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Bourjaily: What's the Best Size Shot for Killing Turkeys?

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May 05, 2010

Bourjaily: What's the Best Size Shot for Killing Turkeys?

By Phil Bourjaily

I’ve missed my share of turkeys over the years but never rolled one over and had it get up and run away crippled.  It almost happened once: the first turkey I shot with a muzzleloader fell, ran, then keeled over dead 200 yards away. He had been hit with several pellets in the head and neck, but none had penetrated the brain or spine. Instead of falling over, he bled out. The lesson there is, follow up every shot.

The bigger question, however, is: what does it take to kill a turkey?  I asked Winchester engineer Steve Meyer, who dusted off a study done by ballistician Tom Roster several years ago which involved necropsies of shot turkeys. The results were interesting. In terms of penetration, it takes a minimum of 2 foot pounds of energy for a pellet to penetrate a turkey’s skull or neck vertebrae. Surprisingly, many pellets fail to penetrate bone even if they do have more than enough energy. Even big size 4 shot which has far more than 2 foot pounds of energy at any reasonable turkey shooting range can glance off bone. At 35 yards, roughly half of size 6 shot failed to penetrate.

As a rule of thumb, lead 6s are reliable to 35 yards, lead 5s to 45. Lead 4 shot retains enough energy to penetrate vitals far beyond the distance at which the pattern grows too thin to insure enough hits.  With tungsten-iron loads like Winchester’s Xtended Range, Federal Heavyweight, Remington Wingmaster HD or Federal Heavyweight patterns will tighten and effective range increase.

The formula Roster eventually worked out was this: 13-4-2. That means when you shoot a turkey --- or a turkey target before hunting – you want to see a minimum of 13 hits in the head and neck, which should put four pellets in the brain and spine. If you have chosen your shot size correctly at least two of those will penetrate far enough for a clean kill.

 

Comments (43)

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from buckhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

A turkey hunting buddy of mine is a veterinarian who x-rays his birds after each shot to find the pellets. After x-rays of 8 birds he has found no more than 2 pellets in the head of the dead turkey. Many of the birds had only one pellet.

Is he lucky or is that the norm?

I know at a turkey shoot a couple weeks ago many of the guys were putting only 3-4 holes in a playing card at 35 yards.

The guy that won the shoot put 14 holes in a card and he aimed 9 inches below the card. Just FYI.

Next time I see him I will have to ask what size shot he uses.

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from beanap wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

how would a shot such as say black cloud for waterfowl work?

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from beanap wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

on turkeys

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from ingebrigtsen wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Size 4 in lead/alloy and 3 in steel. enough pellets to pattern nicely but big enough to get the job done. under 40 yards it cant fail. if it does u missed or there is something wrong with your shottie. almost 20 years experience to back it up.Nuff said.

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from RileyDog13 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Advice to me from a friend who's well into triple digit gobblers follows but may be summarized as bigger (and faster and more) is better:

#4 is the all around best in my opinion. I shoot 4x5x7 heavishot in my 10 gauge. Bad shit. I also shoot #5 nickel plated which is also devastating. Remember though these are the hotrod shells but I strongly recommend them. They are expensive but you really aren’t shooting that many anyway. nitrocompany.com/ When I shot a 12 gauge 3 inch I would always shoot #4 and they could easily kill birds to 50 yards. I would not shoot 6’s because they do not consistently kill beyond 40 yards. Judging precise distances can be difficult as we all know. Pattern your gun but shoot nothing smaller than 5 shot.

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from TJ wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I've shot turkeys at 65 yardswith my bow, but I've shot far more with an Ithaca Mag 10 with number 4s not because that it is necessarily the best, but it's what my grandfather started me with when I was little and it kills turkeys very effectively and you don't have to pick out many bbs. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

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from ishawooa wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I'm not much of a turkey hunter but I do intently observe any kind of hunting. Consequently one of the best turkey hunters that I ever knew only used #6s. Invariably he hunted thick timber resulting in very close shots. Another fellow whom I always felt was almost as good fired both #4s and #6s depending on the environment in which he was located and perhaps what was in his pocket at the time of need.

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from ishawooa wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

buckhunter: Slightly off topic but regarding lethal hits, my wife once fired at a running whitetail buck at what proved later to be 85 yards. She was holding a 12 gauge Bronwing A-5 with a IC barrel loaded with #2 buckshot. We had just walked out of the timber and looked down a powerline clearing when the deer ran across. She basically threw the gun up and shot before I could stop her. The buck dropped almost immediately into a pile. Upon examination I found only one hole with blood high above and in front of his left hip. Later when I pulled his hide off I saw the first shot had penetrated the rear tip of his spinal cord. Closer examination revealed another hit in the rear of his neck which also penetrated his spine. Talk about luck. It was a nice 4 x 4 which was the first one she had ever shot at in her life. Same old deal, "hit 'em in the right place" or "better to be lucky than good."

