What Makes a Turkey Shotgun?

Eastern Wild Turkey strutting in hardwood forest habitat

The turkey shotgun is one of the integral parts of turkey hunting. What makes a shotgun a turkey shotgun? Some gun manufacturers would have you believe that you can’t kill a turkey unless you spend top dollar on specialized shotguns with high-end components. While these little details certainly will not hurt, just about any shotgun can kill a turkey, and slight modifications to the firearm will increase your chances drastically.

The gun itself is far less important than your choke tubes and the loads you use. While there have been thousands of turkeys turned into thanksgiving dinner with out-of-the-box shotguns and waterfowl loads, an ideal turkey gun is set up slightly different. The main idea behind a turkey gun is keeping the pattern tight. Instead of pointing a turkey gun, you actually have to aim it. You also want a tighter pattern so the pellets have a better chance of hitting the bird at longer ranges. A wide pattern is less than ideal since you are trying to get more pellets in a smaller area.

Shot placement is paramount with turkey guns. A hit to the head and neck region is the holy grail of turkey shots, and it can be harder than you think to get that close to a wild turkey. I usually use #5 or #4 shot when turkey hunting. Numbers 6 and 7 typically produce less than enough energy to drop the bird with ease. The pellets are too small and slow down too soon. A high velocity turkey load does a fine job in most situations, since the larger pellets still travel fast enough to keep a tight pattern to bring the gobbler to the ground.

Shooting high velocity turkey loads can play hell with your shoulder. Several screw-in chokes on the market work to lessen felt recoil while keeping a turkey worthy pattern for your load. Turkey chokes are like a full choke on steroids. There are many on the market, but if it has the word turkey in the title and it fits your gun, it should work fine. A standard full choke can work too, but most of them do not have recoil reducing muzzle brakes.

For the shotgun, I picked up a Mossberg 500 All Purpose Field Shotgun with a 28-inch ribbed barrel for under $300 bucks. I would have saved some dough and gone with a simple Maverick 88, but they typically do not come with the receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts. On the Mossberg’s receiver, I screwed in an inexpensive Leapers UTG 5.5-inch aluminum Picatinny rail. On top of that, an entry-level red dot I had laying in an old ammo box finished the job. I could have gone with simple fiber optic sights, but hey—red dots are cool and mine had a 3x magnification.

To be ready for turkey hunting, you have to pattern your shotgun. Patterning your shotgun is simple to do and you should do so with each gun, choke, load, and shooting distance. Different guns, even if they are the same model, make, and choke, can pattern differently. Different makes of shells, even if they have the same size and amount of shot and powder, can pattern differently. Take a piece of paper and fire a round at your target at 40 yards. Count how many pellets are in the vital area. Remember that a turkey head is a small target, and chasing a wounded turkey through a briar patch is not my idea of a good time. If your gun shoots too wide of a pattern, adjust your shot size accordingly.

Once you finish your adjustments, you are ready for bird hunting. Remember that turkeys are wary and know when things do not look right. Camo up and try to call the turkeys to you. If they hear or see you moving, they’ll bolt. Happy hunting!

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Comments (8)

  1. I have also hunted turkeys with my Ruger 10/22 “Tack-driver”. Many times I have made a head shot at 50 to 100 yards. I have a full-length Hogue Stock, a complete trigger job, and a Tasco 4X scope.

  2. When on maneuvers our supply sergeant glanced down from the top of a cliff, about 75 feet, and saw a turkey watering at a spring. He hand signaled me to come look as we were running noise control ops. As we watched silently two more turkeys came up and began to drink. Due to a malfunction chow was running three hours late. Our platoon was at the farthest end of the delivery route. The next thing the supply sergeant had slipped away and was returning with a 3″ thick sandstone about the size of a manhole cover. I counterweighted him as he leaned over the precipice and let it fall silently into the predawn light. Two scurried into the underbrush and the third’s head was crushed under the rock. IN 15 minutes we had a fire ready, thin fillets of dark and light meat cut and hung on sticks in front of makeshift reflectors. I had some table grind of Mrs. Dash sent from home and in a short we had a yummy first breakfast two hours before the cold toast and lukewarm eggs and bacon arrived. We shared our leftovers with the KPs and it was a good day. What shotgun?

    1. was that sandstone a “legal hunting implement” in that state? was this during open turkey season? Did the supply sgt have a valid turkey hunting tag in his possession? LOL ! Did mess sgt razz supply sgt about doing his job for him ?

  3. You can’t go wrong with one of these. You won’t have to practice the old way to call a turkey, just hit the button! Also, everyone knows a male turkey’s first name is always “Tom”. HAHA!

  4. Thanks for a great article on turkey guns. For me it has always been one of those things I never wanted to ask about for fear of looking dumb. I do have a remaining question. When calling turkey, do ya just shout “here turkey” or do they have “first names”?

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