What is the best type of shotgun for the hunting of wild turkeys? The one you happen to have in your hands at the time.
This may sound like a glib answer, but it is actually true. Virtually any shotgun with a fairly tight to very tight choke CAN work. But that doesn’t mean that there are not factors to consider when deciding which gun to have in-hand during the hunt.
Since most shots at wild turkeys are a one-shot affair (you either get it with that shot or probably won’t get it at all), a break-open single-shot can work fine. I know, because for a number of years I used, alternately, an H&R Topper and an Iver Johnson Champion — both single-shots, both 16-gauge and both choked full.
These days, most wild turkeys are taken with pumps and semi-autos, with a few over/unders thrown in for good measure. Of those using repeaters, some opt for the semi-auto over the pump, because the semi-auto spreads the recoil impulse over a longer period of time, thus reducing felt recoil. And, given some of the rhino-roller loads used in turkey hunting, it is not a bad idea.
Regardless the type of action, there are attributes worth discussing when it comes to guns for wild turkey hunting. Here is where we go from using a regular shotgun for the purpose of hunting wild turkeys to a turkey-specific shotgun — a rig setup specifically for this kind of hunting.
Although turkey hunting is more like using a shotgun like a rifle, it is still important for the gun to fit the shooter. This is because a properly fitting gun delivers less perceived recoil, and can be put on-target easier and quicker — and sometimes with less overall movement (something important in the turkey domain).
Also because the shot in turkey hunting is aimed, all manner of sights can work fine. Until recent times, I used just the metal bead atop the muzzle for most turkey hunting, but now find that a fiber optic type of bead (like TRUGLO) makes aiming easier. Open barrel sights, like those found on rifles, also are handy. Just make sure that the sights are adjusted so the gun is shooting where you are looking.
Some hunters prefer low magnification telescopic sights or red dot sights, and they can be quite handy. One quick note in that regard, however. I have seen some of those sights come loose on hunts, so if they are to be used, make sure they are on tight (shotguns have a pretty healthy recoil impulse that can jiggle things loose).
Whether the shotgun needs to be camoed is pretty much personal preference. This falls squarely in the “can’t hurt” category, and to whatever degree that movement can be hidden, it can be quite important. If the gun doesn’t wear a camo finish, there are camo tapes available that can turn a regular gun into a turkey rig in minutes.
I like to have a sling on a turkey gun, because it makes going to and from the hunt easier — especially if there is a decoy or two involved that usually require hands to carry.
Barrel length is irrelevant for ballistics when it comes to turkey hunting, but it is generally handier to have a shorter barrel — something in the 20- to 22-inch range is nice.
When it comes to chokes, when it is for a turkey, think “T” for tight. Standard full chokes work great, but gun companies have come up with a variety of tighter chokes, many of which are called terms like “turkey extra full,” or something like that. They are worth getting, because you get one and it lasts forever. Just make sure to take a couple of practice pops at a target at distance to verify that the choke and the ammo like working together to deliver lethal patterns.
What gauge should the gun be? Overall, 12-gauge makes the most sense, with 20-gauge coming in a close second (as is the case in most of shotgunning these days). Any more, 16-gauge is kind of out of vogue, while the smaller gauges are really not up to all-around turkey hunting, although they certainly can work, especially if the shot distance is close. Some folks like 10-gauge, and that’s fine. Those guns just tend to be very heavy.
Interestingly, most tactical shotgun rigs can double as effective turkey guns. They are generally non-reflective and they usually are set up for a variety of sighting systems. Just make sure that the barrel has a tight choke tube in it, and if there is a magazine capacity limitation for the location being hunted, plug the usually long magazine tube to the right capacity.
The most important thing is to be familiar with the shotgun rig being used, and use it safely.
BENELLI SUPERNOVA shotgun makes a superb turkey hunting rig. Mossberg’s Tactical Turkey shotgun can serve double-duty as both a superb turkey-hunting rig and as a full-featured tactical rig.
ESCORT TURKEY Extreme from Legacy Sports International is a full-on, hard-core wild turkey shotgun. This 12-gauge gun features 24-inch barrel with interchangeable choke tubes, rifle sights and camo finish.
REMINGTON’S VERSAMAX shotgun is ready to go turkey hunting right out of the box. It features handy sights, interchangeable choke tubes and camo finish.
THE MOSSBERG Tactical Turkey shotgun has the 835 UltiMag action and barrel, combining the punch of 2¾-inch to 3½-inch capabilities with a recoil-reducing and pattern-enhancing 20-inch overbored barrel.