Turkey Shotgun Tips
March 13, 2018
Editorial Staff (256 articles)
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Turkey Shotgun Tips

Sage advice for tackling spring toms

By Ralph Winingham

Shotgun shooters transitioning from wingshooting doves and quail to hammering toms require a proper plan; a little practice and prep work; and an effective performance in the field, plus a little luck. Offering sage advice with the first three requirements – a shooter’s luck is always on him or her – is veteran turkey hunter Jason Cruise, who is one of the turkey hunting experts for O.F. Mossberg & Sons. The American-made Mossbergs are among the most popular scatterguns used by turkey hunters all across the country.

In his experience during the past several decades, Cruise said he has found that most shotgun shooters are proficient enough that hours and hours of patterning board work are unnecessary.

“Truthfully I don’t think it takes a ton of practice as most hunters obviously can work a shotgun proficiently in most cases. The real key is actually how the hunter sets up on the bird. Most guys set up in the sunlight so they get busted, when they could have set up in the shade,” he said. “Or, they set up facing the bird when they’d do better setting up with their left shoulder facing the bird somewhat (for a right handed shooter), which allows them more range of motion to move with the bird as he walks.”

However, he stressed that being comfortable with the turkey shotgun is a key element in being able to make hits on turkey trophies.

“I will say without shame, the Mossberg pistol grip on the Model 930 allows me to be more comfortable,” Cruise said. “Once I made the transition to the pistol grip, it was truly a game changer in comfort and point of aim.”

Sighting is critical

Concerning point of aim, the veteran turkey hunter is sold on using sights, rather than just a front bead found on many shotguns, to insure proper shot placement on a bird.

“Sighting is critical,” he said. “Decades ago, when I first started hunting, I used a front bead and missed at least one bird every spring, if not more. I went to TruGlo’s system of the Pro Series Gobble Dot. The reason I did was because they were the only system I could find that had both a windage and elevation option in a turkey sight,” Cruise said.

“With an adjustable sight, I could have a rifle-type sight on a turkey gun. When I did that, I rarely, if ever, missed birds from that day forward,” he said.

Cruise said that many hunters and shooters assume that a shotgun will decently pattern right out of the box. That is not the case. In addition, different ammunition performs differently in every firearm. When determining what loads and chokes make up the best combination for a particular shotgun, Cruise said the most important factor is to consider how much is too much.

“Today’s turkey hunters shoot far, far too tight of a pattern,’’ he said. “What has happened is that turkey loads, in terms of ammunition, are now hotter than they’ve ever been. Today’s turkey ammunition is, in every real sense, a “super” load.

“So, now you’ve got a super hot load, with a super tight choke. To double-down on the negative, a ton of guys shoot 3½-inch shells, which are just absolutely unnecessary to kill a tom. That is huge reason many guys miss birds,” he said.

Shotgun chokes

Cruise said that with the hot loads and tight chokes, most hunters are shooting a pattern about the size of a tennis ball at a turkey’s head when they should be shooting a pattern about the size of a watermelon. He recommends that shooters find a choke with a constriction of no more than full, with ported chokes preferred over non-ported to help with controlling recoil. His shotgun shell load of choice for his Mossberg Model 930 is a 3-inch Winchester Longbeard load of No. 6 shot.

“I flatten turkeys with no problem,’’ Cruise said. “I’m a huge fan of No. 6 shot because today’s loads are made with materials that are so dense you get the punch of a No. 4 with the extra pellets of a No. 6,” he said. While patterning a shooter’s shotgun is essential to successful performance in the field, Cruise said he is mystified that many hunters ignore or overlook the step.

“You spend all that time and effort to get on a bird and yet you don’t know if your gun is performing properly? It doesn’t make sense,” he said. Cruise explained that the ultimate turkey-shooting tool has three essential components – the gun, the load, and the choke.

“You must have all three to have the perfect strut stopper,’’ he said.

Firearm selection

While he favors a Mossberg for his turkey thumping, he said for most hunters the firearm selection is simply a matter of personal preference.

“I like a gun with a story. Like the fact that you’re using your first Mossberg that your dad bought you when you were in high school. That’s a gun that needs to be with you in the woods; it has a story,” Cruise said.

Whether the shotgun is the standard wood and metal; composite black or camouflage simply does not matter to the shooter or the turkey, he said, pointing out that while turkeys can see some colors they get more easily spooked by movement than image. “Nothing matters more than being still. No camo pattern will ever help a hunter who fidgets,’’ he said.

Cruise stressed that no matter what the shotgun and ammunition combination gets put into play, safety remains the paramount concern. “In the last several years I’ve started doing something that has become non-negotiable for me. I don’t load my gun until I set up on the bird. You’ve got plenty of time to load your gun and load it quietly. When you walk through the woods with an unloaded gun, you take hunting accidents down to a non-risk factor. It is true peace of mind for me,” Cruise said.

As a final piece of advice, the turkey hunting pro said patience is the key to success in the field. “The single greatest mistake most hunters make, in my opinion, is giving up too early. I cannot tell you how many hunters I talk with who never hunt past 9 a.m. because they really don’t know how to hunt birds that aren’t gobbling,” he said.

 

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