Category Archives: Turkey Shotguns and Patterning

Turkey hunting shotguns and patterning at the Grand Slam Network

Turkey Target Download

First and foremost, I’d like to thank one of our dedicated forum members, Gary Meinke, for providing this target for everyone to use.  Its folks like Gary that make Grand Slam Network a great place to hang out!

Hopefully before March has rolled around, you’ve pulled out your turkey calls and started practicing.  Equally important to calling is making sure your turkey hunting shotgun has a good pattern and that you know it effective range for harvesting a turkey

This Turkey Target Download is scaled properly for you to print and pattern your shotgun.  Other turkey targets include the actual head and feathers, which can be misleading because you are lead to believe your effective range is further than it actually is.

This Turkey Target Download includes the skeletal system of the turkey neck and head, so that you get a more accurate representation of the effectiveness of your gun at a particular range.

Here’s how you pattern your turkey hunting shotgun

  1. Print several copies of the target and head to the range
  2. Post the target is a safe direction and measure off 30 yards which is a nice starting distance.
  3. Aim at the middle of the neck and shoot
  4. After inspecting the target, you should have a reasonable number of shot in the skeleton.
  5. Keep increasing the distance between you and the target until you discover your effective range.


A few facts about modern turkey loads

Forward by Grant Carmichael

Every Spring, turkey hunters breakout their best turkey hunting shotgun to check the pattern and make sure things are in working order.  Patterning a shotgun for turkey hunting is as much necessary as it is fun – you need to be confident in your gun and its effective range.  As Jamey explains, modern turkey loads like the new heavier-than-lead (HTL) turkey shotgun loads are more expensive than their lead counterparts.  However, do your homework, and the results will show the best turkey shotgun patterns are found in the HTL loads due to the higher shot count and thier resistance to flyers.  For these reasons, I shoot HTL turkey loads out of my shotgun! – Grant

Indian Creek Chokes
In recent years many turkey hunters have decided to make the switch from shooting lead shot to one of the heavier-than-lead alternatives in their best turkey hunting shotgun. Others are wondering “what’s the big deal and why would anyone want to quit shooting turkeys with good old lead 5’s?” Well at some point everyone who made the switch has asked that question as well so it seems that this would be a good topic to look at a little deeper.

The decision to switch has been easy for some and difficult for others, myself included, and it could do us all some good to take a look at some factors that could contribute us to making that decision.

Let’s look at shot history

Lead shot has been around for a long time and has been the standard shot used for most small game hunting for everything from doves, quail, rabbits and squirrels and even larger game such as geese and turkeys. Lead shot is reasonably inexpensive and readily available in most sporting goods outlets and with its heavy weight it has proven to be an excellent shot material…it does however have some problems. Several years ago lead shot was outlawed for waterfowl hunting when it was discovered that the excess shot was being ingested by waterfowl while they were feeding and ultimately was causing damage to the breeding success of waterfowl. Its standard non-toxic replacement has been steel shot which is harder and considerably lighter than lead which therefore means it can’t be shot safely through some older shotguns and has a lesser killing range.

Ever since steel shot came on the market, there has been an effort to develop better alternatives which would perform as good as or better than lead and still be non-toxic to waterfowl and over time we have seen shot such as Bismuth, Hevi-Shot, Federal Heavy Weight, and Tungsten (commonly called TSS) come onto the market. Several of these have proven to be deadly in turkey hunting loads as well.

turkey shotguns for hunting

Material properties

Steel shot weighs about 7.5 grams per cubic centimeter (g/cc) and is harder than lead.

Lead shot weighs about 10.6 g/cc and is a relatively soft metal, deforms easily and is reasonably gentle on a gun barrel.

Hevi-Shot weighs about 12 g/cc and is a mixture of tungsten, nickel and steel and is a much harder metal than lead. It can damage the inside of the barrel of a shotgun and therefore must be loaded with thicker shot wads for more barrel protection.

Hevi-13 weighs about 13g/cc but is otherwise similar to regular Hevi-Shot.

Federal Heavy Weight weighs about 15.2 g/cc and has a higher percentage of tungsten in the metal which makes it heavier than the previously mentioned materials.

TSS weighs about 18 g/cc and has the highest percentage of tungsten of any shot available today and is therefore the heaviest shot currently available. It is an extremely hard material and requires even more precautions than the others to protect the shotgun from damage.

Loaded properly, any of these materials can be used for many years of turkey hunting without causing any shotgun damage.

Performance Comparisons

It is generally accepted that steel shot should not be used for turkey hunting.

Lead shot has proven to be a good turkey load and the most common shot size is probably #5. This shot size has enough energy and penetration to kill a turkey cleanly out beyond 30 yards as long as the pattern density is adequate.

Hevi-Shot #6 performs a little better than a lead # 5 and since the pellets are smaller it is possible to have more of them in the shell which makes the pattern denser as well.

