Patterning shotguns for turkey hunting important, fun

Jake Holem counts how many pellets from his 20 gauge made it into the kill zone of a wild turkey target. Five was considered a safe minimum.

Jake Holem counts how many pellets from his 20 gauge made it into the kill zone of a wild turkey target. Five was considered a safe minimum.

Preparation for most kinds of hunting and fishing are a lot of the fun in both activities.

For turkey hunting, that can include making sure you have permission on private lands and heading out to scout for birds and their daily patterns. My favorite way is to head out a few days before the season and listen for where the toms are gobbling from roosts, then try to check fields for travel patterns. I like to do the latter with binoculars from the distance, to keep from spooking birds from their routines.

Practicing with calls is fun before the season, though most who’ve been at turkey hunting for a few seasons have no problem picking up from where they left last spring with their calls. Buying a few new calls, or decoys, is about mandatory, too.

Trying new loads in shotguns can be a big deal, too.

A 2 3/4" magnum 20 gauge shell loaded with1 1/8 oz. of buffered 7 1/2 shot patterned extremely well.

A 2 3/4″ magnum 20 gauge shell loaded with1 1/8 oz. of buffered 7 1/2 shot patterned extremely well.

Last weekend my main hunting buddy this season, 11-year-old Jake Holem, and I set out to experiment with a few loads from his new turkey choke for his Tri-Star 20 gauge and I wanted to run a few new loads through my well-used Benelli. We printed a few special turkey head and neck targets we found online, the ones that show the location of the brain and the spinal column. A few empty pop cans also gave us an idea of pattern densities and where our patterns were hitting.

Our goal on the paper targets was to get at least 5 pellets in the spinal column and/or brain.

Some of the things we learned -

– Jake’s 20 gauge shot low, which means he had to aim at a bird’s head to insure the pattern was well distributed in a tom’s head and neck.

– As with many 20 gauges I’ve worked with, a Winchester 2 3/4″ shell, loaded with 1 1/8 oz. of #7 1/2 shot, with buffering in the shot column, patterned better from Jake’s gun than any three-inch load we tried. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find those loads in about 15 years, and I’m down to about 40 rounds.

– We also learned that Jake’s gun patterned well enough at 30 yards to easily make lethal shots at that range.

– Also, though my shotgun with a Carlson imp/mod. choke throws great patterns with 3″ #2 steel, it does very poorly with #3s of the same exact shell. Go figure?

– My shotgun is best with Hevi-Shot, 3″ #5s, followed by the old stand-by of 3″ #2 steel. I’m good to 40 yards, but would sure love to keep the shots under that distance, which normally isn’t a problem.

Having spent the time trying several loads in his shotgun, and practicing shooting left-handed, greatly helped Jake Holem make a great shot on this longbeard near Leon early Saturday morning.

Having spent the time trying several loads in his shotgun, and practicing shooting left-handed, greatly helped Jake Holem make a great shot on this longbeard near Leon early Saturday morning.

– Jake also learned that if he took his time, and shut his right eye, he could shoot his shotgun accurately left-handed…which was a good thing to know. Saturday morning the right-handed kid had to do just that when a flock of toms came in from our right. ┬áThe shot was 27 yards, and the shotgun, the choke, the load and the kid were on the money.