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from spiaailtli wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

After reading the Winchester study that was published some 15 (or more) years ago I too their advise and have been happy. Back then they more openly stated #5 lead was the only real choice. They said #6 didn't have enough energy and #4 not enough pattern, at the then stated 50 yards. Now one can use #6 in some of the better non-lead loads. The other interesting thing they stated was 1 5/8 oz loads was the magic load. They offered 2 oz loads but stated in all the guns they tested the patterns were much better in the lighter load. They thought it might be due to the heavy loads having more shot mashed or mangled trying to get out of the tube. It has proven so in all of my turkey guns too.

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from Manbearpig wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use Federal 3.5" #6 shot. The more pellets in the air the better, but thats just me.

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from crm3006 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

JMHO, but I think turkey hunters suffer from "gobbler fever". I've never gone out and set up to hunt turkeys, they were just too plentiful, and easy to kill. I have killed turkeys with a .22 LR, .222 Remington, .30-'06, .243 Win. and every shotgun gauge except the 10 and 28. (Mainly because I don't own them.) Shooting with shotguns, I have put meat on the table with #4 buckshot,
#2, #4, #6, and even #7½s out of an exceptionally tight shooting 16 gauge. I think y'all are over thinking the turkey shooting thing.

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from Nebraskahunter18 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I shot my first turkey a while ago and the first shot and he hopped up and started to run i didnt know if i had hit him well enough and so i shot again and at 31 yds 12 guage 22in barrel dropped him 2 1/2 4 shot

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from Hank111 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Here in Iowa we are getting down to the last week of turkey. My 15 and 8 year old boys and I bowhunt our turkeys and hold out for the long spurred 3 yr old plus toms. Every older bird we have ever shot had a green leg or green spots in his breast for a previous years injury. This morning I saw 14 gobblers, 3 had tails shot out, 2 were limp;ing and one I have been watching all spring thats head looks like elephant man. He has a deep crease across his head and his face, throat and neck is swelled the size of a softball. He struts and kinda gobbles, but acts normal. The point is, gobblers are tough and can survive alot, but too many guys get them as close as they can, then open fire. If you hold off the trigger untill they are in your effective range, it should not matter what shot you use. We shoot most of our toms with bow, under 15 yards.

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from bowhrad wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I am amazed at how turkeys all of a sudden needed a 2 oz. or 2 1/4 oz. payload to kill them once turkey hunting became outrageously popular. With the turkey popularity onset, shotshell manufacturers quickly ramped up elephant-killer loads to "meet the demand." Those old buffered lead duck and geese loads that we couldn't use anymore thanks to Federal restrictions made wonderful turkey loads too! Our turkey guns in the 80's were 2 3/4" chambered 12 gauges with a good tight choke. Savvy shotgunners had their forcing cones lengthened to ease the shot charge down the barrel, reduce pellet deformities and achieve nice dense patterns with hard (preferably copper-plated) shot. Not many had 3" chambered shotguns at the time. We managed with 1 1/2oz. loads and handloaded 1 5/8oz. loads. The surprising thing was, when I purchased my first "turkey" gun with a 3" chamber in the early 90's, those same 2 3/4" loads shot very well thanks to the extra chamber length. I've never taken a 50 yard shot like many people say they take, and have taken all of my birds under 35 yards. Cover here in the East is pretty thick. I like #5's, but the old 2 3/4" 4x6 Duplex load was a favorite and I had good luck handloading a 5x6 buffered duplex load using buffered shotshell load data from Tom Roster.

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from NolanOsborne wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

For what its worth..
Hunters seem to always want guns that will shoot to distances much further than any of us ever shoot at. I have shot 3 turkeys, one at 40 yds, one at 14 yds, and one last friday morning at 7 yds. Can my shotgun/choke/shell combo pattern well at 50 or 55 yards? Yes! Is it really necessary? Answer that yourself...

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from tom warner wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Everyone has different opinion. All I can say is that I have been hunting the big birds for 30 years, am on my 92nd bird, and like #6 hevi-shot the best. I have killed quite a few birds out to 50 yards - paced off. My Browning auto 5 throws a great pattern. Tried various sized shot over the years, and all seem OK. I am just hoping that I can make it to bird 100 before I hit 80 yrs. To each his own.

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from elmer f. wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

thanx david, i am not a turkey hunter, but some day, my son may be. i wrote down your formula and entered it into my hunting notebook so he would have it if he decides to hunt them. that will be about the only advice i can give him other than smell clean, try to be down wind, be "vewy qwiet" and still, and have good camo. i personally have never had much trouble finding, or getting fairly close to turkey. but not hunting them probably has something to do with that. i have had them so close while deer hunting that if i had a machette, i could have cut their fool head off. of course i have had deer that close as well. trying to raise a weapon at that range though, is nearly impossible.

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from Bella wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I would like to hunt Turkeys, but as my dad never hunted and my husband is a writer not a hunter one has the difficulty of finding a mentor for instruction in the finer points of turkey hunting. I understand the best thing is to know where they roost and where they goo to water and wait for 'em somewhere appropriate to walk by. Then there is the gobbling thing, I suppose I need to rent a video.
I love my woods and cherish any activity that gives me the excuse to be out there. I have had the turkey hens visit us in our driveway begging for the chickens layer pellets, so close that I coulda kicked one with my barn boot. But that ain't sporting or nice, I'd rather wait and learn how to hunt 'em right. Hope I find that mentor someday, at 50+ I might be running out of time...

