Turkey Guns: Mossberg 535 Turkey Thug Review

Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 535 ATS Turkey Thug 12 gauge shotgun

The Mossberg 535 is among the most affordable and useful heavy use shotguns in the world. There is no mystery in the title. The 535 is a modified Model 500 designed to handle 3.5-inch 12 gauge shells. This makes for a formidable payload. The 3.5-inch shell is a smashing success with smashing recoil.

The Model 500 has earned a place in the hearts and minds of American shooters with its reliability, versatility, and affordability. The Mossberg 500 went to work as the upgraded Model 590. Today, it is taking game as the Model 535.

Mossberg 535 ATS Turkey Thug 12 gauge shotgun with a TruGLo red dot scope
The author found his Mossberg 535 ATS Turkey Thug a versatile shotgun.

535 Features

The 535 offers a heavy magnum load in an affordable package. There are some tradeoffs, but the 535 remains one of the best choices for turkey, small game, and deer hunting. All Model 535 shotguns are pump-action shotguns with a five-shot magazine, a safety (mounted for handy use) in the top rear of the receiver, the standard Model 500 shell carrier, and a heavier bolt.

The following specifications are for the most commonly used 535, the All Purpose Field.

Caliber: 12 Gauge
Capacity: 5+1 rounds
Overall length: 48.25 inches
Barrel length: 28 inches
Length of pull: 14 inches
Sights: Bead
Weight: 6.75 pounds

All models use the trademark dual action bars featured on the Mossberg 500. The bolt features dual extractors. The features proved to be a big advantage in the U.S. Military testing that resulted in the Model 590 military shotgun. The action is smooth and becomes more so with moderate use.

The shotgun is easily field stripped and maintained. Cleaning isn’t a chore and barrel changes may be accomplished in minutes. I should mention that while the 535 takes Model 500 barrels easily, you also must change the magazine tube. This is because the 535 magazine is set up to properly feed 3.5-inch shells.

There are plenty of aftermarket choke tube options for whatever chore you will put the 535 to. A modification I recommend is a thick recoil pad. You will be glad you did when firing 3.5-inch shells.

Pistol grip variant of the Mossberg 935 shotgun, right profile
A pistol grip variant of the Mossberg 935 shotgun.

One of the most attractive and useful Mossberg 535 variants is the Turkey Thug, named after the famous celebrity hunting group. The Turkey Thug shotguns feature pistol grip stocks, including one version with a thumbhole stock. This makes for easy handling when you have the turkey call in the one hand and resting the shotgun on your knee.

I like the handling and fast on-target feel. The Turkey Thug features excellent fiber-optic front and rear sights. I really like these and found them excellent in all light conditions.

The Turkey Thug shotgun is delivered with a XX-Full choke tube installed. Results with purpose-designed turkey loads such as the Winchester Long Beard were excellent. The shotgun is finished in Mossy Oak camo. I like the look. The bolt is finished differently from other shotguns as well with a dark finish.

Camo clad TruGlo red dot shotgun scope
TruGlo’s red dot sight is a great addition to the Mossberg 535 Turkey Thug.

This shotgun features a 20-inch barrel tipped with an X Factor choke tube. Total length is just over 39 inches. It is lighter than the standard 535, and this means recoil is greater. Among the best versions of the Turkey Thug is the shotgun with TruGlo 30mm TriColor red dot. TruGlo also offers the Gobble Stopper with a dual color red dot.

By simply moving a control knob, the red dot is easily moved between red, green, or blue dots. This makes for excellent coverage of all light and range conditions. I like this addition very much. The red dot also features a pressure switch. You may set this up to turn the red dot on by simply pressing the pressure switch.


During testing the shotgun with various loads, the choke offered impressive patterns. Specialty turkey loads are amazing. However, as most of you already know, buckshot is best with an open choke pattern. This simply means that the shotgun needs another choke for deer or boar when hunting with buckshot. Just the same, the pattern would be fine for home defense use. And that is an interesting concept.

Turkey target after being shot with #1 buck
With #1 buck, the Turkey choke isn’t terrible but not dense either. This is at the 15-yard line. It would be fine for home defense across the room shooting.

