I killed my first few turkeys with an all-black Browning Auto 5 Stalker. I killed my first everything with that gun. While it did the job, it was heavy, long, loud, and kicked like a mule with turkey loads. As I became a more avid turkey hunter, the need for a dedicated tool became apparent. Does the perfect turkey shotgun exist? It might for you, depending on your needs. In this article, I’m going to break down what I think is the best turkey shotgun considering everything that various hunts demand and every option that can be customized on a gun. You may find an off-the-shelf option that is perfect for you, or you may find that there is one that is so close that just a slight modification is all that is needed to make it perfect. Let’s get into it.
Best 20 Gauge Turkey Gun: Mossberg SA-20 Tactical Turkey
Why I Chose It:
- If you read below, you’ll find that I have set out a certain set of benchmarks for the features of a shotgun that make it a great turkey shotgun. Some features really matter, others less so, and some are just personal preferences. Every hunter has a unique set of demands. The bottom line is that The Mossberg SA-20 Tactical turkey checks off all the boxes except for one, an adjustable length of pull, but they make up for that with a shorter-than-average length of pull that will accommodate most frames. A close runner-up is the Franchi Affinity 3 Turkey but with the Mossberg coming in optics-ready and lighter in overall weight, it takes the win. Plus who doesn’t like retro Mossy Oak Greenleaf?
- Weight: 6lbs
- Overall Length: 39 inches
- 20, 28, and 410 options
- Fully Camouflaged
- Optics Ready
- Pistol grip
- While Mossberg is known for a tang mounted safety, a cross bolt trigger guard style is preferable for pistol gripped guns, and this gun has just that.
- Buttstock is not adjustable, but with a shortened length of pull, it should handle well for all but the smallest framed turkey hunters.
- Trigger on the SA-20 is perfectly acceptable for turkey hunting, but it’s a little stiff and gritty. If you are looking to improve this, the modification is simple and can be done without a gunsmith in around 15 minutes.
Best Youth 410 Turkey Gun: Rossi Tuffy Turkey
Why I Chose It:
- The Rossi Tuffy Turkey beats the Stevens 301 in my book for several reasons. It is lighter, has an adjustable length of pull, and the shell holder is a handy feature that was well thought out. All of that considered, it’s also cheaper than the Savage/Stevens 301 Thumbhole Turkey. While not fully camouflaged, it does come in low-glare earth tones that should do well. You’ve got more to worry about trying to keep a kid still while turkey hunting than a camo job.
- Weight: 3.675 lbs
- Overall Length: 41 inches
- Long 26″ Barrel while still maintaining a compact overall length
- OD Green blends in well with natural surroundings without the price tag of full camo.
- Cheap! This gun typically retails for less than 3 tanks of gas.
- Pistol grip
- Adjustable length of pull
- Shell holder mounted at the ready
- Barrel needs deep cleaning and polishing before shooting to achieve the best patterns.
Best Budget Turkey Shotgun: Winchester SXP Long Beard
Why I Chose It:
- The price isn’t the only reason I chose the Winchester SXP Long Beard as the best budget turkey shotgun of 2023. If you are trying to get the best turkey gun for the money, you are most likely also not looking to spend $10 per shell on TSS. Optimized for Winchester Long Beard turkey loads, if you go with the SXP long beard in 12 gauge you’ll have more than enough gun to get the job done and cheaper ammo to boot. Along with this, the gun checks the box on all of the criteria that really matter in a turkey gun.
- Overall Length: 42.5 inches
- 12 or 20-gauge options
- Optimized for a tight, dense pattern, especially with Winchester Long Beard XR ammunition which is much more affordable than TSS.
- Affordable while still being fully featured
- Pistol grip
- Adjustable length of pull
- Slightly overweight at just a touch over 7 pounds, but you may appreciate the extra credit if you run the 12 gauge.
- Running 12 Gauge Long Beard turkey loads, you’re gonna feel the kick on this one.
Turkey Shotgun Design Features to Evaluate
Shorter is Better – But where do you draw the line?
From an overall length perspective, in my opinion, the shorter the shotgun the better it is for turkey hunting. Turkey hunting often requires crawling, setting up in tight brush, and swinging a gun with trees and brush close to you. A shorter gun is easier to carry and easier to maneuver in these scenarios. While the shorter the better, I feel that an overall length of under 45 inches is adequate for almost all situations.
Does Barrel Length Matter?
With the advent of modern turkey ammo and choke tubes, shorter barrels and choke configurations are perfectly capable of killing turkeys at any reasonable distance. Focus on the overall length of the weapon, not the barrel length.
Lighter is Better
As with overall length, the nature of turkey hunting often requires lots of walking, crawling, and moving through thick brush. Guns are typically carried one-handed and it is not uncommon for a hunter to need to hold his shotgun in the ready position for long periods. I once waited on a turkey to break strut and commit for over two hours! That’s a long time to keep your gun on your knee and stabilized. I like light guns, as light as I can get them with the other attributes I describe in this article. That being said, anything under 7 pounds is going to serve you well.
