Brad Harvey: Ready for turkey season?

March 23, 2013 

With the start of the 2013 turkey season, it makes sense to start pulling out all of your gear in preparation for April 1.

You’ll need to dig out your turkey vest, locate all of those calls and be sure to have your camo ready. Remember to find your face mask, gloves and all of those other little parts of your turkey stash that, though small, would ruin your opening day if you didn’t have them.

Of course, you’ll need to make sure your shotgun is in good working order and ready to go, too.

Even if, like me, you have a dedicated shotgun just for chasing longbeards, it makes sense to take a few shots to be sure it’s performing flawlessly. Finding free turkey targets to practice with is as easy as jumping on the computer and Googling “free turkey targets.”

There are tons of them online, and a sheet of regular printer paper is as big as it needs to be. Tape it to a larger piece of cardboard, set it up on a stake or something similar, and you’re ready to go.

After coming across one that suits you and printing it off, your first move should be to take a few shots from about 10 yards away. There’s no need to bust your shoulder with turkey loads, just pop in a couple of 2 2/3-inch, eight-shot shells. Besides, those turkey loads can get expensive in a hurry.

All you’re looking to find out at this point is whether your gun is shooting where you’re aiming. Even with eight-shot, your turkey choke will be giving you a tight enough pattern to determine whether it’s placing all the pellets around your aiming point. This is especially true when shooting at a short distance.

Most hunters are shocked to learn there are tons of shotguns out there with barrels that aren’t straight. Other issues that can affect your point of impact include improperly inserted choke tubes and adjustable sights that have been bumped.

If your barrel is bent, that doesn’t mean you should trash the gun. A gunsmith can straighten the barrel on a jig or simply replace the barrel. They’re not that expensive.

After determining if your gun is shooting where you’re pointing, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty and test your gun and chosen turkey loads for pattern density. This will help you determine what loads and brand of shotgun shells will perform best for you when it’s time to take that shot that matters.

I’ve discussed this topic with hunters who are just getting into chasing turkeys. They’ll usually give me a funny look as we hit this part of the conversation. They’ll usually ask something like, “Won’t any turkey load do the job?” Yes and no.

Typically, you only get one shot at a turkey, and some shells perform better than others in most every gun. Just because your buddy’s Remington is putting plenty of pellets into the kill zone when shooting a particular Federal turkey load doesn’t mean it will give you the same results – even if both your shotgun and turkey choke are the same models.

In a one-shot sport, do you want to take chances if there’s a shotgun shell that will do a better job for you?

Buy different turkey loads. It might run you a little extra cash but knowing what makes your gun perform best for you is worth the cost. Besides, the fact that you’ll only have to do this once, you can lessen the expense by teaming up with your hunting buddies and split the cost so all of you can do this.

What you’re looking for is the shotgun shell that consistently yields the tightest pattern at various distances.

You’re only aiming at the head/neck area of the bird. This means the more pellets you’re putting into the vitals, the better. Still, you need some uniformity within the pattern to raise your odds.

A pattern that’s not much bigger than a baseball all the way out at 25 or 30 yards would be a bit too tight and result in quite a few misses. This is why today’s loads are designed for tight patterning and somewhat uniform in how the pellets disperse downrange. A more even density to the pattern is guaranteed to raise your chances.

Take shots at various distances out to 35 or 40 yards, and then count the number of pellets hitting within the vitals. Look at things such as are there any holes within the pattern where none of the pellets hit? From this, it’s easy to determine exactly which shotshell is working best for you.

Good luck!

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at

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