One of the most-overlooked aspects of hunting with a smoothbore is the act of getting a good pattern for your shotgun.

 Hunters are notorious for carefully sighting in their rifles and practicing with different loads at different ranges. But when it comes to shotguns, many take for granted that the pattern is good enough and do not test their shotguns. Shooting targets with heavy turkey loads is never fun, but it can be essential when it comes to making ethical shots on birds. 

Each shotgun shoots slightly different. Knowing how your shotgun will pattern at different ranges with different loads is a boost of confidence. Similar to rifles, shotguns shoot different loads differently. Brand, style and choke combinations all effect the density of the pattern at different yardages. The only way to know what your gun will do with a particular load is to shoot at targets and compare the results. 

Using a turkey target is essential, because you can count the number of pellets that wind up in the kill zone at known yardages. This lets you know not only where your shotgun puts the most shot at different distances, but the gun’s maximum range. 

With turkey shells being rather expensive, getting a hunting buddy to pattern his gun while you pattern yours can help. Each shooter brings two different boxes of shells — think Nos. 4, 5 and 6 shot in 3- and 31/2-inch 12-gauge, and each shooter shoots all four loads at 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards. 

You may even try different screw-in chokes, if applicable. Some guns may have a tighter pattern with a standard full choke over an extra-full choke with certain loads. I

It shouldn’t take long to determine which load patterns best in your gun and your buddy’s gun, and you’ll usually have plenty of shells in that load left over for the season.