Spring turkey hunting season is here…

My first turkey gun (40 years ago) was my grandfather’s old, Model 1900 Browning “Auto-5” 12ga. My first “turkey loads” for that old shotgun were blue Remington-Peters in # 4 lead shot (2 ¾ high-brass), which I knew did an all around good job on waterfowl in those days, and I was confident it would also handle tenacious wild gobblers as well. It did, and still does.

Through the years I carried a variety of shotguns for turkey hunting, and with the exception of a Savage double-barreled 16ga, they were all of the 12ga persuasion and usually fired 2 ¾ inch shells. One of my favorites was a Model 37 Ithaca pump that had a 30 inch full choke barrel, which I later traded in on a used AYA double-barreled 12ga. I didn’t want to part with the Ithaca, but the deal on the AYA was hard to turn down, and the double barrel (choked modified and full) turned out to be a dandy turkey gun, especially after I painted over its glossy finish with olive-drab paint. (A gun collector friend of mine turned almost the same shade of green when he saw what a blasphemous thing I had done to what he termed as a “fine shotgun”, but I’m not a collector, and firearms are hunting tools to me, not works of art. I guess I might have been a little ahead of time, because I’m seeing some mighty fine shotguns coming out these days already painted in various camouflage designs).

As wild turkey populations started to blossom in this country (including Michigan) and turkey hunting began to become more and more popular, what is called a turkey gun evolved as well, as did the ammunition. A typical, specialized turkey gun today is a short-barreled affair that is easier to maneuver while seated on the ground (the position most turkey hunters find themselves in when shooting – and a position to practice shooting from), with a super tight choke (for the densest possible shot patterns at extended range), and camouflaged to the point it is best to never lean it up (unloaded of course) against a tree and forget exactly what tree afterwards (I did this once with my green AYA to pick a few morels and had a bit of an anxious search afterwards to recover it).

A turkey shotgun will also fire magnum “turkey” loads, and will often feature a rear sight reference along with a front sight for precise shot placement. A specialized turkey gun may even employ a low power scope designed for the purpose or an electric “red dot” sight.

Turkey hunting should not be compared to wing-shooting avenues, because it is highly recommended for hunters to concentrate on taking a head/neck shot on a wild gobbler that has its feet planted firmly on the ground. The shot charge is literally aimed and fired as if it were a single projectile.

All of this gives the impression that turkey gobblers are cloaked in Kevlar feathers, which of course they aren’t, but they are in fact very tough birds, so to speak. A head/neck shot involves short-circuiting the electrical system of the brain and spinal column with immediate results, whereas a direct body hit entails the plumbing, and even though hard hit, a tough and tenacious wild turkey might still be able to cover some ground before a major systems shutdown.

Needless to say a 10ga using 3 ½ inch magnum shells and shooting copious shot charges makes for a dandy turkey gun. I do believe the 3 ½ inch magnum 12ga developed not that many years ago was originally created with turkey hunting in mind, and it certainly serves the purpose as well. Personally I’ve never used either one, and have been satisfied with 2 ¾ or 3 inch shells in the 12ga. The key with any shotgun used for turkey hunting is to pattern it beforehand to learn its strengths, weaknesses, and shot size preference for the best performance at known yardages. In Michigan, the largest birdshot size that is allowed for turkey hunting is number fours. However, your shotgun might have a preference for digesting number fives, or sixes, and only pre-season patterning will enlighten you on this crucial fact.

I first became introduced to using a 20ga for turkey hunting about a 20 years ago, when my two older sons, Jake and Josh, were old enough to go turkey hunting, and were both fortunate to draw Thumb area turkey licenses. Each boy already owned a pump 20ga (Jake’s was a Model 500 Mossberg, and Josh’s was a Model 870 Remington) that would accept screw-in chokes. Since I wanted the boys to stick with what they were familiar with, I purchased “extra-full” chokes for each 20ga, and we did a little father and sons patterning on our shooting range using 3 inch 20ga “turkey loads”. The final result is that the performance of the 20ga shotguns impressed me to no end, enough so that I often use a 20ga for turkey hunting today. The older I get the more I appreciate lightweight shotguns, and the “twenty” fills this niche quite nicely.

Needless to say, today’s turkey hunters have a bountiful selection of turkey guns to review (including muzzleloaders) if they are in the market for a highly specialized shotgun. And when combined with ammunition also designed for turkey hunting, reaching out and thoroughly touching a gobbler is more efficient than ever before.

However, turkey hunting is a relatively close range affair that requires proper preparation and practice well before season to be intimate with a specific shotgun and load. I always plan on doing some serious pre-season range work to be sure my chosen shotgun and load for turkey hunting are up to snuff.

It adds that element of confidence that is necessary for success.