How To: Patterning your turkey gun for hunting success (VIDEO)

Spring turkey hunting is just around the corner, and it’s never too early to get ready.  Whether you’re an experienced hunter or this is your first time after gobblers, you owe it to yourself and to those toms, to get that gun patterned and ready for a quick, clean kill. This will allow you to get fresh meat in the freezer, and maybe a fan for the wall.

Shots at the moving head of a trophy wild turkey don’t come easy, so best be prepared for that chance of a lifetime.  So grab your shotgun, ammo, choke tubes, targets, and don’t forget eye and ear protection as well.  Cardboard boxes are a nice backdrop, and turkey targets are a big benefit.  Rangefinders will help mark off your yardages, though a tape measure will suffice. The name of the game is knowing how and where your chosen shotgun, choke, and ammunition will pattern—how uniform and densely—its shot will strike the target at any given range.

Whether you already have a favorite turkey load, or you’re still experimenting to find the best for your gun and terrain, the patterning board and range is the place to do that.

Turkey patterning targets like this one from Caldwell make the task much easier, but if you prefer to go quick, low-budget, you can draw one out on cardboard. Note the key point of impact mid-way up the neck, which should be the center of your pattern. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/


–Knowing your effective ranges is the key for your chosen setup.  If you know exactly where and how your gun is patterning with your given choke and ammo, you’ll be confident in your shot anywhere from 10 yards to your max, be that 30 or 50.  With the rising popularity of sub-gauges from 20 to 28 and even .410, it becomes critical to know your limited ranges for a clean, ethical kill.

–Whether you’re using an optic, or more simply, your shotgun’s iron sights, the patterning board is the place to get accustomed to your sight picture and be certain of your gun’s point of impact.

–Pattern your gun at all ranges.  I like to start out at 30 yards as a baseline for the 12-gauge and from there, move back until my gun no longer produces a consistently lethal target.  Maximum range is not the only limitation; you should also try close shots to know how your setup with perform at, say, ten yards.  Turkeys are wild and will pop out where you least expect them, and I’ve seen more than one hunter blow a close shot because they were prepared only for the long ranges.  You just may be surprised how tight and unforgiving your pattern is at close range.

–Consider what you’ll be wearing on your hunt, as bulkier clothing like specialty turkey vests can affect your mount of the gun, and in turn, your sight picture.  The human element is what keeps things interesting, but in order to be the best and most prepared hunter you can be, eliminate as many variables as possible ahead of time.

–Shoot and pattern your gun not only from the bench, but also from any anticipated positions you may find yourself in for hunting. If you plan to sit beneath a tree, practice shooting in that pose from the ground.  In my case, I intend to use the new Alps Outdoorz Vanish chair and ultra-low-profile Deception blind, so I practiced with both on the range.  This allowed me to fine-tune my hold on target using the Mossberg 835 All Purpose’s fiber optic sights.

Mossberg’s new 835 All Purpose ships with not only three flush mount choke tubes, but also this extra-tight Ulti-Full, which patterned exceptionally well at ranges from 15-50 yards with most specialty loads. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

–Just because your shotgun shoots 3-1/2” ammunition doesn’t mean you have to.  In fact, if you spend enough time at the patterning board, sooner or later you’ll find that many chokes/gun combinations actually hold better patterns with slightly lighter loads.

–Not all choke tubes or fixed chokes are equal.  One full choke to another can yield very different patterns.  Know your gun and how it shoots and you’ll be more successful not only on turkey, but all other targets as well.

–Along the same line, tighter chokes are usually the ticket, but not always.  Sure, most turkey tubes today are extra full, but some of the new premium factory gobbler loads actually suggest using a more open choke like Modified to maximize their pattern at all ranges. Again, time at the patterning board will reveal what works best.

While choosing the right ammo is important, choke tubes play perhaps the biggest role in maximizing a solid pattern on target. Here are two of our faves with Mossberg Ulti-Full and Winchester SX3’s Turkey extended chokes. If you shoot a fixed choke, then ammo selection becomes critical. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/

–Turkey targets make it easy to note where to place your shot– about halfway up the turkey’s neck for the densest part of the pattern to end up in that vital area.  Remember, a couple pellets in that area is all you need to kill, but to be a responsible hunter, make sure your chosen load and distance puts at minimum a dozen hits in the critical areas.  Before I hit the woods, I like to see 15 or more pellets in the sweet spot, with the bulk of my pattern right where it needs to be.  If things just aren’t working how you wanted, now is the time to try a different choke, experiment with different loads, and maximize your hunting experience before you ever head out on opening day.

Good luck in the turkey woods and fields this spring.  Come on back to to show us your turkey patterning boards, gobbler guns, and best of all, your pics from a successful hunt.  Happy hunting!

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