February 17, 2022
By Adam Heggenstaller
Shotguns built for turkey hunting come from the factory with a variety of enhancements that fall into three purpose-driven categories. Some features such as back-bored barrels, extended forcing cones and species-specific choke tubes are designed to boost the performance of turkey loads.
Other aspects—sight setups and stock designs in particular—help hunters direct tight patterns to the target. Finally, there are attributes that improve concealment and handling.
A new turkey gun that has all these elements can carry a price tag that exceeds $1,000. These shotguns are impressive tools to wield in the spring woods, but a rig that will deck a gobbler need not come at such expense.
In fact, many general-purpose "field" variations of popular models will admirably serve turkey hunters after making a few upgrades to the standard equipment.
With turkey season coming soon in most states, now is the time to tune up a shotgun for toms. The following modifications will make a scattergun more effective on longbeards, and they can be completed in little time at home with basic tools. And since none of them are permanent changes, the shotgun can be returned to its original state when turkey season is over.
Change the Choke
This is the easiest upgrade to give an upland or waterfowl shotgun in converting it to a turkey gun, yet many hunters fail to take full advantage of the available options. While most shotguns come with a set of interchangeable choke tubes that include one with full constriction, aftermarket choke tubes offer much tighter inner diameters that can improve patterns and give a turkey gun a greater effective range.
A choke tube is represented by its inner diameter at the muzzle end; the smaller the measurement, the tighter the choke. Most 12-gauge full choke tubes measure .685 to .695 inch at the muzzle, while many turkey-specific choke tubes have inner diameters of .660 to .670 inch.
When selecting a turkey choke tube, don’t assume the tightest constriction will yield the best patterns. In fact, some of the recent turkey loads that utilize tungsten-alloy shot pattern better in moderately tight choke tubes. In addition, just because one gun or load patterns well with a .665 tube doesn’t mean another will do the same.
Finding the perfect combination of choke tube and load can take time and money, but there is a way to save some of both. Aftermarket manufacturers like Carlson’s (choketube.com) and Trulock (trulockchokes.com) have done extensive research with a wide variety of constrictions and loads in most of the popular shotgun models. It’s well worth asking them for advice on a specific combination and then heeding it.
A gobbler’s head and neck are small targets, and they require precise aim to hit. Unfortunately, the conventional shotgun bead sight—even when it includes a secondary bead midway down the barrel—is about the worst arrangement for directing a tight pattern to the kill spot.
There’s nothing in which to center a single bead for reference, and it’s difficult to tell whether the gun is being aimed high or low. Aligning two beads isn’t much easier, as the rear one is often too small to be of much assistance when the eye is focused on the front. Another problem: beads sit low on the barrel, and the muzzle ends up obscuring the head and neck of the turkey.
Adding sights that offer a rear notch (or aperture) and a front post greatly facilitates aiming a shotgun. TruGlo (truglo.com) offers models such as the TruBead and GobbleDot that attach to the ventilated rib of most shotguns. Fiber-optic inserts improve visibility, and the sights are adjustable for windage and elevation.
Better yet, if the receiver is drilled and tapped for optics, install a rail and a small red-dot or reflex sight. The illuminated aiming point these sights present is by far the easiest and fastest object to paste on a longbead’s neck. Since these optics are parallax free, the eye doesn’t have to be directly behind the dot for accurate aiming—a benefit when a gobbler comes in at an odd angle. Burris (burrisoptics.com), Bushnell (bushnell.com) and Hawke (hawkeoptics.com) offer several solid models at reasonable prices.
Turkeys have incredible eyesight, and the gleam of a glossy stock or glint from a shiny blued barrel can ruin a setup. Make a shotgun blend in with the spring setting by covering it in camo. Don’t worry; no paint is required.
A hassle-free solution is wrapping the gun with a roll of stretchy fabric like Camo Form (gearaid.com). It’s elastic and sticks to itself to conform to curves, but it’s removable with no sticky residue left on the gun. Each roll is 2 inches wide and 144 inches long, which will cover most shotguns.
For more precise coverage, Camo Gun Skins from Mossy Oak Graphics (mossyoakgraphics.com) come in kits with pre-cut pieces that fit the barrel, receiver, fore-end and stock. The vinyl material installs without trapping air bubbles, and it leaves no residue when removed. The finished result looks impressive—not that the turkeys will notice.