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Patterning Predicaments in the Turkey Woods

Why you should pattern your shotgun before every turkey season.

Patterning Predicaments in the Turkey Woods

(Author photos)

No one will argue that verifying your rifle’s zero prior to the hunts each fall is a necessity. Some might even consider it unethical if you don’t. Yet, few bird hunters, whether they be waterfowl, upland, or turkey, take the time to pattern their shotguns before heading afield—myself included. From the incessantly repeated words of my three-year-old: “But why?” I have pondered my own quandaries on the matter and have come to the conclusion that I have trusted my shotguns more than I should.

Have you had a shotgun that just seemed to decimate everything you aimed at? How about a scattergun that you couldn’t hit a motionless strutter at 20-yards, let alone a mallard fluttering into the decoys? Maybe the gun doesn’t fit you. Maybe you really are a terrible shot. But maybe, just maybe, the gun doesn’t actually shoot straight. Whatever the reasoning for this dilemma, I had a recent experience that shed some light on the subject and taught me an invaluable lesson about the gravity of patterning my shotgun.

One flash of the fan and a soft run of sweet yelps was all it took to turn the trio of fired up long beards our direction. Another slightly more excited series of yelps and the three toms kicked it in gear, parading as fast as their legs would let them in our direction. At 18 yards, their beet-red heads and flabby snoods bobbed over the ridgeline. Confused, the toms looked around as my dad shouldered his shotgun and torched off a deafening load of lead. Where I expected to hear the wings beating the ground from a long beard flopping on the forest floor, I heard nothing but silence. I inquisitively looked at my dad and gave him a “What happened?” shoulder shrug. “It has to be the gun,” he joked, which he had conveniently borrowed from me. “Bull s***,” I replied.

Learning a Hard Truth

Fast forward one year and we were once again turkey camp bound, except this time it was my wife and brother with tags in their pockets. My brother would be using the same shotgun my dad had used and my wife another one from the safe. Out of sheer curiosity, I bought a package of Birchwood Casey turkey targets prior to leaving town with the intention of patterning both shotguns before opening day. My purpose was to see how far they could effectively shoot a turkey, but the amount of bb’s in a 10-inch circle at 40-yards turned out to be the least of my worries.

My first shot at 20 yards barely even clipped the top of paper with the bottom of my pattern. Convinced I must have flinched, I bore down and fired again with the same result. As I continued to shoot, I became increasingly perplexed. No matter the distance or load, the shotgun that my father had missed the bird with consistently centered its pattern eight to ten inches higher than its point of aim. The second shotgun that my wife would be shooting regularly centered its pattern four inches below its aim point.


My dad watched with a growing grin on his face as I sent a variety of loads downrange. Despite my best efforts, it did not matter. A large slice of humble pie was served as I sheepishly admitted that there was indeed a very good chance that it was MY gun’s fault that he had missed last year. Lesson learned.

To put it lightly, I was dumbfounded by how far the shotgun’s point of impact was off, but at least now I knew where they were hitting. After patiently sitting for three hours and occasionally letting out a few clucks and purrs, we coaxed a lone, strutting tom right into our lap on opening morning. At 18 yards I whispered to my brother, “Put the bead on his beard and kill him”. Unlike the year prior, the sound of wings slapping the ground was music to my ears. Settling the bead on the tom’s beard resulted in the neck and head absorbing the center of the pattern. Had my brother aimed for the head I imagine he, like my dad, would not have heard the end of it.

Now home and preparing for other turkey hunts of my own, I began to explore other options for optimizing my shotgun’s accuracy and correcting my point of aim. Tinkering with different chokes and loads can certainly impact your point of aim, but with other turkey hunts on the horizon, I needed a quick fix. Despite my internal battle with putting a scope on my scattergun, this was in fact a viable solution to my problem.

Optics Options

Mounting a scope to your favorite turkey gun is becoming more and more popular and, as my little experiment taught me, with good reason. Some turkey hunters prefer a traditional crosshair-style scope while others lean towards the more open field of view that a red dot provides. I chose the latter.

Leupold’s reputation for rugged reliability made their feature-packed DeltaPoint Pro optic an easy choice. Compared to other red dots I have used, the generous 1-inch screen facilitated both an open field of view and preserved the traditional feel of a scattergun when shouldered. The screen also houses the vibrant 2.5 MOA red dot that is easily dialed in with 1 MOA windage and elevation click-adjustments.


The DeltaPoint Pro is also made to withstand not only our abuse, but Mother Nature’s as well. To prove their point, Leupold tested the DeltaPoint Pro from bone chilling -40-degree temps up to a scorching 160-degrees without a hiccup. They also incorporated both fog proof and waterproof technologies into the optic, keeping us in the game regardless of outside variables.

Any reservation I had about mounting a scope to my shotgun was alleviated when I took the newly accessorized gun back to the range. The DeltaPoint Pro was easy to sight in and quickly brought the center of my pattern at 30 yards back to my point of aim. Time will tell, as I have not had the opportunity as of yet to bear down on a long beard with this new set-up, but one thing is for sure, if I miss, I have no one to blame but myself.


Let my mistake be a lesson to the necessity of patterning your shotgun before heading afield. Hopefully your shotgun centers your pattern where it is supposed to, but like any sighting-in process, chances are it will take some time to dial-in the best choke and load combination.

Regardless of your feathered foe, patterning your shotgun will provide you with a wealth of knowledge regarding your point of impact and effective shooting distance. Patterning can be a tedious process, but you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Less cripples and more birds in the bag are something we all strive for, patterning your shotgun will help accomplish both.

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