Tips and tricks for sighting in shotguns

Gerald Scott - Contributing columnist

Gerald Scott

Gerald Scott

Contributing columnist

Gerald Scott Scott

I went on my first Missouri turkey hunt in the fall of 1978 and, after numerous false starts, managed to tag an extraordinarily dim-witted hen. When I told my grandfather–who, at that time had never seen a wild turkey about my misadventures–he thought a minute and then said, “Your problem is that turkeys aren’t a shotgun game; they’re a rifle game.”

He was right, of course, but, short of plunking down the cash for a nonresident license in one of the western or southwestern states, Missouri turkey hunters can’t take his advice literally. That said, as we discussed at some length last week, it is possible to create a shotgun that functions very much like a short range rifle by using the right combination of chokes and loads and adding optic sights.

I didn’t have space to discuss recoil in last week’s column, but, I want to do so before we head for the range. One of the basic laws of physics dictates that every reaction creates an equal but opposite reaction. Out in the real world, when you fire a two-ounce load of bird shot out of your shotgun’s barrel, the buttstock will slam into your shoulder with a force approximately twice that created by a .458 Winchester magnum, firing a 500 grain (1.1 ounce) bullet. And, I might point out, the .458’s stock is heavier and better designed to absorb recoil than is your shotgun’s. My son, who’s neither as tall nor as heavy as I am, wouldn’t care, because he could shoot a 20 mm cannon off his shoulder if he could find one with a stock. I, on the other hand, hate recoil and would very quickly develop enough subconscious fear of the punishment I was about to receive to eliminate any chance of shooting accurately.

If recoil is going to be a problem for you, consider using 2 3/4-inch shells. Believe me, you won’t be at any meaningful disadvantage. In fact, I’ve tagged 101 firearms turkeys, and all but two of them fell to loads fired from “mini-magnum” hulls.

If you’ve had a chance to do a little online window shopping for the premium nontoxic loads I recommended last week, you may well be in full-blown sticker shock. The two least expensive prices I found for Hevi-Shot ® translated to $6.20 and $5.40 per round, plus tax and shipping. Remington, Winchester and Federal all offer “high density” three-inch loads for around $3.00 per round, but I wasn’t able to find any information on their shot’s composition.

My recommendation of Hevi-Shot holds. Even premium ammunition is one of the least expensive items purchased by a turkey hunter. For example. If you don’t hunt very close to home, you’ll spend more on gasoline. That said, a number of perfectly adequate turkey loads can be had for less than $2.00 per round.

Now let’s head to the range. Bring a few of the loads you intend to use on your hunt, but also bring a box of light loads in the same size shot. You’ll need a large piece of cardboard and several sheets of 3’ by 3’ white paper. Toss in the chair and/or shooting rest you’ll be using on your hunt.

Begin with the target no more than 25 yards down range. Put some type of mark in the center of the paper for an aiming point and fire three of the light loads from a bench rest or other steady support. If the densest part of the combined three-shot pattern is centered on your aiming point, you’re ready to test one hunting load on a clean sheet of paper. If the light load’s pattern isn’t on the mark, adjust the sight as per the manufacturer’s directions, put up a clean sheet of paper and fire a three-shot test pattern, using the light loads. Repeat until the pattern’s centered, then test one hunting load.

Move back to 40 yards and repeat the process. If the shot-to-shot light load patterns

aren’t consistent, the most likely cause is shooter error. Commit either to spending a lot of time at the range or to confining yourself to shorter ranges in the field. If the light load patterns are consistent but are slightly off the mark, test one hunting load before changing anything. If the hunting load is on the mark, go home and start looking for turkey recipes. If the light and the hunting loads are shooting to the same place, follow the earlier-described procedure to fine tune the sight.

When everything is just the way you want it, shoot a few light loads while seated, using whatever firearm support you prefer. This exercise will not only boost your confidence, but it will also build muscle memory that will serve you well when Mr. Tom comes to call.

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

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