Turkey Patterning

with Taryn Parker

Spring gobblers are upon us, and any good hunter knows that preparation for turkey season is half the battle. Shotgun patterning is one of the first steps in preparation for it. Patterning your shotgun is taking your shotgun to the range and gauging the spread of pellets within a 10-inch diameter at different distances. It’s an essential part of ensuring a successful turkey season.

What Does It Mean to Pattern?

Patterning lowers the chance of missing the bird, so you can be on target making a quick, clean and ethical shot. It shows you whether the gun is placing the shot where you think it is. Varying different distances and using different types of chokes and loads will help determine which combination is most effective. Nothing is more frustrating than calling in a Tom only to miss your shot or even worse; clip and wound him without a clean kill.

Range Checklist:

  • Shotgun
  • Turkey Loads
  • Extra Game Loads
  • Turkey targets
  • Target Stand
  • Range Finder
  • Gunsmithing Tools
  • Eye and Ear protection

Getting Started

Along with your shotgun you’ll want to bring several items. In addition to your turkey loads, it’s a good idea to bring extra game loads to shoot first, so you can get a baseline of where you are shooting. You will also want to bring life-like turkey targets and a target stand, so you have an idea of where to shoot and where your pellets are going. Gunsmithing tools are always handy to have in your bag in case you need to make a quick fix. You especially want to carry a screwdriver set with you, just in case your optic comes loose or you need to quickly disassemble your firearm.


Chokes help pattern your shotgun. They determine how tight your pattern will be at certain distances. Shotgun patterns can be tightly constricted with pellets grouped together closely or more open where the pellets are more spread out. You’ll want to aim for around one hundred pellets inside the 10-inch circle. When hunting turkeys, you’ll want to go for a tighter pattern, so choose a choke that is either full or super full.

Turkey Loads

The size and type of turkey load you use will also help pattern your gun. There’s no golden rule, just find the load that patterns best. The main shell sizes are 2¾, 3 and 3½ inches and the size you use depends on the gun gauge, gun compatibility and personal preference. Lead shot is the most common and are available with copper plating, but with increasing state regulations, non-toxic shots are growing in popularity. Typically, #5 and #6 are most common for turkey hunting. If you’re looking for a premium option, there are newer options for turkey loads with a heavier metal which will allow you to shoot further. This gives the option of more, smaller pellets going to your target.

Shotgun Gauges

Typically, 12-gauge and 20-gauge shotguns are used for turkey hunting, but recent advances in ammunition has been a game changer. With the right load .410-caliber shotguns have proved to be enough to do the job. There are no advantages to one over the other as long as you know what combination of choke, load and distance is best with each gun. Keep in mind a 12-gauge will be more reliable at further distances, but a 20-gauge and .410 shotgun will have less recoil.

One Last Thing

When patterning your shotgun, it’s strongly recommended to shoot several shots at different distances. We recommend 20, 30 and 40 yards and shooting 2 or 3 of each load at each distance. After each distance has been shot, inspect the target and see what the best pattern is for your gun. To review the targets, walk up and examine the area where the greatest number of pellets are located, and that is where your pattern is.

Just like sighting in a rifle with a shooting rest is more accurate, so too is using one for patterning your shotgun. You’ll want to use a good, stable rest and use turkey targets to properly know where to aim. Although one pellet in the brain or spine will take down a turkey, the denser the pattern, the better. As always, be sure to have your eyes and ears on as you’re doing so.

Let’s Head to the Range

The main thing to remember with patterning your shotgun is choosing the right choke and load at the appropriate distance. Once you’ve dialed everything in, you are ready for a successful turkey season. Know the field, know your firearm, and get that son of a gun.