People have been shooting turkeys with guns since the first Europeans arrived on this continent and found the birds to be plentiful, tasty and not particularly (at first anyway) wary. Turkeys were an important source of food and sport until overhunting and forest clearing in the 19th and early 20th century wiped them out of all but the most remote woods before restoration efforts in the latter half of the century brought them back in the numbers we have today. Nevertheless there was a gap of about 50-75 years of the 20th century during which turkey hunting and turkey guns were unknown to the majority of American hunters. That may explain why there is no one accepted "classic" turkey gun or even a short list. To help redress that oversight, here are 25 great turkey guns from colonial times to the sporting guns of the present day. Blunderbuss The classic turkey gun of the Pilgrims was not the blunderuss (meaning that more than Marilyn Monroe's shorts are historically inaccurate in this picture). The short, bell-barreled shotgun was more often used as a weapon of war and loaded with large shot. It's likely if a Pilgrim wanted to shoot a turkey he would used a "long fowler," a .75 caliber flintlock nearly 6 feet long.
Daniel Boone Long Rifle
Long Rifle The distinctly American long rifle accounted for untold numbers of turkeys as settlers pushed into the big woods east of the Mississippi. Developed by the German gunsmiths that settled in Pennsylvania and the southeast, the long rifle became the favorite of frontiersmen like Daniel Boone who prized them for their long range accuracy compared to smoothbore muskets. With barrels 3-4 feet long to maximize velocity, long rifles were made in calibers from .36 to .50 (many rifles were re-bored to larger calibers as they rusted inside).
Blackpowder Double Throughout the 19th century, settlers and sportsmen alike hunted turkeys to the point where they were wiped out of much of their range by the early 20th century. Roost shooting was a common tactic. General William Strong wrote of a hunt in Indian Territory in the1870s: “I then remembered it was regarded, among honorable sportsmen, as perfectly legitimate to shoot turkeys while sitting at night . . . I hesitated no longer.” On that hunt Strong carried a 10 gauge breechloading double charged with 1 1/3 ounces of 1 shot.
Winchester Model 97
Winchester Model 97 John Browning’s pump, the first slide action chambered for smokeless powder, has the look and feel of an antique harvesting machine. It’s ungainly in action, with parts sticking out in all directions when you work the slide. At the same time the 97 is a surprisingly slender, natural pointer. I hunted with a Model 97 for a couple of years in the 90s, added two turkeys to its life list and passed it on to the next owner. You can still find used 97s today, although they have become popular among cowboy action shooters who snap them up whenever they appear on the used market.
Alvin York ‘s Muzzleloader
Alvin York ‘s Muzzleloader Muzzleloaders remained in use into the early 20th century in poor rural areas because they were inexpensive to shoot and easy to repair. America’s most decorated turkey hunter has to be Alvin York, who grew up hunting turkeys and other small game near Pall Mall, Tennessee with a muzzleloader. Powder and shot were expensive, and his father punished him if he shot a turkey in the body and wasted meat instead of shooting it in the head. York also competed in turkey shoots, which, in his day, involved live turkeys. York’s skill with a rifle helped him earn the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After the war he often participated in turkey shoots back home.
Parker Double We think of turkey guns as being single-barreled but a lot of turkeys have fallen to double guns. Archibald Rutledge, outdoor writer and South Carolina’s first poet laureate, received a Parker (probably a VH as he called it his “$37.50 Parker) in 1904 as a gift from his students at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. Rutledge was also a skilled turkey call maker and hunter, and he used the Parker for everything from quail to deer – including turkeys.
Winchester Model 12
Winchester Model 12 “The Perfect Repeater” made, for its time, the perfect turkey gun. Where its predecessor the Model 97 had an exposed hammer and ungainly action, the Model 12 was hammerless and super-slick. Model 12s had 2 ¾ inch chambers until 1935, when Winchester introduced the 3-inch “Heavy Duck” version. It had a slightly shorter length of pull for use with heavy clothes, a 30 or 32 inch Full choke barrel and a steel magazine plug to add weight for recoil reduction. I believe it was author Thomas McGuane who called the Heavy Duck “the closest thing to coastal artillery” in its time.
Savage M24F combination gun
Savage M24F combination gun While turkey hunting has become a shotgun sport for most, rifles are still legal in some places, with .22 centerfires being the most popular rifle cartridges. For those who like to hedge their bets, or just can’t stand it when a bird hangs up at 70 yards, the combination gun is the answer. Savage’s break action 24F was intended for predator hunters but would be perfect for turkeys — if it’s legal where you live, and if you have no qualms about shooting a turkey with a rifle.
