Pattern that shotgun

Spring wild turkey season is upon us. Most states in New England open the first week of May with lucky Massachusetts hunters already in the woods calling toms. Leading up to the spring turkey season, my mailbox starts overflowing with catalogs from outfitters and hunting gear suppliers offering the newest in gadgets, guns and ammunition I need to ensure a successful gobbler hunt. Here is one thing I know for sure: there is no amount of technology that can take the place of a well-placed shot from a properly patterned shotgun.

Modern ammunition and gun trends

A lot of emphasis is being placed on range and stopping power in modern turkey gun and ammunition advertising.

Prominent shot shell manufacturers are producing specialty turkey loads for “long range” or even “extreme” distances. While I will not dismiss the possibility of these shots out of hand, I will ask why these ammunition companies feel we need to take a 60 yard shot at a wild turkey.

In addition, manufacturers are equipping turkey guns with all manner of red dot scopes and fiber optic sights to aid hunters in long range target acquisition.

Don’t get me wrong; having good, modern equipment is fine. I just can’t help but wonder if all of this leads to overconfidence in equipment and consequently, straying from fundamentals.

It doesn’t matter if you hunt with a decades old Remington 1100 with a single bead sight or a modern day special purpose turkey gun that wears more camouflage than you; what does matter is knowing the point of impact with your gun, choke and ammunition choice.

Factors such as varying shot size and weight, choke selection and individual firearm characteristics can greatly modify where the concentration of shot lands on the target. What worked at 40 yards in your pump gun with a modified choke may be different than what works best in a semi-auto with an extra full choke installed. Some guns with fixed chokes are even designed by manufacturers to pattern at a specific distance.

Patterning your gun any time you change chokes, plan to hunt at different distances or decide to change turkey loads is good idea.

Basics of patterning

There is plenty of specific, detailed information online regarding the patterning of shotguns and enough technical jargon to make your eyes bleed. Instead of getting in the weeds, we’ll just go over the basics as it relates to putting that long-beard in the bag.

Shot starts spreading the instant it exits the barrel. Depending on the constriction of the choke tube you are using, that shot will leave a certain pellet spread on the target upon impact. This is your pattern. Getting the densest concentration of shot on the point of aim on your target is patterning.

A sheet of half inch plywood, a four foot roll of heavy weight craft paper, some screws and a staple gun are all you need to construct a homemade shotgun patterning board. Cut the plywood in half and form an A frame of the two 4 x 4 foot pieces. Staple the craft paper over the impact side of the frame and draw a cross from the top to bottom and left to right of the entire board using a marker. The center of the cross hairs should be in the center of the board.

From a stable platform, fire one round at your estimated hunting distance. The standard at most shooting ranges with patterning boards is 40 yards. Analyze the spread and find the densest pattern that contains at least fifty percent of the pellets. Circle the pattern. Repeat the exercise with fresh paper two more times to get an average.

You can now experiment with different choke tubes and loads to get the most pellets in the tightest pattern on your point of aim. You may find some loads work best with certain chokes and not so well with others. Getting a tight group on your point of aim will go a long way in telling your hunting buddy how that tom turkey went down instead of flying off through a hole in your pattern.

Shot placement is key

Sure, turkey hunting is very challenging. That is why it is so rewarding when you make a clean, ethical shot on a strutting tom. With a well-placed shot from a patterned shotgun you are not only doing the ethical thing, you are ensuring a walk out of the woods with a trophy gobbler over your shoulder.


John is a Registered Maine Guide, an NRA Certified Instructor and an NRA Certified Range Safety Officer. He is a former Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army and is the owner of Tucker Ridge Outdoors in Webster Plantation, Maine. He also works as a freelance outdoors writer and is the author of “Life on the Ridge” for the Outdoors section. He can be reached at or on Facebook @writerjohnfloyd

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