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from Gritz wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I would like some real advice. I hunted the last two turkeys I got with a 20 gauge because it is a nice pump with a turkey choke. I used close range shots and had success. 2 shots, 2 turkeys. But they were younger drakes and the last one I got was down but I had to finish off with a few .22's to the head. I have a 12 gauge but it is a single shot with modified choke only. Both can handle 3 inch loads. Since I have never had to use a second shot yet but my question is, given that I only shoot 35 yards or less, would it be better for me to use a 12 with only a modified choke or a 20 with the screw in turkey choke? I am comfortable with both but would hate to wound a turkey knowing that I had a better option sitting at home. If someone has any experience with using less than a turkey choke please let me know. Thanks.

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from Tom-Tom wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My Model 12 3in. full choke consistently patterns #5 loads over 4's and 6's in all of my tests. 1 and 5/8oz. beats the 1 and 7/8oz. every time. The heavier loads can't compete with either. Never underestimate the confidence factor you get by testing your shotgun/load. Get confidence in your gun and in your skill/ability. In forty years I've hunted thick river-bottom timber, swamps and open fields. My best advice is to get the turkey within your effective range before pulling the trigger.

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from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Bella no doubt you would be an able aprentice. Too bad you are not down this way as I greatly enjoy mentoring new turkey hunters.

As for shot size... I've used #5's for quite some time now. When Federal came out with the flight control wad I found the circle complete. In my turkey guns both the 3.5 inch (Benelli) and the 3 inch (Remington 870) pattern the Federal Premium copper plated 5's like a screen door. At 40 yards using HS Undertaker Choke tubes either load will avarage 18 or better in the skull and neck bone area of a standard turkey target. I made an underestimated shot on a tom this spring at near 50 yards with the 3.5 inch Benelli, the bird was on his back dead as a hammer when I got to him. The on board computer malfunctioned that morning as I thought the bird to be at 40 plus maybe 1 or 2...

I've never been one to take long shots on Gobblers. I learned to hunt Turkey with a Browning Sweet 16 and a high brass 1 1/8 ounce load of #6 shot. In the palmetto swamps where I grew up shots were seldom more than 20-25 yards and they all dropped dead even at 30 which was my limit. I still try to keep my shots at 40 or less. With the Federal Premium Flite Control loads one had better hold a fine bead at 20!

I've found 6's and 5's to be the most effective for me over the years, finally settling on 5's. I've never had much use for 4's as I've found patern density to be less than I prefer.

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from Tony C. wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I've killed turkeys to 45 or 50 yards with 3-1/2 No. 6s, but you've got to put your foot on their neck when you get to them.

I toted 5s this year, came close, but never got to pull the trigger.

Early in my turkey career, I used Remington's Duplex 2x6s and kilt some birds. I'm going to try their 4x6 loads next year.

The problem is that not every gun patterns well with 4s, but it's hard to find a turkey gun that doesn't shoot a good pattern with 6s.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Admittedly, I am not a great turkey hunter, but every bird I have fired at with a load of Federal copper plated #4's with my 26" Remington 870 Super Magnum through a Carlson turkey choke has expired rather quickly. No second shots, no neck breaking or head crushing required. I probably won't make it out to the turkey woods this spring. Oh well, maybe there's next year.

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from JD wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Bella, Jump in with all your confidence jacked up! Turkey hunt once and you'll be hooked. Select a comfortable shotgun that's not glossy (camo is best) and accepts screw in chokes. Extra Full is what you want, any turkey tube nowdays is good. Pattern it in paper start with #5 shot, I like that best. Once you have a load that patterns well, grab your license, your best woods camo including face mask and pull up a seat in the woods. It rivals deer hunting for excitement, so enjoy the great springtime woods. You can buy a decent "push plunger" call to start with and work from that to other styles. I advise taking a small blaze orange rag along for the walk to and from, especially if you get a bird. Tie it to him on the walk out, for safety.

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from JD wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Oops should say pattern it ON paper. Keyboard must have shrunk....

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from brutherford wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The best shot size for turkeys is what your gun and choke likes best, in my experience. My 11-70 shoots Winchester turkey loads in #6 wonderfuly well and doesn't shoot 5s worth a flip. Digests Federals in either 5 or 6 almost as well. However, the Winchester 6s in my gun have killed every bird I've shot. I have the pellet counts somewhere, but the minutae isn't important here. What is, is the fact that you need to find out.

