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Gauging for Gobblers: Finding the Best Load and Gun for Turkey Hunting
by Dustin Vaughn Warncke, M&P Pro-Staff

 Turkey hunting is one of the most exhilarating outdoor endeavors and we have seen strides of development in the pursuit of effectively and efficiently hunting gobblers over the past several years. Not too long ago, all turkey hunters had was some spare squirrel loads or even duck and goose BB loads. We’ve come a long way since then! With the growing popularity of the sport of turkey hunting comes innovation in products designed specifically for serious turkey hunters. Among these innovations are specialized shotgun configurations and premium high-performance shotshells. 

When gun talk comes up in conversations with fellow hunters, I often tell folks that we are in the Golden Age of firearms and ammunition. This is especially the case with modern day “turkey guns” or shotguns built with the turkey hunter in mind. In many ways, manufacturers have responded to the turkey hunter’s needs by making shotguns and ammunition with features ideally suited to the turkey woods. There is not another time in our rich history of firearms and ammunition that we have had so many breakthroughs of the past combine with the incredible technology available today. This allows gun and ammunition manufactures the ability to push the envelope on what can be done with many areas of hunting our current day and age. Finding the perfect blend of gun and load takes a little fine tuning but with so many options available today, it is not hard to find that “sweet spot” of the right shotgun paired with the right shotshell load. 

First off, let’s talk about the shotgun. The first rule for buying a new or used shotgun is to find one that properly fits you. Visit a local sporting goods or gun store and try some shotguns out for size. You want to make sure the weight is comfortable and that you can easily put the gun in shooting position without any extra movement or effort. It’s no secret that turkeys have great eyesight so keeping movement down to a minimum is a must where shouldering your gun is concerned. Is the gun suited for you to hold it steady for a long period of time? How does the shotgun carry for the long distances that turkey hunting sometimes demands? These are all good questions to consider when choosing the right gun. 

One of my personal favorites in the turkey shotgun realm is the Mossberg 935 which is a semi-auto, camo-clad shotgun. It has a great balance of weight, fit, and excellent performance and also has an option for a barrel specially designed for turkey hunting. I also own a Mossberg 835 shotgun which is a pump shotgun that has also proven its worth as an excellent shotgun for turkey. Just about every major gun manufacture in the firearms industry that makes shotguns makes some models with turkey hunters in mind. Other shotguns on my all-time favorites list are the Remington 870, Remington 11-87, Benelli Super Black Eagle, Ithica 37 Turkey Slayer, Winchester 1300, and the Beretta Xtrema 2. With all of the competition in the firearms industry, it is hard to find a shotgun that isn’t of excellent build quality. Consider a shotgun an investment, not simply an expense of hunting and don’t pass up the opportunity to spend a little more money for extra features that will aid you in your hunting success.

Remember, the standard rules with shotguns have changed due to the more powerful ammunition available today. Bigger does not always mean better anymore. With the new high-powered turkey loads and choke tubes available today, 12-gauge shotguns aren’t the only main player on the field anymore. Many hunters feel that 20-gauge shotguns are a better fit for their spring turkey adventures and I am with them. I highly recommend the 20-gauge shotgun especially for youth shooters and adults just getting started in the turkey hunting world largely due to the recoil and weight factors. While effective range of a 20-gauge might be less than a 12-gauge, the chances of getting a hunter started on the right path are far better.

Take time to pattern your shotgun with premium turkey loads. There are so many different turkey loads the market today. It comes down to finding the right one that works well with your gun. Try different shot sizes and even choke constrictions. Also, consider some of the aftermarket choke tubes as many of them have shown excellent pattern performance in the field. For ammunition, my favorite load is the Winchester Supreme in 12 gauge which packs a hefty load of 2 ounces of No. 5 shot. Other ammo I highly recommend is the Winchester Long Beard XR and Double X, Remington Premier and Nitro Turkey, Kent Ultimate Diamond Shot, Federal Premium Heavyweight Turkey, and Heavi-Shot Magnum Blend and Hevi-Metal. The only way to determine what ammo to shoot is to shoot a variety of shot sizes and brands from multiple distances to find the “sweet spot” of shotgun and ammo. Pick the one with the most consistent pattern. 

I recommend patterning your turkey gun at 25 yards for 20-gauges and 40 yards for 12-gauges. The ideal pattern is 100 pellets in a 10-inch circle. For initial patterning tests, use a large piece of butcher or craft paper. Also, consider a shooting rest like the Hyskore DLX Precision Shooting Rest, which you can fire remotely after you set up the shot on target. You can also use a regular gun rest and a recoil pad that goes around your shoulder to help reduce potential recoil anticipation since turkey loads pack a magnum punch.

Know the limitations of your firearm and, if coaching a youth hunter or beginner adult hunter, consider the limitations of the hunter as well. This will help you in deciding what shots to take and when to wait or pass on a shot. We can learn what those limitations are by practicing and experimenting with different loads and chokes as well as practicing real hunting scenarios while at the gun range. Be safe, have fun, and enjoy the outdoors this spring turkey season!

To learn more about Dustin, visit www.dustinsprojects.com.