The Five Guns You Need for North American Wingshooting and Bird Hunting

duck gun
F&SJohn Hafner

Last time I said you could do all North American wingshooting with one shotgun, a light 12-gauge gas gun. Sorry to be no fun, but it's true. However, this space is not about need, therefore, here are the five guns you "need" for North American wingshooting:

#1) A Dedicated Turkey Gun
Short barrel, tight choke, sling swivels and some type of sight makes a turkey gun. It should be a 12 gauge with 3 or, if you must, 3 ½ inch chambers. Mine is an exceedingly ugly 870 Super Magnum with a 22-inch barrel, iron sights and a tapped receiver for a scope or red dot. Last couple of years I have been in a red dot mood.

Disclaimer: you don’t actually need a turkey gun. Now that we have Winchester Long Beard, any standard Full choke 12 gauge will kill turkeys to 40 yards plus. So long as your gun shoots straight and has swivels for a sling, it’s turkey gun enough.

#2) A Waterfowl Gun
Waterfowl require a big gun like a 3 or 3 ½ inch 12 gauge with a 28- or 30-inch barrel. It can be a pump or a semi-auto, your choice, or even an O/U, although I am a big believer in the three shots and fast reloads of a magazine gun for shooting backup and stopping cripples. The main requirement is that it work in any weather, including extreme cold. The long 3 ½-inch shells are unnecessary for any over-decoy shooting, but they can give you a few extra yards of range for pass shooting. This one can double as a dove and/or turkey gun.

#3) Upland Gun 1
This one is for big birds and wide open spaces. It's your pheasant gun, and the gun you shoot when coveys of huns are jumping at 35 yards. I like break actions so we'll make it a 12 or 16 gauge O/U or double. It should be light enough to carry all day, but still hefty enough to swing, with some weight forward balance and Light Modified and Improved Modified chokes, ideally. While I like break actions because they are easy to open for safety's sake when you're crossing obstacles, your open country gun could be a light pump (Ithaca 37, say) or semi-auto with a Modified choke if you prefer

#4) Upland Gun 2
You also need a gun for little birds in the woods: grouse, woodcock, quail. It's a 20, or maybe even a 28, although it could also be a light 12 or 16 if you can find the right gun, which would probably be an English or Continental double.

This gun will be balanced a little farther back than Upland Gun 1 so you can carry it one hand while fending off brush with the other, and it will have open chokes, like Skeet 1 and Skeet 2. Or, you can ignore my advice and buy a 12 gauge Benelli UltraLight with 24 inch barrels and you’ll have one of the best carrying brush guns ever.

#5) The Dove Gun
You can shoot doves with any gun, but if you want one specifically for dove hunting, it should be a 20 gauge semi-auto and not necessarily feather-light, since dove hunting requires many shots and a gun that has enough weight to swing smoothly. The dove gun serves as the chukar gun, too. I have only hunted chukars once, but I learned that a light gun is easier to hang onto as you're sliding down a mountainside, and after all the effort it takes to get up on chukars, you want more than two shots when you get into range. The dove gun also works for snipe and rails with light loads of steel.

Those are my picks. If five guns still doesn’t seem like enough, remember that you “need” backups for each gun, plus a gun for upland hunting in bad weather, and, of course, guns for the clay target games. There’s always a reason to add another one.