H&R Single Shot 10
H&R Single Shot 10 A dedicated turkey gun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Because turkey hunting is largely a single-shot affair, the venerable H&R break action makes a fine, low-cost choice. It comes in 10 and 12 gauge and there is a 10 gauge turkey model drilled and tapped for an optic. The heavy barrel helps the shooter withstand the massive 10 gauge recoil.
Remington 870 With 10,000,000 made since 1950 there can’t be much argument that more turkeys have fallen to the 870 than to any other shotgun, or perhaps even than to all other shotguns put together. America’s shotgun and America’s big game bird go together: 870s come in several turkey specific versions in both standard and 3 ½ magnum like the Shurshot shown here. A growing number of hunters, myself included, carry light 20 gauge youth versions powered up with premium tungsten-iron ammo.
Remington 11-87 The Remington 1100 debuted in 1963 and revolutionized semiautomatic shotguns with its reliability and soft recoil. Its successor, the 11-87, is essentially the same gun with a piston redesigned to work with all 2 ¾ and 3-inch loads without the need to change barrels. As turkey guns the 1100/11-87 have the obvious advantage of lessening the recoil of hard-kicking magnums. Remington offers several turkey versions of the 11-87, and the popularity of these guns means there are roughly a zillion aftermarket mounts, stocks, bipods, sights and so on available to turn any 1100/11-87 into a dedicated turkey gun.
Mossberg 835 Mossberg worked secretly with Federal Cartridge to invent the 3 ½ inch 12 gauge back in the 80s. Federal made the shell, Mossberg made the gun, a 12 gauge pump with a barrel bored to 10 gauge dimensions to better pattern massive payloads. Although the 3 ½ inch 12 was conceived of as a waterfowl load, it wasn’t long before America’s “more is more” mentality lead to the development of 2 and 2 ¼ ounce 3 ½ inch 12 gauge loads. I hunted turkeys with a “Grand Slam” 835 for several years, and while I never used that last half-inch of chamber, it was a deadly turkey gun nonetheless: light, compact, and capable of excellent patterns. The 835’s little brother, the famous Model 500, makes a very good turkey gun as well.
Benelli Super Black Eagle
Benelli Super Black Eagle In the early 90s, the SBE quickly followed the Mossberg 835 as the second gun chambered for the 3 ½-inch shotshell. And, while the SBE made its bones as a waterfowl gun, it wasn’t long before its combination of light weight and heavy payload capacity made it a favorite of turkey hunters as well. The SBE’s one piece barrel/receiver top makes it a great gun for mounting an optic. The SBE – along with the M2 – was the first gun to come with an optional tactical-style stock, Benelli’s SteadyGrip.
Ithaca 37 Turkey Slayer
Ithaca 37 Turkey Slayer Introduced in 1937, Ithaca’s Model 37 Featherlight is based on John Browning’s Remington Model 17. A bottom-ejecting pump, its sub-seven pound weight ride easily on your shoulder. In recent years as the company has undergone several changes in ownership, the various incarnations of Ithaca have offered dedicated turkey guns. The most recent is the Turkey Slayer made in Sandusky, Ohio, complete with thumbhole stock and a barrel fixed to the receiver for better long range patterns and accuracy. Incidentally, the 37 was called the 87 for a few years under one of Ithaca’s many recent owners.
Browning Pump Inspired by the Remington 17, The BPS features a tang safety and bottom ejection, making it popular with left and right handed shooters alike. It comes in 3-inch and 3 ½ inch 12 gauges as well as in a massive 10 gauge model, making it the only 10 gauge pump on the market. The 10 comes in a 24-inch barreled, HiViz-sighted, camo NWTF version. I carried a 3-inch 12 gauge BPS for several years in the turkey woods and it never failed me, even on the one occasion I had to empty it rather quickly at a bird.
Ithaca Mag 10/Remington SP10
Ithaca Mag 10/Remington SP10 Before the 3 ½ 12 gauge, if you were a serious turkey hunter who valued firepower, you lugged an Ithaca Mag 10 through the woods. A huge 11 ½ pound 10 gauge gas gun, the Mag 10 was a remarkably soft shooter. Ithaca made the Mag 10 from 1975 to 1986, then sold the design to Remington, who redesigned the gun and continues to manufacture it as the SP 10 today. It even comes in a thumbhole stocked turkey version.
Knight TK 2000
Knight TK 2000 The TK-2000 was the second in-line shotgun designed by modern inline muzzleloader inventor Tony Knight, who is a serious turkey hunter. With its drilled and tapped receiver and a good adjustable trigger and light barrel contour, the TK 2000 is a very shootable, portable hunting gun. Built to rugged modern standards, it could hold a lot of shot. I used to load 1 ¾ ounce in my TK2000 and its predecessor the MK 86. Both guns, loaded correctly, patterned as well or better than most modern shotguns.
