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How to pattern a turkey gun (Second Edition for 2009)

Old 04-04-2007, 07:41 AM
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Default How to pattern a turkey gun (Second Edition for 2009)

Authors post publication edit (2/6/09): I wrote this about two years ago when my methods were still a little unrefined. I've found a few better ways to do things since, and I have edited this thread and brought it back to the top for the benefit of our new turkey hunters whose curiosity and thirst for knowledge is always insatiable. To accomodate my own findings through trial and error,you will see them in italics right along side the topic they pertain to. I have also found some 'better' shooting loads out of that 835 of mine. Today, I don't really fool with 'The Turkey Rifle' anymore, and I've gone back to old school thinking and keeping it simple and cheap. I know a lot of y'all want the absolute tightest shooting SOB of a turkey gun you can possibly have. Here is a way to make it happen. Hope you find it useful. - SC


My fellow turkey chasers:

I have been meaning to get this post up for a while now. I know a lot of folks ask questions on the forum about patterning a shotgun for turkey hunting and I wanted to put up a more comprehensive post about the subject. I finally got the digital camera working again, and am finally ready in the 11th hour.

There are several ways to do this and you will get plenty of different opinons on the topic; but after studying the game for quite a few seasons now this is the method which in my eyes, will truely show you which choke/load combination is performing the best out of your shotgun. Here's how you do it:

First, you are going to need a LARGE piece of cardboard to serve as a backstop/target holder. 4x8 plywood works great as well. Your targets are not going to be those cute little gobbler targets you purchase in the 12 pack...no no no. You are going to need a piece of posterboard, which can be found in the stationary isle of any drugstore, Wal-Mart, K-mart etc etc. I purchased 20 pieces a few weeks ago at Target for about $8. I have also used with great success, the plain white side of Christmas wrapping paper, which is not quite as sturdy, but is easily folded for transport and storage.

Note: I have started using contractors/construction paper that is available in the building supplies department at Lowe's. It is brick red in color and 36" wide. Comes in a 100' or so roll for about $15. Much easier to deal with. The poster board still works ok, but it is only about 22"x28" and I think you'll get a better result using wrapping paper or constrution paper.

Take your chosen paper and lay it flat on a table, you will need to make about a 3" diameter circle in the center of it. I place a shoe polish can, but a hockey puck or snuff can will work great too, and trace around it with a sharpie. I draw an X in the center as well. This will serve as your point of aim. If you MUST use a turkey target, you can tape it in the center of your posterboard, and it will work just fine. (Note: A large 3" blaze orange sticky target spot works great too).

In the lower left of the paper, I list the range, gun, choke, ammo brand, length, charge of shot, and type of shot (lead, hevi shot etc). I also leave room at the bottom to record the number of hits, which we will tally up later.

With all of our targets preped for however many combos we want to try, head to the range. I use 30 yards as my default starting point. (And I still do and still recommend it, especially if you are using a fairly small piece ofpaperless than 30x30 square) I find that 20 is too close and 40 is often too far. 30 allows us to see any potential issues, be them good or bad, and still lets us see a good central density area of pellet strikes. That way, we can tell if the shooter pulled the shot in any direction, or, if our sights are off a bit.

I prefer to shoot from the bench, it offers the most stable platform, and takes as much human error away from the equation as possible. I aim at the X inside the small circle we drew, and let her rip.

After you have completed the shooting part, comes the most important part of all, the evaluation:

Note: In order to conform with common standards, I switched to a 10" circle. I used 12" then simply because the see through waste paper basket was might handy and simple to use. It is probably easiest to cut a template out of cardboard. If you really wanted to get fancy you could use a see through piece of plexi-glass to ensure you were getting the true center of your pattern.

I use a 12" diameter mesh wire waste paper basket as a pattern. I place the basket over the densest part of the pattern, which is not always exactly in the middle! Remember, we want to see what the gun can do, not what you can do. We can adjust our sights in a bit to get that tightest part of the pattern right where we want it. After I draw that 12" diameter circle I count the total number of pellets inside that circle, and record it on the bottom left of the target. Then, I count the # of hits on the entire piece of paper. I mark each hit as I count it with a sharpie, that way I can see them better when I evaluate it, and also eleminates the issue of counting hits twice, or missing them altogether. Lastly, I will take the number of hits in the 12" circle, and divide it by the total number of hits on the paper, which will give me a percentage in decimal form. That number, is the percentage of my pellets, which remained with the densest, central part of the pattern, which is what we want to kill our turkey with.

Now, the highest percentage is not always the best indicator of pattern quality. We need to look for holes, strings and clusters, which are all a bad sign. I typically shoot two shells per load/choke at 30 yards, and compare them side by side. If they are about the same, then I will keep it as a good sample. If there is much difference in the two, I will shoot a third and sometimes even a fourth shell. Each separate shot of course, is at a new target. Assuming that I have no large holes, clusters or strings in my densest pattern, I have now found my choke/load combo.

Next, I will use the same method to test my point of impact (adjust my sights/scope) and then test at both closer and further ranges to ensure it will produce consistant results. It will also allow me to determine my max effective range.

Note: In hindsight, I recommend testing your point of impact first, but do it with a cheap dove load. Easier to get a good shot off, and if you are testing shells that cost in excess of $3/shell, it can save you some serious money. I do still, however, recommend confirming your point of impact with scope or sights AFTER you have found your magic combination.

