With turkey season approaching, it’s time to make sure that your favorite scattergun is shooting tight patterns
HERE’S A GOBBLER at heart-thumping distance. Whether or not you’ll make the shot is completely dependent on you! PHOTO BY RON GAYER
This turkey season that starts Saturday, March 25 will be a serious challenge for many hunters, because the use of lead shotgun shells for upland game (with exception of dove, quail and snipe) has been outlawed by recent regulations. This means that turkey hunters will have to find a substitute for all of those highly refined lead turkey loads we used to shoot. If you try to shoot steel shot loads through your full choke scattergun barrel, or through a specialty screw-in turkey choke, you may be disappointed at the results. Unfortunately, steel shot doesn’t compress like lead, it’s only 70% as dense as lead, it will lose about half of its energy at 40 yards and the resulting pattern can be patchy at best. This means that it’s time right now to re-pattern your favorite turkey gun with a non-toxic alternative to achieve the best results.
OBVIOUSLY, THIS JUNIOR hunter is pleased with his turkey hunting success. PHOTO BY RON GAYER
The best solution to the aforementioned problem is switching from lead loads to one of the other lead substitutes, of which there are four viable substitutes; tungsten-iron, tungsten-matrix, Hevi-Shot and bismuth. Tungsten-iron is about 94%= percent as dense as lead, has excellent downrange energy and possesses solid knockdown power. Tungsten-matrix consists of tungsten combined with a polymer buffer; it’s 97 percent as dense as lead and performance is quite similar. Hevi-Shot is a brand name for a tungsten-nickel-iron combination that’s also 10 percent denser than lead and has a reputation for hitting hard at all viable ranges. Bismuth shot is really an alloy of bismuth and tin and it’s about 86% as dense as lead. This shot hits harder than steel, but is still soft enough to prevent damage to older shotgun barrels.
The downside of all of these non-toxic alternatives is that they are more expensive than traditional lead shotgun shells and are generally sold with less number of shells in each box. In part, this is due to the higher cost of the non-toxic shot. Of course, other factors like specialty advertising, limited market appeal and consumer availability also influence the retail price of these shells. Shell cost can be a significant factor with waterfowl hunters, but since turkey hunters seldom use more than a couple of shells during the course of hunting season, cost is not nearly an important factor.
THE AUTHOR IS shown here with a fine tom he took on the Tejon Ranch. PHOTO BY DURWOOD HOLLIS
If you’re a waterfowl hunter, using whatever non-toxic shot alternative that’s performed for you on ducks and geese might be a solid choice. Of course, you’ll have to step down to a shot size that provides the best pattern for turkey hunting. Typically, shot sizes four, five and six offer the best density that’s necessary to pattern the head and neck region of a gobbler. Body shots at a turkey may eventually kill the bird (usually lost to recovery), but generally such a target acquisition only results in wounding. Shot must penetrate vital internal structures, like arteries and vertebrae, to effectively take a tom turkey. A shot to the breast will encounter heavy plumage and thick muscle, all of which factor against adequate shot performance.
To effectively take a gobble, you must target only the head and neck region. Two factors will influence that effectiveness of your shot: pattern density and distance from the gun to the bird. This is why the use of smaller shot sizes and their corresponding greater number of pellets is important when hunting turkeys. Furthermore, that farther away from the gun the shot is taken; you will see a corresponding drop in pellet energy. For this reason most seasoned turkey hunter limit their shot presentation to 40 yards or closer.
Beyond preseason shot patterning, shot size selection and shooting distance, my final bit of advice when attempting to put shot pattern and gobbler in the same reality is simply this; don’t raise our head off of the stock in an attempt to see the bird go down at the shot. When you raise your head off of the stock, the muzzle of the gun is automatically depressed and your shot will hit the ground in front of the turkey. Guides will tell you that this is most common reason why hunters miss their shooting opportunities. Keep your front sight on the very top of the turkey’s head and squeezed the trigger. If you’ve done every thing right, the result will be roasted gobbler on the table.