Honesty demands I begin by admitting that this column’s headline is nothing more than an attention-grabber, because there is no such thing as a “perfect” turkey choke or load. To the contrary, every imaginable combination is a compromise which gives the shooter a little more of this in exchange for a little less of that.
The best way I know to begin deciding what choke/load combo might suit you best is to do some honest assessing of what you hope your turkey hunt will be like. Does the terrain, your (lack of) calling ability or some other factor dictate being prepared to shoot as soon as an approaching gobbler crosses the outer limits of ethical shooting range? Or does the terrain, your mastery of turkey calling or some other factor dictate being prepared to shoot at a gobbler that’s so close you can hearing the thrumming noise his breast feathers make when he’s in full strut? Or are you a pragmatic sort who’d like to be able to have a reasonable chance to score at either extreme, while being fully prepared for mid-range shooting?
The makers of after-market ultra-full “turkey” chokes have been engaged in an arms race for the past decade, striving to see which of them produce the choke that threw the tightest pattern at ranges up to and, in the case of some ads I’ve seen, beyond 60 yards. I have neither the space nor the inclination to fully discuss the interesting things that can happen to the patterns produced by barrels with too much choke.
But be that as it may, if your goal is to able to kill turkeys at long range, an after-market choke can be a good idea, just back off a few notches from the outer limits of constriction. Far more important, do not put an ultra-full choke at the front end of your shotgun’s barrel without installing the highest quality illuminated dot or scope sight you can afford on its receiver. Without it, the chances of centering a shot pattern on a gobbler’s fist-sized head at long range are remote.
Oddly enough, good optics are every bit as important at extremely close ranges. Boiled down to its essence turkey hunting involves using a shotgun as if it was a rifle. That’s especially true at short range, because the shotgun’s pattern is only a little larger than its bore diameter. If you’re under the illusion that hitting a small object while using a weapon with only one sight is easy, ask Amber about the time she tried to do some precision rifle shooting while using only the front sight.
At close range, the advantages offered by even the best optics are partially undone by too much choke. In fact, I often take full advantage of the convenience of screw-in choke tubes by switching to a modified choke when I’m confident I’ll be shooting at 30 yards or less. Believe me it’s a lot easier to hit a 10-yard target with a pattern that’s 5 inches in diameter than it is with one that’s only one inch. The difference is even more dramatic at 20 yards.
Chokes are, of course, only half of the equation. The shotshell (load) you choose is equally important.
Many hunters who refuse to take shots beyond 40 yards–I’m one of them–like #6 or #5 shot, because the diameter of a given shot decreases as its number increases. Obviously then, there are more individual pellets in an ounce of #6 shot than there are in an ounce of #4 shot.
That makes #6 shot sound like a good choice, and it is, too, out to 40 yards or so. Beyond that, #6 shot doesn’t retain enough energy to be reliably lethal no matter how many individual pellets hit their intended target. Using #4 shot can extend lethal range by another 10 to 15 yards and combining the extra payload found in 3-inch or 3 1/2-inch cases with an after-market choke
should–but doesn’t always–produce patterns dense enough to do the job at longer ranges than most hunters should be shooting.
Even so, to my way of thinking, the best way to increase any turkey hunter’s percentage of clean kills is stick with a standard choke but switch to one of the heavier-than-lead, nontoxic loads used by waterfowl hunters. I’ve test-fired most of them, but I’ve had more actual hunting experience with Hevi-Shot ® than any of the others. Believe me, it’s so deadly it’s scary, even in the 2 3/4-inch loads I prefer. Just remember that, in Missouri, #4 shot is the largest allowable for turkey hunting no matter what material it’s made of.
No matter which choke, load or sight you choose, shotguns used for turkey hunting need to be sighted in. Next week, we’ll delve into the mysteries of making a smooth bored weapon shoot where you look.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]