Patterning in Your Shotgun
While it is very cold and snowy here in Colorado today, I know that turkey hunting is not too far away, and I am excited! I will be taking my first hunt this season in Nebraska in seven weeks, and I know it will be here before I know it. Shortly after that I will be taking some turkey hunts in Colorado. It’s tough to find times to hunt around my son’s lacrosse schedule, but I don’t want to miss any of his games. Otherwise I would be out every weekend the season is open.
While it is seven weeks away, I have been preparing things for that first hunt already. I bought a new turkey vest yesterday, and I have figured out how I want to configure my gear in it. I’ve also been gathering and examining my other gear to make sure it is all in good condition. Next weekend I will get out and do some practice with my shotgun and some new loads that I am trying this year.
A lot of people don’t give much thought to patterning in their shotguns, but this is a very critical part of your preparation for turkey hunting, or really for any type of hunting with a shotgun, especially if you are a beginner. There are two key elements that determine what the kill zone will be for your shotgun; shot selection and the type of choke you use. For turkey hunting I use a 12 gauge Mossberg 535 full camo shotgun with a 21” barrel and a 1 ¼” extended turkey choke on the end of the barrel. This is a barrel and choke that are made specifically for turkey hunting, but you can use whatever shotgun you have to hunt turkey with at least a full choke, or you can add a turkey choke to your gun. The subject of shotgun chokes is a whole article in itself, which I will write about someday soon.
While having a full camo gun is a great advantage, it is not absolutely necessary. You can hunt turkey with your regular shotgun, or you can get a camo sleeve, or even camo tape. If the motion and color of your gun are the determining factors of failure, you are doing something else wrong.
For ammunition I have been using the Remington Nitro Turkey Load; a 3” shell with 1210 FPS (feet per second) velocity, 1 7/8 ounces of shot, in a size 6. This has proven to be a very good selection of ammo, but based on some research, I am going to do some testing with the Hornandy Heavy Magnum Turkey load next weekend. This is a 3” shell with 1,300 FPS velocity 1 ½ ounces of shot, in a size 5. I will let you know how that goes, but I imagine the Hornandy loads will be equally effective, if not better.
To understand how your gun is shooting, you have to sight it in, just like you do with a rifle, although the process is quite different. To accurately determine the point of impact of your shotgun, start with a 50” x 50” piece of paper tacked up at 40 yards. Draw a 5” bull’s eye on the paper; put your bead at the base of the bull’s eye from 40 yards, and fire. Just as with sighting in a rifle, you have to stabilize your shooting position to make sure your subsequent shots are consistent.
Take one shot, and then put up a new sheet of paper, and take another shot. Do this one more time. On each piece of paper, locate the densest portion of pellets and draw a 30” circle around it. Once you feel that you have an accurate grouping, count how many pellets are within that 30” circle. You then divide this number of pellet strikes by the number of pellets that were in the shell, this determines your pattern percentage. In general with the shells I have suggested you are going to have between 285 to 375 pellets in a shell, but you can use this link to be more precise if desired. A good percentage of pellets in the strike zone is 60%. This concept applies regardless of the type of hunting you do with a shotgun. If you are still having problems getting a good pattern, the problem may be with the fit of your gun, which is an entirely different subject that you can read more about by clicking here.
Using a shotgun is more complicated than most people realize, especially when shooting at birds that are flying at 50 miles per hour or faster, or shooting at turkeys on the ground up to 60 yards away. Learning your capabilities with a shotgun is the key to successful hunting or recreational shooting,