In the good old days of turkey hunting, sportsmen normally ventured afield with whatever shotgun they happened to own. In most cases this would be a trusty double-barrel or an old reliable such as a Remington 870 shell shucker. In truth, of course, when it came to the wild turkey, the good old days werent so good, for Americas big game bird was in serious trouble. Today, thanks to one of the great wildlife comeback sagas, turkeys are thriving. And, as the birds have traveled the comeback trail, the equipment for hunting them has undergone an impressive revolution.
Well look at modern turkey guns in a moment, but before doing so it should be recognized that turkey hunters in yesteryear werent really handicapped all that much when it came to the tools of the trade. Indeed, one of my personal favorites among an embarrassingly large collection of turkey guns is a vintage Fox Sterlingworth double-barrel.
Old-time shotguns are still quite effective for turkeys, but may not be the ideal choice for the task.
At first glance it seems all wrong. It is chambered for 2-inch shells, lacks any camouflage, has no sling swivels, and features 30-inch barrels. Yet the tighter of those two barrels patterns beautifully at 40 yards with No. 5s, while the more open modified choke in the second barrel offers a small but welcome margin of error when a turkey is staring at me up close and personal (from 25 yards or less). Even the long barrels, supposedly a liability, make the likelihood of peekingand therefore shooting over a birds heada bit less likely thanks to the longer sight plane the barrels provide. In short, old-time shotguns, while not necessarily the perfect choice, can work quite well for the turkey hunter. About the only real qualification I would add is that having a barrel that is tightly choked is a must.
With that by way of an extended preliminary thought, lets turn to the character and characteristics of todays turkey guns. For starters, they are made specifically with a single quarry in mind, and to a considerable degree thats what sets them apart from shotguns in general. When you buy a special purpose turkey gun, it isnt going to have a great deal of versatility when it comes to other game.
The gun almost certainly will feature either some type of camouflage or else non-reflective matte black. This may involve just the stock and forend, but increasingly a dipping process involves the metal parts of the gun as well. A turkeys eyes form its first line of defense, and many a gobbler has lived to strut another day simply because he picked up the glint of a shiny barrel or polished stock.
Modern turkey guns usually have non-reflective materials and are shorter than normal shotguns.
Similarly, the guns barrel will be appreciably shorter than one finds in other shotguns. The theory behind this is two-fold. First, it cuts down on weight, an important consideration in a sport which can involve a great deal of walking and calling over the course of a full days hunt. Secondly, it enables the hunter to nestle down into a set-up position without having to worry too much about freedom of range to swing the gun. Personally, I dont think short barrels are much of an advantage, but they are certainly commonplace.
The gun is certain to be chambered for 3-inch shells, and more often than not 12-gauge turkey guns handle 3-inch shells as well. Thats because turkey hunters desperately want the few extra yards of killing range the longer shells supposedly give them. However, the longer loads often involve a significant sacrifice in patterning performance, and they produce recoil that would do a Missouri mule proud.
Speaking of pattern, the use of super-tight chokes has become standard in turkey guns. The reasoning behind this is that a turkey takes a lot of killing, thus you want as many pellets as possible in the small vital zone provided by its neck and head. Of course, these tight patterns also leave precious little room for error, particularly at close range, and in such situations the likelihood of a miss becomes quite real if you dont really bear down. To my way of thinking, thats a serious limitation, and I long for the day when modern turkey guns featuring two barrels become widely available. Then the hunter will have a second, much more open, choke for close-range shots.
Modern turkey shotshells and specialized choke tubes can boost accuracy.
Along with these basic features, turkey guns tend to have a number of other attributes to make them handier or more functional. Swivels and a sling for carrying the gun are definitely handy, although a sling can get in the way once you are set up and dealing with a gobbler. The answer to that, of course, is to pop the sling loose whenever you set up. Most turkey guns come equipped with two beads, but increasingly hunters demand some type of light gathering front sight or even a scope. Unquestionably, a scope helps when it comes to being on target at the moment of truth, but set against that plus are the minuses of a potential for fogging up in the often humid days of spring and the difficulty of following a target which is seldom still for long through an optical lens. Whether or not you mount a scoped turkey gun is a matter of personal choice, but if you want one, there are plenty of choices on the market.
Along with the basics of turkey guns we have just mentioned, there are all sorts of accessories you can use to gussy up your gobbler getter. These include after-market chokes (a new one from Hunters Specialties even comes with an adjustable sight built into it), special rests to add comfort when you set up for long periods of time, camo tape to cover metal, special butt pads, and much more.
Such items allow you to customize a turkey gun to suit your personal needs, and theres no doubt that todays turkey guns have come a long way from the days of all-purpose guns with which one made do. The same, incidentally, holds true for turkey loads, and shotshells for the sport get better all the time. Still, for all the advances, I personally feel that the perfect turkey gun has yet to make its way to the market. For the time being though, the sportsman in search of a turkey gun has a world of welcome choices before him.