Interestingly, change chokes (same brand but one is ported) and everything falls apart. The ported choke doesn't shoot anything well in my gun. In yours, it might turn turkey heads into jelly. Which is why you need to pattern before you camo up.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Happy Myles has made it back from Cameroon! We talked on the land line yesterday. He had some great excitement but that is his story to tell. Hopefully we will be chasing Kansas gobblers next week if he can make it out.
Like rifles each shotgun is different and should be patterned to determine the best load and range limits of the gun. My 12 ga 3.5 inch Benelli SBE turkey gun loves the high velicity #6 (1 5/8 oz?) Remington HD ammo. It actually patterns better than the heavier (2 1/4 oz?) load. Haven't had to buy ammo in a few 'cause only need two shots each year. Hope they still make that load when I need another box. When I missguessed the range like Bee it hammered a 23 lb gobbler stone dead. Later I used my lazer rangefinder and it was 64 yds. The old birds head had 4 pellet holes not counting whatever hit the neck. I would never use lead shot loads again. HD gives me a greater margin for error.
BTW last week when the chance came to buy a Bushnell Trophy 1-4X turkey scope for a bargain price I jumped on it. It worked great! I could see the bird much better in the dim shadows of early morning with the scope. It was a bang flop of course. The pictures are in my photo files. Story is in message boards-turkey roost-how is your season...

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from philbourjaily wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Gritz -- a lot of turkey hunters, myself included, spend way too much time worrying about super-tight long range patterns. I killed my first turkey at 35 yards with a Modified choke 12 and 1 1/2 ounces of 5s. I think 3-inch 6s would be a better choice in your 12. If you want more reach, go to HeviShot or, in lead, Federal Flitecontrol.
Find a load that puts at least 100 holes in a 10-inch circle at your maximum range. I shoot a 3-inch 20 with an HS Undertaker and Federal Heavyweight now, and it is deadly even at long range.

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from Zermoid wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use a 12 Ga. 3 inch magnum with 2 oz. of copper plated, buffered, #4 shot. Put's them down out to 50 yds with my Savage Pump. It says Mod on the barrel but it shoots like a full or better. I've rolled squirrels with a 1 1/8 load of #6 at almost 50 yds. Ain't never selling that gun!

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from Zermoid wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

BTW, that's copper plated lead shot, in case you were wondering.....

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from Gritz wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Thanks for the tip philbourjaily. I am glad to hear that a modified choke is not necessarily unethical to hunt with. I might pick up a range of loads this summer and just make a day out of it. The gun I did use the last two seasons was an 870 rem in 20 with an undertaker choke. I've got a few different loads for that gun that are all 3 inch. 6s, 5s, and a a HD#4. The copper plated 5's are what I used the first year and the pattern was a little loose. It did the trick but I had a more than a few pellets in the body of the turkey. The light load (1.25 oz) of #6s is what I used this Spring and it did a job enough to get a turkey with one shot (+ a few rounds of .22 in the head to finish) and there were only two or three pellets in the shot side of the breast. That I can live with but I feel bad for my old 12 gauge because it was the first gun I ever owned and I haven't had it out of the armory in almost 3 years. It is good to have choices anyways.
Adios.

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from MLH wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Couldn't decide between 4 or 6 shot last year - was down to just an old fixed choke modified 12 gauge. Settled on the Remington 2-3/4" Duplex 4x6 load - 1-1/2 ounces of shot at 1,260 fps or so. Patterns well at 40 yards. Tom never saw it coming - recoil took me a bit by surprise, too. Will use it again this year, but will remember to lean into the gun a bit more.

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from sarg wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Well, I've never turkey hunted but last fall bought some equipment just in case. I bought a box of the Duplex shells, 4's over 6's.... I know this has reduced the number of either shot, but has anyone used these before...What about it Del, I saw the birds you got this spring. Nice birds.

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from sarg wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Sorry, MLh, Didn't read your post about the Duplex shell...

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from fisherman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I have only shot two turkeys, but both fell like a ton of bricks. I have never missed one either. I shoot copper-plated #5s in 3" 12-ga.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The truth is if you are well within the range of your equipment it doesn't really matter what shot size you use. Where that becomes important is when you get near the maximum range. That is why trying different loads is criticle to find out just how far you can reliably kill a turkey. HD shot in most cases will add 10-15 yds to your range. Number 6 HD shot has energy to penetrate and kill much better than lead #6's given reasonable velocity.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Sarg, Sorry I have not tried the duplex loads.

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from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My first turkey fell to 12g-3inch hevi load#5, upon the suggestion of a friend; way too much power for Turkey taking in my opinion... that was a few years ago. Since then I taken more then a dozen birds with 2.75in #6(high brass) with the majority being 1 shot kills.
This has been my experience...

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from fisherman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My #5s seem to have great knockdown power. Both my turkeys have been shot at 26 yards or less. In my opinion the 6s don't have enough power to make them worth the extra pellets, and as for 4s, who cares about downrange energy when your pattern is going to fall apart? #5s seem like a great go-between. Have never used the duplex loads, but they might be good for open country like SD where the bird might hold up far away or sneak up close with a hill.

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from rabbitpolice88 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use 3.5 inch number 5 shot Winchester ammo, at 30 yards I get 20 plus pellets in the kill zone and about 12 at 40 yards.