Hevi-13 #7 performs about the same as lead #5 and Hevi-Shot #6. Smaller shot again allows it to have a denser pattern than the previously mentioned loads.

Federal HW #7 pellets perform even better still and if it were available in #8 shot it would actually be similar to those mentioned above. The Federal shell however uses an unusual shot wad that many shotguns do not shoot well. This shell/wad requires a more open choke and works best with non-ported chokes. Some shotguns will shoot this shell wonderfully while others never seem to work well with it.

TSS #9 performs similar or better than all of the previous shells mentioned and with the extremely small shot size it is possible to shoot extremely dense patterns out to 40 yds and beyond.

Hevi Shot Turkey Loads

Killing Power

Let’s face it, to kill a turkey with a shotgun two things are necessary; a dense enough pattern to place shot pellets in the “kill zone” of the head and neck, and pellets that carry enough energy to penetrate bone and into the vitals once they arrive on target.

With all other factors being equal, hard shot pellets will pattern more evenly than softer pellets due to the soft material being more easily deformed under the intense pressure it undergoes when the shot is fired. This is caused both by the initial compression on combustion and also by the shot being squeezed as it passes through the choke. When a pellet deforms it tends to fly erratically rather than straight and this can cause “flyers” and also cause the pattern to “open up” quickly as it travels downrange. Harder shot patterns open up also but at a lesser rate.

Pellet energy can be determined by formulas but it boils down to a combination of pellet weight and speed.

Penetration is based on energy but also takes into consideration pellet diameter. As an example, if you were to take a pencil and “stab” yourself with the eraser end and then do the same thing using the same force with the pointed end, which end do you think would penetrate deeper? It is not too difficult to see that a small pellet will penetrate better than a larger one even if they both have the exact same amount of energy.

Since speed plays an important factor in energy it should also be pointed out that a large lead pellet and a small tungsten pellet that may have equal energy as they leave the shotgun will not still have equal energy at 40 yds due to the fact that the larger pellet has more wind resistance and slows down more quickly than the smaller pellet. This can be demonstrated by throwing a BB and a ping-pong ball together and see which one slows down the quickest as they travel.


It is no surprise that once we go higher up the ladder than lead shot, we also go up in cost. I recently priced some 12ga turkey loads in lead, Hevi-shot, Hevi-13, Federal HW and TSS and here are the results with the prices averaged from several retailers.

  • Lead #5 1-3/4oz shot – $1.70 per shell – 296 pellets
  • Hevi #6 2oz shot – $5.00 per shell – 414 pellets
  • Hevi-13 #7 2oz shot – $5.60 per shell – 508 pellets
  • Fed HW #7 1-5/8oz shot – $5.00 per shell – 353 pellets
  • TSS #9 2oz shot – 7.19 per shell – 717 pellets
  • 20ga TSS #9 1-7/16oz shot – $5.18 per shell – 515 pellets

The last two are my actual costs for loading my TSS shells with no labor cost applied.

As you can see, other than with the lead shot, the cost per turkey shell really is pretty equal overall and I am spending about the same to kill a turkey with my little 20ga as others would to kill him with a big 12ga shotgun.


I have heard folks often state that the reason they keep shooting lead at turkeys is because of the cost. I submit to you that although I spend more money than I care to admit hunting the wild turkey, the amount I spend on my ammo doesn’t even scratch the surface of the overall expense. In fact my shell cost is likely one of my lowest expenses in turkey hunting and I can’t see any reason shell cost alone should cause someone to continue shooting lead.

Each of the pellets discussed, from lead to TSS, will kill turkeys within their limits and it is not my intention to convince anyone to switch loads but rather to better understand the differences between pellets so you can make an educated decision when choosing your turkey ammunition.

Ultimately I believe we as turkey hunters have an obligation to do everything in our power to cleanly kill every turkey we shoot at without wounding him and letting him get away to die later. No matter which type of load you choose I encourage you to practice shooting and pattern your gun so that you know exactly what it is capable of and then hunt within that capability.

Remember, a good rule to follow is to not shoot at a turkey further than your gun can reliably put 100 pellets inside a 10″ circle. That may be 30 yards for some and 45 for others but you won’t know unless you pattern your gun.
For reference, my 20ga consistently places 170 pellets in a 10″ circle at 40 yards using Federal HW #7 shells and 300+ using my TSS #9 hand loads. I get well fewer than 100 using lead #5 and my acceptable range using lead would be only around 25 yards but that is why I don’t hunt with lead.

Please note that some states have outdated laws that are based on lead shot and restrict turkey hunting to size 7 shot or even larger so you should consider that before heading out to hunt with TSS 9 shells.

By Jamey Rex for Grand Slam network

Discuss the article on the forum

How to Shoot a Turkey

If you’re new to turkey hunting, you might be wondering how to shoot a turkey – and make it count! This article focuses on where to shoot a turkey with a shotgun. For the most part, when shooting a turkey with a shotgun, you’re going to aim at the head and/or neck.

