I sat in the cool afternoon shade, watching the breeze sweep across the green grass of the field that I had pulled the big, timid gobbler across. It had been a spring turkey hunt at its finest. That is until I squeezed the trigger and watched the hefty longbeard take flight like a quail and disappear into the creek bottom below. I probably spent the next 10 minutes reliving the events that led up to the bird’s escape.
He had gobbled from a pretty good distance, but I knew he was committed. He took his time, but he was coming. When he got to the red zone, I clucked, knocked the safety off and let it fly.
I finally pried myself from the ground. When I walked off the distance to where he took flight, I was a bit surprised at how badly I had misjudged the distance. Fifty-four yards was what I came up with.
That was a lot of years ago, and it was about the time I got into the choke wars. There was seemingly an explosion of new choices on the market, so I dove in head first. I settled on an affordable one and kept it for several years before changing to another more popular brand. Then a few years later, I settled on one for the next 15 years. I watched a lot of birds die with the aid of that choke. I had the gun of envy for many for quite a while, but a few years ago, I began to see better patterns from friends’ chokes than what I was getting from my own. I found myself with an average choke again. I began to get a bit of a complex about it, and then my confidence began to suffer, which led to some missed birds.
In 2016, I finally decided to change chokes—again. That’s when I called the guys at JEBS Precision Choke Tubes. That call changed my whole perspective. I quickly learned that technology had simply left me behind. While guns had certainly changed, the biggest difference since the 1980s when I started turkey hunting was the improvement in turkey loads and the chokes we push them through. Shooting the proper load through the correct choke for your gun and then patterning your gun the right way will make a believer out of you.
Technique: I have always said if you have a gun that will consistently drop a bird at 40 yards, you have a killer. By consistently at that range, I mean 10 out of 10 times you pull the trigger. The best way to determine whether or not you have a killer is to put it to the test on paper. I still run into people who have no idea what their gun’s capabilities are. Pattern the gun!
I recommend shooting a 3- or 4-inch circle on a 3-foot-by-3-foot sheet of paper, cardboard or poster board at 40 yards. This will allow you to see the entire pattern and count the hits. It is also important to make sure that gun is anchored or at least firmly stationary, too. Flinches won’t tell you anything more than your gun has got you timid. I use a lead sled just because I despise beating my shoulder up over and over, and I’m not going to pull my shot.
The first thing you’ll want to see is your point of impact. If it is off center, a sight adjustment might be needed. If you have adjustable sights, it’s generally pretty simple. If you are using beads, you might consider putting adjustable sights on your gun or going to a scope of some sort. That is something you can take care of once you determine you have the best choke and load for your gun. So how do you know?
Personally, I’m looking for a gun-choke-combination that consistently gives me good pattern density and some insurance. Pattern density will reveal itself on the paper. The 40-yard range is the ideal range for me on a turkey; not necessarily the maximum range, but the ideal range.
Just for a starting point, if you are shooting a 12-gauge, I’d say if you are putting 190 to 230-plus pellets in a 10- inch circle at 40 yards and from 375 to 400-plus pellets in a 20-inch circle at 40 yards, you’re above average.
The insurance basically comes in when you misjudge the yardage a bit. Open fields and woods are tough on some, including me, and birds will often appear closer than they actually are. So, in the eventual event that I misjudge the distance, I still have the coverage I need to get the bird. I’d say with a gun patterning in the ranges above, I can count on 10 out of 10 dying at 40 yards, nine out of 10 at 50 and seven out of 10 at 60 yards. That’s providing I’m doing everything right on my end, like controlling the shakes and the heavy breathing. Forty yards has always been the ideal range for me, and I know I can take a few extra yards if need be.
Obviously, different loads and shot sizes will vary. Going from 3 to 3 1/2 inches will also make a big difference. I patterned a gun recently with 3-inch No. 6 shot that put 193 hits in a 10-inch circle at 40 yards. Then I shot a 3 1/2-inch No. 6 in the same gun at the same distance, and the number of hits climbed to 268. That’s a big difference.
Technology: There is a wide gap between turkey guns of yesterday and those of today. Guns are now made specifically for busting a turkey beak, chokes are better and plenty of options for loads for turkeys abound.
The first turkey gun I bought was a Winchester 1300 12-gauge. It came with an extra-full turkey choke. That extra-full choke had a parallel diameter of .689. Parallel diameter is a term used to measure the constriction of the choke, and .689 isn’t very tight, but it was the choke that came with my turkey gun. I wasn’t blown away with it, but I did roll a few birds with that gun. Still, I knew I could do better. I now shoot a JEBS .655. I’m putting just more than 200 pellets in the 10-inch circle at 40 yards and 412 in the 20-inch circle.
Turkey chokes are far more advanced than ever before, and many companies are turning out some good chokes. I recently spoke with Bobby Sears at JEBS. The numbers back up their chokes with nine world championships and four world records in six years. That speaks volumes! It’s not coincidence or accident that awards them that type of recognition in the choke industry, and I speak firsthand that these chokes produce unbelievable shot patterns.
JEBS makes chokes for waterfowl, upland, sporting clays and, of course, turkey hunting. I asked Bobby what led him and co-owner Jimmy Washam to create their ultimate turkey choke.
“We developed the JEBS Head Hunter Turkey Choke simply because we wanted to optimize the turkey gun,” said Bobby.
