Turkey Shotgun Patterning

Pattern Your Turkey Gun

Live the Legend |

With the spring’s first turkey seasons already open in our nation’s southernmost reaches of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and several other states, the majority of our nation’s other gobbler hunters are getting antsy with anticipation as their opening days loom just days and weeks ahead. In addition to organizing camo and calls, one of the most important tasks every hunter should do is pattern their shotgun.

Unfortunately, too many hunters hit the woods each spring without ever shooting a single shell at a target before the season and then when they wind up missing a real gobbler, they act surprised. Other hunters don’t go far enough with the effort. They hang a target, step off 40 yards across an open space, let a single shot sail into the air and if the pattern looks good, they say, “I’m good to go.”

Turkey Shotgun Pattern

The gun and load may be, but is the hunter actually “good” to go?

While open shots on field turkeys standing 40 yards or less certainly occur, it’s not the only shot presentation hunters will be faced with. Unlike targets, turkeys move—ducking their heads to peck at the ground, tucking it against their bodies as they strut and even jerking it in fear as it realizes danger is near. To truly ensure you and your gun/ammo combination are ready to achieve 100 percent shot success this spring, remember the following:

  • Use the same loads you will hunt with during the season as many loads may shoot differently through your shotgun.
  • Don’t just set a turkey target at 40 yards, shoot once and be satisfied you’re “on” if the pattern is spread evenly over the head/neck vital area of the target. Turkeys stroll in to a setup at different distances, sometimes hanging up as far out as 50 or more yards, sometimes stalling at 30 or 40 and even more often than not, rushing right in where they are taken at less than 15 paces. At close range, patterns from a turkey choke may be as tight as if you fired a slug, causing as many birds to be missed up close as are missed at distance. When patterning your gun, check it at different distances, setting a target at 10, 20, 30, 40 and even 50 or 60 yards to see how the pattern changes over distance. With Winchester’s new Long Beard XR, which delivers the real-world potential for once-unheard-of 60-yard shots, making sure you are up to the task of long shots is particularly critical.
  • If the center of your pattern isn’t hitting at the point of aim, you may need to go with adjustable sights, a red dot sight or a scope, which will allow you to properly adjust the aim.
  • Don’t just shoot from a bench rest, mimic real shooting conditions by shooting as you will likely be sitting when hunting. Sit on the ground, back against a tree and rest your arms on your knees.
  • In addition to patterning the shotgun at different distances, add some shot scenario realism by wearing the same clothes you’ll have on when hunting (particularly hat, gloves and face mask). Set targets in the woods and up and down hills instead of an open range to simulate shooting through and around brush and limbs or on uneven terrain.
  • Many outdoor writers will suggest swapping out chokes if your gun isn’t patterning well. That’s certainly an important consideration, but trying a different load can be a cheaper option. It could just be the size shot you are putting through the barrel as not all loads pattern the same from certain chokes. Winchester’s Double X turkey loads come in a variety of shot sizes and loadings as does the company’s Super X line and the new Long Beard XR ammunition.