Believe it or not, there was a time when any shotgun would do if you wanted to kill a gobbler. Then, with the evolution of camouflage patterns, choke tubes and magnum turkey loads, the game got complicated. For better or for worse, a turkey gun is one of the most customizable firearms that you can have in your safe. Who would have thought?
When I hunted the northeast, I used a handful of different pump actions that I paired with a full choke and whatever 3.5 inch turkey shell that I could get my hands on. I rarely patterned my guns and always knocked down birds in the spring and fall. Though the occasional miss would occur, I felt confident in my gun and knew when it was "me".
For the last handful of years, I've switched to the heaviest turkey shells that I could find to increase my odds at knocking down birds at greater distances, paired that with a full choke and have been surprised with the outcome. Maybe, disappointed is the better way to describe my feelings after a couple of "easy" misses. The unfortunate reality of having extra full chokes and dense shells is that many times the pattern is just too tight. Now don't get me wrong, I've knocked down a good number of birds with that combination, however the amount of dead turkeys on the second shot increased drastically, meaning that I needed the pattern to open up more. So all of this really has me thinking about what the perfect gun & shell combo looks like. Is there such a thing or are we forced to choose based on distance?
Up close and personal
Any turkey hunter who's been around the block a couple of times knows that sometimes the smartest birds on the planet can end up right in your lap when you need to pull the trigger. When this happens, the last thing that you need is a 1.5 inch pattern. For me, I kill most of my birds within 25 yards and a handful of them are closing in on 10. The easy solution to this conundrum is to use more of a "standard" turkey load. Essentially, something that will open up substantially by the time it gets to the bird. Today, it seems like those types of loads are almost few and far between with the inception of magnum and TSS loads stocking the majority of the shelves. However, they are findable and that is one option.
Where this option lets you down is at farther yardages when you need a pattern to hold together. So, at this point all that I've figured out is that carrying two different types of shells in my vest isn't a real solution. You need to pick a shell and go with it.
But What About a Scope?
I've always been on the fence when it comes to having a scope of some type on my shotgun. Worried about what it will prohibit vs. the good that it will do seems to be my internal mantra. However, this nifty little addition just might be the answer that hunters have been looking for all of these years.
In the world of turkey hunting, magnification is not necessary, so scratch those off your lists. What you're looking for is a red-dot with little to no magnification to aid your point of aim. They're small, lightweight and won't add a significant obstruction to your setup if you go this route. The beauty of the red-dot is that you will need to sight it in with whatever shell you plan on using. In the end, your setup will be right on based on whatever load that you decide to shoot. Where things get really interesting are at close range.
When you utilize a red-dot, you completely remove parralex from the picture. If you can see the dot, whatever is beyond it will soon become the target. With standard bead sights and the task of lining up multiple axis', misses become easier. The red-dot eliminates that scenario and allows you to have a much more consistent hold on the target. So, if you're shooting birds at close range, with a tight pattern, the chance of missing increases. If you were to aim with a red-dot you'd be able to hold it precisely where you want on the bird to account for the pattern only being so wide. In this situation, I would hold a little on the low side to account for more of the gobblers neck. By adding a red-dot to your setup, close range misses should dwindle and long range shots will remain an option should you need it.
Tag along with me as I take one of my favorite turkey guns and give it an overhaul to prepare for the upcoming season! #ProjectOlBetsy