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from 007 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The best shot size for turkeys is the one, within reason, that your gun shoots the best, say size 4's thru 6's perhaps. I would like to shoot 5's but my Savage overruled that with it's obvious preference for Federal 2 oz. 6's.

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from Xtremebowhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I personally shoot 3 inch 4 shot and i have killed 4 turkeys between 60-70 yards. Believe it or not. I havent shot over 70 and never will but it can definately be done. I used to only shoot out to 40 but it seemed like many turkeys got away because I thought that was too far to shoot. Its not at all. And also i have never hit one that i didnt kill at that far either and ive killed many.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Xtremebowhunter

The last turkey I killed was out nearly at the range you mentioned and he went bang-flop-flap-flap from a load of Federal 3 1/2 inch 4's. I usually try to get them in closer, but it was a last day, last hour bird. If you can make the shot with a load that patterns...then go for it!

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from ingebrigtsen wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Size 4 in lead/alloy and 3 in steel. enough pellets to pattern nicely but big enough to get the job done. under 40 yards it cant fail. if it does u missed or there is something wrong with your shottie. almost 20 years experience to back it up.Nuff said.

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from spiaailtli wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

After reading the Winchester study that was published some 15 (or more) years ago I too their advise and have been happy. Back then they more openly stated #5 lead was the only real choice. They said #6 didn't have enough energy and #4 not enough pattern, at the then stated 50 yards. Now one can use #6 in some of the better non-lead loads. The other interesting thing they stated was 1 5/8 oz loads was the magic load. They offered 2 oz loads but stated in all the guns they tested the patterns were much better in the lighter load. They thought it might be due to the heavy loads having more shot mashed or mangled trying to get out of the tube. It has proven so in all of my turkey guns too.

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from crm3006 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

JMHO, but I think turkey hunters suffer from "gobbler fever". I've never gone out and set up to hunt turkeys, they were just too plentiful, and easy to kill. I have killed turkeys with a .22 LR, .222 Remington, .30-'06, .243 Win. and every shotgun gauge except the 10 and 28. (Mainly because I don't own them.) Shooting with shotguns, I have put meat on the table with #4 buckshot,
#2, #4, #6, and even #7½s out of an exceptionally tight shooting 16 gauge. I think y'all are over thinking the turkey shooting thing.

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from tom warner wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Everyone has different opinion. All I can say is that I have been hunting the big birds for 30 years, am on my 92nd bird, and like #6 hevi-shot the best. I have killed quite a few birds out to 50 yards - paced off. My Browning auto 5 throws a great pattern. Tried various sized shot over the years, and all seem OK. I am just hoping that I can make it to bird 100 before I hit 80 yrs. To each his own.

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from buckhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

A turkey hunting buddy of mine is a veterinarian who x-rays his birds after each shot to find the pellets. After x-rays of 8 birds he has found no more than 2 pellets in the head of the dead turkey. Many of the birds had only one pellet.

Is he lucky or is that the norm?

I know at a turkey shoot a couple weeks ago many of the guys were putting only 3-4 holes in a playing card at 35 yards.

The guy that won the shoot put 14 holes in a card and he aimed 9 inches below the card. Just FYI.

Next time I see him I will have to ask what size shot he uses.

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from RileyDog13 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Advice to me from a friend who's well into triple digit gobblers follows but may be summarized as bigger (and faster and more) is better:

#4 is the all around best in my opinion. I shoot 4x5x7 heavishot in my 10 gauge. Bad shit. I also shoot #5 nickel plated which is also devastating. Remember though these are the hotrod shells but I strongly recommend them. They are expensive but you really aren’t shooting that many anyway. nitrocompany.com/ When I shot a 12 gauge 3 inch I would always shoot #4 and they could easily kill birds to 50 yards. I would not shoot 6’s because they do not consistently kill beyond 40 yards. Judging precise distances can be difficult as we all know. Pattern your gun but shoot nothing smaller than 5 shot.

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from TJ wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I've shot turkeys at 65 yardswith my bow, but I've shot far more with an Ithaca Mag 10 with number 4s not because that it is necessarily the best, but it's what my grandfather started me with when I was little and it kills turkeys very effectively and you don't have to pick out many bbs. If it ain't broke don't fix it.

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from ishawooa wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I'm not much of a turkey hunter but I do intently observe any kind of hunting. Consequently one of the best turkey hunters that I ever knew only used #6s. Invariably he hunted thick timber resulting in very close shots. Another fellow whom I always felt was almost as good fired both #4s and #6s depending on the environment in which he was located and perhaps what was in his pocket at the time of need.

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from ishawooa wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

buckhunter: Slightly off topic but regarding lethal hits, my wife once fired at a running whitetail buck at what proved later to be 85 yards. She was holding a 12 gauge Bronwing A-5 with a IC barrel loaded with #2 buckshot. We had just walked out of the timber and looked down a powerline clearing when the deer ran across. She basically threw the gun up and shot before I could stop her. The buck dropped almost immediately into a pile. Upon examination I found only one hole with blood high above and in front of his left hip. Later when I pulled his hide off I saw the first shot had penetrated the rear tip of his spinal cord. Closer examination revealed another hit in the rear of his neck which also penetrated his spine. Talk about luck. It was a nice 4 x 4 which was the first one she had ever shot at in her life. Same old deal, "hit 'em in the right place" or "better to be lucky than good."

