Building the Best Turkey Gun

AJ Gall

March is here and the spring thaw is upon us.  After a stagnant winter following the end of deer season, it’s finally time for many of us to start gearing up for turkey season.  The days are getting longer and the temperatures are getting warmer, making it the perfect time to get out and pattern your shotgun.  Whether you’re a first-timer looking to buy a perfect turkey gun or simply a hunter looking to improve your existing shotgun, this article will walk you through the key features you should be considering if you’re looking for the perfect turkey gun.

What gauge is best for your turkey gun?

Adult Hunter:  You can’t go wrong with a 12-gauge shotgun when it comes to killing turkeys.  Not only is it the most versatile shotgun size for hunting multiple game species, but it also has the most options when it comes to finding the right shell for your target species.  This is one decision that should be easy, get a 12-gauge that can chamber at least 3-inch shells.

Youth Hunter:  Recoil is often one of the biggest fears for youth when it comes to shooting guns, which is why a 20-gauge will be their best friend.  A 20-gauge will offer a significant reduction in recoil, while still proving plenty deadly.  Couple this with some of the new shotgun loads on the shelves today, and you’ll set them up for immediate success.  A semi-auto will further reduce the recoil.

Beware: Most shells designed exclusively for turkey hunting will only come in 3-inch and 3 ½ inch shell size.

Should you put a scope on your turkey gun?

Adult Hunter:  This decision largely comes down to personal preference and sometimes state game laws.  Personally, I prefer no optics because I don’t want to worry about bumping it while I’m out running and gunning for toms.  A simple small fiber-optic sight placed on the end of the barrel is a great choice for the turkey hunter on the move.   The one big bonus with conventional scopes and red dot scopes is that they take a lot of hunter error out of the equation.  Both cause you to keep your head down while locking on to a turkey.  Also, a slight bit of magnification can help you hold the crosshairs exactly where you want to, which is becoming more important every year with the ultra-tight shooting turkey loads of today.  However, a scope does make it more difficult to pick the bird up in compared to a bead or barrel sight

Youth Hunter:  For the reasons stated above, a scope of some sort is often beginner friendly.  A scope on a turkey gun will help beginners know exactly where to aim on a turkey and allows for consistent practice while they pattern their gun.  Another big advantage of having a turkey gun equipped with a scope is the fact that it allows you to see the whole bird when you’re taking aim.  In comparison, if you’re using a shotgun equipped with a bead or iron sights, the bottom half of your sight picture is covered up by your barrel. But again, it comes with a higher price tag and can be more difficult to find the bird.

Turkey hunting with a 12 gauge shot gun

What choke tube is best for your turkey gun?

If you’re setting your gun up to be a dynamic turkey killing machine, you’ll definitely want to equip it with a turkey choke.  A turkey choke is basically an extra-full choke that will hold a tighter pattern at further distances, thus increasing your effective range. There’s been thousands of turkeys killed with full chokes as well, so don’t think you have to go out and buy a turkey choke.  I’d advise against taking a modified or improved cylinder (choke) shotgun into the field to kill turkeys, as this pattern is designed for shooting birds of flight and spreads out quickly.

Should you get a semi-auto or pump action turkey gun?

The choice is yours, of course, but we’ll lay out some pros and cons of both.  First, we’ll look at the semi-auto shotgun.  A semi-auto will allow you to get off a second shot quicker than a pump, but there is an increased likelihood of experiencing a jam. A good semi-auto will often times double as a great waterfowl gun as well, however, you’ll pay significantly more for a semi-auto.  Semi-autos also have less recoil and they eliminate the need to physically load another shell.

Now, on to the pump action shotgun.  Here you’ll find perhaps the most popular do-everything shotgun of all time, the Remington Model 870 Express.  Pump action guns are extremely reliable and durable with the proper maintenance. They often come with an attractive price tag and are simpler to use.  With a little bit of practice, you’ll be able to cycle through rounds nearly as fast as a semi-auto.  In the end, turkeys are made to be taken with one shot, after that you’re just sending prayers down range.

What is the best chamber size for your turkey gun?

Adult:  We’ll limit this discussion to cartridge length, as the debate for shot size and brand of shell is everlasting.  When it comes to knocking down turkeys, you’ll want a gun that can chamber a 3-inch or even a 3 ½-inch shell.  Again, improvements in turkey specific ammo such as the Winchester LongBeard XR and Federal 3rd Degree have made the smaller 3-inch shell size more capable than ever.

Youth:  If you’re setting up a 20-gauge, you’ll want a gun that can chamber 3-inch loads.  If a younger hunter is using a 12-gauge, then the 2¾-inch load is a good option, as it will have less kick than a 3-inch load and significantly less recoil than a 3 ½-inch load.

What is the ideal barrel length for your turkey gun?

Shorter barrels have become the general norm for turkey guns because they are more maneuverable and lighter to carry.  Choosing a turkey gun with a barrel length between 21 – 24 inches will suit you well.  The shorter barrel length of a turkey gun makes it easier to use in a blind and is ideal for both adult and youth hunters.

Accessories Buys


Equipping your turkey gun with a comfortable sling is an absolute must.  Whether you’re toting your gun across the countryside trying to catch up with a wild gobbler, or hunting them from a pop-up blind behind the house, a sling makes the commute a whole lot easier and safer.

Paint Job?

A camo dipped shotgun is great, but it often comes with a higher price tag.  Any shotgun with a matte black barrel finish is a suitable alternative.  Basically, when you’re looking to choose a shotgun for turkey hunting you want something that doesn’t glisten or glare.  Turkeys have tremendous eyesight, so don’t let a shiny gun ruin your hunt.  There’s also plenty of camo tape options to cover up the glare of a blued barrel if you choose to go that route.

Turkey Hunter stalking a tom in the field behind a decoyYou can see the type of abuse a shotgun can take during a turkey hunt, especially when you’re stalking them. My turkey gun doubles as my waterfowl gun, so I chose to get a camo dipped barrel with a synthetic stock to hold up in the elements.

Stock Type?

A turkey gun is typically a gun that you don’t mind trucking through the brush or sitting in the rain with, thus, a synthetic stock is the way to go.  Not only will it hold up to the elements better, but it will also be a bit more camouflaged.  Save the beauty of a walnut stock for your rifles and sporting shotguns.


A bi-pod, monopod, or any other type of shooting sticks can provide a helpful and stable rest to make the moment of truth count.  A collapsible shooting stick is great for hunting turkeys out of a blind, as the mesh window frames don’t offer much support.  A monopod that mounts to your gun barrel is great for the run-and-gun type hunter.  You can keep it folded up and out of the way if you prefer to use your knee, or you can fold it down if you have the time.

The choice is yours…

Hopefully this list of important turkey gun features has given you a reason to go out and buy another gun.  If not, hopefully you’ve already got one.  In the end, buying the right gun ultimately comes down to personal preference.  Be sure to handle and shoulder as many different makes and models as you can to find one that fits you properly.  Also, spend plenty of time on the range experimenting with different types of ammo at different distances, as these two factors will significantly impact results.

HuntGuard performance hunting layering camo system

About The Author
From Woods to Table

AJ Gall

AJ Gall's prior hunting and wildlife experiences began long ago and make him the perfect contributing deer hunting guru.  As a habitat consultant under Dr. Grant Woods, AJ has worked on properties in 13 different states, amassing over 25,000 acres of quality deer management. He now uses that knowledge to help clients find their dream hunting properties as a licensed real estate agent in Wisconsin.  


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