Preparing for the Wild Turkey Season: Patterns, Chokes and Loads

One of the best places to start preparing for turkey hunting is to check where your gun shoots and how your loads and chokes perform. You will need a safe place to shoot, sand bags, light target loads and turkey loads, a long length of 30″ butcher paper, a way to hang it up and some turkey head targets.

Turkey hunters aim and shoot their shotguns like a rifle at a wild turkey. At other game, the shotgun is usually pointed, swung on the target and fired with both the gun and the target in motion. An aimed shotgun may not shoot where you think. Knowing where your shotgun shoots when the gun is aimed like a rifle and how your gun, choke and turkey loads perform at known distances can be the difference between a successful turkey season and one that you might rather forget.

The point of impact can be checked by shooting from a sandbag rest at 4″ bullseye on a 30′ sheet of paper at 25 to 30 yards using light loads and your turkey choke. Do this at least three times at different sheets and plot the center of the pattern relative to the aim point. Most field guns will shoot a little high and some will even shoot a little to the left or right as well. If the center of the patterns are several inches above the aim point, your aim point at a turkey should be down the neck and not at the head.

If the pattern is centered 3″ or more off to the right or left, the stock of the shotgun does not have the right cast. This can be corrected in one direction by pressing the stock more firmly into the cheek as you aim or to the other by adding moleskin to the side of the stock to move it away from the cheek. Think of your eye as your rear sight and move your eye the way you want to move the point of impact. Just remember that 1/16″ of an inch on the stock equals 1″ on the target at 16 yards.

Your full choke that came with your shotgun will probably deliver a pattern that will take a nice tom. The aftermarket turkey chokes will give you a tighter pattern and extend your killing distance. These aftermarket turkey chokes will give you another 10 yards of sure killing distance. If you have ever had a tom hang up and not come that last ten yards, it is a good reason to buy a special turkey choke.

Most 12 gauge shotguns have an internal barrel diameter of about .730″ and a normal full choke constricts this by .035″ to .695″. That constriction can be increased to give a tighter pattern and increase the effective range. Most special turkey chokes are in the .660″ to .685″ range making them much tighter than typical full chokes. The performance of these chokes will vary from gun to gun and from load to load. They must be evaluated on paper with the loads you intend to use at the range you intend to shoot. That process is explained below.

Briley manufacturing of Houston, Texas makes an extra full, extended screw in 12 gauge turkey chokes with a diameter of .665″. This choke is rifled and they call it the Trauma Choke and the name fits. Briley has been the industry standard for after market chokes for many years. The Briley Trauma Turkey Choke comes with a video on wild turkey hunting. Briley can be reached at (800) 331-5718.

Carlson’s Choke Tubes of Atwood, Kansas has offered after market chokes for clay target shooters for over 12 years. In each type they make, Carlson’s gives three internal bore diameter choices to match the hunters needs. They can be contacted at 785 626-3700 or visit their website at

Another good turkey choke source is Hastings of Clay Center, Kansas. (785 632-3169) They have been in the choke tube and shotgun barrel business for sixteen years. Hastings has extended turkey choke tubes in a wide range of diameters. Their extended turkey chokes pattern very well in most shotguns. Their turkey chokes between .665″ and .685″ are very popular.

In pattern tests using my Browning BPS 12 gauge, the Briley trauma choke, the Carlson .665 and the Hastings .665″ extended turkey choke patterned 1 7/8oz. buffered Winchester # 6 loads very well and gave consistent and effective patterns to 40 yards. The two ounce # 6 Winchester Turkey loads patterned a little better with the Briley Trauma and I would feel comfortable shooting it another 5-10 yards. The 2 oz loads did not pattern as well as the 1 7/8 oz. load through the Hastings choke. The 1 7/8 oz loads through the Hastings and Carlson’s choke tubes and the 2 oz. loads through Briley were very similar.

These data illustrate why it is important to test each choke, load and gun combination. A minimum of 6 shells should be shot a turkey head targets and the number of pellets in the brain and neck bones should be counted. Four hits in the brain or bones of the neck is the standard I used . When the pattern thins out to place fewer than four pellets in a sure kill place, that is past the safe kill distance for that combination.

It is also important to know how your load and choke combination performs at closer ranges. It is good to have a 8″ diameter pattern a 15 yards. On close shots, your margin of error is less. An other option is to use a side by side or an over and under and switch to a regular full choke for the close shot. If that is not an option, it is best to wait and let a tom that comes in that close walk out to your optimum range of 20 yards. Every once in a while a close shot will be forced on the hunter so it is good to know how the gun patterns that close.

Any turkey hunter who has hunted very much has shot a big tom that was too close or too far. Learning to judge distance is very important. Knowing where you gun shoots and how your loads and chokes perform at known distances is something that should be done before the season starts.