Below, I am going to post up pictures of my best choke/load at varoius ranges, along with some examples of why I use this method instead of just a turkey target.

Here is the first.

This is my Mossberg 835 Grand Slam at 30 yards. Choke is a Pure Gold .670 shooting a Winchester Elite 3.5" 2oz #6 load of Extended Range High Density. It placed 270 hits in the 12" circle and 419 total on the page for a 65% central density score (which was acctually only the third highest % of all the loads I tested, but it was also the most even, and most consistant at various ranges). You can see that my central point of impact is just a bit left, this isn't a big deal, as I had not adjusted my scope yet.





Note: Just for fun, I have since tried Hevi-13 out of that same gun. At 40 yards, with a 3.5" hevi-13 1 3/4oz load of #6s.... it put 209 pellets in a 10" circle at 40 yards. That is some serious density. This also shows you a decent picture of how I set up my targets now for pattern turkey loads.

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Old 04-04-2007, 07:44 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Here is why I don't use a turkey target. This is the same set up as above, only at 35 yards. No doubt this bird would have had the course, but at the time I shot this target, I was not aware fully of what my entire pattern was doing. Good enough shouldn't be good enough for hunters. 9 pellets inside the brain and spine, but where is the middle of this pattern? Did I shoot over, or left? Are my sights off? Did I just get lucky?

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Old 04-04-2007, 07:48 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Here is what my chosen combo gave me at 40 yards. 168 hits inside that 12" circle with 362 still on the paper. (Note: Seems quite a bit removed from that 209 in a 10" circle at 40 with the hevi-13 doesn't it. Still nothing to sneeze at though, and remember that raw density isn't always the best answer.) That equals out to 46%. Please note that not ALL of the pellets that came out of this shell are being captured on the paper. For a 100% true percentage, we would have to cut open a shell, and count the average number for that load. I can ill afford to cut open a $4 shotgun shell, so I accept a little margin of error instead.

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Old 04-04-2007, 07:51 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Here we go at 50 yards. Here again, I didn't set my scope until after this shot. I have killed birds at 56 yards with this combo in previous years, and it was pure luck that it happened to shoot the best anyway. I limit my shots to about 40 yards now, but its good to know that my gun is capable of such range, should I ever need it to finish off a cripple or what have you.

This produced 129 hits inside my 12" circle. Since I don't shoot this far anyway, I didn't bother to count the total, I was mostly just curious.


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Old 04-04-2007, 07:56 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Now we are going back the other way. I fully stand firm that its harder to kill a bird in close than it is at a greater distance. Here, we find out how much margin of error I will have at 20 yards. Sights are now adjusted correctly. Please excuse the Breakfree that got spilled on the target when it was folded.

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Old 04-04-2007, 07:58 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Finally, here we go at 15 yards, which to me, means its time to fix bayonettes.


Note: I've written before several times that every turkey I have ever missed has been inside of 15 yards. See why? They don't hold still worth a hoot anyway... and when they get inside 20 yards its kinda like they can feel your prescence and they get mighty suspicious sometimes. I've outright missed two and shot a tree as well. One of the misses and the tree came as the bird made me and started shucking and jiving.... not running.... but leaving anyway..... usually after a single putt. With my set up now (the modified choke)..... that is no longer a problem.



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Old 04-04-2007, 08:01 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

Hope everyone starting out in this great sport finds this useful and increases their success with it. Also hope some of you old timers find it accurate and instructive. Good luck this spring and God Bless! I'll post up a few more pictures and examples of different combo's, as well as a few that didnt make the cut and some that are plain out horrible, just to give everyone a feel for what to look for.
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Old 04-04-2007, 09:06 AM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

SwampCollie...this was very well done and I think you did a fantastic job! I may even try a few of your tips the next time I pattern my gun!
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Old 04-04-2007, 12:33 PM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

GREAT POST... I hadn't really thought to check to see what the overall pattern for my gun was shooting left>right^up!down. I am guilting of getting the turkey targets and just counting the pellets.

I will check it out though. @ $3 a shot I won't be shooting a whole lot of extras. Not too mention that it sure takes a toll on my arm.
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Old 04-04-2007, 01:03 PM
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Default RE: How to pattern a turkey gun

ORIGINAL: Huntermann


I will check it out though. @ $3 a shot I won't be shooting a whole lot of extras. Not too mention that it sure takes a toll on my arm.

Thats whats nice about using a larger target, you should be able to keep your extras to a minimum. Less bruise on your shoulder, and more money in your pocket!

While I am at it, here is a picture of what you DON'T want to see. I had a devil of a time finding a good combination for my girlfriends Beretta 390 20ga. Spent nearly $200 trying to get it right. Nothing seemed to work. This was by far the WORST of the test, and oddly, its with an ammo that usually shoots better than anything else.

This was at 30 yards, Beretta 390 20ga, with a standard 20ga modified choke, Win Elite Extended Range #5. Note the HUGE string of pellets along the top, and the massive holes in the pattern. This combo is just asking to botch a bird!

Note: She ended up using my 390 Silver Mallard 12ga with a Jellyhead tube and Rem Premier HV 3" 1 3/4oz of coppler plated #6 lead. Its a great combination and both her and I killed birds with that gun in the spring of 2008.


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