Turkey hunting gear continues to advance. We have better calls, waterproof jackets and boots, decoys that move and have actual feathers, and comfortable seats and blinds that make waiting out a gobbler much easier.
Turkey guns, chokes, and ballistics have also evolved. When I first started turkey hunting, 35 yards was the maximum effective range for turkey hunters. The 35 yard rule is now 45 yards, but many turkeys are taken at fifty or even sixty yards.
Extended range turkey kills are due to three main factors: better loads, better chokes, specialty guns, and the popularity of scopes.
The Tungsten Revolution
A recent conversation on the ForemostHunting.com forums illustrates the tungsten tidal wave. The post was regarding favorite turkey loads and most responses were favoring different brands of lead ammunition. Then one poster quipped, “I'm absolutely shocked that there is a thread about turkey loads that doesn't discuss Hevi-Shot as the best of the best.” Tungsten is more dense than lead and carries it’s energy further down range. No. 6 Hevi-Shot carries the same downrange energy as No. 4 lead.
The added bonus of course is that you get more pellets with No. 6s. The days of hybrid shells like the 4 x 6 are gone and as more turkey hunters see the effectiveness of Hevi-Shot, turkey hunting with lead will be a thing of the past. The only drawback to tungsten loads is cost. A typical box of Hevi-Shot will cost you between $28 and $32, while most quality lead turkey shells are $15 to $20. When you consider that most turkey hunters will only fire three or four shells a season between patterning and hunting, the investment is quite minimal compared to the results.
Not too long ago extra full turkey chokes were constricted to the .400 to .500 range. I just bought a new choke with a constriction of .665. Many manufacturers are now pushing the .700 mark. All of these items are interrelated.
With better designed shells and the popularity of scopes tighter chokes are feasible. Improved wads and propellants make constricting shot to the high .600s practical.
Extremely tight chokes send shot downrange in patterns that were unimaginable just ten years ago. The pattern in this picture was at 40 yards using Hevi-Shot No. 6 with an Indian Creek Black Diamond Strike tube featuring a .675 constriction. As you can see, the results would be catastrophic to any turkey in it’s path.
Guns chambering 3 ½” shells were uncommon a decade ago. Now they are the norm for any turkey hunter with a new gun on his or her wish list. Every major manufacturer carries a 3 ½” shotgun these days and the price tag usually isn’t far from a comparable model chambering 3” shells. Semi-automatic shotguns are also becoming more advanced and affordable. The obvious advantage with a semi-automatic shotgun is a follow-up shot without having to pump the action.
However, the biggest benefit is energy absorption. Benelli revolutionized reduced recoil and continues to improve upon their inertia system. This technology has created competition between all shotgun manufactures to create guns with a lighter kick. The result is hunters can feel more confident and keep their cheek on the gun without worry of punishment when the trigger is pulled.
Scopes have also significantly improved over the past ten years. Scopes are also much more affordable, making them almost standard issue equipment for any turkey hunter. Reticles are better and target acquisition is easier. A lot of hunters use red dot sights. These sights lay an infrared red dot on the bullseye which completely removes the standard scope reticle from the equation.
This makes it easier for hunters to use optics when visibility is low. Red dots are also great for hunters with lesser vision. The biggest advantage with scopes is pinpoint aiming. If you shoot frequently and can consistently line the beads of a shotgun up with the target, perhaps a scope isn’t needed. For less experienced hunters, a scope ensures proper and consistent aiming. This can be invaluable at longer ranges.
These advancements have permanently altered acceptable range of turkey hunting shotguns. However, technology can not replace shooting skill. Tighter patterns and more downrange energy can flatten a gobbler, but only if the shot is well placed. If the shot is off, it can result in a clean miss or even worse, a wounded bird. Technology is great but it doesn’t replace hard work and practice. Don’t use these tools as an excuse to be lazy. Utilize them to make your hard work lead to extraordinary results.