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Choosing Turkey Chokes, Ammo, and Shot Patterning
Exploring what chokes and ammo to use for turkey hunting
Turkey hunting is like nothing else in the bird hunting world. Waking up to hit the woods before sunrise on a crisp spring morning to chase a bird that is so loud that it makes your insides rattle is intense. Things happen slowly, from anticipating the sunrise, to the slow approach of a gobbler, gently adjusting the gun, and waiting for the perfect shot. Time seems to stand still. When it all comes together and your heart is pounding through your chest, you want the shot to count. Proper shotgun choke and ammunition selection is important, and patterning your gun is imperative. Lastly, putting the shot where it needs to be is key.
There are hundreds of chokes to choose from when it comes to turkey hunting. Some people simply pick up their old shotgun with a fixed modified choke, while others prefer an extended extra-full choke. Let’s break down the advantages of a few popular options.
When talking about chokes, it’s all about constriction and how well the shot patterns downrange. Modified chokes have a diameter of .710 while an extra-full choke will have a diameter of .685. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it can effectively mean the difference between a dead bird and a sob story with a simple flinch or a slight difference in yardage.
Modified chokes will work on tight birds, less than 25 yards. Beyond that your shot will start to disperse too much to efficiently kill a long beard. An advantage to a semi-open choke is that misses on close birds are rare. The pattern opens up faster and there’s a lot more margin for errors at close range. Moving to a full choke will give you a .695 choke diameter; you’ll get more energy and a tighter pattern, allowing lethal shots out to 35-40 yards. Moving to an extra-full choke pushes your limit even farther. A lot of birds are killed by hunters at 40-50 yards plus with specialty extra-full turkey chokes. On the flip-side, a lot of close shots are missed due to the tight pattern.
So, you have to ask yourself — how far away are most of my shots going to be?
Die-hard turkey hunters will tell you that a turkey-specific choke is extremely important when it comes to bagging a gobbler. The truth is, whichever choke gives you the best pattern in combination with the ammo you’re using is the one you need when that old tom comes strutting into range.
Everyone has their favorite brand of ammo, and a lot of folks are stubborn when it comes to what shot size they like to shoot. But the fact is that times are changing, and technology has improved how well turkey ammunition works. Traditionally, I’ve always been a fan of 4, 5, and 6 shot in lead. Several years ago I started hunting with my wife and kids, and opted for heavyweight 7 shot, which has much less recoil.
This year Federal Premium has revamped its turkey shot shell lineup with a trio of new high-performance product families. New Grand Slam, 3rd Degree and Heavyweight TSS loads replace all previously available Federal Premium turkey products.
Grand Slam shells extend the range and lethality of conventional turkey loads, putting as many pellets as possible within a 10-inch circle without breaking the bank. Grand Slam is available in 4, 5, and 6 shot. Third Degree with Heavyweight TSS uses a three-stage payload comprised of 40 percent #7 Heavyweight TSS shot, 20 percent #6 Flitestopper lead, and 40 percent #5 premium lead to kill birds from spitting distance out to 50 yards. Heavyweight TSS provides the highest possible pellet counts, up to double those of similar weight lead loads, to take gobblers at longer ranges than ever.
All of the new offerings utilize the full-length Flitecontrol Flex wad. The wad’s unique design improves pattern density and consistency when fired through ported and non-ported chokes. The wad was redesigned in 2017 with rear-deploying brake fins and side-mounted vents making patterns more consistent and dense.
As an added touch, all new 12- and 20-gauge loads also feature improved hull printing complete with a small tape measure graphic that allows hunters to measure spurs in the field and photograph the dimensions to show friends and share on social media.
Tungsten Super Shot (TSS) is an integral part of Heavyweight TSS and 3rd Degree loads. The material is more than 20 percent denser than Federal Premium’s previous Heavyweight shot and 56 percent denser than lead.
The best part about purchasing Federal turkey loads is that a portion of all purchases goes to the National Wild Turkey Federation.
There’s no magical chart telling us which choke and ammo will work best with our gun. The best way to find the perfect combination is to try a few to figure out which one patterns best out of your gun. I shoot a Savage 212 custom turkey gun with a full choke and 3rd Degree. It’s the right fit for me. My son shoots a Stevens 320 pump with #7 Heavyweight with a Primos Jellyhead turkey choke, which has a bit less constriction than my full choke. Every gun is different, and every shooter is different. Nothing matters if you don’t go out prior to the season to see how your gun patterns with particular chokes and loads.
Do yourself a favor when you hit the range and invest in some turkey targets that show the vitals of a turkey. Not only will this help you see your patterns on a life-like target, it will get you comfortable with shooting at that image.
Of course, even the best gun, choke, and ammunition in the world won’t kill a bird for you if you don’t hit your mark. In turkey hunting, your point-of-aim isn’t like that on any other critter. Many people mistakenly think that the head is where your bead needs to be. In truth, the ideal aim point is the base of the neck near the caruncle (folds of skin at the front of the neck that flare up during mating). The goal in aiming at the base of the neck is for your pattern to hit the spine, neck, and possibly the head. The purpose is to shut down the turkey’s nervous system, putting him down on the spot without wasting any meat.
Find the right choke, the right ammunition, pattern your gun and know how it shoots at 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 yards, then execute when the bird steps out by putting your pellets where they count.
Matt Breuer has been working in the outdoor industry for over 15 years, guiding, writing, promoting, volunteering, and working with several conservation groups. He’s on the Board of Directors of the MN Sharp-tailed Grouse Society, and is a recruitment and retention coordinator with RGS. He owns and operates Northcountry Guide Service & Promotions in northern MN. Link up with Matt by visiting www.northcountryguides.com .