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Target with a dense pattern
Photos by J. Wayne Fears

This dense pattern at 40 yards placed 11 pellets in the central nervous system of the target.

5 ways to evaluate your turkey patterns

Taking a spring gobbler is almost always a one-shot proposition, since few gobblers are going to wait around for a second shot. Some hunters reduce their odds of a one-shot kill, because they never pattern their shotguns.

A gobbler is one tough bird. It takes a solid hit in the nervous system, which includes the brain and/or spinal column, to put him down on the spot. That means one, or hopefully many more, pellets has to hit one of these organs with enough energy to destroy it.

Turkey hunters should spend time on the range shooting at turkey targets and evaluating the patterns to find a turkey load that consistently places several pellets in the nervous system of a turkey with their specific shotgun and choke tube combination.

Every time you change your choke tube, shotshell brand, go from lead shot to extra dense, or change pellet size or sighting system, the pattern will most certainly change. It may throw a pattern off center, leave a hole (void) in the pattern a gobbler could walk through or create pattern that seems dense on and around the head but no pellets actually hit the nervous system. You can never predict the change.

Only shooting at turkey targets on the range will prove the combination is throwing a killing pattern. Here are some tips to help evaluate your turkey patterns.

Shooter sitting at a solid bench and rest
Photos by J. Wayne Fears

Evaluating your patterns begins with a solid bench and rest.

1. Shoot from a solid rest.

Shooting a turkey gun is like shooting a rifle. Most turkey guns have some type of rifle-like sight to enable the shooter to put the tight load on a gobbler’s head and neck accurately. To eliminate human error during your patterning session, use a solid rest. A permanent, in-ground shooting bench works best. If that is not available, a good portable bench, such as the Caldwell Stable Table, will do the job. Next equip the bench with a recoil-absorbing, fully adjustable gun rest such as the Caldwell Lead Sled.

2. Use the right targets.

Any time you make a change to your hunting system, test it several times on a life-size target to evaluate the pattern. Simply going from No. 4 shot to No. 5 shot may change your pattern’s effectiveness.

I like to start my pattern session using a Red Star Shotgun Special target, a large target with a 30-inch outer ring to check the pattern’s center. At 40 yards, with one shot fired from a solid rest, this target will show if the pattern is centered to the point of aim. If it is not, you can place a dot on the center of the pattern, return to the bench and adjust the sighting system, if it is adjustable.

Once the pattern is centered to the shotgun’s point of aim, transition to the smaller head and neck gobbler targets that show the spine and brain.

I like the PreGame Gobbler target by Birchwood Casey. These targets will show you if your pattern is missing the nervous system and just placing pellets in the fleshy parts of the head and neck. Each pellet will make a splatter, yellow if it missed the brain and spinal column and red if it hits a vital area. Many dense patterns may hit the fleshy head and neck of a gobbler, but it’s one that throws a consistent center mass with several pettets in the kill zone every time that you want. Shoot several times to confirm your pattern.

3. Check your pattern from the distances you will hunt.

Using these targets shoot from 20, 30 and 40 yards. I will not attempt shooting a gobbler beyond 40 yards because of the increased chance of losing a wounded turkey.

Study each target carefully and watch for point of impact changes, holes developing in the pattern and the pattern suddenly falling apart with no pellets in the vitals. Note how difficult a 20-yard hit can really be.

Photos by J. Wayne Fears

Adjustable sights on a shotgun make it easy to move the center of the pattern to your point of aim.

4. Make sight corrections.

If the center of the pattern’s mass is off, the solution is usually easy — adjust your sights. If you are shooting a shotgun with no adjustable sighting system, consider adding a shotgun scope or other optical sight to adjust the centering of the pattern’s mass. Non-optical, rifle-type sights on a turkey gun can be a real advantage for placing tight shooting patterns where you want them.

5. Fix those holes.

If large holes are appearing in your pattern, you may need to try a different choke tube, shotshell or shot size. All of these changes can correct holes developing in your patterns. It is, at best, trial and error and requires a lot of shooting. With patience, however, you can solve the problem. It is during this type of shooting session when you will appreciate the recoil absorbing gun rest.

As you are trying different combinations, save the used targets. On the back, record the shotgun, choke tube, brand of shotshell, load data and size shot used. As you evaluate each combination you can refer back to these targets for compared results. — J. Wayne Fears