Mar 10, 2016

Muzzle Loader Turkey

By: Jim Swanson

The stress was really starting to get to me.  I had been talking turkey to a tom for almost an hour, and the gobbler was planted about 75 yards away in an alfalfa field.  I was in the woods lying down next to a tree.  Every once in a while, I would cluck and purr with my wing bone call.  The tom would gobble and strut back and forth but would not come any closer.  I had managed to call the tom across the field from his roost as the day dawned but he would not come within shooting range.  The field the tom was in was private land and I was back in the woods on public land.  I needed the tom to walk to the tree line and step into the woods before I could smoke him. 

I let out a series of clucks and purrs and the gobbler jumped up in the air, flapped his wings and began to trot towards me.  I thought, “Dang, that was a good call.” As I was silently cocking the hammer on the right barrel of my muzzle loading shotgun, I noticed movement to my left.  Another tom had responded to my calling and was slinking through the woods towards me.   When the slinking tom stepped in front of my line of fire, I squeezed the trigger and the bird disappeared behind a cloud of white smoke.   I scrambled to my feet and charged through the cloud of smoke.  I quickly saw that my Pedersoli double barrel 12 gauge shot had dropped the tom in its tracks. 

The key to successful muzzleloader hunting is doing the prep work. A muzzle loading shotgun requires a lot more hands on time to make it an effective turkey gun than a modern shotgun, but the effort is more than worth it when the bird goes down.

The first task in successful muzzleloader turkey hunting is developing a well-balanced load for the gun. The load must be an effective blend that patterns well and has power.  Developing a load for a muzzle loading shotgun is more work than developing a load for a muzzle loading rifle since there are more components to work with.  Shotguns can burn 1, 2 or 3fg black powder or their modern equivalents, the amount of shot and even the size of the shot can influence how a gun patterns. The types of wads and the number of wads are also important factors in the load chain.  All the testing needed to develop a well-balanced load can get expensive, especially the flowers that one must buy to ensure regular trips to the gun range.

The process of developing a load can be simplified somewhat by picking one element at the base and changing the other variables, one at a time, until the shooter comes up with a well-balanced load.  I decided I wanted to use a 1½ oz. load of #4 shot. I then shot test targets with 70, 80 and 90 grains of both 1fg and 2fg Goex black powder. The 80 grain load patterned the best.  Next, I tried different combinations of wads until I fine-tuned the load to my satisfaction.  The final product was 80 grains of 2fg Goex, a home cut over powder wad, 3 home cut cork wads, 1 ½ of #4 shot and a home cut over shot wad.

I tested the load for knock down power by placing a 14 ounce tin can inside a 28 ounce can, and then setting them 30 yards down range.  After the smoke cleared, I saw that the shot had shredded all four layers of tin.  This was not the most scientific of tests, but I figured the results would equate to taking down a turkey.

Actually, I should backup a bit because there is one task to complete even before working up a load, and that is deciding what kind of muzzle loading shotgun to purchase.  There are three basic types of muzzle loading shotguns, the double barrel, the single barrel and the flint lock shotgun (sometimes known as the trade gun). Each type of gun has its advantages and disadvantages.

I prefer the double barrel shot gun for several reasons.  The quick follow up shot is a major advantage of double barrels.  They also have a very reliable ignition.  The nipple sits on top of the barrel immediately over the top of the powder charge.  The flash from the cap only has to travel the length of the nipple to ignite the powder charge.  Of all of the muzzleloaders I have hunted with over the years, the Pedersoli double barrel has proven to be the most reliable.   One can still find original double barrel shotguns from the mid to late 1800s that are shooters or buy one of new manufacture. The newer guns may even have screw in chokes.  The down side to a double barrel is that the shooter must pay special attention to safety when loading or reloading.  If a barrel is still charged, the cap must be removed before reloading, and special care taken so some or all components are not placed in the wrong barrel.  When loading, I hold the gun sideways so the barrel I am loading is facing me. Then if necessary, I reverse the gun and charge the other barrel.      

The single barrel muzzle loading shotgun has the advantage of simplicity.  With only one barrel the shooter does not have to worry about charging the wrong barrel or pulling the wrong trigger.  Most new single barrel shotguns are in-lines so it is less of a transition for hunters who are used to that type of rifle. But some older models, such as the TC New Englander, are side locks. Some of the in-lines are designed specifically for turkey hunting.  The main disadvantage of single barrel guns is the lack of a quick follow up shot.

The flint lock shotgun or trade gun can be reliable if the hunter is willing to put in a lot of time learning how to load and prime the gun so it goes boom every time the trigger is pulled.  Trade guns are also designed to shoot round balls accurately so they do not have chokes which greatly limits their effective range with shot.  With only a single barrel they lack a quick follow up shot, and they are hard to find if you want to buy one.  So why would anyone want to hunt with one?  Simple; challenge.  Taking a turkey with a trade gun, which was designed and used beginning around 1700, puts the hunter in elite company much like an NFL player who is named to the Pro Bowl. 

Once the hunter has the gun ready to go turkey hunting, a muzzleloader is much like hunting with a modern gun.  To be successful, the hunter must put time in scouting, learn to use a call, and be flexible with plans once in the woods.  Effective range will be a bit less than with modern turkey guns and specialized turkey shells, but the satisfaction of harvesting a turkey with an old time gun is much higher.  I have always thought that wild turkey tastes much better when smoked with black powder.