Is Your Shotgun Ready for Turkeys?

Eastern Wild Turkey strutting in hardwood forest habitat

Turkey hunting has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years. Hunters find the sport challenging, rewarding and enjoyable. We field a lot questions about the gear needed for novice turkey hunters. The most common involves the shotguns” target=”_blank”>shotguns used for hunting turkeys. Can I use my dove hunting shotgun for turkey? What type of sights do I need? Should my turkey gun be camouflaged? To be honest, you can kill a turkey with just about anything. However, lets take a look at some standards that will make your chances just a bit better.


Turkeys have excellent eyesight. It is their primary defense mechanism. For this reason, hunters have to work extra hard to blend in to their surroundings. Their vision is so good that merely blinking your eye can set them off. Many turkey hunters use camouflage facial netting to obscure their face. A camouflage shotgun is a no-brainer. I’ve killed turkeys with non-camouflage guns, but getting in close is easier when they can’t see you coming. If you have the resources, why not give yourself that extra edge?


Shotgun chokes can be a little confusing. For Turkey, you want a very tight pattern over a decent distance. The holy grail of turkey shots is to hit the head with a large portion of the pellets without damaging the meat. To achieve this, you’ll need a full choke, extra full or something similar. This will give you a better chance of a kill shot at longer ranges. Anything else and you may not get enough pattern at 40 yards.

Shotgun Choke Yardage Difference between bore and choke
Cylinder < 20 0″
Skeet 22.5 .005″
Improved Cylinder 25 .010″
Light Modified 30 .015″
Modified 32.5 .020″
Improved Modified 35 .025″
Light Full 37.5 .030″
Full 40 or More .035″
Extra Full 40 or More .040″


New shotguns sold specifically for turkey hunting often have drilled and tapped receivers for scope mounts. This is a nice feature, and if you have it by all means use it. There is a myriad of optics on the market for turkey, but just try to keep these features in mind. You don’t need a lot of magnification, just something tough that can take the recoil of a heavy bird load. Red dot sights are becoming popular among turkey hunters. They are very fast and give a clear sight picture. On top of that—they just plain look cool. If you don’t have an easy way to mount a scope, invest in a fiber optic sight. They are inexpensive and will give you better visibility for quick target acquisition.


You wouldn’t use a slug to hunt dove, and dove loads aren’t ideal for geese. In the turkey hunting world, I’ve used everything from 2 3/4- to 3 1/2-inch shells with varying shot sizes. However, if I had to give a generic turkey load for most situations, I would say a lead 3-inch shell with No. 5 shot is a great place to start. I would encourage you to try different loads to see which one patterns best for your shotgun. Every gun shoots just a little different, and if you’re obsessive like me, you’ll want to know exactly how your shot patterns ahead of time.

Once your shotgun is ready, you’ll be on your way to bagging that massive bird. Take your time and learn the sport. Like most forms of hunting, patience is the hunter’s best ally—you’ll find that rule goes double for gobblers.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (2)

  1. I set up my shotgun by sighting it in (I use an EoTech XPS) at 25 and 50 yards with slugs. That way I know where the center of the pattern ought to be going. Then I pattern it with my turkey load. I don’t just shoot against a patterning target, but I also put in a silhouette of a turkey head. After you shoot, check the silhouette for the number of pellets that have hit the head or neck just below the head. If your not getting several pellets in this area each time, the odds are stacked against you.

  2. If a turkey could smell, he’d be impossible to hunt. If you spend enough time in the woods, anything could happen. I once walked quietly and slowly through Shinery Brush on an over grown pipe line, on a saddle ridge, and came into a tiny scendaro about thirty feet across, and there were three turkeys standing in it, in late morning, trying to stay out of the high wind blowing that day. I can’t remember if I was carrying my .06 or my 6mm, but it wasn’t a shotgun, and it was Fall Deer season, and I already have a couple of full body mounts, plus I don’t care for Turkey meat, ( wild isn’t as tasty as domesticated).
    Events like that are certainly not the norm, but even stranger things have happened. Camo is a definate asset, but not necessary for the gun. Your face and hands, even wearing a camo shirt, will shine like a beacon, giving you away quickly, even if you freeze when you first see a turkey, and if there are multipul birds, be very carefull to co-ordinate movement only when they are all heads down eating, or looking directly away from you. Even in the latter, they have almost enough range of sight as to be able to see behind themselves, and when one sees anything of question, they all sense it and prepare to run and, or fly. They’re a lot like chickens in that respect, only they can fly higher and farther at a time.
    I never went out specificly for Turkey, with a shotgun, during the Spring hunting season, usually encountering them while Deer hunting in Fall/Winter. During Spring, be especially careful for rattlers. Mesquitos and ants too.(at least they can’t smell bug juice. Shotguns like Rob said, should be tight patterning, w/# 4 to 6 shot or bigger and hi velocity. Patterning your gun and cofidence in where it will hit are of paramount importance. Practice until you know how yor gun prints, and where it will pattern. Head shots will dispatch them immediately, without damaging any meat.
    I can tell you from experience………don’t shoot one with a150gr deer load from a 30.06. It looks cool, with feathers resembeling an atomic bomb mushroom cloud, but leaves little useable meat. Happy hunting all!

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