Detailing Your Turkey Shotgun

Just like a waterfowler or upland bird hunter relies on a specialized gun for ultimate performance under special conditions so should a turkey hunter.

Turkey hunting is increasing in popularity — especially in BC and Manitoba, and even in Alberta where there is only a limited entry draw. In Ontario, it’s been popular for years! Gun manufacturers have recognized this and build special turkey guns and an array of after market products to turn almost any shotgun into a tack diving turkey gun.

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Sights & Scopes

Personally, I like things simple and reliable and so my gun is outfitted with a fibre optic front and rear sight and I find it to be very satisfactory. Another modern invention that many avid turkey hunters find very useful is the pistol grip. These have become so popular that many manufacturers offer guns with pistol grips already built into the gun and make them also available as an after market accessory for older gun models. While I do not use a pistol grip on my gun (not yet anyway) I can see the advantage they offer in holding the gun steady during aiming.


The preferred gun model of veteran turkey hunters is without question the reliable 12-gauge pump-action shotgun chambered for 3½-inch shells. Choosing a gun that can hold 3½-inch shells just gives you more options since you can also use any of the shorter shells.


Another feature you would want to pay close attention to is the gunstock. This is probably the least analyzed but a very important part of a turkey gun. Just as important as the length of pull — which should be a perfect fit for the shooter — there is much to think about the measurement of the stock height. Some of the special turkey guns feature stocks with a raised comb to assist in aligning the eye with the sight or scope. If your gun does not have a raised comb you would benefit from adding an after market module to the stock that will raise the comb higher.


To tame some of the heavy recoil common to most turkey shotguns, manufacturers have come up with two solutions. One is to ad extra thick recoil pad of which many are vented or filled with shock absorbing gel. The other solution, often in addition to a thicker shoulder pad, is to fit the stock with a recoil absorbing system. Benelli took this technology one step further and invented the Benelli ComforTech stock and recoil pad.


It’s hard to squeeze a standard shotgun trigger set at four to five pounds. If you’re lucky your shotgun comes equipped with an adjustable trigger. If not, look into having the trigger replaced. I am not going to tell you how light a trigger should be set as each person is different. All I will say is that, like on a rifle, the fire pin release should come as a surprise, which it won’t with a heavy trigger pull.

Ammo & Chokes

The best performance of a shotgun load is achieved as a result of a workable combination of gun, ammunition and choke tube. A load that performs well with my set up may not be suitable for your gun. Each gun is different. The best way to find out what works for your gun is by spending time on the shooting range.


When I pattern a new shotgun I start off with purchasing as many different ammunition brands and load combinations, containing shot sizes between No. 4 and No. 6 as possible. My patterning sessions start at 20 yards, shooting at life-sized paper turkey targets with the vital zones clearly showing. My aim is to create a pattern of evenly spread pellets in a 10-inch circle. Once I get a consistent pattern at 20-yards the targets are moved to 30-yards and the process is repeated then it is on to 40-yards. It can take quite a bit of work to establish a pellet pattern that spreads evenly from 20-yards to 40-yards but the effort is well worth it.

Where To Aim?

Many new turkey hunters do not seem to know where the kill zone of a turkey is. Turkeys are quite tough animals. Their wing feathers are thick and cover the lung, heart and liver. Shooting a turkey in the chest with a shotgun would result in most pellets just bouncing off the bird. The few pellets penetrating the winged armour would injure or cripple a tom but not kill him outright.

The only place on a turkey’s body that guarantees a quick and humane kill with a shotgun is the head. The proper aim point is just about right where the neck becomes featherless.

How Many Pellets Does It Take To Kill A Turkey?

Studies have shown that at the very least five pellets must penetrate the turkey’s vitals. The vitals are the brain and spinal column. When patterning a turkey gun always use a life sized turkey paper target where the vital areas are clearly outlined.

Caution With Scopes

Scopes mounted on shotguns should be designed expressly for that purpose. Regular riflescopes are not made to withstand the heavy recoil of a turkey shotgun and could get knocked out of alignment. Most reputable optics manufacturers offer special turkey gun scopes. These specialized scopes are usually low in magnification, something from 1x to 3x.

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