During my time as a peace officer, there were many instances in which a homeowner or rural landowner saved his or her life with a shotgun. In every case that I am able to recall, the person involved used a sporting shotgun. The Mossberg 535 Turkey Thugs handles quickly at close range — as designed. The pistol grip stock is fast handling. While there may be shotguns I prefer, if I had but one shotgun, well… this one would serve well for home defense.

While the 535 is an impressive shotgun, many prefer a self-loading action. Mossberg’s 935 is offered in a Turkey Thug configuration. Here is where things are interesting, and they get there quickly. I often prefer a quality pump-action shotgun for hunting. The Mossberg 935 is attractive on every count the 535 is, save it is a self-loading design.

The ability to deliver an instant second shot is good to have. There are other advantages as well. The Mossberg 935 action soaks up some of the recoil of the heaviest loads. The 935 is, on average, a full pound heavier than the 535. In the end, you pay your money and make your choice.

Mossberg 935 Specifications

Gauge12 Gauge
Action typeSemi-auto
Chamber size3.5 inches
Barrel typeOverbored, vent rib
Barrel length22 inches
Barrel finishMossy Oak – Bottomland
Capacity4+1 rounds
Length42 inches
LOP14 inches
LOP typeFixed
SightsFront: Fiber-optic
StockSynthetic (Mossy Oak Bottomland)
Weight7.5 pounds

Turkey Loads

I was able to test several turkey loads. Among the most impressive is Winchester’s LongBeard XR. The shot is designed with Shot-Lok technology. Winchester tells us that protecting the shot as it travels in the barrel is important. Shot-Lok is a kind of chemical bond keeping the shells together. This type of load extends the traditional-20 yard range well past 50 yards when coupled with a good choke.

Be certain to consider the likely range first as this load is tight, very tight, at modest range. If you foresee taking on a turkey at ranges greater than 40 yards, order up this load.

Multiple "kill shots" on a paper turkey target
A good tight pattern, and a good load, will bring home the meat.

Another load well worth time and study is the Federal Premium 3rd Degree. The load patterns well, sure, but Federal has put together a big string of shot that will take on a turkey at both short and long range with little in the way of compromise. The load is a mix of carefully separated #7, #5, and #6 shot (in that order) from the bottom of the shell. This makes for a wide pattern at closer range and the usual dense pattern at 50 yards. This is a very interesting pattern. With the new breed of turkey guns loads and optics, we have never had it so good.

Are you getting ready for turkey season? What is your favorite shotgun and load for turkey hunting? Share your answers in the comment section.

  • 3.5-inch shotshell (left), 2 3/4-inch shotshell (middle), 3-inch shotshell (right)
  • Turkey target after being shot with #1 buck
  • Multiple "kill shots" on a paper turkey target
  • Turkey target showing multiple shot hits and a hole in the head
  • Turkey target pelted with holes from a 3.5-inch magnum shotshell
  • Hornady Heavy Magnum 12 gauge 3.5-inch shotshell
  • Pistol grip variant of the Mossberg 935 shotgun, right profile
  • Mossberg 935 12 gauge shotgun, right profile
  • Winchester Supreme and Hevi-Shot 12 gauge ammunition boxes
  • TruGlo 30mm red dot scope
  • fiber optic front sight and turkey choke on a shotgun
  • fully-adjustable fiber optic rear shotgun sight
  • Camo clad TruGlo red dot shotgun scope
  • Bob Campbell shooting the Mossberg 535 ATS Turkey Thug 12 gauge shotgun
  • Three boxes of 12 gauge shotshells
  • Mossberg 535 ATS Turkey Thug 12 gauge shotgun with a TruGLo red dot scope

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (3)

  1. Absolutely a great turkey gun with Federal 3rd degree round I have taken some very long shots on birds and been successful with every trigger pull. Iv got 22, 34, 55, 63 and 72 yard birds. The stock choke and those rounds are dead ringers.

  2. The image of the shells shows a 3.5” , a 2 3/4”, and an expended 2 3/4” shell. The 3” is not represented for comparison. A 12ga comparison should represent all lengths (maybe even the new “shorty” rounds even though they are not advised for hunting applications.

  3. That is one hell of a gun. I’m glad it’s you firing those 3.5 inch shells and not me, always love your stories and look forward to more.

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