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from Manbearpig wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use Federal 3.5" #6 shot. The more pellets in the air the better, but thats just me.

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from Nebraskahunter18 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I shot my first turkey a while ago and the first shot and he hopped up and started to run i didnt know if i had hit him well enough and so i shot again and at 31 yds 12 guage 22in barrel dropped him 2 1/2 4 shot

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from Hank111 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Here in Iowa we are getting down to the last week of turkey. My 15 and 8 year old boys and I bowhunt our turkeys and hold out for the long spurred 3 yr old plus toms. Every older bird we have ever shot had a green leg or green spots in his breast for a previous years injury. This morning I saw 14 gobblers, 3 had tails shot out, 2 were limp;ing and one I have been watching all spring thats head looks like elephant man. He has a deep crease across his head and his face, throat and neck is swelled the size of a softball. He struts and kinda gobbles, but acts normal. The point is, gobblers are tough and can survive alot, but too many guys get them as close as they can, then open fire. If you hold off the trigger untill they are in your effective range, it should not matter what shot you use. We shoot most of our toms with bow, under 15 yards.

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from bowhrad wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I am amazed at how turkeys all of a sudden needed a 2 oz. or 2 1/4 oz. payload to kill them once turkey hunting became outrageously popular. With the turkey popularity onset, shotshell manufacturers quickly ramped up elephant-killer loads to "meet the demand." Those old buffered lead duck and geese loads that we couldn't use anymore thanks to Federal restrictions made wonderful turkey loads too! Our turkey guns in the 80's were 2 3/4" chambered 12 gauges with a good tight choke. Savvy shotgunners had their forcing cones lengthened to ease the shot charge down the barrel, reduce pellet deformities and achieve nice dense patterns with hard (preferably copper-plated) shot. Not many had 3" chambered shotguns at the time. We managed with 1 1/2oz. loads and handloaded 1 5/8oz. loads. The surprising thing was, when I purchased my first "turkey" gun with a 3" chamber in the early 90's, those same 2 3/4" loads shot very well thanks to the extra chamber length. I've never taken a 50 yard shot like many people say they take, and have taken all of my birds under 35 yards. Cover here in the East is pretty thick. I like #5's, but the old 2 3/4" 4x6 Duplex load was a favorite and I had good luck handloading a 5x6 buffered duplex load using buffered shotshell load data from Tom Roster.

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from NolanOsborne wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

For what its worth..
Hunters seem to always want guns that will shoot to distances much further than any of us ever shoot at. I have shot 3 turkeys, one at 40 yds, one at 14 yds, and one last friday morning at 7 yds. Can my shotgun/choke/shell combo pattern well at 50 or 55 yards? Yes! Is it really necessary? Answer that yourself...

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from elmer f. wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

thanx david, i am not a turkey hunter, but some day, my son may be. i wrote down your formula and entered it into my hunting notebook so he would have it if he decides to hunt them. that will be about the only advice i can give him other than smell clean, try to be down wind, be "vewy qwiet" and still, and have good camo. i personally have never had much trouble finding, or getting fairly close to turkey. but not hunting them probably has something to do with that. i have had them so close while deer hunting that if i had a machette, i could have cut their fool head off. of course i have had deer that close as well. trying to raise a weapon at that range though, is nearly impossible.

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from Bella wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I would like to hunt Turkeys, but as my dad never hunted and my husband is a writer not a hunter one has the difficulty of finding a mentor for instruction in the finer points of turkey hunting. I understand the best thing is to know where they roost and where they goo to water and wait for 'em somewhere appropriate to walk by. Then there is the gobbling thing, I suppose I need to rent a video.
I love my woods and cherish any activity that gives me the excuse to be out there. I have had the turkey hens visit us in our driveway begging for the chickens layer pellets, so close that I coulda kicked one with my barn boot. But that ain't sporting or nice, I'd rather wait and learn how to hunt 'em right. Hope I find that mentor someday, at 50+ I might be running out of time...

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from Gritz wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I would like some real advice. I hunted the last two turkeys I got with a 20 gauge because it is a nice pump with a turkey choke. I used close range shots and had success. 2 shots, 2 turkeys. But they were younger drakes and the last one I got was down but I had to finish off with a few .22's to the head. I have a 12 gauge but it is a single shot with modified choke only. Both can handle 3 inch loads. Since I have never had to use a second shot yet but my question is, given that I only shoot 35 yards or less, would it be better for me to use a 12 with only a modified choke or a 20 with the screw in turkey choke? I am comfortable with both but would hate to wound a turkey knowing that I had a better option sitting at home. If someone has any experience with using less than a turkey choke please let me know. Thanks.

