Let’s consider what is “universal” about shotgun chokes for turkey hunting.
The ultimate goal is to put as many pellets carrying as much energy as possible into the head-and-neck vital zone of a tom.
And there ends the list of universalities. From there on, figuring out the ideal choke and load for a particular shotgun becomes an exercise in subjectivity—much like working up handloads for a rifle.
In building a turkey hunting rig, the pursuit centers around achieving more “rifle-like” performance from the shotgun. Maximizing the lethal range of the shotgun is achieved by tightening the pattern. The more pellets that strike the mark, the more energy is transferred to the intended target. That means greater shock and more extensive tissue damage, both of which contribute to lethality.
Today’s loads and chokes make shooting turkeys with definitive results easily possible at 50, 60, and perhaps even 75 yards. However, each hunter must what their maximum ethical range is.
The turkey hunter must also remember the unintended consequences of incredibly tight patterns. What happens when that tom suddenly comes into view at 10 yards or less? Sometimes birds sneak so close the distances are better measured in feet! In this case, you have no margin for aiming error because your super-tight pattern is the equivalent of a slug at 10 yards and perhaps a golf ball or tennis ball at 20 yards.
If you elect to pursue ultra-tight patterns by pairing a high-tech turkey load with its “best” matched choke, it’s wise to commit to putting a sighting system on your shotgun—iron sights, peep sights, scopes, and red dots are all legitimate choices. You simply need a system you can adjust to precisely sight-in the pattern. However, in contrast with rifle shooting, your precision sighting is most critical at short ranges rather than maximum ranges.
Which choke to choose?
The generic designation of a turkey choke would be “extra full” or “super full,” and some makers do us the favor of simply calling them “turkey chokes.” You’ll find them from virtually every aftermarket choke tube maker out there—Carlson, Patternmaster, Tru Lock, Rob Roberts, Hevi-Shot, Indian Creek, Briley, and more. Most gun companies make turkey chokes for their lines, and some models ship with a turkey tube included. They are all extended tubes that protrude at least an inch and as much as three inches beyond the muzzle. They are nearly universally ported in some manner (to reduce recoil or, at least, muzzle jump of heavy turkey loads).
Constrictions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and model to model based on what’s deemed “best” for a particular load or particular range. Some models are named specific to a load, like HEVI-Shot’s chokes, and those built specifically for use with Federal’s loads, incorporating their FliteControl wad design.
For optimal performance, Federal does not recommend the FliteControl wad be fired through a ported choke tube. The purpose of the rear petal design of the FliteControl wad is to maximize the distance beyond the muzzle at which the wad stays around the shot. A highly constricted, ported choke has a tendency to grab the wad (think of how a grater grabs a hunk of cheese when you rub the two together) and impede its departure from the muzzle while the pellets continue to fly at full speed.
A traditional, high-performance turkey load is comprised of high-antimony lead shot in size #6, #5, or #4 coated with copper or nickel and buffered in Grex (polycarbonate granules), and loaded in a traditional front-petal plastic wad. This kind of load is highly susceptible to choke constriction, so you’ll easily see differences in patterns when they are fired through different choke constrictions and designs. It’s for these loads that the industry of aftermarket turkey chokes was built and continues to thrive. You can achieve amazingly tight patterns by finding “the right” tube to pair with a specific load in your shotgun.
Finding the perfect pairing is where the devoted turkey hunter pays his or her dues. It’s a matter of gathering the shells you’ll consider shooting and the tubes you want to try, then getting out to the range with a bunch of turkey head targets. Pick a range from which to shoot all the possible combinations (40 yards is the traditional standard) and shoot, and count, and shoot, and count. You’re looking for the pairing of load and tube that consistently gives you the most pellets in the kill zone shot after shot.
Shotshell manufacturers continue to push the technological envelope in the development of tight-patterning loads specifically for turkey hunting and, increasingly, for predator hunting. These loads tend to pattern consistently tightly, regardless of the choke through which they are fired. In some cases, too much choke constriction on these payloads negatively impacts consistent pattern density at extended ranges.
The previously mentioned Federal FliteControl wad is one such case. A tight constriction “grabs” that wad and slows it down while the shot continues at the launch speed and leaves the muzzle departing the wad rather than being carried in it until the rear petals deploy.
Winchester’s newest high-tech, high-performance turkey load entry is the Long Beard XR. These shells incorporate Shot-Lok Technology. Inside the wad inside the shell, the lead pellets are encapsulated in a hardened resin cylinder that protects the shot during acceleration and travel down the bore. As the “locked” payload moves down the bore, the pressures fracture the resin, in effect, changing it to a powdered shot buffer. The pellets are both protected from pattern-robbing deformation and held more densely together until the wad departs the load some distance after exiting the choke. Though the patterns produced by Winchester Shot-Lok loads are more impacted by choke restriction than Federal FliteControl loads, they tend to pattern more tightly through any choke than traditional high-performance turkey loads.
When it comes to high-tech new ways of managing shot patterns, makers are moving beyond physical constriction of the tube. Patternmaster offers its Anaconda line of chokes—including the Striker Turkey tube—incorporating a patented coil zone to wind the load’s own expanding gasses around the wad to increase effective constriction beyond the actual tapering of the tube itself.
The bottom line
Technology is great. It continues to up the odds of making clean, one-shot kills on tough, tenacious turkeys. Yet, taking full advantage of it will always go back to doing your own testing and practice—and counting pellet holes in paper targets.
Images courtesy Bill Miller