Your Turkey Shotgun
published in the Western Sportsman Magazine)
By Othmar Vohringer
If you want to be ready for any turkey hunting situation, pay the same
attention to detail on your shotgun as you would use on your deer rifle.
Sure, you can shoot a turkey with just about any shotgun. But to
optimize your guns performance, and ultimately your hunting success,
you need to pay attention to detail and customize your shotgun. Just
like a waterfowler or upland bird hunter relies on a specialized gun
for ultimate performance under special conditions so should a turkey
hunter. In this article I’ll explain how to turn an ordinary
shotgun into the ultimate turkey gun, or if you’re in the
market to purchase a new shotgun, what to look for.
The most difficult aspect to grasp for some, especially seasoned
waterfowl and upland bird hunters, is that a turkey gun is not pointed
at the target but rather aimed. This is actually understandable since
shotgunners have it ingrained that a shotgun is always pointed. This
observation has been born out many times during my years as a turkey
hunting guide -one of the biggest obstacles to overcome was convincing
some clients that they have to aim the gun at the turkey. The reason
why you aim a turkey gun is that you will be shooting a very tight
pellet pattern at a relatively stationary and quite small target.
Miscalculate by a few inches and you could end up missing the bird
completely, or worse, crippling the animal.
With that said it would make sense then that a specialized turkey gun
requires the characteristics of a rife. Gun manufacturers have
recognized this and build special turkey guns and an array of after
market products to turn almost any shotgun into a tack diving turkey
Modern turkey guns are equipped to accept rifle-like sights or scopes.
Scopes come in a variety of options, from the regular scope to
holographic-red-dot-sight and fibre optic dots consisting of one front
bead and two rear beads. All of the sights are adjustable for windage
and elevation. Personally I like things simple and reliable and so my
gun is outfitted with a fibre optic front and rear sight and I find it
to be very satisfactory. Another modern invention that many avid turkey
hunters find very useful is the pistol grip. These have become so
popular that many manufacturers offer guns with pistol grips already
built into the gun and make them also available as an after market
accessory for older gun models. While I do not use a pistol grip on my
gun (not yet anyway) I can see the advantage they offer in holding the
gun steady during aiming.
The preferred gun model of veteran turkey hunters is without question
the reliable 12-gauge pump-action shotgun chambered for 3
½-inch shells. Choosing a gun that can hold 3
½-inch shells just gives you more options since you can also
use any of the shorter shells. There are times when a 3-inch shell is
ideal but there are situations where you need the added reach and
knockdown power of a 3 ½- inch magnum shell. Ideally you
would want to choose a gun with a shorter barrel length, something in
the order of 24 inch to 26-inch is an accepted standard among turkey
hunters. A shorter barrelled gun is easier to manoeuvre around in the
thick vegetations where big toms travel and it’s also lighter
to lug around all day long.
Another feature you would want to pay close attention to is the
gunstock. This is probably the least analyzed but a very important part
of a turkey gun. Just as important as the length of pull –
which should be a perfect fit for the shooter – there is much
to think about the measurement of the stock height. Some of the special
turkey guns feature stocks with a raised comb to assist in aligning the
eye with the sight or scope. If your gun does not have a raised comb
you would benefit from adding an after market module to the stock that
will raise the comb higher. This is important for two reasons. First,
the more contact points there are between you and the gun the easier it
is to hold your point of aim. Having to lift your head off of the stock
to get a proper sight picture will result in the loss of attaining
repeatedly the same position that is so important to good shooting.
Second, the recoil from a heavy turkey load pushed through a narrow
choke can be quite severe. The recoil does not only push the gun back
into your shoulder but also upward into your cheek. If your head is an
inch or so above the stock the gun is going to smack you hard in the
cheek and that it is going to hurt you.
To tame some of the heavy recoil common to most turkey shotguns,
manufacturers have come up with two solutions. One is to ad extra thick
recoil pad of which many are vented or filled with shock absorbing gel.
The other solution, often in addition to a thicker shoulder pad, is to
fit the stock with a recoil absorbing system. Benelli took this
technology one step further and invented the Benelli
ComforeTech® stock and recoil pad. The stock is split
diagonally from the buttstock to just under the pistol grip, and
connecting the two pieces are eleven synthetic shock absorbing chevron
pads to form a highly effective recoil barrier. The company claims that
this system alone reduces felt recoil by as much as 48 percent.
There are other measures you can take to tame recoil besides specially
designed stocks and shoulder pads. Ported shotgun barrels or ported
choke tubes will also take away some of the kick. Ported barrels and
chokes not only lessen felt recoil they also prevent -to a degree-
muzzle jump. These things may seem minor issues to some and not worth
spending the extra money. Wrong! I’ve seen more turkey
hunters than I care to remember, especially novices, that developed the
bad habit of becoming gun shy and flinched in anticipation of
what’s in store for them once they pull that trigger.
Flinching is a sure way to miss shots, even the ones that are at
Shotgun triggers are also in the category that get barely any attention
but should be of important consideration to turkey hunters. In most
field applications a shotgun trigger is slapped. Not so when turkey
hunting. Since you aim a gun like a rifle it only makes good sense that
the trigger should be squeezed in order to obtain optimal accuracy.