Card guns A weird descendent of the turkey shoots Alvin York competed in, turkey or card shoots go on today throughout parts of the Appalachian east. Competitors use shotguns and small shot to hit bull’s eyes as small as a pin head, with the pellet striking nearest – or taking out the bull’s eye entirely – winning. Although ranges are no more than 25 to 35 yards some events use custom guns are built on accurate bolt actions, often scoped to high magnification, and fired from steady rests.
Remington 3200 Primarily a target gun, Remington’s 3200 was modeled after the great Model 32 (which became the Kreighoff) and was only made from 1975 to 1983. Although it seems out of place here, the 3200 was the platform for a few custom turkey gun conversions by Briley Manufacturing. Customers tired of missing turkeys up close wanted an instant choice of an open or very tight choke and for a time Briley converted 3200s into short barreled, choke tubed turkey guns. The 3200s unique safety/barrel selector offered truly instant choice of chokes. It was a very expensive solution to a minor problem but it makes sense when you remember a lot of Briley customers are rich Texans.
Winchester 1300 NWTF
Winchester 1300 NWTF Winchester’s Model 1300 didn’t cost much and it never got much respect. But, it was very light, it had an incredibly slick rotary bolt action, and it was one of the first dedicated turkey guns, coming in an iron sighted, 22-inch barreled Winchoked, matte metal and camo version. I actually won one at a Pheasant Forever banquet (the only gun I ever won) but traded it and my Model 97 in on a BPS (which I used for turkey hunting). Made since 1978, the 1300 was discontinued when the Winchester plant closed in 2006. It has recently come back as the Winchester SXP, now redesigned and manufactured in Turkey.
Browning A-5 Like the Model 12, the Browning A-5 offered a huge increase in firepower to early 20th century hunters and it may have helped hasten the extirpation of turkeys in some places. Invented in 1903, it stayed in production until 1998. A 16 gauge A-5 was the turkey gun of legendary Florida turkey hunter and writer Charlie Elliott. With its long-recoil action the Browning had a distinctive recoil signature – I always felt like I was shooting a pogo stick – but it was reliable and came in a 3-inch version that handled heavy turkey loads. Mine was a 2 ¾ inch Light 12 but with a set of aftermarket sights clamped to the rib and an 1 ½ short magnum turkey load in the chamber it made a heavy duty turkey gun.
T/C Encore T/C’s Encore system of interchangeable barreled guns makes a great turkey gun with a 12 or 20 gauge barrel attached. Extremely light weight, compact due to its break-action, with a nice trigger, iron sights and a barrel drilled and tapped for a scope, it’s a great choice for a hunter who values light weight over firepower. One shot is enough if you do everything else right.
Benelli Nova Back in 2001 the Nova’s lines and its one-piece stock/receiver seemed incredibly modernistic. Some called it the Darth Vader gun. I always thought it looked like George Jetson’s goose gun. These days its looks seem almost conventional and it’s just another good turkey gun. Chambered for 3 ½-inch shells, the Nova operates with a very slick stroke of its conveniently long forearm, which cleverly contains a magazine cutoff button. At $439 in basic black, it is a deal.
Browning Gold/Winchester Super X2
Browning Gold/Winchester Super X2 Amid wailing and gnashing of teeth from A-5 fans, Browning discontinued the venerable humpback in 1998 in favor of the gas-operated Gold which had debuted in 1995. The 3-inch Gold was an excellent gun from the start, while the 3.5-inch gun suffered from growing pains. It eventually became a very good gun, and begat the Super X2, a slightly simpler Winchester version of the same gun. They have since begat the lighter weight Super X3 and Browning Silver. All of them comei n turkey versions and share excellent reliability and recoil reduction.
Beretta Xtrema 2
Beretta Xtrema 2 Beretta’s Xtrema was its first 3 ½ inch gun. One of its best features is an action spring on the magazine tube, meaning you never have to take the spring out of the stock to clean it. The Xtrema2 is also very reliable and soft-shooting, especially if choose the Kick-Off optional recoil reducer. The Xtrema2 makes this list with the original recipe Xtrema does not because one of its improvements over the first Xtrema is a greatly improved trigger pull, which is important to successful turkey shooting. The receiver comes grooved for an included scope base.
_People have been shooting turkeys with guns since the first Europeans arrived on this continent and found the birds to be plentiful, tasty and not particularly (at first anyway) wary. Turkeys were an important source of food and sport until overhunting and forest clearing in the 19th and early 20th century wiped them out of all but the most remote woods. Restoration efforts in the latter half of the century brought them back in the numbers we have today.
Nevertheless there was a gap of about 50-75 years of the 20th century during which turkey hunting and turkey guns were unknown to the majority of American hunters. That may explain why there is no one accepted “classic” turkey gun, or even a short list. To help redress that oversight, here are 25 great turkey guns from colonial times to the sporting guns of the present day._