Turkey patterns and cleaning tips

Learn your shotgun, and keep it spick-and-span

In turkey hunting, preparation is everything.

So thinking about you guys (and gals) who get all heated up over feathers in the spring, I thought I would write about patterning — and cleaning your guns.

I have a 12 gauge, 2 ¾-inch-chambered barrel I had cut off years ago to about 25 inches and had the gunsmith install screw-in choke tubes.

I remember hearing one of the turkey experts on a TV show telling the host he always shot turkeys with No. 4 or No. 5 shot. When he shot turkeys (he said) with No. 6 shot, he always had to chase them, but when he shot them with No. 4s or No. 5s, they went down and stayed down.

In my limited experience of six or so turkeys, that had been my experience. So I drew a pattern board on cardboard — a 30-inch circle — and marked off 40 yards.

This is the standard test; it gets a little more complicated than that, but that’s about as much as you or I are going to indulge the experts, anyway.

Was I surprised.

Using No. 4 shot in a heavy duck and goose load, I fired at the 30-inch circle from 40 yards, aiming at the center of the circle.

Approximately 30 percent of the pellets hit below the point of aim, with 70 percent hitting in the upper portion of the circle and on the area above the circle.

Obviously, if this was the case, to get the heaviest concentration of pellets on the neck and head of a turkey, I was going to have to aim around the spot where the neck joined the body.

Deciding to try another shot, I rough-drew (boy, was it rough) the head and neck of a turkey on the pattern circle. My wife, upon seeing my rendition of turkey art had the gall to ask, “What’s that supposed to be?”

While obviously I will never challenge John James Audubon as a bird artist — incidentally, I have always considered his rendition of the wild turkey to be one of his very worst bird paintings — it wasn’t THAT bad.

In fact, considering Audubon’s attempt, mine might even qualify as “primitive” art.

Again, true-to-form, and probably exactly what I would do in the field, I forgot and aimed right at the drawing — instead of below it as I intended to do.

The same results occurred, and you can see in the accompanying picture why I would not take this barrel and choke on a turkey hunt.

Again, the vast majority of pellets struck above point of aim, and only three of the No. 4 pellets struck in the kill zone of the neck and head.

Perhaps a good gunsmith could “true” the barrel by bending it ever so slightly or the choke works better with a different shot or maybe screwed into another barrel. Or a different choke screwed into this barrel.


But if you haven’t checked your choke and pattern, it’s an easy test — and if your pattern isn’t absolutely shredding one of those turkey-head targets at 40 yards, it might be time to consider hunting birds with another gun.

Cleaning the guns

In the military, it’s called “field expedient.”

In other words, the mission comes first. In all military-prescribed endeavors, the mission takes precedence over all other considerations, including persons involved.

When regular tactics don’t work, you use whatever tools are at your command to get the job done. This is field expediency, and I applied it to gun cleaning.

In basic training at Fort Polk, carrying the M-14 rifle and then the M-16, we had to turn our weapons into the company armorer after training.

And they had to be clean — spotless — or he wouldn’t accept them.

Some way or another, he spotted in me an enthusiast and a relatively anal person that always turned in a clean weapon. So he expected no less from me, and one day when I handed him my issue M-14 he opened the chamber, peered down the bore from the muzzle end and handed it back to me with a disapproving look.

I had scrubbed and cleaned the gun perfectly — but there was this one piece of lint from a dry patch that remained in the bore, and every time I ran a dry patch through the gun to clean out one piece of lint, it would leave another.

Frustrated, I ran Ronsonol cigarette lighter fluid down the barrel, and then pulled the cellophane off a pack of cigarettes, and twisted it down the bore with the cleaning rod. That got it!

I used the Rosonol to wash the dirty oil off the gun. It would evaporate, and leave it clean and ready for a new coat of protective oil.

Nowadays, we have products called gun scrubbers that do the same thing, only more efficiently — they shoot out of the cans like wasp spray, wash the dirty solvent off once you have cleaned the gun and evaporate, leaving the gun ready for a protective coat of oil.

Unfortunately, these products are very expensive and don’t last more than five to six guns before you need another can. So try a can of brake parts cleaner — get it from any auto parts dealer or department in your big box store.

It’s the same stuff, in a bigger can, and it costs two thirds less.

A quick note here: DO NOT substitute carburetor cleaner for brake parts cleaner. Carb cleaner will melt plastic parts and other materials. I have never had brake parts cleaner harm anything on any gun.

Finally, I absolutely LOVE BoreSnakes — talk about a field expedient cleaner. I have them now for most calibers, and am starting to add them for my handguns; they do such a quick, thorough job.

Of course, they don’t protect the outer part, but they really do a good, quick — if not perfect — job of cleaning any bore for which they are designed. A pull-through with a BoreSnake and a coat of a good protectant oil (note: WD-40 IS NOT a good protectant oil), and your gun is guarded against rust if stored.