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Pattern your shotgun like a pro

Professional shooter Bill Davis of McConnells looks over a shotgun before patterning it for turkey season.
Professional shooter Bill Davis of McConnells looks over a shotgun before patterning it for turkey season.

Ahhh, it's finally here. Turkey season. I'm sure that some of you, like me, find this to be the best month on the sportsman's calendar. But, sadly, it's a short season (April 1 - May 1) and requires some preparation on the hunter's part to ensure success if you and "Old Tom" cross paths.

Understanding the patterning characteristics of the gun and loads you'll hunt with is often one of the most overlooked pieces of the puzzle. Although it will cost a few dollars to do it correctly, it takes very little time and is actually a fun pre-hunt activity. But where do we start? How do we do it correctly?

No matter the sport, no one is better to learn from than a professional and this is especially true when it comes to shooting. I'm no pro and, if you're reading this, I'd be willing to bet that you're not either. That is unless your name is Bill Davis.

Fortunately, one of the world's best shooters lives right here in western York County. Davis is not only a four-time state champion but he's the 2005 NWTF 20 gauge open, World Still Target Champion. As if those credentials aren't impressive enough, he and his wife Cindy own and operate Pure Gold shotgun chokes. Their chokes, said to be the best by many outdoors professionals, are designed and manufactured right beside their home in McConnells and are sold by most major outdoors retailers in the country.

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending a few hours talking shop with Davis and he shared his best tips for proper patterning.

He began by recommending a turkey choke size of .670 that is more forgiving and will provide a pellet pattern in the range of 18 to 20 inches at 40 yards. He joked, "I can give you a choke that's even tighter, but that's like shooting a rifle. That turkey's head is always moving. The average hunter needs to deal in averages and that size pattern is your best bet."

Shot size is a personal preference. Davis' shell of choice is Hevishot in three inch, six shot. You may prefer something different but the only way to know for sure is to try various shells in various sizes. With the cost of high quality turkey loads being as much as $5 or more each, this can get expensive. Go in with your hunting buddies and each of you purchases a different box. You can then share them with each other and lessen the burden on your wallet.

"The biggest mistake I see people make is shooting targets that are the size of a piece of paper," Bill said. "Find something larger that's in the neighborhood of four feet square."

He explained that by shooting something big, you'll get to see the entire pattern and not just the pellets that happened to hit within an 8.5 x 11 inch area.

"My first shots are from 10 to 15 yards away and have less to do with the pattern than they do with determining the 'point of aim' vs. 'point of impact' of my gun. I'll use lighter shells, like rabbit loads, in the same shot size as my turkey loads to lessen the expense. This tells me if it's actually shooting left or right of my aim," he stated. Davis continues these efforts out to 40 yards.

Next up are the actual turkey shells.

"I start at 20 yards and then test them at 10 and 40," said Davis.

Upon completing these tests for every different shell you want to try, you should then be able to look at the patterns on each target to find the ones that work best for your gun.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his Web site at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or e-mail brad@bradharveyoutdoors.com.

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