Patterns of a shotgun for hunting turkeys

Designing a shotgun can be as easy or as difficult as you like. There are so many options when it comes to shell size, shot size, shot composition, chokes, shotgun make/model, bore and barrel length that trying each and every combination would be almost impossible. We all want the densest patterns at the longest ranges, but finding that shell and choke combo that gives you the best possible pattern is way out of the reach of the average person. The following gives you a rundown of how I approach the shotgun pattern for turkey hunting, but the principles can be applied to any ballistic endeavor.

First, determine what your constants will be. I wish I could buy a new weapon for every season and scenario I could imagine, but that’s not reasonable. Determine which shotgun you’ll be using – a 12 gauge is pretty standard and a 20 will be fine. If you want to use a smaller gauge, there will be more considerations and potential costs involved to get the results you want. Once you’ve chosen your shotgun, determine what your targets are, and then start with the variables.

Determine your goals. Again, if you want the best pattern in the world, you will need a lot of money and a lot of time. If your goal is to have a consistent pattern over a reasonable range while minimizing the chance of injuring or losing an animal you are hunting, then you are in luck.

Think about the area you will be hunting in, how thick the ground is, and what kind of
distance, you will most likely be presented with a shot. If the ground is very thick and visibility is less than 30 yards from the ground, almost any traditional lead turkey load will work. If you want to extend your range a bit more, consider a higher density shot like Tungsten or TSS. The denser material allows the use of a smaller shot size, which translates to more shots per payload.

This season I wanted to find a shell and choke combo for my Franchi Affinity that would give me dense patterns up to 45 yards. I hunt a lot of big fields and the big toms tend to hang around the 40 yard marker. I picked up a Federal TSS No. 7 3-inch 12-gauge case. The density of TSS is nearly 50 percent heavier than lead, allowing the use of smaller shot that still carries the lower-range energy of the largest lead shot. A smaller shot means higher pattern density and a higher chance of a clean kill. I had a few boxes of shells from various manufacturers and size/pellet material left over from past seasons, so I was able to compare how the new stuff stacked up against shells I’d used in the past.

Now, with your chosen shotgun and cartridge, choose a choke. Some shotguns come with a factory-filled, extra-filled, or turkey choke; if you already have one, start there. If you want to buy a choke, figure out your budget first, and then try to cut it down from there. There are many options, luckily most of them work very well. Carlson, TruGlo, Kicks, Patternmaster are all good products, although results vary gun to gun, load to load. Many choke manufacturers make chokes for specific turkey loads, these are usually an excellent choice.

I bought a Carlson TSS choke. It was reasonably priced and I have had good experience with Carlson chokes in the past.

Now try your combo. Set up a large target (approximately 30 inches by 30 inches) in the range you want to pattern and see what happens. Aim at the center of the paper and fire a round. Use a marker pen and note the scope, shell, and choke used. Pull out the paper and draw a 10-inch circle around the densest part of the pattern, then count the number of shots inside that circle. Repeat the process with new paper and different shells if you are testing multiple.

Generally speaking, you want at least 100 pellets in that 10-inch circle. The more the better. If your best pattern gives you less than 100 on the 10-inch circle, it’s time to change one variable at a time. Change choke or shell, but do not change both at the same time. Changing more than one variable will not allow you to determine if the new shell or choke is an improvement. If you change the choke, run through the same projectiles at the same distances, if you change the projectiles, try them through the same choke. You’ll eventually find a combo that works with your weapon and suits your goals.

I tried three different loads through the Franchi Affinity with the Carlson choke. Lead charge No. 5 placed no more than 100 shot in a 10-inch ring at 45 yards. The densest pattern came from the shell with the highest pellet count, which is not surprising. After counting over 170 shot in the 10-inch ring at 45 yards, I was done making patterns. Finding a dense pattern that would work at 45 yards was the goal, I found it quickly and didn’t feel the need to push the range any further. In all, I fired six rounds from three different shell manufacturers through one choke. Both high-end tungsten/TSS shells had a higher pattern density than their lead counterpart.

The rule of diminishing returns applies here: it will take a lot of money and time to find that pattern that gives you the latest return percentages. I’ve had a lot of experience with this in manual loading, getting a load to generate sub MOA pools isn’t difficult or time consuming, but trying to shrink that pool further is resource intensive. At the end of the day, a turkey won’t know the difference between getting hit in the head with 10 or 12 shots.

The Maven logo above a hunter with the sky behind him and a pair of binoculars to the right.

Go with reasonable expectations and you’ll find them pretty quickly. I can’t stress this enough. We’re all obsessed with how to be better hunters, and the gear we choose to wear is one of the few variables we have complete control over, but don’t let it be the only facet of your focus. Get the pattern you’re happy with, in the range you’re comfortable with, and spend your time exploring and learning about the animal you’re going after. Knowing where the birds are will benefit you more than finding a pattern that stretches 60 yards. No pattern, no matter how dense, is going to kill a turkey if there are no turkeys around.

