Making the shot count after all your handwork and preparation has paid off to the moment of truth in turkey hunting where that majestic Tom is standing only yards away can be a challenge. Now this article will not concern you will the “buck fever” you may experience that makes you pull the shot, panic, or however else you experience the rush of the action. What it will do however is tell you where you should be aiming, what you should be shooting, and hopw you can get to making the shot count.
The Shotgun Shell Options
The options for Turkey loads is rather large these days. With some companies designing rounds that can drop birds at 60 yards from a 12 gauge! As a rule of thumb we suggest you let them come in close if not for anything else at least the experience of a thundering Tom only 20 yards in front of you. The three most popular size shoot is #4, #5 and #6 for Wild Turkey. The larger the number (6) the more pellets and faster spread (degrading distance and penetration). The longer the round 2 3/4″, 3″, 3 1/2″ the more punch the round will have. 3″ rounds tend to be the most popular in the turkey hunting community but 2 3/4″ will still get the job done with only slight reducing your effective range when making the shot count.
The tighter the choke the tighter the pattern. We are not hunting Ruffed Grouse here so we are not looking for our pellets to open up a pattern in a hurry. We are looking for tight patterns, which means a full choke is a great place to start. There are companies that make “turkey chokes’ that are extra full chokes but you should have no issues with a standard full choke. If you want to experiment outside off a standard full choke by all means go ahead but make sure you always test it on paper so at game time you are making the shot count.
The Neck and Head- Making the Shot Count
First rule of thumb, with essentially no exceptions, in Turkey hunting with a Shotgun is you aim for the head and the neck. Why you may ask? The body of a Turkey is actually very resistant to bird shot as a result of the feathers that make up a “natural” bullet proof vest if you will. Popular belief says that a 12 Gauge, 3 inch round will not penetrate the body enough at over 20 yards to get to the vitals. Add in the actual destruction of the meat and the reasons why you shouldn’t shoot a turkey in the body with a shotgun keep stacking up. The head/neck shot is not as difficult as it sounds many guys will put turkeys on the ground at 30 yards with little effort making head shots.
With the spread of turkey shot (which you should pattern ahead of time) hitting the vital areas of the head or neck is the most effective method for a quick harvest.
Practice, Practice, Pattern
You should always practice shooting no matter what your quarry. You need to be personally confident in where and how you gun is performing. In turkey hunting you want to actually see where your pellets are hitting at different distances. We call this patterning your gun. Below we have placed a nice picture of a Tom for you to print out on a paper (click it first) to test the spread and pattern of your gun. (Print a bunch to try different distances and different loads). You should mark on them the distance, load, and chock you use for a later reference point if you begin to experiment with other set ups. Count the number of pellets that gets in the head and neck and you will start to understand whats effective. A dozen pellets is more than enough to see a Tom drop in front of you.
The National Wild Turkey Federation has deemed 40 yards to be the absolute longest ethical shot in Turkey hunting. As a beginner to Turkey hunting we suggest that 30 yards be the absolute max and only after all resources have been exhausted to make a 10-20 yard shot happen. The things that will effect how far you can successful shoot (outside of your own ability) are things like shotgun gauge, the choke, shell length, and shot size. If you followed the advice of “Practice, Practice, Pattern’ you will know exactly the distances your set up and you are capable of and in the end making the shot count!