It’s hard to squeeze a standard shotgun trigger set at four
to five pounds. If you’re lucky your shotgun comes equipped
with an adjustable trigger. If not, look into having the trigger
replaced. I am not going to tell you how light a trigger should be set
as each person is different. All I will say is that, like on a rifle,
the fire pin release should come as a surprise which you
can’t do with a heavy trigger pull.
From the gun let’s move on to the ammunition and chokes.
Today’s vast array of turkey ammunition comes in a large
variety of lead and tungsten configurations and is offered as regular,
magnum and super magnum. This can be mind boggling to a beginning
turkey hunter. “What is the best turkey load?” is a
question often asked. There is no simple answer to that. The best
performance of a shotgun load is achieved as a result of a workable
combination of gun, ammunition and choke tube. A load that performs
well with my set up may not be suitable for your gun. Each gun is
different. The best way to find out what works for your gun is by
spending time on the shooting range.
When I pattern a new shotgun I start off with purchasing as many
different ammunition brands and load combinations, containing shot
sizes between No. 4 and No. 6 as possible. My patterning sessions start
at 20-yards, shooting at life sized paper turkey targets with the vital
zones clearly showing. My aim is to create a pattern of evenly spread
pellets in a 10-inch circle. This guarantees that enough pellets will
penetrate a turkey’s relatively small vital area. During this
process I keep changing ammunition brands, load configurations and
choke tubes until I find the pattern I am looking for. Once I get a
consistent pattern at 20-yards the targets are moved to 30-yards and
the process is repeated then it is on to 40-yards. It can take quite a
bit of work to establish a pellet pattern that spreads evenly from
20-yards to 40-yards but the effort is well worth it.
My current turkey gun, a Mossberg ATS 12 gauge pump action shoots
Federal Premium Mag Shok 3-inch magnum shells loaded with 1
¾ oz of No. 4 lead pellets pushed through a regular full
choke. Several other load/choke combinations produced either too many
holes in the pattern or were so tight at close distances that it
shredded the target beyond recognition. As mentioned earlier a turkey
has a very small vital area. If the pellet pattern has too many open
spaces at long distances it is quite possible that you can miss the
target although the aim is right. Conversely, if the pattern is too
tight you may miss a shot at very close range. Exactly this happened a
few years ago to one of my hunting partners. His gun patterned
perfectly at 30-yards shooting with an extra tight turkey choke and 3
½ inch Winchester Xtended Range high velocity shells. The
tom stood at less than 10-yards. The moment my partner pulled the
trigger the bird moved it’s head a few inches back resulting
in a complete miss. A pattern that tight, although performing well at
longer distances, was just too tight for close distances. Had my
partner spent the time on the range to work up a load that performed
equally well at close and long distances he would not have missed that
tom. Think of a very tight pellet pattern like you would think of a
bullet when you shoot at close distances and you get the idea why
hunters often miss turkeys at spitting close distances.
When you pattern your shotgun it is advisable to do so from a shooting
bench with the gun firmly locked into a gun vice to obtain consistency
in the point of aim.
Now you hold the perfect turkey gun in your hands and you have
patterned it to perfection. You’re ready to go hunting. Not
quite! As important as all of the above is it’s one thing to
shoot a gun from a bench and quite a different thing to shoot under
actual hunting conditions. It’s good advice to shoot a few
sessions at targets set up randomly at different distances while
sitting on the ground as you would in a real hunting situation, while
wearing the clothing, including head net, that you will wear on a hunt.
What do you do when the turkey, as often happens, comes from the
“wrong” side? If you’re right-handed, the
wrong side is your right side. If a turkey approaches directly from
your right shoulder it is impossible to take that shot, unless you have
taught yourself to shoot left handed.
If you have not practised this and other scenarios you’re
limited to taking only the ideal shots and believe me when I say that
in the real turkey hunting world these are few and far between. Many a
big gobbler got away because the hunter was not capable of making the
shot. That’s good for the turkey but not so good for you.
It takes time and work to detail your turkey shotgun but the results
are definitely worthwhile. With this extra confidence in your equipment
and shooting ability, you can concentrate on the shot without worrying
about anything else.
Good question; many new turkey hunters do not seem to know where the
kill zone of a turkey is. Turkeys are quite tough animals. Their wing
feathers are thick and cover the vital organs, lung, heart and liver.
Shooting a turkey in the chest with a shotgun would result in most
pellets just bouncing off the bird. The few pellets penetrating the
winged armour would injure or cripple a tom but not kill him outright.
The only place on a turkey’s body that guarantees a quick and
humane kill with a shotgun is the head. The proper aim point is just
about right where the neck becomes featherless.
Many Pellets Does It Take To Kill A Turkey?
Studies have shown that at the very least 5 pellets must penetrate the
turkey’s vitals. The vitals are the brain and spinal column.
When patterning a turkey gun always use a life sized turkey paper
target where the vital areas are clearly outlined.
Scopes mounted on shotguns should be designed expressly for that
purpose. Regular riflescopes are not made to withstand the heavy recoil
of a turkey shotgun and could get knocked out of alignment. Most
reputable optics manufacturers offer special turkey gun scopes. These
specialized scopes are usually low in magnification, something from 1
time to 3 times.