Mar 9, 2012

Turkey Hunting

Trolling through sitemeter, one of the queries that got to my page was, "What's the best shell for turkey hunting". (They ended up here, which is pretty accurate.)

That's actually a good question and one that can be answered with two words.

It depends.

The first game animal I hunted was turkey. My hunting mentor was in my fire department and mentioned going one morning, and I asked if I could go along. He told me to wear all camo, and be there early (4:30, if memory serves). I did, I was. I didn't have a license yet, so no gun for me, but that was OK.

We went out, found a spot, he called and drummed, a turkey gobbled... and my pulse went to about 300. Instantly hooked. We traipsed all over his hunting spot that morning, and saw several birds but never got a shot. I got my hunting license that fall, took a deer, and the rest, as they say, is history. I've been hunting most anything that's legal ever since. Deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit, fox, coyote, crows, geese, ducks...

Since then I have read about, tried, talked about, discussed, argued, and otherwise beaten most every hunting caliber discussion to death. Here's the crux of it: shot placement matters more than caliber.

Of course, with turkey hunting, you are using a shotgun, meaning your shot placement is a cloud of probability. There are those who swear by 10ga guns lobbing 2 ounces of shot through as tight a choke as can be found, and those can be solid 60-yard turkey guns. Most folks around here just grab their deer gun - that is, a pump-action 12ga - and swap barrels or chokes. That's precisely what I did. I bought a few boxes of 3.5" 2oz turkey loads, the tightest choke I could find, and headed in to the woods.


As quoted by Jay, "Holy CRAP my shoulder hurts from Zercool's 3½" Magnum Remington 870. OUCH!" Free recoil energy from that is in the same ballpark as a .50BMG, with a much shorter impulse and much lighter gun. It's not pretty. In fact, it's painful. If memory serves, it's something along the lines of 60ft-lb of recoil. Don't bother. The flinch that will induce is unbelievable and will lead to lots of misses.

I've since switched to 3" loads, which are a hair faster and have a whole lot less recoil. From there, the options are smaller: #4, 5, or 6 shot. I generally load 4s or 5s for the slight edge in downrange energy. My hunting partner has started shooting duplex shells, which are a mix of 4 and 5 or 5 and 6; when I've run out of the current collection I'll start buying those.

20ga works nearly as well; just remember your shot load is correspondingly smaller.

And above all, pattern your gun. A Remington #4 load will not pattern the same as a Winchester #4 which is not the same as a Federal #5. Draw a turkey head and shoulder on a sheet of newsprint and put it out at 30-35 yards. Aim and fire. Walk downrange and start counting. Check where the pattern is dense. Repeat.

Try a few different loads. When you've got 5+ pellets consistently hitting the head and neck area, you've got a good load. And it's worth noting that you may need to move closer; some guns just won't pattern out past 30 yards.

So what's the best load? It depends.


elmo iscariot said...

As quoted by Jay, "Holy CRAP my shoulder hurts from Zercool's 3½" Magnum Remington 870. OUCH!"...
I've since switched to 3" loads, which are a hair faster and have a whole lot less recoil.

Stupid question from a shotgun-illiterate: Let's say you're the kind of guy who hates recoil and will shoot almost exclusively lighter loads. But you also like the idea of being able to let loose with some serious muzzle energy for the occasional shoggoth. Is there a down side to buying a shotgun with a 3.5" chamber and feeding it almost exclusively shorter shells?

Laura said...

this is *really* helpful. thanks.

ZerCool said...

Elmo - in a pump gun, there is no downside at all. In an autoloader, it *may* require tuning the gas system to accomodate the different pressures.

I used to do crazy things like putting a 3.5" of #4s as the last two in the magazine, and then 3" #5 for the rest, but that just got confusing.

Also, if you are recoil-sensitive, a gas-operated auto is going to eat up a TON of recoil. Something like the Remington 11-87 is a good bet.

elmo iscariot said...

I've enjoyed shooting a semi Beretta, but have no idea what the "OS" was.

The Remington looks interesting; thanks for the pointer. Is there any truth to the conventional wisdom that semiauto shotguns are questionably reliable for home defense?

ZerCool said...

I am fairly sure the Beretta (and, truth be told, any semi-auto I can think of) is gas-operated.

Semiauto shotguns can be phenomenally reliable guns, but if they choke they choke HARD. As mentioned, they can take some tuning, and then you're relying on consistency in the shell manufacture. FWIW, I have an 1100 that ran 125 shells (sporting clays) with zero hiccups on value-pack shells. It was *filthy* at the end, however, and I don't know if it would have gone another 250 without some issue.

The big advantage to a pump is the relative lack of maintenance necessary. Hell, I've dropped my 870 in a cow-pasture creek. I picked it up, unloaded it, shook the water out, checked the bore, reloaded, and went back to hunting with nary a concern. (And cleaned the hell out of it when I got home.)

elmo iscariot said...

Very good info--thanks again.

Old NFO said...

Patterning IS the critical factor, and you're right. I'd recommend a box or so of your best choices, then a day at the patterning range to determine which round your gun likes, then buy a CASE of the ammo!