Notes and tips

If you’re using a smaller gauge shotgun, you’ll have less pellets in each shell, so you may need to decrease the range until you find a pattern you’re happy with.

Bring in some cheap target loadouts to see how your weapon traces before you send the turkey loadouts down. If you are using a red dot or scope, using target loads will help you get down to paper and get close to zero without the high price tag and pain.

Take your time and don’t underestimate the kickback of turkey loads. Heavy turkey loads will take a toll on your shoulder and your ability to aim. Use a break and take breaks – developing a flinch will affect your shotgun just as much as it does when firing a rifle.

Homemade Turkey Beard Display – Hunt to Eat

This homemade trophy display will save you wall space and allow you to remember each individual hunt.

I have been lucky over the years to have had a handful of turkeys. One problem I ran into was how to properly display a trophy turkey.

Initially, I had my first Jake’s and later my first Longbeard’s tail fans, wattles and spurs mounted on wall plates. These are beautiful mountains that remind me daily of those hunts; however, they take up a large amount of wall space. Today, I keep the beard and spurs for display/memory; clean, borax and epoxy tail fan for use on lures; and keep the bird’s breast, legs, and saddle meat for spectacular meals.

I came up with this way of displaying the beard and spurs so that I can proudly display each bird’s trophy individually, allowing me to be able to remember each hunt while making the most of the wall space. The tools I use for these screens are usually available in any home and include a hacksaw, utility knife, fine grit sandpaper, epoxy/glue/or silicone, cotton swabs, borax, or some type of cleaning detergent on powder, painter’s tape, 6 inches of small-diameter string, and a cap filled with rubbing alcohol.


  1. It is not necessary to trim a turkey’s beard. Simply grasp the base of the beard where it meets the skin, apply gradual force and the beard will come off cleanly in one piece with no additional skin/meat. If your beard is bloody, take the time to gently wash it with warm water and comb through to remove any blood or broken beard hairs. Dry the beard and reserve. If the beard is in good condition with no dried blood on it, the washing step is not necessary.
  2. Then take a hacksaw and cut 3/4 inch below the spur, and then cut 3/4 inch above the spur to remove it from the leg.
  3. Take a swab and extract the bone marrow. I soak a swab in isopropyl alcohol to clean the inside of the bone, and then two dry swabs.
  4. Using a boning knife, remove scales, tendons, and meat from the bone around the spur. Take care to cut the spur. Once the bone is exposed, let the spurs dry overnight.
  5. After the spurs have dried, take fine grit sandpaper and remove anything left on the bone.
  6. I always carry the shotgun shell I used to shoot the turkey out of the woods. I remove the primer and plastic helmet in preparation for mounting the beard and spurs.
  7. Cut 6 inches of small diameter line (in my case it was lure string).
  8. Thread the line through the bone of the spurs, then put the tag ends through the top of the shotgun shell brass, and finally tie a knot that will prevent the line from slipping out of the primer hole and blocking the leak. of epoxy.
  9. I’ve used epoxy, silicone, and quick-setting glue for this next step, so whatever’s available will usually work just fine. Mix the epoxy and fill the brass shotgun shell 3/4 full. Slowly place the base of the beard into the epoxy. Once it’s in the correct position where I want it to dry, I tape the beard to the wall on my workbench to hold it in place while it dries.
  10. Once dry, I use a marker to fill in the brass of the shotgun shell with the details of the hunt such as location, date, bird weight, etc.

As a waterfowl hunter, I have a call board that contains my waterfowl lanyards, backup calls, recalled calls, waterfowl bands, and other memorabilia. I screwed small brass hooks into the bottom of the tabletop and hung the finished brass products for spurs, balds, and shotgun shells on the hook for display.

So the next time you have success in the turkey forest, give this technique a try. It also looks great hanging from a rear view mirror!

How to lure wild turkeys

Using Montana Decoy Turkey Decoys to Find Success During Turkey Season

Wisconsin in early April is not known for its pleasant weather. Usually, that’s the dead half of the season that Midwesterners coined “Second Winter.” Instead of budding daffodils and the first of many tank-top days, there are ice storms, sub-zero forecasts and gloomy skies. I nervously clutched my hot coffee between my gloves; I was on my first turkey hunt and the Second Winter was unforgiving.

I was participating in an educational turkey hunting weekend organized by my college hunting club. Before being paired with a hunting mentor, we spent an afternoon in a barn learning turkey hunting strategies. Several other classmates and I listened to lectures on the natural history of turkeys, shotgun chokes, and how a combination of calls and strategically placed lures can be a lethal setup. I was putting all that new knowledge to good use as I huddled in the tall grass, hiding at the edge of a private cornfield with my mentor, Lucas.

Lucas did most of the work that Sunday morning. Beforehand, he asked permission to hunt on the spot, explored the property and modeled the birds. On the morning of, he brought the shotgun, camouflage, turkey decoys, shotgun shells and calls. He even walked back to the truck in the dark to retrieve those same shotgun shells after I forgot to put them in my pocket. Once he returned, we settled into the tall grass. He walked out to the cornfield about 30 yards in front of us and placed three decoys on him: two jakes and a chicken. Before long, we heard the turkeys gobbling as they flew from their coop. Game on.

