Hunting Turkeys with Black Powder

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Hunting Turkeys with Black Powder

by Matt Wettish

Each year my friends and I get together before turkey season to swap old stories.  We talk about those huge longbeards we saw from our stands during whitetail season, and our flawless plans to harvest them this spring.  The stories fly about those state record gobblers that always hang up just out of range.  We talk about proven techniques and the newest innovations that make us all such great hunters, and each year we pick fun at the old muzzleloader over the fireplace.  Discussing how outdated it is and how impossible it would be to down one of today’s wily ol’ gobblers with it.

Optics like this Tru Glo red dot can be mounted just like on a regular shotgun. Doing so can help increase your accuracy dramatically.
Photo by: Author
Last year was the same routine until the topic of the black powder twelve gauge arose.  I stepped directly into the line of fire and told everyone I was going to take my birds that spring with a muzzleloading shotgun.  I withstood the barrage of jokes without physical injury, and come morning was still focused on my goal.  I drove to Traditions Firearms Company located in Old Saybrook, CT.  I told them what I wanted to do and they set me up with all necessary equipment, some helpful hints, and a “Good Luck”. 

Black powder turkey guns have come a long way from the scattergun hung above your grandfather’s fireplace.  They have evolved into machines capable of delivering highly effective, hard hitting patterns that will put the ol’ blunderbust to shame.  But, heading into the woods with one presents its own set of challenges, as the overall experience, and the odds of success change.

There is a new level of excitement involved with being confronted by a gobbler while touting a 12 ga. smoke-pole instead of a high performance turkey stomper.  The excitement comes in taking a step back to even the odds against that bird you have chased so many times before.  It’s the packing of the powder, the sound of the shot trickling down the barrel, and the capping of the gun ready for fire.  Or it may be the questions of uncertainty racing through your mind while the bird you’ve been so diligently hunting all season approaches through the trees.  The wondering if the charge will go off, if the shot has loosened from walking around, or did I pack it the same way as I did last time I shot it at the range?  These are all questions that will taunt you.

Today’s black powder turkey guns have the capability of achieving dense, effective patterns without a vast knowledge of black powder firearms or a degree in propellants.  The key to success is consistency.  Making sure every charge is the same, with the same amount of powder, pellets and pressure will ensure a repeat performance time after time. 

Adding the things that we already know increase the performance of our regular turkey guns can also increase the performance of today’s black powder 12 ga.  The addition of an aftermarket turkey choke can boost its patterning performance, and fine tuning this performance for accuracy comes easy with a red dot turkey scope or a set of fiber optic rifle sights.

A couple weeks prior to season I headed out to the range to try and get my gun shooting a good consistent pattern, and hopefully sighted in.  In my range bag, along with hearing and eye protection, I had: primers, powder, shot, wads, over-powder/shot wads, targets, and plenty of cleaning supplies.  Now, the following information is just a recommendation and a good place to start.  You should always confer with the manufacturer of your muzzleloader as to what they recommend to get the best performance from their equipment.

1. Make sure the nipple is clean and clear of obstructions.  This will ensure a fast, even and consistent ignition of the powder.

Turkey chokes are highly recommended, but must be removed prior to loading since the wad will not fit through the tightly constricted end ... always remember to put it back before shooting.
Photo by: Author
2. Take out the choke tube (preferably a “Turkey Choke”).  The constriction of a XX-Full Turkey Tube is of a smaller diameter than the wads used to hold the shot charge.  When the choke is removed the wads will fit into the barrel without forcing or bending them.

3. Utilizing the same measuring device used for shot, measure 1 1/8 oz. (volume) of powder and pour it into the barrel.  Follow it with a cardboard wad and tap it into position until you feel the powder settle. 

4. Place a 1 1/8 oz. Winchester AA shotgun wad into the barrel and push it down on top of the powder charge.  Measure off 1 1/8 oz. of shot and pour it in the barrel.  The shot will be topped with another cardboard wad to hold the shot in place.  Tap it down until you feel the shot settle.

5. Try to use the same amount of pressure time after time to increase consistency.  Try a little more or a little less pressure to see what might enhance the pattern.

6. Before you shoot, don’t forget to put the choke tube back in the gun.  It doesn’t pattern well without it (as I found out).

Powder and shot volumes can be adjusted up or down to try and find out what works best for your gun.  These measurements are just a place to start.  But remember, your maximum distance is designated by a good pattern density throughout the head and neck, and not by just a couple pellets hitting the vitals.

Gun: Traditions 12 ga. black powder muzzleloader shotgun

Scope:  TruGlo red dot scope

Choke:  Carlson’s Turkey Choke

Powder: Pyrodex RS

Wad:  Winchester AA 1 1/8 oz.

Shot:  Copper plated # 6

I stuck with the 1 1/8 oz. shot load, which isn’t very large, but it gave me a great pattern out to about thirty yards.  At that distance I could put a minimum of ten to twelve pellets in the skull and vertebrae alone every time I pulled the trigger. 

Being consistent with packing and pressure will insure patterning that will be the same shot after shot.
Photo by: Author
Once the gun was sighted in, opening day came quick and I found myself in a great position with multiple approaching hens and gobblers.  My nerves were getting to me as hens and jakes were passing me to each side.  I knew the mature birds were taking up the rear of the flock and it was just a matter of time before one showed itself.

Motionless, afraid to even blink and sitting at the base of a tree, I soon found myself being stared at by a hen.  Waiting to blow the whistle on the whole deal, she stood within a few feet of my position.  All I wanted was to see what was rustling the leaves in front of me just beyond the hill.  Soon enough, the distinctive sound of a spit-n-drum alerted me to what was on its way.  At thirty yards I saw the first sign of a fan.  Split in half by a tree, I could see only wings and tail as the bird swaggered his way towards me in full strut.  Finally, close enough to show off for his girlfriend, he decided a little dance was in order.  He did a little kick-step to the side, spun around a couple times and ended with a high head to see what his girlfriend thought.  It was then that I ruined his next number with a load of number sixes and a lot of smoke. 

It was my first black powder gobbler and I rushed through the cloud in front of me to find my trophy laying on the other side.  I had harvested many gobblers before, but none with a muzzleloader.  This was an exciting hunt with a new twist for me.  For anyone looking to get a little more out an already exciting hunt, I would highly recommend looking in to getting a muzzleloader for your next spring season.

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