Setting Your Sights On May 1

As time goes by, some folks find that things that we have taken for granted for years begin to dim. Whether it be that old pickup truck, that tractor that has been on its last legs for years or the little things that over time we notice that just aren’t as good as they once were.

For sportsmen, being able to hear and have decent eyesight are important to our sport. Without these two basic God-given gifts, we will not be able to totally enjoy the outdoors like we once did, say nothing about everyday life.

Fortunately for us in today’s world, there are many options that help us get back to where we should be, or at the very least close to it.

In the world of hearing, there are tons of different choices on the market and it is well worth the effort to find a choke that will get the most out of your gun. I’ll have more on that in a couple weeks, but this week we are going to discuss getting your gun ready for spring turkey season.

Sighting any firearm can be a fun task when done properly. Even though I know where my turkey gun shoots, every year I take it the range and throw a couple rounds in it just to make sure. With a few basic tools and little knowledge, it can be a frustrating time you can spend behind the stock.

Before we get going on a few suggestions that I have discovered over the years, let’s start out with items that you’ll need. Most importantly is a safe place to shoot. Local gun and rod clubs have ranges and benches all set up for this very purpose. This is a great time to join your local rod and gun club, if you haven’t already. You should be a member, they all do great work.

Once you have your shooting spot, make sure your gun has the proper choke and turkey loads, a large cardboard — at least 24 inches by 24 inches — life-size turkey target, hearing protection and range finder or tape measure.

If you are going to use a scope, we’ll discuss that after we get your gun sighted in without one (make sure it is mounted properly). Having a scope too far forward or too far back won’t make this process easier, your comfort in shooting any fun, or the gun as accurate as it could be.

One key difference between turkey hunting and other upland game bird hunting is the shotgun. I prefer a turkey choke or extra full at the least. Different chokes will shoot differently out of different guns. This is part of the fun of setting up your turkey gun.

The turkey shotgun is carefully aimed like a rifle and must be able to deliver a tight swarm of hard-hitting pellets to a relatively small target. A turkey’s vital area is its head and neck, which is about the size of an adult’s clenched fist, wrist and forearm. Even the largest of gobblers will be instantly immobilized if shot pellets penetrate its bony skull or vertebrae.

It’s surprising how many shotgun barrels aren’t straight, and as a result they throw shot patterns that may imprint high, low, left or right of the aiming point. The problem can also be traced to improperly installed choke tubes.

If the choke tubes aren’t parallel to the bore, the point of impact will be off. Properly installed choke tubes are the first place to look if your gun isn’t shooting straight.

One way to check a shotgun’s point of impact is to shoot at a paper target at close range from a steady rest. Try shooting low-powered target load (No. 6 or No. 7 1/2 shot) and shoot at a baseball-sized bullseye at about 8 yards. In just one shot you’ll be able to see if the shot pattern is centered on the bullseye. Here is where the plain 24-by-24 cardboard is helpful.

The most economical way to correct a point of impact problem is to install moveable open sights on your shotgun’s barrel. Several companies make fiber-optic sights that simply wrap around a shotgun’s barrel or attach to its ventilated rib. Changes in windage and elevation, to center the pattern on the bullseye, are made with just a few turns of a screwdriver.

Once your shotgun’s point of impact problem is solved, the next step is pattern density testing to find the best load for your shotgun. This will involve shooting several brands of turkey loads, with different shot sizes.

Keep in mind, generally we get just one shot at a turkey, so you’ve got to make sure the first one counts

There’s been a massive leap in turkey gun performance in the last several years. Today’s off-the-shelf, high-performance turkey shotguns are capable of putting more than 100 No. 6 pellets into a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Most turkeys are bagged at much closer ranges, so a high-performance turkey gun isn’t necessary to be a successful hunter.

Two popular chokes for 12-gauge shotguns used in turkey hunting are full (diameter .694), and extra full (diameter .689), but after-market turkey chokes are available in much tighter constrictions, such as .675 or .670.

The most effective shot sizes for turkeys are No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6. Both lead and nontoxic shot are legal, but shot larger than No. 4 is not recommended. In New York state for example, you cannot hunt turkeys with shot smaller than No. 8 or larger than No. 2. I have found for the majority of my hunting around here, No. 5 shot will give them a dirt nap.

Generally, the smaller No. 6 shot requires a tighter choke for best results. When shooting larger shot, such as No. 4, loosen up the choke constriction, and you’ll get more uniform patterns.

There’s also a trade-off with changes in shot size or the payload-number of pallets in the shell. The larger the pellet, the fewer per ounce. For example, one ounce of lead shot is equal to 135 No. 4s, 170 No. 5s or 225 No. 6s. Smaller shot carries less energy downrange, but creates denser patterns. Larger shot carries more energy downrange, but shoots much less dense patterns.

What’s a reasonable hunting distance for turkeys? Lots of gobblers are taken each spring under 30 yards, so don’t get discouraged if your shotgun won’t throw tight patterns farther out than that. Keep testing load and choke combinations until you find what works best.

Since turkey hunting shotshells are expensive, a good way to offset the cost is to buy several boxes of shells as a group, sharing among hunting buddies or club members. That way everyone gets to try several different brands to see what shoots best in their gun.

Once you’ve found the shot size and choke combination that yields the tightest, most uniform patterns, it’s simply a matter of shooting at increasingly farther distances to determine your shotgun’s effective range.

When the number of pellets in the turkey’s vital area on the target drops below 15 you’ve reached the outer limits of your shotgun’s effectiveness. Never shoot beyond that distance and you’ll be confident that your shotgun will do its job when the time comes.

Every gun, choke and shell are different. I recommend trying some of the heavier-than-lead shot that’s on the market today. They have increased my distance, pattern density and are harder hitting, which means more filled tags.

Made from metal alloys, nontoxic shot has become increasingly popular with turkey hunters because it exhibits superior patterning and for some tighter groups at longer ranges.

For those of us that have found, for whatever reason, that a scope on our turkey gun is a way to go, sighting them in takes us back to the old days of shooting slugs.

A turkey hunter can install a scope on his shotgun and deliver a tight-patterned load of shot very accurately to cleanly take a wild turkey. The key to hunting turkey with a shotgun is to pattern the shot at various distances to determine how many lead pellets will be delivered. A scope allows the hunter to possibly extend distances at which an accurate, ethical shot can be taken and see your target better.

Set up targets at from 10 to 50 yards, in 10-yard intervals. Shoot the shotgun and zero your scope in so it delivers a tight pattern centered on the turkey’s head at 20 yards. This is the most common distance at which turkeys are taken.

Take shots at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards and see where the pellets hit as well as the density of the pattern. Your scope’s crosshairs should be centered on the target turkey’s head at each of these distances. You will see how the shot pattern and impact points change with a consistent hold.

While we haven’t covered everything here, hopefully we have given you all a good place to start getting your turkey gun ready for opening day.


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