Again, this shotgun serves multiple purposes for me, so it may be a bit longer than what you use. There are probably hundreds of thousands of threads discussing how much effect barrel length has on the pattern, but we aren’t going to waste time discussing it because I could give you a dissertation on it at this point. The bottom line is the choke tube is what you should rely on for tightening a pattern, and then figure out which load works best with that choke. The more meaningful difference between barrel length is simple: shorter barrels will make it easier to move through the woods, longer barrels give a longer sight radius if not using an adjustable sight.
• Sights – there is a huge market for shotgun sights, I kept it relatively simple. I’m using this Tru-Glow Universal Ghost ring sight. I tried initially using just a fiber optic style sight on the end of the barrel, but I was not happy with my aiming consistancy at further distances. My other potential concern was not being able to get a good sight alingment if I had to take a shot from a shooting position I wasn’t prepared for. This sight solves both of those concerns for me – mainly though, it helps make me confident in the farther shots.
• Choke tubes – depending on the gun you bought, you may have received a few mfg brand choke tubes. If youre unfamiliar, a choke tube is screwed in to the end of the barrel, which modifies how tight (by using constriction) the pattern is, so you can tailor the gun to your needs. Most likely, the tighest choke tube your gun came with was something like a Full. While I’m sure you could kill a turkey with this constriction at closer ranges, when you’re aiming for a target the size of a pencil with a quarter on top of it, you better be damn accurate. Your best bet is to buy an aftermarket choke tube. This will give you tighter patterns at farther distances.
• Turkey Loads – whether you chose to go with a 2 ¾” 20 gauge shell or a 3 ½” 12 gauge, is entirely up to you. You will need to experiment with different shell sizes as well as shot size and brand to find the best you can. If you find one that works stick with it, no need to shoot every ammo brand your local gun store has. Shot size 4, 5 and 6 are the most popular for turkey.
• Shot Lethality – It is generally accepted that at least 2.5 ft/lbs of energy is required to penetrate the flesh and bone of a mature tom. The smaller the shot size, the faster it loses this energy. Lead #6 shot fired at about 1300 fps will cross this threshold somewhere between 35-40 yards. #5 shot retains about 3.5 ft/lbs of energy at 40 yards, while #4 retains about 4.4 ft/lbs at 40 yards. If you are using any of the heavier shot types, such as tungsten alloys, you will extend the lethality range even further than these general figures. This will come in to play later when we analyze our patterns at our maximum ethical shooting distance.
• Maximum Ehtical Shooting Distance – Which brings me to my next point - This is something every hunter should determine for themselves. The NWTF recommends 40 yards as the farthest ethical distance. There are many people who have their guns dialed in at distances well beyond this. After you go through this process of patterning, you can determine what your distance is based on the results you get. We will talk more about this later.

Now to actually test the different loads you have purchased. I’ll be honest, I have already went through more testing than my bank account would like to admit. But I simply wasn’t happy with the results I got after my first trip so I decided to do it over again.

Here is what I learned from my first trip to pattern.
• Some of the different brands will consistently pattern off center and favor one direction or another. Having an adjustable sight will eliminate this from being an issue because we can adjust to this point of impact after we chose our best load.
• If you plan on shooting more than 15 turkey loads, you should strongly consider using a lead sled. I’m no pussy, but after shooting about 35 magnum turkey loads over a period of an hour, my shoulder had seen better days. Use a sled to take out as much human error as possible.
• There is such a thing as over-constriction. When using some of the different shell varieties, over contricting the shells with higher shot count (like these two oz # 6s), or larger shot size (like # 4 compared to # 5 or # 6) seemed to cause the patterns to be much less dense than they should ultimately be. This makes sense if you think about it. Imagine a bar on a Wednesday night not too crowded, and someone pulls the fire alarm. Everyone gets out in a pretty organized fashion without much fuss. Same scenario on a Saturday night will result in a lot more chaos. To take it even further, imagine the same scenario on a Saturday, except everyone there is 250lbs. Definitely gonna be some chaos. The more shot or the larger the shot you have coming out of a smaller space at the same time, the more this will cause the pattern to fall apart some. Pellets may smash together and/or become deformed resulting in opening up the pattern. Morale of the story, try a looser constriction on both the heavier and larger shot sizes if the pattern looks chaotic with a tighter choke. If that still doesn’t improve the pattern it could just be that your gun dislikes that brand, but its worth checking.
• And lastly, take your time especially if you aren’t using a sled. These shells aren’t cheap and if you’re recoil flinching before the shot user error may be contributiong to port shot patterns or flyers.

