Because the main tool of turkey hunting is a shotgun, some hunters get the false impression that it produces a large pattern of shot, making it easy to hit a target. So, they tend to skip shooting practice. But with fine-tuned barrels and high-tech shotshells designed to take down gobblers beyond 40 yards, that way of thinking is far from reality.
By J.J. Reich
Video courtesy of Shane Simpson and callingallturkeys.com
Whether you’re a beginner or have dozens of gobblers to your credit, perfecting your shot at the range will help you fill more tags.
Be Sure Your Gun Will Deliver
The first task is to ensure that your shotgun setup produces the best shot pattern possible. Whether you prefer a 12- or 20-gauge, or a 3½-inch or 2¾-inch shotshell, the golden rule for choosing a turkey shotgun is to select a gun that you’re confident in and comfortable shooting.
After that, you must decide on three other elements; an accurate sight, performance ammunition and an effective choke. The combination of those elements will make or break your shot.
A Helpful Sight
Tight patterns delivered by constrictive turkey chokes mean you’re trying to hit a baseball-sized head with a basketball-sized swarm of small pellets at long distances. Although that’s not exactly threading a needle, you still need a precise, well-aimed shot. An upgrade in shotgun sights will improve your success rate.
Standard beads on factory shotguns just don’t cut it for most hunters, because when your head is off the stock, your eye is not properly aligned, even when it appears to be. This mistake almost always results in a missed turkey.
There are many turkey-specific sight systems available. Rifle-style peep sights and electronic red-dot-type sights are popular choices among turkey hunters. At the least, replacing a factory-supplied bead with a hooded fiber-optic sight is a great improvement. For example, the EasyHit fiber-optic sight from Champion features a strong adhesive strip that easily attaches to a flat shotgun rib near the muzzle. Its low profile and hollow-tube design forces shooters to keep their heads on the stock.
A magnified scope with a turkey-specific reticle, such as the Weaver Kaspa VZT turkey scope, might be the best option because it lets you fine-tune your shot pattern. Using the scope’s elevation and windage turrets, you can move the gun’s point of impact so the densest part of the pattern is at the point of aim. This scope features the Vertical Zone Turkey, or VZT, reticle, designed for turkey hunting.
The only way to determine which ammunition to use is to shoot a variety. Vary your shot sizes and brands from several distances, and stick with the one that gives you the most consistent pattern. That said, it’s next to impossible to get good long-range patterns out of inexpensive lead loads. Products that incorporate advanced technology and high-grade shot produce the best results.
For example, Federal Premium Heavyweight turkey loads feature the innovative FliteControl wad, which helps ensure tight patterns downrange. This is coupled with Heavyweight pellets, made of an ultra-dense tungsten alloy that is 15 percent heavier than lead to provide greater downrange velocity and knockdown power. Heavyweight in No. 7 shot has even better performance than lead No. 5 shot and delivers substantially higher pellet counts.
A Tight Choke
A specially engineered turkey choke has more constriction than a full choke. They can vary greatly, but in general, the dimensions for a 12-gauge turkey choke might range from .670 inches down to .640 inches.
Typically, too much choke constriction causes the pellets to become deformed and inaccurate. Too little choke can throw your pattern too wide, leaving little density in the kill zone. You might find something that delivers better results. In general, more open choke constrictions are better suited for larger pellets, such as No. 4s. The tighter chokes in the .640- to .655-inch range are designed for smaller shot, such as size No. 7. Don’t be afraid to keep experimenting with various choke and shot size combinations.
If you decide you want to try Federal Premium Heavyweight No. 7 or are currently using this load, Trulock has developed a line of turkey choke tubes specifically for this.
The Deadly Combination
To determine what choke and ammunition combination works best, you’ll need to field-test various combinations and evaluate the shot patterns.
The National Wild Turkey Federation, among others, suggests the ideal pattern for turkey hunting is 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Note that it’s also important for this pattern to be spread out consistently. Large gaps within that 10-inch circle could cause a miss.
Evaluate several shots using paper targets, such as Champion Re-Stick Turkey Targets to quickly and easily examine pattern performance.
When your shotgun setup puts a smile on your face, the next step is to regularly rehearse your shots, again and again, in real-life conditions.
Practice in Realistic Scenarios
You should always use a good shooting rest to ensure your sight-in aim is steady and controlled. But after that, ditch the shooting rest, and make your practice sessions as realistic as possible. Step away from the shooting bench, and practice while sitting on the ground with a solid backstop behind you, just like you’re sitting up against a tree during a real hunt.
Continue to evaluate several shots using paper targets such as Champion Re-Stick Turkey Targets. This way, you can quickly and easily track your progress and improvement.
You should have at least one practice session wearing your hunting clothes and vest. This will let you monitor and evaluate how your clothes are performing while shooting. For example, you might find out that your shirt or jacket is too restrictive in the armpit area and doesn’t allow maneuverability and a comfortable shot.
If you plan on using specialized accessories, such as a monopod or a padded shooting rest that attaches to your knee, you need to practice using those, too. Along with gaining familiarity with these tools, you’ll also quickly discover if you need to tweak or change anything in your setup to avoid mishaps while on the hunt.
Practice Your Shot Repetitively
To become proficient at other shotgun sports — such as trap, skeet and sporting clays — athletes take thousands of practice shots before competing. Turkey hunters can benefit from repetition, too. Master the physical acts of flipping the safety, accurately placing your aim, steadying your shot, taking a deep breath and properly squeezing the trigger.
For repetitive shooting practice, skip the paper targets and expensive full-power turkey ammunition. Grab a box of clay targets and less expensive target ammunition.
Standard clay targets are roughly the same size as a gobbler’s head, about 4 inches in diameter. For a greater challenge, choose mini-sized clays that are about 2 inches in diameter. You can also find clay targets in colors other than bright orange that add a different element to practice. Targets in other colors such as black, white, yellow and pink help you practice quick target acquisition, which is a skill that’s extremely important in the turkey woods.
The simple way to set up stationary clay targets intended for turkey training is to sharpen the ends of several 2-foot sticks, shove them in the ground and hang the targets from them. You can set up a small course at the range with dozens of targets set at various positions and distances. Try putting some brush or other obstacles in front of some of the targets to make for more realistic hunting scenarios.
Train and Condition
Turkey hunting is a physical activity that you should train for just like other athletic sports. Preparing or double-checking your shotgun setup and practicing your shot is something you should do every year before opening day.
But you should also train and condition yourself to be in good physical condition before hunting season, because to make a good shot, you need strength and endurance. For example, calling turkeys with a mouth call can be tiring, especially lengthy calling sessions that are sometimes necessary to convince a stubborn gobbler to come closer. Aggressively blowing a mouth call can leave you out of breath. Additionally, running and gunning up and down foothills can also wear you out.
Condition yourself for these scenarios. During shooting practice at the range, pack your favorite mouth call. Sound off a long, loud calling sequence until you’re huffing and puffing, and then take aim at a distant target and squeeze off a shot. Run a few short sprints in the parking lot, knock off a dozen pushups, or jump rope for a few minutes until your heart is pounding and you’re breathing hard, and then immediately sit down and practice your shot.