MOMENTOUS DISCOVERIES often come about by accident. James Goodyear left rubber on a hot stove overnight and invented vulcanization. Louis Pasteur tried to kill some chickens with cholera bacteria and vaccinated them instead. I tried to turn my son's 870 Express Jr. into a slug gun for him and wound up making a great turkey gun for myself. The gun formerly known as "John's" is short, light, handy, and deadly.
There are a ton of Remington 870, Mossberg 500, Browning BPS, and Winchester 1300 youth-model guns gathering dust in the closets of owners who have outgrown them. The good news is that you can turn any of them into an excellent turkey gun for less than $60.
After John outgrew the Express Jr., I thought it might still make a good deer gun. I tried to convert it on the cheap by using a scope mount and a rifled choke tube. Unfortunately, the gun sprayed slugs like a garden hose. I dropped that idea and instead added sling swivels and a turkey choke, which cost a total of $55. You can make more modifications (see below) but they're not absolutely necessary.
While patterning the gun, I found I loved the short stock and the way the 20-gauge saturated turkey targets with pellets out to 35-plus yards without undue recoil. In the field, the Express Jr. is a delightful turkey gun for several reasons: It weighs 6 pounds and change, so toting it is a cinch. The short (18¾-inch) barrel never hangs up on brush. A kid-size stock makes it effortless to handle. I can switch the gun easily from my left shoulder to my right if need be. When I'm slouched against a tree trunk, I can ease my head onto the comb without having to lean forward and "crawl" the stock.
I've since talked to other experienced hunters who have switched to the little models for the same reasons I fell so hard for John's gun. So long as the birds come within 40 yards, it's the best turkey gun I've owned.
The biggest plus of a youth gun for turkeys is the short stock. Most turkey guns have stocks designed for wingshooting, yet we shoot them like rifles. A 12- or 13-inch stock is easier to handle in the woods, especially if you mount a scope.
Most youth guns have barrels in the 20- to 21-inch range, perfect for maneuvering in the brush. The Express Jr. has an 18¾-inch barrel, which is even better.
Every turkey gun needs a sling. I installed swivels from Uncle Mike's ($35; 800-423-3537; uncle-mikes.com) and borrowed a sling from a deer gun.
For $100, you can upgrade to a red-dot sight. I had a gunsmith drill and tap the receiver for a Weaver-style base at a cost of $42. The bases run $7 to $10. I went top-of-the-line and put a Zeiss Z-point ($510; 800-441-3005; www.zeiss.com) on this one, but you can also opt for Cabela's Pine Ridge red-dot sight (800-237-4444; cabelas. com), which sells for $50.
You can keep your costs under $60 by aiming with the existing bead sight. But a front and middle bead arrangement is simple, durable, and more effective. The last time I had a middle bead put on a gun, it cost me $11.
The Hunter's Specialties Undertaker turkey choke is a deal at $20 (800-728-0321; hunterspec.com). It shoots excellent patterns with Winchester Supreme 1¼-ounce lead 6s.