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The Roving Sportsman… Patterning Your Shotgun

Recently, I wrote about the wisdom of taking the time to pattern your shotgun – now let’s look at a few factors in actually making sure your trusty old shotgun is really shooting as it should be. This is not difficult, it does not have to be time consuming and by patterning your gun you will become a much more successful turkey hunter this spring.

Generally, your first few shots should be at about 20 yards, and once you are satisfied with the results, move out to 30 yards for a final sighting in. Your shooting setup should be from a shooting bench or stable picnic table, with a simple paper target – be it a typical bullseye target, a crude dot or crosshairs on a large piece of paper (about 24 inches square would be ideal), or one of the readily available targets with the silhouette of a turkey neck and head on it – placed on a cardboard backing and located 20 yards from the shooting position.

If you are shooting an older shotgun with a fixed choke, using one with a full choke is best. If you have a newer shotgun with changeable chokes, as is usually the case with most modern shotguns designed specifically for turkey hunting, then select one of the many turkey chokes on the market today. These special turkey chokes can be expensive, so, if you are lucky, you may be able to test your gun with several different chokes that other turkey hunters may allow you to borrow, and then make your purchase after finding the one that works best in your gun.

When it comes to the “latest and greatest” in ammo, the various makes of TSS ammunition is the hottest thing on the market. TSS stands for Tungsten Super Shot and is more dense and heavier than steel or lead. For quite some time, avid turkey hunters have been hand loading the TSS pellets for turkey hunting and it has recently become available to all of us through several commercial manufacturers. Because TSS is harder and heavier, it retains greater energy and penetration downrange and uses smaller pellets which increase the payload. TSS also yields tighter patterns downrange, thus making smaller gauge shotguns more viable for turkey hunting. This ammunition is currently available in .410, 20 gauge, 12 gauge and 10 gauge. The kicker is that it is not cheap, but its greatly increased reliability to make killing shots makes it a must for the serious turkey hunter who respects the game that he is hunting and wants everything possible working in his favor.

Initially, start out with a less expensive shell at 20 yards, just to get an idea where your gun is shooting. Chances are, right out of the box, it will hit exactly where you are aiming. If not, you will need to adjust your sights, if possible. If you cannot adjust them, or if they cannot be adjusted far enough to correct the problem, you will need to consider a red dot sight or one of the many shotgun scopes on the market.

Once your shots are “centered” on paper, and while still using the less expensive ammo, move your target out to 30 yards and recenter your pattern on the 30 yard target. If you are satisfied with the pattern at 30 yards, it is time to try a few shots with the more expensive turkey ammunition you have chosen. You shouldn’t have to make much adjustment, if any, with the turkey loads. Now, if you try the TSS ammunition with number 7, 8 or 9 shot you will be amazed at how tight and dense the pattern is.

Accomplish this patterning as soon as possible, because if you are as impressed with the results with the TSS ammunition as I think you will be, you will need to purchase some as soon as you can because it can be hard to find as the season approaches!

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