This opened up a can of worms, and I was like a pig in slop for the next hour or so, bouncing one question after another off an industry leader. That question-and-answer session is below:
Donald: Back in the day, I can remember the revelation from regular chokes to specialty turkey chokes. I can recall the good old boy patterning sessions, swapping chokes and loads. Some went so far as to take chokes and mill them out. Is that a good idea?
Bobby: (laughing) No, I wouldn’t recommend that. The idea was to round a choke out in some instances, maybe change the parallel diameter a bit. Whatever the case, I think it’s dangerous. If a choke isn’t perfectly round and you try milling it out to make it round, you are going to have parts of that choke thinner in some places than others. That’s just not a good idea, and it’s dangerous.
Donald: So it’s safe to say, you are at the mercy of the industry when buying a choke?
Bobby: Yeah, but we take particular care in precision tuning our chokes. Good, tight fits and being as close as we can be to the parallel diameter we say it is. We don’t sell a choke that is over a thousandth of what it says on the package.
Donald: What is your idea of the ultimate turkey gun?
Bobby: A gun that is consistent to the 40- to 45-yard range, has a good pattern density and insurance to cover my mistakes out to a certain distance. It’s all about calling a bird in to me. If I can’t get him close, I won’t shoot him.
Donald: So, what are you looking for in pattern density?
Bobby: Basically a pattern that will cover that 20-yard circle evenly. I want to see good coverage with no holes in the pattern.
Donald: What would cause holes in the pattern?
Bobby: Chokes that are too tight can cause it. You start compressing shot if you get too tight, and then you can have clumps in the pattern in one area and holes in another. Good pattern density doesn’t have that. That’s why it’s so important to have the right load and the right choke combination.
Donald: Is there a particular choke or load that you like that gives you the best pattern?
Bobby: Well, we have shot countless loads through various choke sizes and guns. We have a pretty good idea what shoots best from a particular gun. We try to take some of the work out of it for our customers. But certainly, different chokes in tandem with different guns and loads will give you the optimum pattern.
Donald: In the past, it was common for the same choke and load to shoot entirely different in the same model gun belonging to someone else. Is that less common today?
Bobby: We think it is less common with hunters using our chokes. We make it a point to make all our variations as close to the same in each one as possible. In other words, our .655 chokes are just that. We can reach in there and randomly grab one, and it’s going to be the same as the next one we pull out. Of course, what shoots well in a Remington might shoot entirely different in a Winchester or a Mossberg.
Donald: I’d say pattern density and insurance are way more important than increased yardage. But, with the right choke coupled with today’s turkey loads, just how much more distance have we gained over the typical 40-yard turkey guns of the past?
Bobby: You can actually go back to the way things have advanced from the old 25-yard guns. We got to a point where 40 was accepted as the maximum, but now people are pushing that limit farther. I don’t condone the proverbial 60- to 70-yard shots that some people talk about, but for the most part, we have added quite a few more shot on paper to our down-range patterns. The limitations are more of an individual thing.
Donald: Many have said for years that a 10-gauge is an overkill on a turkey. Now a lot of 12s are being displaced by the 20. Couldn’t the same thing be said of heavy shot over lead and 3 1/2-inch guns?
Bobby: Better chokes and heavy shot and the TSS (Tungsten Super Shot) stuff has turned guns that used to stay on the shelf in the spring into turkey killers. The 20 gauge is lighter, and it’s easier on the shoulder. And they will get the job done.
Donald: Yeah, but you could shoot a howitzer at a turkey and never feel it!
Bobby: (Laughing) That’s true, but the point is that the shot and choke revelation has made the choices for turkey guns expand. The same argument can be made on the other end of the spectrum with the debut of the 3 1/2-inch guns. There’s a big difference in how many shot you’re throwing out there.
Donald: Yeah, on your recommendation, I went from a copper-plated No. 6 to a Nitro heavy shot No. 7 last year. Explain how you convinced my hard head to try that.
Bobby: Basically, the proof was on the paper, but the selling point was the same as it is for most. Those No. 7s are harder hitting than the 6s you were shooting, and you have more shot to boot. There’s your pattern density and insurance.
Donald: So, how much harder am I hitting with the 7s?
Bobby: With those 7s, you are hitting like 5s out to about 60 to 65 yards. It’s an easy choice when you are hitting harder and have more shot.
Donald: Are loads like the No. 4 shot becoming obsolete in the turkey woods?
Bobby: I don’t know. You still have some who won’t believe a No. 6 can kill them, and you probably won’t ever convince everybody that a Nitro No. 7 or a TSS No. 9 will kill one just as dead as the No 4s.
Donald: I’m sure there has been trial and error along the way, but JEBS is knocking down doors all over the country. What sets JEBS apart from a lot of other choke manufacturers out there?
Bobby: I’d never knock someone else’s choke. There are plenty of good ones out there, but we go through a pretty intense production process, and it is reflected in our quality. We don’t worry about what other companies are doing. We just focus on making the best choke we can. The process is strong, the material is strong and our people are family. We maintain that with an open-door policy and keep customer satisfaction at the top of our list.
Donald: I guess when you get right down to it, peace of mind weighs in equally as the gun, choke and shot you are using. I have called in a bunch of birds over the years, and the funny thing about it is that most of those birds have died under 35 yards.
Bobby: Mine too, but I’m not going back to 2 3/4-inch guns.(Laughing)
I’m agreeing with that. In the end, it’s all about calling them up tight and putting it where the metal meets the meat.