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Fine-Tuning Your Ultimate Turkey Shotgun

Hunters often ask what constitutes the “ultimate” turkey gun. Really, the answer is simple: One that functions flawlessly and consistently kills turkeys.
OK, it’s more involved than that. Myriad considerations are involved in choosing the ideal turkey gun. Many are personal preferences, but others are based on common sense and in-the-field experience.

The Right Stuff

There’s nothing wrong with a good-patterning 20- or 16-gauge shotgun for turkey hunting. However, if you’re seeking optimum performance, your weapon should be a 12- or 10-gauge. And because the big 10s can be heavy and awkward afield, eliminate them from the equation, too.

Your 12-gauge should be chambered for 3- or even 3½-inch shells. Do you need 3½-inch magnums to kill a turkey? No. However, some guns pattern better with 3½s, so it never hurts to have that option.

Short barrels are a big advantage in the turkey woods. They make your gun somewhat lighter and much more maneuverable. Most specialized turkey guns feature 22- to 24-inch barrels.

Also, your gun must be camouflaged to some extent. It doesn’t have to sport the latest pattern from major manufacturers, but it should at least have a matte finish or be fitted with camo tape to eliminate glare and reflection.

You’ll probably want a recoil pad, too — not so much for the woods, but for the patterning range. It’s amazing how firing a few 3-inch rounds can pound your shoulder and cause flinching.

Should you go with a pump, auto their chosen load. They might decide on No. 5 shot and then screw in a factory or aftermarket choke, throw a couple of patterns at the range and go hunting. Big mistake.

Determine a shot size based on their relative merits. But then, custom-fit your choke so the shotshell performs well.

Match the constriction of your choke with the size of shot you intend to shoot. Smaller shot works best out of tighter chokes. Larger shot performs well out of slightly looser chokes. If you’re using No. 6 shot, for example, you’ll likely get great patterns with an ultra-tight .660-constriction choke. If you’re using No. 4 shot, you’ll want to use a less-constrictive model, such as a .680. For No. 5 shot, split the difference.

Also, consider an after-market choke. Many factory chokes perform well, but your gun will usually shoot better with a precision-machined after-market model.
When you think you have the ideal shot-and-choke marriage, hit the range (see the patterning sidebar).

Staring Down the Barrel

Shooting a gobbler might be the least difficult part of turkey hunting. Still, it’s easy to miss a bird. Any turkey hunter who says he’s never missed a longbeard is a liar or hasn’t hunted much.

How can you miss a 20-pound bird that’s usually standing still? Because shooting a turkey gun is more like shooting a rifle than a scattergun. You’re firing a shot pattern little larger than a softball at about 20 steps. If you’re off by a couple of inches, or a gobbler ducks his head a split-second before you shoot, you’ll miss him.

Further, a standard shotgun bead — or even a front and rear bead — pretty much obscures a gobbler farther than 40 steps. When you put the bead on the head or neck of a bird at 40-plus steps, you’re basically guessing.

You wouldn’t fire a big-game rifle without a sight, so your turkey gun should be similarly equipped with a sight or scope.

Iron or fiber-optic sights work well. They’re easy to sight in, provide pinpoint accuracy and don’t add bulk like a scope. Light-gathering fiber-optic models are especially nice in the haze of early morning. If there’s one knock against such sights it’s that they can snag or break on brush or limbs.

Scopes are becoming more common on turkey guns. Most hunters prefer red-dot models, but some still like cross-hairs. Almost all scope fans use models with little or no magnification. The down side of scopes is that they can be knocked out of alignment. Check your scope often to make sure it’s dead on.


It takes time and work to fine-tune your ultimate turkey hunting shotgun, but the results are worthwhile. Confident in your equipment, you can stare down your barrel at a gobbler without worrying about anything except your pounding heart.

Read more practical hunting articles like this one in 99 Turkey Hunting Secrets.

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