Did you miss him? Did you flinch? Was your “Kentucky Windage” hold just a bit off? Was there a large hole in your pattern that allowed him to escape?
Was your confidence in your present set-up shaken this season?
This is the time of year when many of us start to reflect upon our season. It may have been a great one. We may have really enjoyed the early mornings and hearing the woods awaken. We may have heard gobblers and called them to our gun. We may have carried a gobbler or two over our shoulder to the truck.
We may have also been successful in calling in that bird of a lifetime, having an ethical shot and then we just missed him. Maybe, and even worse, we hit him but he did not go down and we've felt guilty ever since for not being able to find him.
Many hunters have these kinds of experiences each year. If you had one of those, “less than stellar” experiences, now is the time to take action to keep it from happening again. The events of the season are fresh in your mind. Your turkey gear is still ready and it's time to correct the problem(s) that you encountered so that you'll be ready for the fall or for the season next spring.
The very best way to solve a problem is to act while everything is fresh in your mind. Time will dull the memory and not allow us to be as exact as we can be just after an event has occurred. While it may seen a bit strange to take our turkey guns to the range right after the season, there's really no better time.
Not only will our memory be fresher but the atmospheric conditions will also be similar to those we encountered during the season. You may want to look at this as just another part of the season, a way to prolong what we wait for so eagerly each year.
Maybe you're one of the hunters who had a very successful season and if so, that's great but was there anything about it that you'd like to improve? This “After Season” can be as beneficial to you as to anyone else. Again, we're just lengthening the time that we can hunt. The hunt now is for something that will help us improve our upcoming seasons.
Let's get started.
Let's “deep clean” the bore of our gun. http://allaboutshooting.com/blogs/blog/tagged/cleaning-a-shotgun-barrel as our very first step. You would not begin a long road trip without filling the tank, checking the oil and the air in the tires, so let's consider deep cleaning the bore as preparation for our road trip.
Let's go to the range. You'll need some big paper, at least 3' x 3', something to use for a rest, some shells, eye and ear protection and whatever combo of choke and gun you'd like to improve. Range time is really the only way to see what works. It can also be punishing to your shoulder. I recommend that you consider slipping a Shooter's Friend recoil pad http://allaboutshooting.com/products/shooters-friend-recoil-pad over the butt of your gun to absorb the recoil and allow you to shoot several shells without developing a flinch. It's an investment that can pay great dividends. If you ever visit a still target shoot, you'll see that most of the shooters there use one of these pads.
When you're at the range, you're evaluating your equipment and not your ability to shoot it. That's always the first step that we must take to analyze the performance of our gear. Later, we'll look into our shooting style and our ability but for now, just examining the performance our gear is our only goal.
You'll want to put a very visible mark in the center of that big paper. I use blaze orange 2” circles that a grocer was kind enough to give me. You can also find something similar at most sporting good stores or office supply stores. The size of the dot is not as important as is its visibility at 40 yards. You may want to use a marker with a bright color. Whatever you can see clearly at a distance will work.
You'll also need a method to isolate the “best” 10” circle on your target. Many methods will work, a piece of Plexiglas, a clear dinner plate or even some string and a pencil. As long as you can draw a 10” circle using whatever method is handy, you'll be prepared.
You'll want to stabilize your shotgun by using some type of stable rest beneath the forend of your gun. That can be a rest like this one http://allaboutshooting.com/blogs/blog “New MTM Quick Rest” or just some folded towels but you need a stable rest that will allow you sight your shotgun at your target.
Speaking of that, do you need sights on your shotgun? If you're looking at open sights, there's really only one that I can recommend http://www.truglo.com/firearms-turkey/pro-series-magnum-gobble-dot.asp?catid=F41C40D155E44609874F4225CB2A7EC2 if you need to be able to adjust the point of aim and point of impact. If you just need to be able to see the sights better, these work amazingly well
Okay, now we're ready to shoot. Please take your time, get your breathing under control and allow your heartbeat to normalize. Place your shotgun on the rest, chamber a round and relax for just a bit. Now, you're ready to get your sight picture and begin to squeeze the trigger with a firm and continuous motion until the round fires. It should surprise you.
Now, it's time to take a look at your target and see just how it looks. Find the densest part of your target, regardless of where you were aiming or where your aim point is located and draw a 10” circle around that area. Look for gaps within that circle. Since pattern density is much more important than numbers, gaps become very important. I use a 2” circle to measure gaps and consider any larger than that as unacceptable for cleanly killing a turkey with the combo that I'm using.
To be fair and account for possible shotshell inconsistency, you'll need to repeat this process at least one more time and 3 shots are always preferable. Yes, I know that turkey loads are expensive but it's much better to find out now just what your combo is doing, spending a few dollars in the process, than it is to miss or wound a bird during the season and have a bad experience then, don't you agree?
There are a few possible outcomes to your range work.
The first is that your pattern was perfect, very dense and your point of aim matched your point of impact. Great. If all your shots this year were right on target and you gave a bird a ride home every time you shot, it's probably time to retire your gun until the next season.
The second is that your pattern was not quite perfect, had some large gaps and maybe, just maybe, you did not give a bird a ride home every time you shot this year.
The third is that your pattern was not at all perfect, had some gaps in it and your point of aim did not match you point of impact.
The fourth is some combination of any of the above.
There are other considerations of course. Range estimation, excitement that caused you to raise your head off the stock, jerking the trigger instead of firmly squeezing it....the list could go on and on but most of these are “operator error” and not equipment error items. We can address those in another article.
Now we know how our patterns look, how do we go about correcting the problem(s)?
I have found over the several decades that I've been shooting and hunting that there are about 3 issues that cause most of the problems with patterns.
The first relates to the condition of the bore. Starting out with a deep cleaned bore and not cleaning between shots is the only way to find out if your gun likes to be squeaky clean, slightly fouled or fouled.
The second is the ammunition that is used. Picking the best ammo for your gun and choke is frankly vital, if you want to optimize the performance of your turkey gun.
The third is the selection of the proper choke tube for you particular gun. It is true that each gun can be different but after shooting many guns of the same make and model, it's pretty apparent what will work best in those guns most of the time. Seek advice for choke selection. It's always free and with no obligation by at All About Shooting.
Range time is the only way to see how your gun patterns and if you consider it just another part of the hunt, it can really extend your season and provide you with real dividends for your investment.