Sunlight slipped along the edges of the horizon. I could see the tips of tree branches sharp against the dawn sky. Red-winged blackbirds sang nearby as the songs of cardinals whistled through the forest. Lucas started yelling at the slate calling him. Several turkeys gobbled up. He waited a while before yelling again. This time, the turkeys gobbled up even faster. He told me to get ready.

“Practice lining up the shotgun sights with the decoys,” Lucas said. I picked up the 12 gauge and rested it on my knee, shivering slightly from both cold and nerves. However, I felt that I could keep the account steady. Lucas yelled again.

This time, the gobbles were closer. The turkeys were actually moving towards us. My breathing quickened and my heart sped up. My tremor got worse. Gobble gobble gobble! Three toms were now in sight at the other end of the field, closing rapidly.

“Get ready, Gaby. Make sure you take a photo only when you feel comfortable and when one of them gets out a little by himself,” Lucas whispered. I readied the shotgun and tried to control my tremors. The toms were closing in on the decoys, throwing their big bodies across the field. I sat motionless on the grass, watching the cats attack one lure and peck at another. They circled around them several times, puffing and gobbling, probably wondering: How is it possible that these Jakes have this chicken with them? After a minute, a tom stepped aside.

“Shoot! Shoot! No, don’t shoot now! Wait! Okay, shoot!” my mentor whispered-shouted he. I waited for the tom to walk a few more steps away from the group, trembling terribly, my heart in my throat, and lined up my sights. I took a deep breath, stopped, and pulled the trigger.

wow! There were feathers everywhere. The other two Toms wandered nearby, confused. My Tom dropped to the ground as his nerves reacted to the fatal shot. Lucas ran to the turkey as fast as he could and put his foot on the bird’s head.

“In my experience, this has prevented them from destroying their tail feathers or being attacked by other birds,” Lucas said. After the bird stopped trembling, his wings touched the ground in one last buzzAnd we started to celebrate.

The Maven logo above a hunter with the sky behind him and a pair of binoculars to the right.

I cautiously examined my first turkey. I’ve never seen one up close before. The hairnet was cool and leathery in my hand, its neck and head spiky with tiny feathers. I picked up some feathers from the body, their iridescence shimmering in the morning light. I spread his tail for a photo, spreading his wings in front of me to show every detail. He was beautiful.

Before that hunt, I didn’t understand how essential decoys are to hunting turkeys. After moving west, I also learned to use decoys to hunt bow elk and pronghorn. I’ve never been on a waterfowl hunt, but I’ve seen photos of those brown Canadian cornfields adorned with hundreds of white bags with black beaks, superbly mimicking a flock of feeding snow geese. For some types of hunting, lures make or break the experience.

In my opinion, the more realistic a lure, the better. From my background in wildlife biology, I know that different types of animals have different levels of vision. Birds have four cone eyes, which allow them to see ultraviolet light. Basically, they see and understand color in more ways than we can imagine. This is not limited to turkeys; ducks, quail, grouse and many other types of game birds see this way. Birds also have fantastic depth perception, especially predatory ones. This is why hunters don’t wear bright orange to hunt turkeys and use blinds to hunt. However, deer are completely different. Deer only have two cones, so they see fewer colors than we do, mostly blue and green. However, they have better night vision and can probably see ultraviolet light as well. Pro Tip: Don’t hunt deer in blue jeans.

I take these types of factors into account when buying lures. I want the lure to look realistic: show fine details, have the correct colors, be the correct size. On the other hand, I understand that no lure is perfect and that wildlife consider many other factors when deciding whether or not a lure is “real” enough to fool them. Fortunately, I found what I was looking for when I discovered Montana Decoys.

His turkey decoys are extremely realistic. They have amazing detail and the Wiley Tom he lure even has slots to insert a real tail fan and wing feathers. For me, this is ideal. Using real feathers makes your lure better because birds can see the ultraviolet details reflected off them in sunlight. The sizing is accurate so a big tom won’t be thrown off by a big or small lure. They are lightweight and collapsible, allowing hunters to pack them up and walk to a location and for easy storage at home (I know someone who has shelves in their garage solely for storing non-collapsible turkey decoys). As for turkey decoys, this is exactly what I want.

Montana Decoy offers several types of turkey decoys. They offer individual chicken lures as well as small jakes or toms. You can get a hen and jake combo, and even a small flock consisting of a hen, jake, and tom, for great deals on effective builds as well. And turkey decoys aren’t the only items available. Elk, whitetail, waterfowl, pronghorn, elk and predator hunters can also find lures for their hunts at

The lures are what sealed the deal on my first hunt. Seeing three mature toms run at full speed against fake birds will be a memory I will always cherish. And now, as I learn to hunt Merriams in the mountains of Colorado, I can apply the decoy deployment skills I learned in Wisconsin to try to have a successful turkey season out west as well. Fortunately, I already know what lures I’m going to use.