When it comes to the perfect gun, what’s the number-one thing that matters most to you? The opinion of most turkey hunters would be to choose a gun that shoots a tight shot pattern.
At first, all that turkey hunters had available to choose from were the Improved Cylinder, Modified, and Full Chokes. At the time we made do with what we had, but as turkey hunting has grown in popularity we started seeing Extra-Full and Turkey-Full chokes. With these specialty chokes becoming all the rage, would one work with your gun and load?
To understand shot patterns better, we need to understand how a choke does its job. The first thing that happens is that the shot moves from the chamber (where the shell is held) into the barrel. This is accomplished by traveling through a short taper called a forcing cone. As the shot passes through the barrel, it will enter the choke; that’s the last thing it does before leaving the gun. The reason the barrel is shaped as a perfect tube is to prevent disturbance in the shot column. When the shot enters the choke, the choke will crowd the edges of the shot column inward in order to tighten the shot pattern.
Chokes can present problems if they are too tight. A good example would be pellets pushing against each other. When this happens, the result is a pattern that will have holes throughout it, instead of a nice, tight pattern. It is possible that hunters will have an irregular pattern with some loads and not with others. It may occur with every shot or just occasionally. You’ll never know for sure when it will happen. The good news is that there’s a simple remedy — shot size.
Hunters will begin to see irregular shot patterns with a large shot like a number 4 and other large pellets. A choke that delivers a tight pattern with the smaller number 6 might have problems with the bigger number 4 in the way of leaving holes in the shot pattern. A large shot might even damage the choke itself. There’s no room in my turkey-hunting arsenal for a number 4 shell, and I recommend that all turkey hunters stay away from the 4 shot.
Hopefully turkeys will get to within 20 yards for the perfect shot, but when they don’t cooperate, you ‘ll need to have a gun and a load that will reach out and deliver a punch with a tight pattern. Let’s face it, turkeys don’t know what we hunters expect from them, so we have to be ready for anything.
After you have your shot patterned to a point where you can no longer complain about it (with the correct choke and shot size), there are still other factors that will make an individual turkey gun more comfortable to hunt with. Autoloaders, pump, single, and double barrels — turkey hunters can choose from all of these actions. Your decision ultimately depends on what you’ve grown accustomed to over the years.
Autoloaders are the first choice among many turkey hunters, despite being more costly than other actions. With more and more turkey hunters shooting heavier loads, autoloaders are popular for being able to minimize much of the recoil. Chances are that hunters will not get a second shot at a turkey, although it does happen. Whatever the situation, it’s nice to know that you’ll have a gun ready to fire.
Many hunters pursue other game with a pump-action shotgun; it’s a popular choice amongst turkey hunters. My wife recently started hunting with a Savage 320 Field Grade, MO Obsession Camo, and it has become second nature for her to eject a shell from the chamber. She often does so without even realizing it.
A double-barrel shotgun will allow a hunter to use two different loads, depending on the shot distance. In one barrel you can have a load that will hold a tight pattern for long shots, with an open pattern in the second chamber for shorter shots. Simply use the barrel selector to choose the desired load, aim, and fire.
Single barrels are usually inexpensive compared to other actions, and lighter too. A hunter will only have one shot, but how often does a turkey hang around after you shoot? An easy fix is not to miss the bird the first time you shoot.
A 12-gauge that’s chambered for a 3-inch case is all that you need to kill a turkey. The 3 ½-inch casings came out because there’s not room for lighter steel in the smaller 3-inch shell to give maximum performance. Now that hunters are able to hunt turkeys with lead, the 3-inch shell is sufficient, having power comparable to a 3 ½-inch casings.
After several attempts at patterning her shotgun, my wife found that the Federal Grand Slams 5 shot fired best out of her setup. The number of pellets within a 10-inch circle at 20, 40, and 60-yards won hands up against several other shotshells. You wouldn’t go on an elk hunt with a rifle without first sighting it in. Why would you go turkey hunting without first learning how it shoots.
Most of the top shotgun makers offer specialized turkey guns. If you’re loyal to one brand, chances are that you can find a gun to suit your needs.
Today’s hunters have many sight options available to them, including a vent rib with a front bead, rifle-type sights, and scopes. Unlike shooting at a flying bird (such as a quail, where you instinctively point and shoot), a shot at the head of a turkey requires you to aim as if you’re shooting a rifle.
A vent rib with a front bead has provided many hunters with a dead turkey at the end of the day. With more options in sights, they have almost became obsolete in the turkey woods.
Most gun makers now offer rifle-type sights that come standard on their turkey models. For those gobblers that come in straight from the roost on low-light mornings, rifled sights are perfect, as they’re fiber optic. That makes them great for aiming during low-light conditions. Jakes and smaller toms are likely to come in on any hens before the boss gobbler can get to her. If you don’t mind a smaller bird, rifled-sights are good under these circumstances.
There’s one small problem with rifled sights on some shotguns, but it can be easily fixed with an adjustment as to how you hold your head. Shotgun stocks put the eye of the shooter in line with the rib. This is so that the barrel will not sidetrack the shooter, but instead allow the hunter to focus on the intended target. Stocks on a rifle are raised a little higher so that the hunter’s eye lines up with the raised rifle sights. Most, if not all, shotgun makers have begun to use rifle-type stocks on their turkey guns. If you have an older model, all you have to do is raise your cheek slightly for a good sight picture. Hunters can also purchase a padded cheek piece to help properly position your cheek.
Many optic companies are now offering scopes for the shotgunner. I recommend a red dot scope. There are several quality red dots on the market. My recently topped her Savage 320 with a Bushnell red dot. Bushnell has several red dots depending on your needs.
Having a shotgun that you’re comfortable shooting, a load that shoots a deadly pattern, and a sight that you feel will allow you to consistently hit the head of a boss gobbler: Put these three things together and you have a deadly trio.