Patterning a Turkey Shotgun

On the brink of turkey season we find ourselves dusting off calls, checking decoys and rearranging all the stuff we typically carry in our vests. Gloves, masks and odds-and-ends are transferred from the backpack carried all those days of deer season. Then, a little oil on the turkey gun and re-attaching a borrowed rifle strap will round out our pre-season equipment preparation.

This year, however, we decided to take it a step further. Patterning a turkey shotgun is not some new phenomenon. But if you’ve been using the same smoke stick for nearly two decades with just a handful of misses to your resume, then it’s not something you’d naturally think about doing in February or March.

For the test we used Winchester Long Beard XR and Browning BXD shells, both three and a half inch number fives, shot from a Mossberg 835 with an extra-full choke. We set two targets at 20 yards and two at 40 in order to compare the loads and see how they perform, at what most would consider, an easy shot and a long-range shot. We used Hunter’s Specialities turkey head targets, which were stapled to a couple of wooden boards we found in a tool shed.

As you’ll be able to hear in the videos below, there was a slight breeze on a gray, overcast day. We wouldn’t think that even a strong traversing wind would have the power to alter the shot pattern at just 20 yards, though it could at 40.


At 20 yards, the Winchester’s pattern stayed tight. Very tight. In fact, the head/neck region of a live turkey would be obliterated. On the contrary, what would have happened if the shooter pulled even slightly? That’s why we always want to aim at the base of the neck in order to give ourselves the maximum surface area for a larger target.

Even though the load from the Browning shell dispersed a bit more, it would still be a kill shot at 20 yards. As you saw,  the hard-hitting nickel-plated shot broke the board in half. Perhaps we could have chosen better backstops for the paper heads, though the point is that we were able to tell exactly how the pattern spread from the muzzle to the target.


To be clear, the first target we analyze was shot with the Winchester shell. There are plenty of pellets in the central neck and head region for a clean kill. And while the Browning was again a bit more spread out, plenty of shot hit home. We wouldn’t recommend shooting at a turkey outside of 40 yards as it appears to be the maximum range for an ethical kill, at least with the combination we used.


Winchester turkey loads have been a personal choice for some years now. As Browning is newer in the ammunition game, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to shoot the BXD turkey loads. The Federal 3rd Degrees also work well.

In my turkey hunting career, I’ve had two Remington shells misfire. The pin hit the primer, but didn’t ignite the powder. Perhaps if I’d tested those loads before the season it would have become apparent earlier to not use Remington turkey shells. Luckily, I was able to shuck those duds out of my gun in time to make lethal shots on both occasions.

Whether you’re crazy about chasing turkeys like us, a waterfowler or any other type of bird hunter, patterning can help you learn more about the gun and yourself as a shooter. It’s important to know how particular loads perform at certain distances with the choke you’re using. Before opening day, take 30 minutes to see what your pattern looks like. Being that turkey loads are expensive and kick like a mule, there’s no reason to shoot more than four or five times. It’ll be worth your while.

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