April 18, 2017
By John Geiger
Light, easier to point and new shell options put 20-gauges in the turkey hunting game.
By John Geiger, G&F Senior Editor
I've always hunted with 12-gauges. I might have gone to 10, but the ammo is harder to get. I like the idea of a big bore with more pellets and powder. I figured they'd make up for my mistakes. If I aimed too high, or to low, that extra juice would still stop the turkey in its tracks.
A friend challenged me to try a 20 on a 2016 turkey hunt. I reluctantly agreed. In the end, I have a new-found respect for the gauge. In fact, I might not have killed the bird if it were a 12.
1. Lighter, easier to keep still
We roosted birds and set up well before sunrise near them. Moments later, three birds gobbled from the limbs not 50 yards from our set up. This is the most exciting kind of turkey hunting, and the most difficult for me. Exciting because the birds could easily see any movement as they gobbled and looked for danger before pitching down. Difficult because that often means a hour of remaining perfectly still. The Mossberg 500 Turkey Thug I was using felt about 2 pounds lighter than the gun I normally use. It was a breeze to support it and it didn't feel like it was digging into my leg as I waited. I kept still as I should, and the birds didn't detect me.
You might try a 20. The lighter gun's softer kick, lighter barrel and brand-new shell options could make your hunting more effective and fun.
2. Barrel easier to point
When I am upland bird hunting or waterfowling, I like some heft to the barrel. The weight gives it momentum when swinging on a flying bird, and prevents me from stopping that movement during the shot. But I don't need that front weight while turkey hunting. It's much easier to move the barrel when the bird doesn't come in exactly where you expect him to. You can find him in your sights more quickly then you could with a 12. You might think that a heavier gun absorbs the recoil better, which is does. But 3-inch, 20-gauge charge is significantly lighter and doesn't even feel like most shoulder-punishing 12-gauges.
3. New load covers my mistakes
I mentioned that the 12's will make up for my less-than-accurate shooting: a near miss would be a hit if there were enough shot and powder, right? True. But with the lighter, softer-kicking 20, there are fewer flubs. A new shell for the 20 -- Federal Premium's 3rd Degree — has three types of shot inside, which are designed to be very forgiving for a hunter like me who only hunts a handful of times each season.
It has 1/3 tungsten shot to carry energy a long-distance, 1/3 nickel-plated lead for your average shots in the 30- to 40-yard range, and a unique third ingredient. The final 1/3 is Federal's FlightStopper shot, made famous in their Prairie Storm loads. This shot has an edge around it that makes it scatter closer in. Basically, you are covered whether the bird steps in at 5 yards or 50. That's comforting to a weekend warrior like myself, and deadly on gobblers at all ranges.