By John Simeone
We are going to get a little technical for this article in preparation for the upcoming turkey season. Over the last 15 years or so my partner Dave Miller and I have conducted extensive test on different firearms at the Fort Polk Shooting Complex. In no small part the Turkey Gun has been one of our main subjects.
To make a good tight shooting turkey gun, one that shoots a pattern that is smaller in diameter than the standard full choke you have to go to the special Super Full chokes smaller than .700 inch which is standard for a full choke in a standard 12 gauge shotgun barrel. Notably the newer back bore shotgun barrels found in Browning, Mossberg and Winchester barrels are slightly larger making full choke at .710 inch. Many companies make after market super turkey chokes from .690 all the way down to .640, Hastings being the first to come to mind, which can be ordered to fit just about any screw in shotgun barrel. Some of these chokes are designed for lead shot only, while others will take on the heavier than lead shot, which now is very popular among turkey hunters.
The back bored shotgun barrel will slightly out perform the regular barrel, but not enough to make a real difference in field performance when actually shooting at a turkey. If you consider 40 yards as your maximum ethical range, and you have a good sighting system on your shotgun, it all boils down to how dead you want to kill your turkey. I once killed a gobbler with one #4 copper plated lead shot from a Winchester Supreme shell, fired from a Remington 870 Super Magnum. The distance was a clean 70 yards, so I know such a pellet will go right through a turkey’s skull. That doesn’t mean you should or I should try such shots. Most turkeys are taken around 25 yards anyway, so take your time and go for the close shot.
You don’t need an expensive gun such as a Benelli to get top performance, as one of the best turkey guns I’ve ever seen is the modestly priced Mossberg 835 (pump) and 935 (semi-auto). Mossberg was first to come out with the three and a half inch magnum 12 gauge, and with it’s stock turkey choke by Hastings, and a back bored barrel, it’s hard to beat.
In my opinion, which does not lie, Winchester makes the finest off the shelf turkey loads. If I’m shooting at the range and someone challenges the great Uncle John, to save money I fire a Winchester shell and usually win a tight pattern contest. However, if the guy happens to be shooting Winchesters too, I have to dig out the secret weapon by which all other shotgun shells are measured. The logo for Nitro Ammunition Company is “Playtime Is Over” and they are not kidding. This is a special order item, available on the internet, by far the best turkey shotgun shell in the world, and you will find they are priced accordingly. These should not be confused with Remington Nitro shells, so be advised.
What shot size is best would seem to be the next question. A quick answer would be 4s, 5s, and 6s in other words it doesn’t matter. If your shooting all your turkeys at 25 yards #6 shot is great, but there is nothing wrong with taking the 40 yard shot with #4s, especially N.A.C. Technically, lead shot is better in #4s and Heavy Shot is a good idea if you are using #6s at the 40 yard mark. I don’t condone shooting past 40 yards but technology seems to be catching up with my ethical opinion.
You see right at the 40 yard mark the shot load comes back through the sound barrier as it slows down, which causes each shot pellet to flare like a knuckle ball. No matter how you look at it, the only way you can make the shot string stay together is to increase the speed and keep it above Mach 1. That can only be done by decreasing the shot load, and this reduces the probability of a lethal spine or brain hit significantly enough to bring about the “Law of Diminishing Returns.” That’s why 40 yards is the limit, no matter what.
With all that lingo, you would think they would make me a school teacher, but to get the shot on target we need a precise sighting system and use the turkey gun like a rifle. Therefore leave your wing shooting ideas at home. Forget shooting at circles, your only wasting shells. The only things that count are lethal spine and brain hits on a life sized turkey head target. The best is the standard Birchwood Casey “Sight and Glow” turkey head target.
Next you need an adjustable sight or scope designed for shotguns. I use the Bushnell Turkey scope 1X4 power with a circle in the crosshair. It is mounted on the ventilated rib of my Remington Supermag with a standard cantilever base and mount available through Remington. Kade Jones my teenage hunting partner does well with glowing iron rifle sights, while Dave is in between with the popular Red Dot electric sight. But the trick is the Zero.
If you have good adjustable sights you can absolutely zero the center of the pattern for your gun. The turkey load starts off at about the same speed as a .22 long rifle cartridge. If you zero your shotgun dead center at 25 yards you will be slightly high at 40 yards. Therefore the classic center neck hold will drop the house on the wicked witch of the West every time. For your information the pattern at 25 yards will be about the size of your fist, and at 40 yards it will be about the size of your hand with your outstretched fingers. These are patterns as tight as they get, and missing due to just not knowing where your gun shoots is common. Once zeroed in this manner you should get around 12 lethal hits with #4 shot in a Winchester load and about 20 or more with a N.A.C. load of lead #4s. in a 3.5 inch 12 gauge magnum. This same formula will work even with a small 20 gauge shotgun if rigged out properly. You won’t get as many lethal hits but you will get enough to bring home a gobbler.
Now you have to practice from a bench rest to zero and this brings up a real problem with turkey guns, and that would be recoil. The little trick here is to pre zero the gun with skeet loads at 25 yards first and then fine tune with the Magnum shells. Do you know that a skeet load kicks harder than a 30-06. My combination gun 12 over 30-06 will instantly show you this first hand when you shoot both barrels from a bench rest. But that’s nothing; a 30-06 only has about 19 pounds of recoil with a 180 grain bullet. The powerful 300 Weatherby Magnum kicks with approximately 34 pounds of recoil, while the 458 Winchester Magnum with 600 grain bullets thumps the shoulder with 58 pounds of recoil. All well and good, no body hunts turkeys with an elephant gun, but a common 12 gauge 3.5 inch magnum will bash your shoulder with 60 pounds of recoil energy.
Don’t worry, if you get a big tom turkey in your sights and you have done all your homework like I showed you, chances are you won’t feel a thing, and neither will the turkey…..Pass it on.