The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 22, 2012

Turkey hunters leave nothing to chance

By Chris Ellis
For The Register-Herald

— Turkey hunting used to be easy — grab a few shells from the gun cabinet and an old, reliable pump shotgun and hit the woods. The hardest part was walking back to the truck with the turkey and plucking the feathers neatly enough so that none of them made it to the dinner table.

As with most things in life, we humans tend to overcomplicate matters, especially those matters we care deeply about. In the true spirit of overcomplicating, a band of avid turkey hunters set a date on their calendars to meet at the gun range for our annual turkey-gun-patterning session.

This past week, my crew showed up at a predetermined locale with one goal in mind — to pattern our shotguns for the spring gobbler season that starts Monday. With a mixture of no less than a dozen varieties of shells, shotguns of all makes and models, various choke tubes and targets, we were bound and determined to see which shell/choke combination would serve our needs the best in the weeks ahead. You see, turkey season is merely a month long and in that short amount of time die-hards want everything predictable to be predictable.

We started with target loads, to save the shoulders and our wallets from soreness, at the 25-yard line. Once our shotguns were sighted in, we switched to mega-magnum loads and began the process of increasing yardage to see just how far we could shoot and still have an effective pattern on the turkey target.

Some shotguns patterned easily and required no choke change or load modifications. Other shotguns were finicky and took many shots of switching out chokes and trying different kinds of shells to gain headway. The ranges varied from 15 yards to just short of 40 yards until all involved were satisfied that their field gun was readied for the chance to wreck old tom’s day.

With talk of shotshell pellet ballistics (internal, external and, of course, terminal performance), we sounded like an article I once read about how a shotgun actually works. I am sure, if taped, we could have sold the session to one of the outdoor television networks and appeared really smart. Until someone brought up the favorite topic for all turkey hunters it seems nowadays — how far is too far?

The conversation quickly turned to field experience and old tales of miraculous hits and misses began surfacing. Someone knew someone who knew a guy who shot a dreaded field turkey at 60 paces and dropped him like a stone. Others laughed and said it is best not to “stretch” the barrels and wait until the turkey is at a much more suitable distance before the trigger is pulled.

Perhaps the best advice came in the form of two memorable quotes from this particular range session. “Wait until you can clearly see the definition of the folds in the gobbler’s wattle,” I heard as advice given from a tenured turkey hunter. The second bit of advice that proved to be truer than any: “Boy, all these shotguns pattern well at 25 yards.”  

As for me, if a gobbler happens to wander my way this week I think I will be patient and enjoy the moment a little longer before I commit.

Besides, it used to be easy.