The Way of the Turkey Gun...
I once had a professional upland guide and very accomplished clay shooter debate with me the topic of pointing his turkey gun instead of aiming it because it was a shotgun. He claimed that the only proper way to shoot a shotgun was to "point it". I will discuss all of the ways that statement is wrong and also offer you some advice on the proper way to pattern your turkey gun.
If you share his opinion I will do my best here to change your mind. While undertaking the sport of wingshooting or clay shooting the proper way to direct your line of fire is through "pointing" your shotgun. These sports nearly always involve leading your target with various techniques due to the moving nature of your target. You are also sending a grouping of pellets downrange, known as a "pattern" that does not have a specific point of impact. So aiming in its' true form such as with a rifle is pointless and usually will result in a miss if attempted. With that being said, turkey hunting is not wingshooting. In fact, it is much more comparable to big game hunting than it is to pheasant hunting and as a result, requires much different equipment. A properly equipped turkey gun, in my opinion, should have a sighting system similar to a gun shooting a single projectile. Rifle sights (my preference), red dots, scopes, etc. all require aiming and will not allow "point" shooting. At a bare minimum one should have two inline beads which will assist in proper alignment. A single beaded gun does not fit my criteria of a turkey gun, although many people hunt with these every year. I am not saying they are doing it wrong they are just not reaching the full capabilities of their gun.
Let us now assume that you have a turkey gun equipped with an sighting system. The next step would be outfitting your gun with a choke tube appropriate for turkey hunting. If you ask ten people what is the best choke you will get ten answers. I myself, have used many differnt brands and constrictions and for that reason will not discuss specifics, just philosophy. I am of the opinion that a turkey gun should be fitted with a choke of a tight constriction for a good downrange pattern. Some would argue that at close ranges it shoots too tight and will cause you to miss. They would be correct and that is why I promote the use of an actual sight system and not a bead. Speaking in general terms I feel that most hunters would be more apt to try and stretch the effective range of their gun if using a more "open" choke such as a modified, which would result in wounded turkeys. If you intend to shoot farther than 25 yards with a 3 inch 12 gauge you will need at least a full choke. Over 30 yards with the same gun you will need and extra full. If you intend to shoot 35+ yards you should plan on investing in an aftermarket turkey choke tube. I have used many brands and had good success. You should buy the best tube that fits your budget. In my experience you get what you pay for so don't go cheap. If during the patterning process you are unhappy with your results try a different brand choke tube. Often times the gun will prefer one choke over another.
So now we have a gun with sights and a quality choke tube. We should now begin discussing how to pattern your gun. I always start shooting at very close range, let's say 10 yards, for point of impact shooting. Put a bullseye style target up and aim dead on. Your gun will tear a solid hole in the paper at this distance showing your where your sights are set. Adjust your sights until your gun starts shooting dead center. I always sight my gun in with low brass cheap shells. This will save your shoulder and your wallet. After your gun is sighted in you can move out farther for effective range testing. You should buy a variety of shells to test as different shot sizes, brands, and styles will all shoot differently. I would personally start with the most BB's possible to give you the most hits on paper. In a 12 gauge turkey load this would 3 1/2 in. (if your gun will shoot them, 3 in. if not) and #6 shot. Take a very large piece of cardboard such as poster board and tape on a 30 inch target. I would put this target out at 30 yards and shoot it. When looking at my pattern I always flip my paper over to the back side to get the best view without the busyness of a turkey head or bullseye. I then find the center of the pattern based on concentration of pellets. I would then physically draw a 10 inch diameter circle around this center concentration. At this point I study the 10 inch circle and look for any visible gaps in pellets. The number of pellets in this area is less important than the gaps. If the pattern is dense and consistent then step the target back to 40 yards and repeat. Most guns will start to show some gaps in the pattern between 40-50 yards. However, some well equipped guns with high end loads will be consisent much further out. At any rate I would continue shooting in 10 yard increments until you have big gaps the size of a turkey head in your pattern. Then I would go back to your last good pattern distance and increase it a few yards at a time to find your maximum effective range.
Once again I will say that the important thing here is the consistency of the pattern and not the number of pellets. Obviously the more pellets the better but gaps in your pattern are what will cause missed and wounded turkeys. I have read tons of writings and instructions that tell you to count pellets in the kill zone of a turkey target. Often times they suggest that 8-15 pellets in the kill zone is a good pattern. Seems like bad advice given that those pellets will never hit in the exact same configuration twice. If you like missing turkeys or even worse wounding them then follow that advice. If you like eating wild turkeys set your standard much higher. Once you have established your guns effective range you can really start to fine tune it with a variety of loads. If you can get larger shot such as #4's or #5's to pattern really well within your effective range then you may want to opt for more knockdown power. But this larger shot will NOT increase your effective range, since pattern consistency is the deciding factor there. I personally prefer tri-plex loads such as 4x5x7's that blends knockdown power with good pattern density. I usually shoot custom loaded shells that are made with Hevi-shot pellets. These seeem to hold pattern density better at extended ranges than lead and pack a little more punch. No matter what gauge shotgun you choose to shoot there is a choke/load combination that will make it very effective at taking down turkeys. My personal guns effective range vary from 45 yards for my 20 gauge, 55 yards for my 12 gauge and 60 yards for my 10 gauge. Just as a point of reference for what can be acheived by fine tuning your turkey gun setup...my 10 gauge has a confirmed pattern of 318 pellets in a 10 inch circle at 40 yards. Turkeys just don't walk away from that! We owe it to the turkeys we hunt to make sure we know the effective killing range of our equipment and stick to it. So please spend a little time with your firearm before the season opens. Good luck this spring!!
Corey J. Wilkinson