Hunting wild turkeys is unlike hunting any other kind of game animal. These birds are smart and wary, which makes bagging a turkey difficult.
As a hunter, you want every edge you can get. Many turkey hunters wonder if using a turkey choke is any better than a full choke on their shotgun.
Most hunters are familiar with a shotgun choke. The term choke refers to the tapered construction at the muzzle end of a shotgun barrel.
This constriction at the muzzle of the shotgun barrel compresses the shot load as it leaves the barrel. This tends to shape the “cloud” of the shot as it flies downrange for better coverage and accuracy.
Typical Shotgun Chokes
The amount of constriction in the muzzle of a shotgun is not referenced by measurements. Traditionally, shotgun chokes have a descriptive name that indicates the amount of constriction to the shotgun bore.
These are the most used shotgun chokes and the amount of constriction added to the shotgun muzzle.
|American Choke Designation||Constriction||Percentage in 30-inch circle||Identification Markings|
|Cylinder Bore||0.00 inches||40% at 40 yards|
70% at 25 yards
|IIIII *Five notches or hash marks|
|Improved Cylinder||.01 inches||45% at 40 yards|
75% at 25 yards
|IIII *Four notches or hash marks|
|Modified||.020 inches||50% at 40 yards||III *Three notches or hash marks|
|Improved Modified||.025 inches||60% at 40 yards||II *Two notches or hash marks|
|Full||.030 inches||70% at 40 yards||I *One notch or hash mark|
|Turkey||.045 inches (or more)||75%+ at 40 yards||I *One notch or hash mark|
All the measurements are shown as reductions in the bore size from a cylinder bore. It is easy to see that there is quite a difference between a full choke and a turkey choke.
You may think that .015 inches are not much. You should remember that all the shot coming down your shotgun barrel must pass through that reduced opening.
Even this small reduction in the size of the shotgun bore can dramatically affect how the shot behaves as it leaves the shotgun barrel.
Looking at how the shotgun chokes pattern gives us a better understanding of how a reduction of a hundredth of an inch can affect a shotgun’s effectiveness.
How much does a choke affect the way the shot behaves on its way to its target? A lot, actually. Industry research in shotgun patterning is based on shooting test loads at paper targets.
The targets are usually a 30-inch circle at 40 yards. The results show what percentage of lead shot lands in the 30-inch circle at 40 yards with each type of choke.
As you can easily see. A turkey choke can put 5 percent more shot into the target at 40 yards than a full choke. Again, 5 percent may not seem like much, but anything you do to improve your odds helps tilt the game in your favor.
The Effects of Choke Selection on Turkey Hunting
This is all well and good, but how does it relate to the real world of turkey hunting. It relates closely when you are talking turkeys.
Hunting upland game birds or migratory birds such as ducks are a different ball game. Hunting turkeys requires a distinct set of considerations altogether.
Tighter is Better, Right?
The conventional wisdom is that a tighter choke means a tighter pattern. A tighter pattern gives you more range which can be important when turkey hunting.
Unfortunately, conventional wisdom may not be the best gauge for which choke to use on your shotgun.
The Problem with Shot Size
The problem comes in when you consider the size of shot you are shooting through your shotgun choke. A tighter choke may not be wise under some circumstances.
Research has shown that shot size can adversely affect the shot pattern through some chokes.
For example, if you shoot 4, 5, or 6-shot through a full or turkey choke, the shot pattern may open more than you expect.
Trying to squeeze this larger shot through a tightly constricted shotgun barrel may cause the shot pattern to blow open faster after leaving the barrel.
Steel or Lead?
Another consideration is whether the shot you use is steel or a traditional lead shot. Many states and countries have now banned using lead shot when hunting.
Lead contamination in waterways and soil from the lead shot is the reason for these bans.
Steel shot flies differently than lead shot. Lead is softer than steel and deals with the compression of a tight choke better than steel.
Steel shot through a constricted choke may bounce on each other, leading to less than desirable patterns downrange.
In addition, some older shotguns with tighter chokes may not deal well with steel shot. The harder steel may damage the choke or the barrel of the shotgun. Be sure that your shotgun and choke are compatible with steel shotshells.
Most wild turkeys in the United States are taken at distances between 30 and 55 yards. This puts your target well in the ranges used to test pattern shotgun chokes.
Consequently, you should be able to rely on industry data. However, we recommend that you pattern your shotgun with the shotshells you intend to use before you take it to the field for your turkey hunt.
There are several arguments about shot size selection for turkey hunting. Many hunters advocate for a #4 or #5 shot for turkey.
The reasoning is that the heavier shot gives better penetration into the vital areas of a turkey. There is something to be said for this argument.
On the other hand, #6 shot is not that much smaller than #5. A load of #6 shot delivers more shot to the target than either #4 or #5, which can increase the odds of enough pellets hitting a vital target to make a clean and humane kill.
In either case, the critical part is to put the shot on target at a range that ensures good penetration on a large, tough bird like a turkey. I prefer the more is better argument. #6 shot is my choice for Turkey hunting
Stacking Up Turkey Chokes and Full Choke
Logically, the only reason that turkey chokes exist is to fill a need for turkey hunters. The tighter constriction of a turkey choke versus a full chock offers tighter patterns at longer distances.
The fifteen one-thousandths of an inch difference between a turkey choke and a full chock doesn’t seem like much. But putting 5% more shot into a 30-inch circle can make the difference.
Turkey chokes give a definite advantage for hunters where distances to turkey targets are between 40 and 55 yards. This can be true of hunters using tree stands or in areas with large open areas.
A full choke may serve you better if your style of hunting brings the turkeys in closer.
Wear and tear on your choke tubes is another consideration. A turkey choke at the muzzle end of the barrel will add more wear to the choke tube.
This can be especially true if you are shooting steel shot instead of softer lead shot. Some older shotgun chokes may not be rated for steel shot. Check your equipment carefully.
This cart should help you see the pros and cons of turkey chokes and full chokes.
|Turkey Choke||Full Choke|
|Distance||40 to 55 yards||30 to 45 yards|
|Pattern||75% + at 40 yards in a 30-inch circle||70% at 40 yards in a 30-inch circle|
|Optimum Shot Size||#5 or #6||#4 or #5|
Making the Choke Decision
The type of shotshell you are shooting, the size of the shot, and the ranges you expect to hunt are all key factors. In truth, there is no one cut-and-dry answer on choke selection.
My recommendation for most turkey hunts is to choose a #6 shot in a magnum load and use a turkey choke for the best results.