In the world of shotguns, most shooters are familiar with the three basic chokes known as Improved Cylinder, Modified and Full.
And since those three chokes get waterfowlers, dove hunters, quail hunters, pheasant hunters, ruffed grouse hunters and woodcock shooters through their various hunting endeavors each fall, they should work for spring turkey hunters, right?
Well, not exactly.
When it comes to sending a heavy-duty turkey load downrange to the noggin of a spring gobbler each year, it pays to spend the extra money on a specialty turkey choke, either from the shotgun manufacturer itself or from an after-market company.
How do I know that? After spending a day on the Down Range Media shooting grounds testing a variety of shotguns, shotshells and choke combinations, that’s how.
Our method was simple: To punch pellets through a bunch of paper in an effort to see what combination of turkey load and choke threw the highest density, most consistent pattern coverage downrange at 40 yards.
Then we moved on to utilizing Champion VisiColor turkey head silhouette targets, fine tuning things a bit more and counting actual pellet hits in the turkey’s vital zone (neck and head area).
How did that testing go? Well, while I will never claim to be a shotgun expert or an engineer, even I could see that modern turkey loads fired through an Improved Cylinder choke aren’t likely to get the job done at anything beyond a very close shot distance.
And believe it or not, we also found at times that a Modified choke – the next constriction down from Improved Cylinder – actually performed worse at times when using a modern turkey shotgun load.
Things improved a fair amount, however, when our testing crew moved on up to a Full choke as the pellet count in the turkey’s lethal zone went up to acceptable levels.
But things improved even more so when we fired a handful of different turkey loads through an Extra Full aftermarket turkey hunting choke.
So much so that everyone in our crew agreed that when it comes to shooting at spring turkeys, a hunter needs to have at a bare minimum a Full choke screwed into the end of his scattergun, and better yet, an Extra Full Turkey Choke if possible.
How can you prove that to yourself? By going out to the shooting range and seeing for yourself what your shotgun, your favorite turkey load and your current choke configuration will do.
To start off with, you’ll want to pattern test your gun, load and choke combo on a big sheet of paper.
To do that, get a sheet of butcher-block paper, set up a good-size square at the range, draw a big dot (say about one inch) in the center for an aiming point and then fire away, using a brand new patterning paper for each different combination of gun/shell/choke that you use.
Once you fire at the patterning paper, you’ll want to see where the pattern is most consistent in hitting inside of a 30-inch or so circle, looking for a high concentration of pellets swarming into the area.
Count the number of pellet hits in that circle and you’re off to a good start of understanding how a shell and choke combination performs through your gun along with making any sight adjustments necessary (to shotgun bead sites, red dots or scopes).
Next, set up the turkey-head silhouette targets at distances of 20, 30, 40 and even 50 yards to see how many pellet hits you get in the vital kill zone on a turkey’s head.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to see a good number of hits – not just one, two or three – in that zone to ensure an adequate and humane kill shot on the spring gobbler.
One thing to note here is we’re not necessarily measuring how effective or lethal a load and choke combo will be at a certain distance, only measuring pattern density and number of pellet hits in the turkey’s head region where his most exposed vitals are.
Keep in mind the longer the distance – and the smaller and lighter the shot size happens to be – the more energy will be in the process of being lost as the pellets travel downrange.
Also keep in mind as you change anything up in the equation – gun, shell and/or choke – your results will shift as well. And honestly, even the same model of shotgun can shoot a bit differently from one gun to another.
Which is why it’s very important to head to the local shotgun shooting range to pattern test your gun prior to your hunt and to see what kind of pellet count you get on a turkey head target.