Indian Creek Chokes

Where to shoot the turkey

When turkey hunting with your shotgun, you want to aim at the turkey’s head or neck region. My favorite place to aim is where the waddles meet the feathers on the neck – and maybe a little up from there.  Naturally, with the shotgun you will have the shot scattered in a circular pattern around the point you were aiming. If you’re aiming at then neck, your shot will hit the neck and head – and the result will be a clean humane kill.

How far can you shoot a turkey?

Pattern your gun.  There’s no room for guess work after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on camo, guns, and calls only to miss a bird.  If that happens, you probably kick yourself the entire way home.  Besides, heading out to the range with a few buddies and patterning guns is fun.

Anyway, in the next session, I’ll cover an easy way to pattern your turkey hunting shotgun.  You need to be putting a minimum of 78 shot in a 10″ circle.  Personally I like to have well over 100.  My Remington 870 youth model 20 gauge with a 21″ barrel and an Indian Creek .555 choke shooting Hevi-Shot #7s shoots 120-140s consistently at 40 yards.  When I back up to 50 yards, it backs me down to about 90 shot in a 10″ circle.  So I consider my effective range with that combination to be 40 to 45 yards.

Before the shot

I’m not going to go in depth on patterning in this article, but before you hit the turkey woods, be sure to pattern your shotgun with the same gun/choke/shell combination you’ll be hunting with. Changing up one factor in the gun/choke/shell combination will result in a different pattern. Sometimes the change will be enough to cause a miss! To pattern your shotgun, follow these steps:

  1. Buy a brown paper roll from the Home Depot, which is typically found in the paint section.  It cost less than $10 and is cheaper than some of the other alternatives
  2. Mark a dot on the paper to aim at. Using a range finder, step back to 30 yards, and shoot at the dot you marked on the paper.  Be sure to write the yardage information and the shotgun shell info on the target.
  3. Find a piece of cardboard and cut a circle with a 10″ diameter.  Locate the most dense pattern on the brown paper and draw your circle around it.  Draw a crosshair on the circle to create four sections, and count the holes in each quadrant and total them up.
  4. Keep in mind, a 10″ circle has 78 square inches.  So your target needs to have at least 78 shot in the circle to make 1 shot per square inch.
  5. Repeat the process with a new sheet of paper, backing up 5 to 10 yards each time until you’re no longer getting at least 78 shot per square inch.
  6. This should help you identify your effective range.  Once you find it, shoot at that distance a few more times to make sure everything is consistent.

Turkey hunting shotgun pattern from benelli super nova

Make the shot count!

When you set up on the turkey, be aware of your surroundings. First and foremost, make sure you’ll be shooting in a safe direction! Also consider the following tips before the shot:

  • When you setup, make sure you have room to move your gun around and that the barrel is unobstructed. After all, you never know which direction the turkey will choose to come in. If you do have to swing the gun around, you can either wait until the turkey walks behind a tree, or you can just wait until he gets close and SLOWLY move. He’ll see you, but if your movement is slow, he might pop his head up and start to walk away – giving you time to put a bead on him and squeeze the trigger! I prefer to move the gun when he passes behind a tree or bush.
  • Make sure you’re not shooting into brush, it will throw off your shot.
  • Don’t rush the shot. If you’re looking down the barrel at the bird, its easy to become unnerved and squeeze a round off too early. Wait for the clear shot within your effective range!
  • If the bird is walking or strutting, cut with a mouth call. He should stop or come out of strut and lift his head up. When he does… bust him.
  • If you shoot right handed, get setup in a direction with the barrel facing slightly right of where you think the turkey will come in. Its easier to swing and aim left than it is right if you’re a right handed shooter.
  • Get comfortable. If you’re not comfortable where you’re sitting, you’re more likely to move around and get busted in the process.
  • If the pattern on your setup is TIGHT, be sure to take your time especially when the bird is close! Its easy to miss a turkey that is up close!

Here’s my missed turkey from 2012 on a North Georgia public land turkey hunt! I never saw this limb until after the shot. The bird came in from behind.

Missed turkey and hit a limb

After the shot

After the shot, you hope to see a dead bird bouncing around like he just ate a load full of #7 Hevi-Shot! Either way, get ready for a second shot. You might have missed or sometimes a bird will flop or lay still, and then get up and run off (happened to a couple of folks I know last year).  Regardless, you want to be ready for a second shot if needed. I usually try to get to the bird quickly with the gun in hand. I carry my gun in case he takes off when I get close to him. When you get to him, be careful picking him up – he can spur you good! That’s why most people just step on their head until they quit flopping.

Finally, always remember to keep your gun on safety before and after the shot! Its easy to forget to place the gun on safety during the excitement of the harvest! Stay safe, shoot straight, and let us know how you do!

Thanks to all or our members who share tips on shooting and patterning your shotgun for turkey hunting!