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from Tom-Tom wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My Model 12 3in. full choke consistently patterns #5 loads over 4's and 6's in all of my tests. 1 and 5/8oz. beats the 1 and 7/8oz. every time. The heavier loads can't compete with either. Never underestimate the confidence factor you get by testing your shotgun/load. Get confidence in your gun and in your skill/ability. In forty years I've hunted thick river-bottom timber, swamps and open fields. My best advice is to get the turkey within your effective range before pulling the trigger.

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from JD wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Bella, Jump in with all your confidence jacked up! Turkey hunt once and you'll be hooked. Select a comfortable shotgun that's not glossy (camo is best) and accepts screw in chokes. Extra Full is what you want, any turkey tube nowdays is good. Pattern it in paper start with #5 shot, I like that best. Once you have a load that patterns well, grab your license, your best woods camo including face mask and pull up a seat in the woods. It rivals deer hunting for excitement, so enjoy the great springtime woods. You can buy a decent "push plunger" call to start with and work from that to other styles. I advise taking a small blaze orange rag along for the walk to and from, especially if you get a bird. Tie it to him on the walk out, for safety.

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from philbourjaily wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Gritz -- a lot of turkey hunters, myself included, spend way too much time worrying about super-tight long range patterns. I killed my first turkey at 35 yards with a Modified choke 12 and 1 1/2 ounces of 5s. I think 3-inch 6s would be a better choice in your 12. If you want more reach, go to HeviShot or, in lead, Federal Flitecontrol.
Find a load that puts at least 100 holes in a 10-inch circle at your maximum range. I shoot a 3-inch 20 with an HS Undertaker and Federal Heavyweight now, and it is deadly even at long range.

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from Ralph the Rifleman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My first turkey fell to 12g-3inch hevi load#5, upon the suggestion of a friend; way too much power for Turkey taking in my opinion... that was a few years ago. Since then I taken more then a dozen birds with 2.75in #6(high brass) with the majority being 1 shot kills.
This has been my experience...

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from fisherman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

My #5s seem to have great knockdown power. Both my turkeys have been shot at 26 yards or less. In my opinion the 6s don't have enough power to make them worth the extra pellets, and as for 4s, who cares about downrange energy when your pattern is going to fall apart? #5s seem like a great go-between. Have never used the duplex loads, but they might be good for open country like SD where the bird might hold up far away or sneak up close with a hill.

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from Xtremebowhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I personally shoot 3 inch 4 shot and i have killed 4 turkeys between 60-70 yards. Believe it or not. I havent shot over 70 and never will but it can definately be done. I used to only shoot out to 40 but it seemed like many turkeys got away because I thought that was too far to shoot. Its not at all. And also i have never hit one that i didnt kill at that far either and ive killed many.

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from beanap wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

how would a shot such as say black cloud for waterfowl work?

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from beanap wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

on turkeys

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from Beekeeper wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Bella no doubt you would be an able aprentice. Too bad you are not down this way as I greatly enjoy mentoring new turkey hunters.

As for shot size... I've used #5's for quite some time now. When Federal came out with the flight control wad I found the circle complete. In my turkey guns both the 3.5 inch (Benelli) and the 3 inch (Remington 870) pattern the Federal Premium copper plated 5's like a screen door. At 40 yards using HS Undertaker Choke tubes either load will avarage 18 or better in the skull and neck bone area of a standard turkey target. I made an underestimated shot on a tom this spring at near 50 yards with the 3.5 inch Benelli, the bird was on his back dead as a hammer when I got to him. The on board computer malfunctioned that morning as I thought the bird to be at 40 plus maybe 1 or 2...

I've never been one to take long shots on Gobblers. I learned to hunt Turkey with a Browning Sweet 16 and a high brass 1 1/8 ounce load of #6 shot. In the palmetto swamps where I grew up shots were seldom more than 20-25 yards and they all dropped dead even at 30 which was my limit. I still try to keep my shots at 40 or less. With the Federal Premium Flite Control loads one had better hold a fine bead at 20!

I've found 6's and 5's to be the most effective for me over the years, finally settling on 5's. I've never had much use for 4's as I've found patern density to be less than I prefer.

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from Tony C. wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I've killed turkeys to 45 or 50 yards with 3-1/2 No. 6s, but you've got to put your foot on their neck when you get to them.

I toted 5s this year, came close, but never got to pull the trigger.

Early in my turkey career, I used Remington's Duplex 2x6s and kilt some birds. I'm going to try their 4x6 loads next year.

The problem is that not every gun patterns well with 4s, but it's hard to find a turkey gun that doesn't shoot a good pattern with 6s.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Admittedly, I am not a great turkey hunter, but every bird I have fired at with a load of Federal copper plated #4's with my 26" Remington 870 Super Magnum through a Carlson turkey choke has expired rather quickly. No second shots, no neck breaking or head crushing required. I probably won't make it out to the turkey woods this spring. Oh well, maybe there's next year.

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from JD wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Oops should say pattern it ON paper. Keyboard must have shrunk....

