Having the right gear is crucial in any hunting scenario. With turkey hunting, choke tubes can be a very important part of effectiveness. For many years, turkey hunting just meant grabbing the scattergun and trying to persuade a gobbling longbeard to get within 35 yards or less. Times change, and with time gear and tactics change. We soon learned that we wanted shotguns to throw a tighter pattern, preferably one that would take down turkeys at 40 yards at least. With traditional lead loads and factory-full chokes, some guys managed to kill birds within 50 yards. Before long as turkey hunting became more popular, loads such as Winchester’s longbeard XR and tungsten super shot took the crowd’s attention. Now loads can kill turkeys 60 yards and further with a proper shotgun setup. Of course, the end goal is to always get that bird as close as possible, but it really is amazing how far technology has advanced. A few factors come into play when choosing a choke tube, such as the ammunition you’ll be using, the constriction, and the distance you’ll be shooting. I have shot a few different choke tube brands through a few different brands of shotguns. I will take you through what I have done and allow you to make your own assumption.
Sometimes the “best pattern”, is not the best pattern at all. Many first-time turkey hunters believe the tighter the pattern, the better the pattern. That is not always the case. A good example is if you are shooting lead #4s, #5s, or #6s and your patterns are ultra-dense at 30 or 40 yards, you better be aiming very carefully if a bird comes within 15 yards because your pattern very well may be the size of a softball. A lot of turkeys are missed because of this approach. This food for thought would apply to turkey hunters who are targeting hardwoods more than hunters who are hunting large ag fields or farmland. But it’s still something to consider for everyone.
One thing I would try and figure out right off the bat is what shotgun you will be using. Unless you want to throw away a lot of money towards a bunch of chokes for a bunch of shotguns, I would recommend it. Most choke tube manufacturers make a turkey choke for most of the modern-day turkey shotguns. I have found that Indian Creek, Jeb’s, Kicks, and Carlson’s have all performed very well with most loads. Research the choke tubes you are interested in and go with the one you believe will suit you best for your style of hunting. Pick up a few different loads of ammunition. Pick your shotgun and do some shooting.
A standard rule of thumb is to start at 20 yards. I used to drawl my own turkey targets, which work fine, but now I use the ones from Birchwood Casey. They are great because you can easily identify where every pellet hits. Using a large target backstop is another fantastic idea because you can see how wide your spread is at various distances. Shoot 20 yards, then 30, 40, 50, and even 60 if you plan on needing to shoot that far. If you can get a pattern to evenly cover the target at 40 yards, you’ve just made it to home plate.
Choke tube constrictions and what kind of shot you’ll be shooting are two important factors to consider. Most of it comes down to how much money you want to spend. Constrictions are straightforward. The tighter the choke constriction, the tighter the pattern. And vice versa. If you are primarily hunting large ag fields, a tighter choke tube and #4 lead shot or #9 tss shot will favor you. If you are mostly going to be one with the trees deep in the hardwoods, a less constrictive choke tube with #6 lead or #7 tss may be up your alley.
Shotgun Chokes Testing
For most of my time as a turkey hunter, I have stuck with my Remington 870 20 gauge. I have shot a factory turkey choke (.560), Kick’s gobblin’ thunder (.570), Jeb’s headhunter (.555), Indian Creek black diamond strike (.555), Carlson’s longbeard XR (.560), and H.S. Strut undertaker (not sure). Last spring, I decided to shoot Winchester double X, Winchester longbeard XR, Remington nitro turkey, Rogue tss, and Apex tss through every choke tube. I shot every combination at 30 yards. My shot sizes were all #5s for the lead and #9s for the tss. That is pretty standard for both loads. Both tungsten shots shined with the Indian Creek and Jeb’s chokes. The Apex did well with the Indian Creek and the Rogue did really well with the Jeb’s. The Winchester Double X performed best with the H.S. Strut undertaker. The longbeard XR #5s were most impressed with the factory choke tube from Remington with the Carlson’s choke performing second best. The Remington nitro turkeys paired well with the factory choke as well as the Jeb’s headhunter. My favorite set up and probably what I will always stick with is the Rogue #9 tss matched with the Jeb’s headhunter .555 choke tube. The patterns from 20 yards all the way out to 60 yards perform better than all the others when tested through my 20 gauge. Take some time for yourself, shoot a few different rounds through the choke tubes of your choice at various distances, and find what is going to work best for you. I mainly hunt ag fields with patches of timber, so my setup is premium for the number of untold circumstances I could face.