April is a wonderful month for hunters because we can focus on one thing: turkey!
Whether you are chasing gobblers up and down the ridges of Hoosier National Forest or stalking a strut in a northern Indiana creek bottom, turkey fever descends this month until we end up lucky, out of time or too exhausted to continue.
Aside from all the other accessories, the primary instrument of turkey hunting is the shotgun. With the state of firearms technology, we have the best turkey-hunting scatterguns ever seen but along with all the positives comes the usual load of blather, misinformation, marketing hype and just plain horse feathers.
Nowadays, there are all sorts of specialty-built turkey guns offered by various manufacturers. Most of these are outstanding for their intended use, provided your checkbook is healthy enough to purchase a dedicated weapon system for the pursuit of an animal with a brain the size of an anemic pecan. For the rest of us, let’s talk about a few things we can do for our general-purpose hunting shotgun that will help bring down that gobbler.
Bore size is the first and most important consideration; use whatever you want provided it starts with “12.” We are not a bore snob and will acknowledge that the 16- and 20-gauges are fine weapons but for turkey hunting, you need to throw a fistful of pellets down range. We’re not against using the 10-gauge but after weighing cost and recoil versus advantages, it doesn’t seem like the first choice.
Chamber length isn’t as critical as you might suppose. The new 3 ½-inch 12-gauge shotguns have become popular but with today’s better chokes and ammunition, don’t feel under-gunned if you only own a 2 ¾- or 3-inch chambered gun.
Of all the firearms factors for turkey hunting, the most important choices are choke and the ammunition used to achieve our goal of putting nice, thick swarm of pellets into the fist-sized head at reasonable hunting distances.
Keep in mind that there is nothing better than good old-fashioned lead because it is heavier than most of those “secret combination” shot formulas out there aside from tungsten. The Tungsten shot, typified by the Heavi-Shot brand, is a bit denser than lead and performs well. It also is horrifically expensive and can play havoc with chokes due to its hardness. I shoot lead.
Copper plating is sometimes used to prevent the shot deformation that leads to wider patterns. However, proper shot cup design can prevent the problem as does buffering with soft material.
Mixing two shot sizes in one load is intended to “fill in” the pattern, resulting in smaller gaps between pellets. This makes sense except when you realize that smaller shot sheds energy faster and thus makes the shot column string out in length. This opens the possibility of gaps in three dimensions.
The bottom line: the most and least expensive “turkey” shells can all perform well. The key is your gun’s choke.
With regard to chokes, here’s what you don’t want to hear: the best choke system in the world might be terrible in your gun with certain types or brands of ammunition.
There are no hard and fast rules. If the gun or choke manufacturer recommends a certain load, start there but also try a smorgasbord of different ammo. The secret is no secret: get a bunch of shells, an equally large pile of 48” squares of white shelf paper and go to the range. Whatever gives you the thickest swarm of pellets in the smallest circle is the winner for your gun, regardless of price or hype.
Since you only need to take of few shots of each type, split boxes of ammo with friends until you find your dream load.
While patterning the gun, make sure the point of impact is actually where it should be, especially if you are using the stock fixed sights. Sometimes the difference can be stunning
Finally, assuming your gun is all “dialed in” and you know that it’s the deadliest thing since spoiled mayonnaise, use some common sense and good hunting ethics.
If you can see the turkey’s eye, feel free to shoot otherwise wait and try to call the bird closer. While nothing is guaranteed, most injured birds I’ve seen resulted from an overanxious hunter who pulled the trigger too soon. Our quarry deserves better.