How to Pattern a Shotgun for Turkey Season

With turkey season rapidly approaching, now is an opportune time to review your shotgun pattern. There are numerous elements involved that may alter a shotgun’s pattern and affect how a hunter performs when hunting turkeys.

On occasion, hunters want tight patterns. Unfortunately, this makes it harder to hit turkeys at closer ranges.


Patterning a shotgun before turkey season kicks off can save days (if not years) of frustration in the field, yet many hunters fail to properly zero their shotguns resulting in missed targets that warblers often use as cover in the woods.

Numerous factors can have an effect on shotgun patterning. First and foremost is matching the choke tube to the gun and type of ammunition being utilized; certain choke tubes create tighter patterns than others and the wrong choke can render turkey guns impractical at close range where their pattern diameters are smaller.

Attracting turkeys requires using the appropriate ammunition. Pellet density has an immense effect on lethal distance. Many turkey hunters prefer larger shot sizes that create tighter patterns with denseer patterns than smaller shot sizes; also material effects have their effect; for instance tungsten tends to create tighter patterns than lead.

When starting to pattern a shotgun, it is advisable to begin with a target that measures roughly 30 yards long. This will give you an idea of whether your pattern can penetrate a gobbler’s head and neck sufficiently; remembering to count all pellets within a 10-inch circle surrounding its area of effect will provide useful feedback.

If your pellet count falls short of expectations, back off a few yards and try repositioning your gun using different chokes and ammunition combinations until you find one that reliably penetrates vital areas on turkeys.

Keep the wind in mind when shooting turkeys to understand its effect on your pattern. A gust can easily send your shot drifting off target, so practicing before turkey season begins is highly advised to gain an idea of how your gun reacts in different wind speeds and directions.

Even if a hunter has had success using the same make and model of shotgun in previous seasons, it’s still wise to zero it again this season. Ammo, choke and shot size may have changed between seasons; even barrel length can alter how your gun performs.

Choke Tubes

Your shotgun’s choke can have a huge effect on its range and pattern of fire. These chokes range in constriction, pairing perfectly with different ammo types and sizes; selecting an effective choke when turkey hunting can ensure lethal patterns from further distances; however, to be most effective it must also match with suitable ammo types and sizes. To be truly effective a choke must also be matched to its target ammo type/size for best results.

No choke can cover every square inch of a target, leaving gaps in its pattern. To some degree, these gaps can be controlled by selecting a choke with enough constriction to create a dense center surrounded by fewer pellets; too little constriction leads to uneven and patchy results.

There are four primary choke options to consider for their turkey shotguns: Modified, Improved Modified (IM), Full and XX-Full. Modified chokes provide high density patterns at close range while becoming ineffective at longer distances; while IM chokes have less constriction but still provide high shot density patterns while Full and XX-Full chokes offer tight patterns with fewest misses.

At 40 yards, when shooting a turkey target, aim for 18 or more pellets in the head and neck area at least. This serves as an easy guideline to determine the optimal pattern for your turkey shotgun setup. If your shotgun pattern looks irregular or has holes larger than a cantaloupe, move back five yards before trying again; keep testing loads until you find a consistent one that works with your shotgun setup.

As part of preparing for turkey season, it is essential that your shotgun be properly patterned before hunting begins. This simple task can be completed using paper or cardboard as a reference point; unfortunately many overlook this step and end up with guns that don’t match their make and model exactly. By spending some time practicing this step prior to any hunts or aftermarket modifications you make, taking the time to pattern will give you greater confidence when hunting begins and will provide an easy starting point if any upgrades become necessary later.


Just as when deer hunting, patterning your shotgun before hunting turkey should not be overlooked. Patterning not only allows you to establish the point of impact (POI), but it can also assist with selecting the optimal load for your needs. When beginning patterning a shotgun you should select an effective target and place it on a shooting table or range berm in order to gain a clear picture of its shot pattern; one with head and neck features is ideal, since that’s what will be facing out at you when turkey hunting!

Next, choose a turkey-specific load and test it against your target. To accurately pattern a turkey-specific load at 40 yards is considered standard among hunters; this should provide an indication as to its effectiveness at your hunting distances.

Patterning should use different chokes and loads compatible with your shotgun, using the same shooting position you will employ while hunting.

As you experiment with different loads, it is essential to keep in mind that a shotgun’s pattern size and density will change based on the choke used and type of shell being fired – for instance a lead turkey shot load may produce dense, consistent patterns when shot with an improved cylinder choke but may produce less uniform and denser shots when shot through a slug barrel.

As you test various loads and chokes, record your results on paper so you can compare them easily later. For instance, try looking for patterns with at least 20 solid pellets in the head/neck region of the target; keep in mind that no shot pattern is perfect; even your best shots may contain gaps; your aim should be to maximize density among those pellets which do hit their mark.


Before turkey season begins, it is essential that you zero and pattern your shotgun and chokes and ammo loads. Many shooters overlook this step, but it is crucial for ensuring lethal pellets at distance are being delivered from your shotgun. A reliable pattern should emerge after several shots from various distances with your chosen chokes and ammo loads equipped gun. Once established, your turkey hunting shotgun should perform as advertised!

Many hunters believe ultra-tight patterns are optimal, which explains the proliferation of choke tubes designed to produce tighter shot groups. Unfortunately, such tight patterns may render your shotgun ineffective at longer ranges; as a general guideline it would be wise to test any new shell at 40 yards first before continuing your testing process with it if its pattern fails at that distance. If so it may be wise to search out another combination of choke and ammo combination for optimal shooting success.

Start patterning from a comfortable sitting position, whether leaning against a tree or using shooting bags and range sleds. Shoot only offhand to spare your arm from recoil caused by 3-1/2 turkey loads, and make use of rests if available; these will help eliminate human interference with results.

As part of your initial test, use a target load instead of turkey ammo for this initial examination, since target loads are generally cheaper and less likely to cause issues with patterning your shotgun. Once you find a shell that produces a solid lethal pattern at 40 yards away, transition over to turkey ammunition until at least 100 pellets have landed within 10-inch circle at target’s center – then move up a full turkey load until that target circle counts 100 pellets or more!

Take note of your distance, shell used and target patterns during each target session and keep these handy for reference during the season. That way, your range-to-field performance can directly translate into punching your spring gobbler tag! Good luck! — Written by John Shepard of Guns & Gear Outdoors Editor.

About the Author