For me, a pistol grip is a must-have on my perfect turkey hunting shotgun. This style of grip is ideal for comfort remaining motionless waiting on the gobbler to commit and staying in the ready position. It all has to do with the angle of your wrist. The pistol grip design allows you to keep a neutral wrist while supporting the forend of the gun with your knee. Compare this to a traditional shotgun grip, where your wrist will be deviated at an uncomfortable position and support the weight of the gun.
It might seem trivial, but if you are holding still for long periods waiting for a gobbler to commit, this feature makes a big difference in the amount of movement you need to make. Along with this, my experience has been that pistol grip guns have less recoil to the shoulder. I estimate that your hand is absorbing a lot of this recoil making them more comfortable to shoot. You can certainly get it done without a pistol grip, but if we’re talking perfection, it must be a pistol grip for me.
How hard does it kick and should I care?
Turkey hunting is not a high-volume shooting sport. So for me, that means a soft recoiling gun is not as much of a factor as it would be for a shotgun to be used in a wing-shooting application. Along with this, felt recoil while hunting is zero. You’re just too jacked up on adrenaline for it to matter. That being said, nobody likes a hard-kicking firearm.
It’s not all about the gauge either. I have a light, over and under 20 gauge that kicks way harder with turkey loads than my heavier semi-auto 12 gauge. For sensitive shooters, choose semi-automatic actions and 20, 28, and .410 gauge guns for their inherent reduction in recoil
For sensitive shooters lean towards 28 gauge and .410, but only if you are willing to invest in Tungsten Super Shot and a quality turkey choke. If sensitivity is not an issue, I choose a 20 gauge over a 12. With high-quality ammunition, a 12 gauge is no longer necessary. I do this because I lose nothing in terms of effectiveness but I now have a smaller framed, typically lighter gun to go trekking with each day. Ultimately, this decision is one you will have to make for yourself based on the ammo you want to shoot and the hunter behind the gun.
I’ve killed a pile of birds with a black or wood/blued shotgun. Is camouflage really needed? Here’s why I say yes. When my concealment was excellent, I had no concerns. But when I wasn’t concealed as well as I would have liked to have been, or when a bird approached me from behind or to the side, I was on fire inside. Turkeys make me more anxious than any other type of hunt. I want every legal advantage to keep me confident, and still, and not rushing the shot or changing my position too early.
Turkey hunting predominantly occurs in the Spring when the weather is known to be unpredictable. Turkey hunting is also an inherently dirty type of hunting. Most hunts include crawling, busting brush, and multiple setups that will get your gun wet and dirty. In addition to this, avid turkey hunters often hunt multiple mornings in a row, leaving their gear in their vehicle or elsewhere to have it ready for the next morning.
I’m certainly guilty of not deep cleaning my gun after each hunt. For this reason, it is important that you carry a gun that can withstand these types of conditions. Place a preference on shotguns with finishes such as Cerakote, that will resist corrosion. Another option is to have your gun’s finish protected in the aftermarket, this can be a great way to camouflage and protect an existing shotgun in your collection.
I’ve never needed more than two shots in a turkey gun. There are some specific applications where you might appreciate having more capacity.
- An extended magazine can be nice if you want your turkey shotgun to double as a tactical/home defense shotgun.
- In areas where hogs and predators are a problem and it is legal to do so, additional magazine capacity can allow you to keep some buckshot loaded behind your turkey shells in case you run into some pigs or coyotes. TSS is too expensive and hard to come by to waste.
- A magazine cut-off is a nice feature on a semi-automatic shotgun if you are looking to slip another type of shell (buckshot) into your gun quietly or would like to keep your magazine full while keeping the gun unloaded.
All in all, while there are some specific reasons you may want one thing or another, I think magazine capacity is trivial in a turkey gun.
Choosing the right action is a matter of personal preference, as most turkey hunts are over with one shot, two at most. If you need three, it’s probably going to be a bad day. Here are some thoughts to help you decide. Semi Automatic actions are best for recoil-sensitive shooters. The downside is they are noisier to load than pump and break actions and they do not withstand dirt and abuse as well as the latter two options. Additionally, some of the semi-automatic guns, especially in 20 gauge and smaller, can have a hard time cycling certain turkey loads. While the automatic reload is a nice feature when it works, it’s also less reliable than a pump or break action.
Pump actions are best for those of us who are not reliably cleaning our firearms, are on the most bare bones budgets, or want the most reliable action. From a hunting perspective, follow-up shots with a pump are nearly as fast as a semi-automatic, to the point that the utility of the semi-automatic for this purpose is negligible. Pump actions are typically much cheaper than other action types, except single-shot break actions.