Now with that it mind, here is how I decided to work through the patterning process:
• Set up a target at 30 yards. Use large sizes of paper. This way you can identify the entire pattern. A lot of guys just buy those anatomical turkey targets, but they don’t show you the whole picture. I won’t be using those until I identify my best load or loads. Draw a point of aim on the target that is large enough to see from farther distances. I drew about a 2” red dot.
• Depending on your gun set up, this next part may be different for you than me. At some point we want to draw a 10” circle to measure pattern density. If you are using a gun without any form of adjustable sights, draw this cirlce beforehand. If you have an adjustable sight like I do though, we can draw the circle afterwards based on where the highest density is, and then adjust our sight to the actual point of impact. It doesn’t make sense to adjust your sight until after you chose a load, because each load may have a different approximate point of impact – just make sure you are consistently aiming at the same point of aim with each load.
• Fire 1 shot with each different load you bought at the target at 30 yards. I say 30 because its still close enough to aim easily without sights (compared to 40) and the pattern won’t open up as much yet, but is also far enough away (compared to 20) for the pattern to open up a bit and show any possible issues you will have at farther distances. Mark all pertinent info down on each target such as shot size, brand, distance etc.
• From these targets we will analyze pattern density. Again if you are using a gun without sights, you will want to choose the load(s) that patterned the most shot within the predrawn 10” circle. If you are using adjustable sights like I am, use a 10” circle cut-out and place it over the most dense part of the pattern. Count the number of shot within that 10” circle.
• Choose best patterns and then we will advance the distance with these better performers to 35 yards and repeat the process.
• From here we will probably eliminate another few loads. Take the final remaining loads and fire 1 each at 40 yards. You can continue this process out to farther distances if you plan on shooting farther distances, or if you’re just curious to see what the pattern looks like.
• The NWTF recommends that at 40 yards you should have at least 100 hits in the 10” circle to ensure an ethical kill. If during this process you discover that your patterns stop meeting that threshold, you have identified that load as a non-viable option up to that distance – at least by the NWTF’s standards.
• Now, my 0.02 - It only takes 1 good placed ball of shot to kill a turkey if it hits in the right place, but turkeys are some tough birds and you have little control of what shot hits where. But some patterns will result in a bird more dead than others haha. With this process you are greatly increasing your efficiency and more importantly your confidence, as you attempt to harvest a turkey ethically.
• If you’ve discovered that multiple different loads pattern effeciently up to your maximum ethical shooting distance, then you’ve got to determine which load you would go with. A significantly higher amount of shot improves your chances of a lethal shot, but remember the trade off between shot size and shot energy. If I had to chose between a marginal increase in the number of shot versus a larger shot size, I would go with the larger shot and more retained energy. But if the number of shot within the pattern was significantly higher, then that may be your better option.
• From here, I will first adjust my sight’s point of aim based on the approximate point of impact of the pattern for the load I have selected. Then I will shoot at the anatomical targets at different distances. This gives me a bit more of a real world experiment. From this I will count the number of lethal hits. 8-10 is a good minimum in either the brain or spine, as is a minimum of 20 total hits.

At this point you should know what your best load is. I will also recommend if you are using a vest and or a blind or some form of gun rest or shooting sticks that you should practice with them. I don’t want the first time I’m using the set up to be when I’m out in the woods, only to find that I have to adjust my aiming if I can’t get a good mount or sight picture. This will make you at least a bit more prepared for whatever those jokers throw at you. You may also want to throw a pattern at 10 or 15 yards. You will see the margin of error gets smaller and smaller the closer the bird gets, and depending on your choke tube, you’ll probably realize after a certain point you might be better of fixing bayonets haha.

That’s it for this video guys. Hopefully this will help you pattern your shotgun, and has increased your knowledge around patterning in general. I know it has for me. With a little bit of work, its easy to make your shotgun the best turkey slayer it can be. Stay tuned for my next video in the series, on all the other miscellaneous gear related to turkey hunting.

As always, stay safe,


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