Modern turkey guns lean heavily in the direction of short barrels. There’s no question they are advantageous when it comes to slogging through cover, minimizing movement when you need to adjust barrel direction, and requiring less clearance room in a set-up spot.
On the other hand, a longer barrel, one of 28 or 30 inches, something many would consider ridiculous, has one noteworthy virtue. The longer sight plane makes the cardinal sin of peeking — lifting your head and shooting high — less likely. It’s good to have a gun that’s easier to maneuver, but you want that turkey on the ground, not flying off missing a few feathers at the end of the day. Consider a longer barrel if you want to improve your current set up or if you’re in the market for a new gun.
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As for movement, a seasoned hunter knows how to ease a gun around to get a bead on an in-range gobbler, and a few extra whacks with pruning shears when setting up will provide all the room you need.
Another aspect of the barrel equation is a critical one few turkey gunners even consider. Give me two barrels for my business. Whether an over-and-under or a side-by-side, two barrels mean twin options. You won’t have the problem of a super-tight choke if that turkey shows up super-close.
SCOPE, NO SCOPE?
A properly sighted scope certainly helps with matters, such as the all too real temptation to fail to get wood (of the gun stock) to wood (the hunter’s thick head).
On the other hand, good luck on following a turkey that has popped its wings, done the back step, and recalled that it has urgent business elsewhere that day. In other words, it’s much harder to re-acquire a target if you’re using a scope.
Likewise, even the best scopes on humid spring mornings can fog-up. Battery-operated scopes have their own set of issues: dead batteries, failure to turn it “on,” no replacement battery, and the like.
On the whole, I am an open-sight proponent. Two beads atop a barrel seem to me quite satisfactory. Indeed, until cataract surgery ended my need to wear glasses, scopes seemed an invention of the devil.
Turkey guns with thumbhole stocks are now very popular. They offer added steadiness along with allowing last-moment adjustments to barrel direction with minimal effort and movement. Those attributes are appeaing to any turkey hunter.
Conversely, traditional stocks (but not humpbacks) have the virtue of “flow” and increase the likelihood you will avoid the turkey-saving sin of failing to get your head nestled tightly against the stock.
Again, maneuverability is nice. Missing is not.
Mark Drury once said, “Turkeys were made to be hunted with a 12-gauge shotgun.”
You can kill a turkey with a 16-gauge, a 20-gauge, or for that matter a .28 or a .410. But you also increase the likelihood of crippling birds, along with reducing the effective kill range as you step down the line in size. A good rule of thumb is to think 30 yards maximum range for a 20-gauge and 40 yards for a 12-gauge. Even with today’s heavier-than-lead loads and tight-patterning chokes, you start “stretching the barrel” when taking shots beyond these distances. Or, to put matters another way, long-range shots are problematic and ethically questionable.
DO I NEED A SLING?
I’ve hunted turkeys for years with a good friend from Virginia. He once suggested that “a good sling is the most important hunting accessory.”
If you ever hunt in the fall, when covering lots of ground is critical, that’s sound reasoning.
On the other hand, the need for a sling is much less imperative in the spring. If you have ample elbowroom and belong to the walk-and-call school of hunting, a sling makes sense. But slings have a habit of getting in the way once you set up on a turkey. They hang loose below the gun, a potential red flag to produce movement a turkey can spot at the wrong moment.
They also can get in the way as your finger eases to the trigger. Or maybe the sling catches on a stem you didn’t prune back as well as you should have because you hunkered down in a hurry. Like so much else about a turkey gun, a sling is ultimately a matter of personal choice.
I’ll conclude by saying my ideal turkey gun, if it existed, would have two barrels, two beads and two triggers. The barrel length would be at least 28 inches. It would pattern best with No. 6 shot out to 40 yards. The 12-gauge would not have a scope, have a camo stock and fore-end along with dull metal.
I haven’t found such a gun but have done considerable hunting with a vintage Fox Sterlingworth featuring 30-inch barrels choked extra full and modified, and gussied up with camo tape.
My other go-to turkey gun is a Remington 11-87 Special Purpose, which patterns wonderfully well but lacks attributes I would favor, including a long barrel.
Ultimately, weigh your options, conclude what suits you best, make any adjustments you can, and go from there. The nearest thing to a “perfect” turkey gun (which might not exist) is one for which you have great fondness and maybe even view so affectionately that it merits a “name” such as “Old Turkey Taker.”