Break actions action allow for a longer barrel in the same overall length as a shorter barrel pump and semi-auto. A break action also allows for silent loading. I once blew it on a bird because I forgot to load my gun until I got into the woods. Little did I know that where I chose to rack my slide was right underneath a roosted bird. You live and you learn.
Another reason to consider a break action is for those of us hunting in areas where pigs frequent. Silent ammo changes allow you to switch from turkey loads to buckshot without any noise and very little movement. This is much harder to do in a pump or semi-auto. Lefties may prefer the break action to avoid the ejection of the shell towards their face.
Another option for those lefties is to look for bottom ejecting pump actions like the Browning BPS or even an old Remington Model 17 or the various left-handed models that are available. My brother is a lefty and he reports that shell ejection is not much of a concern for him.
Is It Optics Ready?
I’m sure I’m going to offend some with this, but in my opinion, a scope has no place in the turkey woods. Things happen too fast, birds come in from all directions, and the conditions are too dirty, dusty, and wet to worry about keeping an optic clean. Even with high-quality ammunition and excellent choke tubes, I personally limit myself to shots under 50 yards on wild turkeys.
Although for me the utility of a scope is limited, a holographic sight can be helpful for those who want to take longer shots or for those guns where the point of aim and point of impact are off. Optics can help you get your spread exactly where you want it. They can also help younger shooters get on target faster and help you get on target if you are faced with a weird shooting position.
The truly perfect shotgun is one that is optics-ready for a red-dot if you want it or one that a red dot can be affixed to. If you use a shotgun that has a ventilated rib, Burris makes an excellent vent rib mount that does not require you to drill your receiver to affix a red dot.
Most avid turkey hunters don’t need to be the one behind the shotgun to truly enjoy the hunt. Every year I end up putting a beginner, youth, or friend behind my gun with me doing the calling. For this reason, an adjustable butt stock is perfect in a turkey gun because it allows me to accommodate different framed shooters. In addition to being able to accommodate different framed shooters, a shortened length of pull can be advantageous when shooting from awkward positions or when shooting with bulky layers, such as the straps on your turkey vest. Look for models that allow an adjustable buttstock or spacers, and if you cannot find this, favor models that have a shorter length of pull.
I’ve never felt the need to fiddle with a trigger on a shotgun, but if you find your accuracy isn’t what you hoped for or if it feels like you need to “pull” the trigger instead of squeeze it, you may want to consider a trigger job. For Remington 870 and 1187 hunters, you can get the Timney Trigger fix if you want to upgrade your trigger. Otherwise, a qualified gunsmith should be able to help you improve the trigger on the shotgun you choose.
Many will say it’s important that the safety be able to be manipulated with the trigger hand only and without much movement. My feelings on this are that it does not matter. If you are using a pistol grip or thumbhole stock, which is ideal for a dedicated turkey gun for the reasons mentioned previously, the ergonomics of this grip are better for cross-bolt safety than for tang safety. In either case, my safety comes off well before a gobbler is within sight. When I commit to sitting down on a gobbler, it’s gun on the knee, safety off. Too many times they appear within range and that’s not when I want to have to move.
If you are a righty, both tang and cross-bolt trigger guard safety options will work to manipulate the safety one-handed with relatively little movement. If you are a lefty, the tang safety may be the feature that could sway you in one model vs another due to it being ambidextrous.
Which Shotgun Choke is Best for Hunting Turkey?
This is a complicated topic, far too complicated to be answered in just a few sentences. If you want to determine which shotgun choke is best for turkey hunting you need to factor in several variables. Luckily, I covered this topic recently on the Huntin’ Land Podcast with choke tube expert Jim Muller.
What Shotgun Shells for Turkey?
Much like the choke tube questions, the best shell will be dependent on your gauge and choke selection. TSS is a clear winner in terms of efficacy, but copper-plated lead is far less expensive. Every gun and choke tube likes a different shot size so you need to hit the patterning board to find the shell that your gun and choke tube likes.
What Gauge Shotgun for Turkey Hunting?
For sensitive shooters, lean towards 28 gauge or a .410 turkey shotgun, but only if you are willing to invest in Tungsten Super Shot and a quality turkey choke. If sensitivity is not an issue, I choose a 20 gauge over a 12 or 16, but any of the three will perform well with high-quality ammunition. If you insist on shooting cheaper, more plentiful traditional turkey loads I would go with a 12 gauge. I believe that 20 gauge is the best for turkey hunting because you lose nothing in terms of effectiveness but you now have a smaller framed, typically lighter gun to go trekking with each day.
In conclusion, to find out the best turkey shotgun for you, you need to take an honest assessment of what your style of hunt demands and what they may demand in the future. Bottom line is, there are more options than ever in the marketplace today, so find a model that fits your needs or take a model you have and get to customizing!
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