Postseason Review: Turkey Shotgun Essentials

Does that fancy new turkey gun really shoot as great as it looks? Here's a quick recap on what did and didn’t work this season in terms of shotgun sights, choke tubes, and turkey loads

author phil bourjaily next to a turkey
The author after he tagged out this turkey season.Phil Bourjaily

With turkey season now behind me (as of just before 9:00 a.m. Friday, thank you for asking) here are more thoughts on the state of turkey guns, sights, chokes, and loads.

Guns and Sights

I missed a bird this spring with my new-used Mossberg 835 and its front and middle bead sights. I'd called a whole flock to me in some thick, brushy woods, and the boss hen brought a pile of turkeys with her to challenge the bird she thought she heard. She came to 10 or 15 yards with a string of turkeys behind her and a gobbler bringing up the rear. There was always another turkey or too many branches between me and the tom. Finally, the hen decided there was nothing to see there—I should have put out a decoy, but in such thick woods I had thought why?—and she turned to leave. All of the other turkeys turned, too, and it was time to find a hole in the brush and shoot or let the gobbler walk. I shot. He didn't walk, he ran.

That was the one shot I took this spring with an unscoped gun. Coincidence? You decide, but I have been sold on turkey gun optics for a long time, and this didn't change my mind any. I am fairly certain I would have killed that bird with a scoped gun. Personally, I have come to prefer the magnification of a low-power scope to a red dot, especially as chokes and ammo improve to the point that long shots are makeable.

Chokes and Loads

As I mentioned in a previous post, we are in the era of long-range turkey guns. The chokes and loads we've got now shoot patterns you can scarcely cover with your hand at 20 yards, and kill birds way past 50. Where the sweet spot of turkey gun patterns—the point where they are big enough to hit with, but dense enough for sure kills—used to be 20 to 30 yards, now it's 25 or 30 yards to 40 and change. If you shoot a turkey choke and premium ammunition, you might consider setting your decoys a little farther out or just start shooting sooner when a bird approaches. The bird I killed Friday morning was coming to me across an open field. It was on course to walk up and sit in my lap, but I shot it at 38 yards, which is a chip shot for the gun and ammo I'm shooting. And, unlike the bird I sniped at 57 steps on opening morning, this one left me all twitterpated as I walked up to it, so by that metric, 38 yards is close enough.

If longer shots offend you, or if you hunt in woods where you can't even see beyond 40 yards and turkeys sneak in undetected, you're better off going low-tech. Shoot a standard full choke and regular lead loads, or maybe upgrade to Winchester Long Beard. That's a more practical setup for killing your birds inside 35 yards, the way we all used to.