Pro Tips: How to Pattern Your Shotgun for Turkey Season

No. 4 shot at full choke at 25 yards has solid pattern.
photo by Tim Bronson

Every turkey hunter gets excited about the upcoming season as soon as they see birds strutting out in the fields. So we start doing a little scouting to find some turkey tracks and fresh scratchings, and this gets us even more psyched for opening day. Most of us will check out our old gear and maybe break out some calls and start to practice our calling a bit. Some will get some new gear and look at new guns. We try to get every advantage we can, including buying specialized turkey loads and new extra full chokes. It’s all part of the fun of turkey fever.

I learned from a wise old hunter that if you do one single thing to prepare for turkey season before opening day, it should be sighting in and patterning your shotgun. Very few hunters take the time to pattern their gun and chokes before opening day. Most modern shotguns now come with screw-in choke systems that add great versatility to the gun. A lot of hunters use their shotguns for a variety of purposes during the year. They may shoot clays in the summer and upland birds or ducks or geese in the fall, changing their chokes several times a year. When turkey season comes along, it’s very important to know what kind of pattern your gun is shooting with a specific choke setting at specific distances with a particular type of ammunition. Understanding how your shot stream patterns at specific distances will give you added confidence in the field when it comes to taking that all important shot at a mature Tom or an aggressive Jake.

No. 2 shot with a full choke at 25 yards leaves big holes.
photo by Tim Bronson

Here are some tips for patterning your gun.

1) Select a distance that you believe will be your preferred kill zone, most likely around 25 yards. Make sure that you accurately pace off the distance. I know a lot of hunters who aren’t very good at determining distances by sight.

2) Select a choke you think will give you the best pattern (the most pellets in a concentrated area of the target) at that given distance. You will most likely have to try your improved modified and full chokes and compare the results. You may also want to try a modified choke to see the difference between the three chokes.

3) Select a paper target of a turkey’s neck and head silhouette.

4) Choose the choke that you prefer for your 25 yard shot and take a few shots with the ammo you plan to hunt with on opening day. Count the number of pellets hitting your target. Now you’re armed with invaluable information. Did the shot concentration meet your expectations, or not?

5) Now, use your same choke selection and move your target back to 45 yards and take a shot, then take a 20-yard shot. You’ll now see the difference that the change in distance makes by counting the amount of pellets in the target kill zone.

Note : If you’re shooting an over-under with two barrels; you can pattern two chokes and set up your full choke or extra full choke for a longer shot at that hung up long beard that refuses to make the commitment, and set up your improved modified for a standard 25 to 30 yard shot.

There are a variety of ways that you can pattern your shotgun. The idea is to learn about how your chokes pattern at specific distances with specific ammo. The point is that you’ll learn a lot about how your gun shoots and the way that your chokes perform by going through this exercise. This knowledge will give you added confidence that will help you fell comfortable about how your gun will shoot when your skittish Tom comes into range, but it won’t get rid of turkey fever. I wouldn’t want to rid anybody of that.

One thought on “Pro Tips: How to Pattern Your Shotgun for Turkey Season”

  1. Great advice listed here. It is amazing to me how much of a difference the choke and shot type can make on a shotgun’s pattern. I like the tip you list on using an under-over and using two separate chokes for different distances. I will have to try this out and report back on my experience. Thanks very much for sharing this useful resource!

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