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from brutherford wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The best shot size for turkeys is what your gun and choke likes best, in my experience. My 11-70 shoots Winchester turkey loads in #6 wonderfuly well and doesn't shoot 5s worth a flip. Digests Federals in either 5 or 6 almost as well. However, the Winchester 6s in my gun have killed every bird I've shot. I have the pellet counts somewhere, but the minutae isn't important here. What is, is the fact that you need to find out.

Interestingly, change chokes (same brand but one is ported) and everything falls apart. The ported choke doesn't shoot anything well in my gun. In yours, it might turn turkey heads into jelly. Which is why you need to pattern before you camo up.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Happy Myles has made it back from Cameroon! We talked on the land line yesterday. He had some great excitement but that is his story to tell. Hopefully we will be chasing Kansas gobblers next week if he can make it out.
Like rifles each shotgun is different and should be patterned to determine the best load and range limits of the gun. My 12 ga 3.5 inch Benelli SBE turkey gun loves the high velicity #6 (1 5/8 oz?) Remington HD ammo. It actually patterns better than the heavier (2 1/4 oz?) load. Haven't had to buy ammo in a few 'cause only need two shots each year. Hope they still make that load when I need another box. When I missguessed the range like Bee it hammered a 23 lb gobbler stone dead. Later I used my lazer rangefinder and it was 64 yds. The old birds head had 4 pellet holes not counting whatever hit the neck. I would never use lead shot loads again. HD gives me a greater margin for error.
BTW last week when the chance came to buy a Bushnell Trophy 1-4X turkey scope for a bargain price I jumped on it. It worked great! I could see the bird much better in the dim shadows of early morning with the scope. It was a bang flop of course. The pictures are in my photo files. Story is in message boards-turkey roost-how is your season...

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from Zermoid wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use a 12 Ga. 3 inch magnum with 2 oz. of copper plated, buffered, #4 shot. Put's them down out to 50 yds with my Savage Pump. It says Mod on the barrel but it shoots like a full or better. I've rolled squirrels with a 1 1/8 load of #6 at almost 50 yds. Ain't never selling that gun!

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from Zermoid wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

BTW, that's copper plated lead shot, in case you were wondering.....

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from Gritz wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Thanks for the tip philbourjaily. I am glad to hear that a modified choke is not necessarily unethical to hunt with. I might pick up a range of loads this summer and just make a day out of it. The gun I did use the last two seasons was an 870 rem in 20 with an undertaker choke. I've got a few different loads for that gun that are all 3 inch. 6s, 5s, and a a HD#4. The copper plated 5's are what I used the first year and the pattern was a little loose. It did the trick but I had a more than a few pellets in the body of the turkey. The light load (1.25 oz) of #6s is what I used this Spring and it did a job enough to get a turkey with one shot (+ a few rounds of .22 in the head to finish) and there were only two or three pellets in the shot side of the breast. That I can live with but I feel bad for my old 12 gauge because it was the first gun I ever owned and I haven't had it out of the armory in almost 3 years. It is good to have choices anyways.
Adios.

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from MLH wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Couldn't decide between 4 or 6 shot last year - was down to just an old fixed choke modified 12 gauge. Settled on the Remington 2-3/4" Duplex 4x6 load - 1-1/2 ounces of shot at 1,260 fps or so. Patterns well at 40 yards. Tom never saw it coming - recoil took me a bit by surprise, too. Will use it again this year, but will remember to lean into the gun a bit more.

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from sarg wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Well, I've never turkey hunted but last fall bought some equipment just in case. I bought a box of the Duplex shells, 4's over 6's.... I know this has reduced the number of either shot, but has anyone used these before...What about it Del, I saw the birds you got this spring. Nice birds.

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from sarg wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Sorry, MLh, Didn't read your post about the Duplex shell...

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from fisherman wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I have only shot two turkeys, but both fell like a ton of bricks. I have never missed one either. I shoot copper-plated #5s in 3" 12-ga.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The truth is if you are well within the range of your equipment it doesn't really matter what shot size you use. Where that becomes important is when you get near the maximum range. That is why trying different loads is criticle to find out just how far you can reliably kill a turkey. HD shot in most cases will add 10-15 yds to your range. Number 6 HD shot has energy to penetrate and kill much better than lead #6's given reasonable velocity.

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from Del in KS wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Sarg, Sorry I have not tried the duplex loads.

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from rabbitpolice88 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

I use 3.5 inch number 5 shot Winchester ammo, at 30 yards I get 20 plus pellets in the kill zone and about 12 at 40 yards.

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from 007 wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

The best shot size for turkeys is the one, within reason, that your gun shoots the best, say size 4's thru 6's perhaps. I would like to shoot 5's but my Savage overruled that with it's obvious preference for Federal 2 oz. 6's.

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from WA Mtnhunter wrote 3 years 49 weeks ago

Xtremebowhunter

The last turkey I killed was out nearly at the range you mentioned and he went bang-flop-flap-flap from a load of Federal 3 1/2 inch 4's. I usually try to get them in closer, but it was a last day, last hour bird. If you can make the shot with a load that patterns...then go for it!

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