Shotguns for Turkey Hunting
-- by Rob Ramsdale
Turkey hunting's popularity today has
given rise to a vast assortment of new and improved
shotguns designed specifically for turkey hunting.
The modern turkey shotgun now comes with a camo finish,
composite stock, super-full turkey choke, 3 1/2"
chamber and shorter barrel. They are a far cry from
the classic side-by-side doubles many of the earliest
turkey hunters used.
Do you need one of these modern firearms
to hunt turkeys? Honestly, no, since hunters have
been killing turkeys for an awful long time without
them. But most firearm purchases by hunters are not
based on what you need but what you want so if you
can afford one, go ahead. They can give you that extra
edge in bagging a turkey this spring.
Selecting a Shotgun
What should you look for in your turkey
hunting shotgun? In my opinion, the most important
thing is to find a shotgun you can shoot comfortably
and accurately. It does not really matter if that
is a pump, automatic, double or a single shot. A good
fitting shotgun that you are comfortable with and
have confidence in is a great place to start.
The vast majority of turkey hunters
hunt with a 12 gauge. It comes in a ton of different
models and makes. Some hunters opt for a little more
firepower and move up to a 10 gauge. The 10 ga. does
increase your effective range a little and gives a
little more knockdown power than a 12 ga. If you are
up for lugging the thing around, go for it. Speaking
of weight issues, one of the more popular choices
nowadays is the 20 gauge. I would especially recommend
this to the women and kids who are just beginning
hunting. It is lighter and has less recoil than its
big brother the 12 gauge but it also comes with a
reduced range. That really is not a problem as long
as you carefully judge the range of your shot and
limit them to 35 yards or under. Another choice for
those hunters wishing for less of a "kick"
from their turkey shotgun is to use the new HeviShot
loads that have a lot less velocity than other magnum
turkey loads. The HeviShot loads I've tried didn't
kick much more than a regular pheasant load and much
less than the magnum 3" turkey loads I normally
use. And of course, automatic shotguns have less of
a kick than pumps or doubles since they utilize some
of the back pressure to cycle the gun.
Barrel length is another important decision.
If you are using your shotgun for turkey hunting only,
the new short barrels might be your choice. Shorter
barrels make for a lighter more maneuverable gun which
can be important when you are turkey hunting and doing
a lot of walking around in the woods. If you plan
on using your new shotgun for upland or waterfowl
hunting also, a standard 28" barrel would be
a better pick for all-around use.
After you have selected your turkey
gun, now comes the most important part of getting
your gun ready to hunt - test patterning. Many people
never do this assuming a new gun always shoots straight
- and for the most part they do. However, if your
shotgun consistently shoots off your point of aim,
you need to do something about it. A gunsmith can
adjust your shotgun by bending the barrel or by changing
the fit of your stock. A less expensive fix is to
fit your gun with adjustable sights or a scope and
then adjusting them until your shotgun hits where
you point it.
Along with a straight shooting shotgun,
you must also get your shotgun shooting good patterns.
Turkeys are very tough birds and the preferred method
of shooting them is aiming for the head & neck
region where pellets to the spine or brain will instantly
bring down a turkey. To do this, you need tight consistent
patterns at the range you are shooting. Which brings
up another question. How far away can you shoot a
This is a controversial topic since
most serious turkey hunters believe in calling them
close (less than 30 yards). But modern magnum loads
and turkey chokes now make it possible to consistently
kill birds at 50 yards and over providing you can
aim straight. That is where the biggest problem comes
in with most shooters and why I would recommend keeping
your shots at 40 yards or under. Also, many people
misjudge shooting distances anyway. If you try to
keep your maximum distance for a shot at 35 or 40
yards, when you do make a mistake in judging distance
and the bird is further away it should still be in
effective range. I would rather error on the side
of caution and wait for the bird to get close.
Getting back to patterning, after you
have a straight shooting shotgun, you still must try
out various choke and shell combinations to find your
best pattern. Nowadays, many turkey shotguns are coming
from the factory with Extra-full chokes that are as
good as the after-market tubes. The only way you will
know for sure is to try it out.
I like to pattern at 40 yards to start.
I usually try a variety of shells from different manufacturers
with different shot sizes (4, 5, or 6) and different
lengths (2 3/4", 3" and if your gun can
shoot them 3 1/2"). A good way to save costs
while doing this is to go in with a few friends to
spread the shell cost out some. Once I find the best
shell / shot size combination at 40 yards, I will
shoot some shots closer in to see what the pattern
does there. Sometimes a gun will be throwing a great
pattern at 40 yards but a terrible one at 20 - 25
yards. Again, a little time practicing before the
season will tell you what to expect. Also, try some
shots in real close at 5 yards & 10 yards. Most
of the turkey chokes throw very tight, baseball-sized
patterns at these ranges and if you turkey hunt long,
eventually you will have a shot at 10 feet or less.
There's not much margin for error when they are in
Just remember when patterning that no
two barrels are alike. Even if they are the same model
and year as someone else's, they will probably still
pattern a little differently.
Here are some links to shotgun manufacturers
to get you started shopping for a new shotgun