The Latest In Turkey-ammo Technology And Patterning Tips

[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]Old Gobbler Gun Meet High-tech ammo[/su_heading]

Story and photographs by Walt Hampton

[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]I[/su_dropcap]t’s that time of year again, when grown men (and, yes, women!) begin a strange and wonderful ritual of late arrivals to work and practicing bird calls. I have to confess, I am a spring turkey addict; I simply love to hunt them. From my first experience in 1964 to this day, hunting spring gobblers is my favorite pastime.

Walt Hampton
Sometimes the next-must-have turkey shotgun is not the best option. Trying different ammunition and properly patterning your gun can turn an old classic into a finely tuned tool.

THERE HAVE BEEN SOME WONDERFUL advances in the shotgun and shotgun-ammo world for the turkey hunter, thanks to the sport’s great popularity. A shotgun for turkey hunting differs from the standard field scattergun in that we’re looking for a gun that delivers a consistent, small, concentrated pattern of shot at a nominal 40-yard range. The premise may seem simple, but the engineering that has to take place to build such a gun is complicated, and is made further so by the construction of the ammunition. In the old days, before the overshot polymer wad cup, the shotgun shell contained powder, a couple of cushion wads and the shot – end of story. Now we have found that the genius invention of interchangeable choke tubes (versus the fixed-choke barrel) may spin or strip the wad, causing wide dispersion of the shot column. This may be perfect for quail on the wing, but not what we want for wild turkey.

Turkey Hunting - Walt Hampton
The penetration of your load is just as important as the pattern, and should be tested at your maximum shooting range.

SINCE I HUNT with traditional single- or double-barrel guns, one of the best innovations, in my opinion, has been the invention of the new Flitecontrol wad, (which defies traditional wisdom and breaks at the rear first) and Heavyweight shot from Federal, which have given some of my old shotguns new life. If you have a traditional 12- or 20-gauge single-shot shotgun with a fixed choke, or any shotgun where the choke does not strip the wad, you should give this ammo a look. Hornady followed Federal with their version of this new wad technology, and also now makes loads that are, in some guns, a turkey’s worst nightmare. A turkey gun is only as good as the pattern it will consistently produce, and our ammunition manufacturers have stepped up to the plate with this new thinking.

There have been some wonderful advances in the shotgun and shotgun-ammo world for the turkey hunter

FINDING THE GUN/AMMO TURKEY combination is complicated because it’s nearly impossible to get a smooth-barrel gun to pattern multi-projectile ammunition consistently. It’s not like a rifle where we can reasonably expect some consistency in groups; indeed, I have yet to see any shotgun/shotgun shell combination that would 100 percent of the time shoot the exact same number of pellets into a 3-inch circle at 40 yards. We have to set a number that we will deem acceptable for the killing shot at a standardized distance (40 yards) and work towards it, trying different choke constrictions, pellet sizes and power combinations. In a nutshell, we are looking for repeatable center density and killing power in the form of penetration.

Turkey Hunting
A turkey shotgun has to deliver a consistent, small and concentrated pattern of shot.
Proper sportsmanship requires that you make a genuine effort to pattern your gun.

MY WORK WITH FACTORY AMMUNITION indicates that if your gun, regardless of gauge, will put at least 10 pellets – and the more, the better – into a 3-inch circle at 40 yards every time, and those pellets at 40 yards will penetrate a plastic 20-ounce soft-drink bottle, you have a 40-yard turkey gun. Here is where things get sticky. There are more No. 6 shot in an ounce than larger shot sizes, so the pattern of No. 6 should provide a higher density on the paper, but that is not always the case. I’ve seen some guns shoot No. 4 or No. 5 shot (I really like No. 5, by the way) with much better pattern density than No. 6. Also, the relatively new mixed-alloy shot like Hevi-Shot, Bismuth or Heavyweight in like sizes will outpenetrate lead. The question is, if it won’t pattern well in your gun, should you use it?

Let’s assume you have a turkey gun. Sight your gun in at about 20 feet with a low-brass shell to get a sense of where you will hit with a repeatable sight picture. If you have adjustable sights – all turkey guns should have them – you can sight in your gun here, and know that you are getting the same sight picture with each shot. You should then shoot the shot sizes you wish to test at the 25- and 40-yard range on standard pattern targets with a 3-inch circle aiming point. This will tell you, or should, what your gun prefers. You should shoot at least five shots on different targets with each shot size, and 10 is better to get a real picture of what your gun is doing. You want tight, even patterns with no holes in them. The guy who fires one round at a turkey-silhouette target and pronounces his gun patterned has no business being allowed to buy camouflage. Pattern your damn gun before you shoot at a turkey.


Once you have settled on a shot size, you can try the short or long magnum shell loadings in lead or nontoxic shot if your gun is chambered for them. I’ve seen some guns pattern great with a standard load of one shot size, but with magnum loads another shot size will pattern better. In almost every case I’ve seen the most consistent patterns with nonmagnum loads, and some of the new wad technology ammunition will pattern better from nonfull-choke guns – this was certainly true for my Savage 24V in 20 gauge, with its 24-inch modified fixed-choke barrel.

Turkey hunting - Walt Hampton
Federal reinvented the turkey shotshell with their Flitecontrol wad, and Hornady followed suit.

Fire a shot with each shot size and pellet type (copper plated, pure lead, alloy combination, etc.) at a plastic 20-ounce soft-drink bottle at 40 yards. You will see that some shot sizes and pellet types will penetrate the front of the bottle and not go all the way through, and some (like Hevi-Shot, Bismuth or Heavyweight) will go all the way through the bottle and keep on trucking. Remember, the pattern is worthless if the shot bounces off the turkey. You should test the penetration of your chosen load at your maximum shooting range.

What is important is the consistent delivery of no less than 10 pellets into the 3-inch circle at 40 yards. If pure lead will do it in your gun, then that is what you should shoot. If only lead-free shells will work, then there is your answer.

We want that gobbler dead before he hits the ground. Before you plop down your hard-earned dough for a new turkey cannon, give that old clunker in the closet a try with some of the new ammo technology; it might just surprise you. ASJ

A turkey gun can be any gauge, style or action type, as long as you understand its limitations.

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