Is the 20-gauge Enough for Turkey?

Posted by  Friday, February 01 2013 2:54 pm
expert

For many years, the 3-inch, 12-gauge ruled the roost with turkey hunters, but with the introduction of the 3 1/2-inch shell, the 12-gauge upped the ante with a whopping 2 3/8-ounce payload of shot. However, these behemoth shells come at a price — in both cost and punishing recoil.

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The Mossberg 500 Super Bantam 20-gauge Turkey Shotgun.

An 8-pound shotgun firing a standard 3 1/2-inch payload will generate about 66 pounds of recoil, more than a .375 H&H rifle, and is considered the minimum for hunting dangerous game in Africa. Repeated firings can produce headaches, much like those suffering a slight concussion.

So is there hope for hunters of a slighter build than Hulk Hogan?

When turkey hunters get together and the subject of turkey guns roll around, there's an understanding: Bigger is better. And while this might be the rule rather than the exception, the future of hunting lies with our youth and the fastest rising group of new shooters and hunters — women. So it only makes sense that manufacturers are producing women and youth friendly turkey hunting equipment.

Today's 20 gauge is a great alternative to the mind numbing torture of the 12 gauge, but can the 20 gauge run with the big dogs and how does it perform in the field where it matters most?

Shotgun Choices

Need your turkey gun downsized? Turkey hunters are not created equal. Most ladies and youth hunters aren't built like lumberjacks, and the next generation of turkey hunters needs a shotgun to fit them and not kick them so hard as excessive recoil can cause flinching especially in new shooters.

Twenty gauge shotguns are nothing new, but as far as being marketed as a turkey gun, it's still in its infancy. One of the new kids on the block is the Super X3 NWTF Extreme Turkey. This is serious medicine and features all the same physical attributes as its 12 gauge twin brother. It features a cantilever scope mount, Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity camo, back bored technology and an Invector-Plus Extra-Full Extended Turkey choke tube and brings this 20 gauge to the forefront as the "Real Deal".

The time tested and proven Mossberg 500 Super Bantam Turkey is designed to grow with the hunter. The stock is adjustable from 12-13 inches by use of spacers that fit on the butt stock. The 500 Super Bantam Turkey features an EZ-reach forearm, a shortened pistol grip and a 22-inch ported barrel to reduce muzzle jump and perceived recoil. The 510 Mini Super Bantam Turkey Shotgun model has a pull length of 10.5- 11.5 inches; an 18.5 inch barrel; and both models are available in Mossy Oak Break-Up Infinity and feature an extra full Accu-choke turkey tube.

I wouldn't be afraid to bet a biscuit smothered in sausage gravy that 20-gauge turkey guns will be all the rage in the next few years.

Ammunition Offerings

It does not take a lot to kill a turkey. In fact, a single pellet will do the job, but this single pellet has to be in the right place. Therefore, turkey hunters look for a payload of shot capable of delivering this magic pellet.

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No matter what gauge, patterning your shotgun is vital to success.

This becomes a numbers game. A 1 1/2 oz. load of 6s from a 20 gauge is no different than a 1 1/2 oz. load of 6s from a 12 gauge — other than speed — and a turkey will never be able to tell whether it was shot with a 12 gauge or a 20. The more pellets headed toward your target, the better your chances of putting one in a turkey's vitals.

The range of a 20 gauge cannot match the 12 gauge, but the handicap equates to only 10-15 yards, making your maximum effective range in the neighborhood of 30-35 yards. And yes, I know many hunters out there shoot beyond 35 yards, but new hunters should resist the urge to shoot longer ranges until more experience and confidence in both their skill and marksmanship increases.

Selecting a shell isn't like going to the market for a gallon of milk and grabbing the first one you see. Try as many different shells as you can and shoot them on the patterning board before settling on one, a dense pattern on a turkey's head is the desired effect.

Don't forget to check how your shotgun patterns at close range. A few seasons ago I nearly missed a bird as it stood only a few yards from the end of my shotgun. At 30 yards, my shotgun patterned well, but at close range the pattern was high. Luckily, a pellet from the bottom half of the pattern caught the top of the gobbler's head. 

Need a little more range? Today's new high density ammunition like HEVI-Shots HEVI-13 or Winchester Xtended Range Hi-Density Turkey loads will give you a few extra yards, but don't let it become a crutch and never shoot beyond your established maximum range.

The downside of the new hi-density shells is, for the most part, they are all 3-inch shells. If you are looking for a standard shell, look no further than the Federal Premium 2 3/4 inch Heavyweight load. Heavyweight is one-third more dense than lead. This 1 1/8-ounce load of 7s duplicates the pattern density found in a load of No. 5 lead shot. This is great news for young shooters and recoil sensitive shooters.

Please check the legality of this load as some states regulate the shot size to be used on turkeys.

Aftermarket Choke Tubes

As stated earlier, it only takes one pellet to put a gobbler down, but it must be the right one. To stack the odds in my favor and deliver as many "right" pellets as possible, I use an aftermarket choke tube. I prefer choke tubes by Indian Creek Shooting Systems, but others like the HEVI-Shot Turkey Choke, Primos' Jellyhead and Tightwad tubes are effective in putting a lot of pellets downrange and on target.

Can using a 20 gauge make you a better hunter?

I knew an older Southern gentleman who used nothing but a .410 to turkey hunt and each season he filled his tag. "If you call 'em close enough you can use a hickory switch," he'd laugh as we gathered around him trying to absorb his turkey wisdom. While I'm not ready to use a hickory switch, this sage advice brings up a great point.

If you can call or coax a bird within easy range, then it shouldn't matter whether you are shooting a 20 gauge or a Howitzer. Many hunters use decoys to coax a wary longbeard in the final few yards. Decoys can also keep the bird's attention focused on something other than your setup.

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Ray Eye in Hawaii with Kimi, who used a 20-gauge to fill her tag.

Turkey hunting guru, Ray Eye, is confident the 20 gauge is enough to anchor a big gobbler. Each spring he guides many youth hunters — many of whom carry a 20 gauge — but Eye has a warning for new hunters: "When using the 20 gauge, you need to get the birds in close. One of the biggest mistakes young hunters make is moving around too much while turkey hunting," he said. "As a bird gets close it is even more important not to move." 

For this reason, Eye utilizes and recommends portable blinds for young hunters. Blinds, if properly used, will help hide movement especially at the moment of truth.

"When that gobbler is within 20 yards there's no room for mistakes," says Eye. "If you move, it's game over."

Matching Shotgun With Hunting Style

Eye recommends matching your shotgun and shells to the location of hunting style.

"In open areas, use a larger size shot than you would in timbered areas," Eye said. "Larger pellets carry more of a punch at longer ranges than a smaller pellet. High density ammo and the ultra-tight choke tubes are great in these areas and don't be afraid to mount some sort of optic.

"In heavily timbered areas, like the Missouri Ozarks, a bird will be right on top of you before you see it. Down there turkeys are taken at distances measured in feet rather than yards," he said. "It is guerilla warfare...hand to hand combat, switch to a load of 6s and a modified choke. Use a bead sight or rifled sights to keep your head down on the stock."

The Verdict

So can the 20 gauge hang with the 12 gauge? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. So fear not, users of the 20 gauge — it is coming on strong and is up for any challenge.  

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Last modified on Wednesday, March 26 2014 1:00 pm
Steve Felgenhauer
expert

Steve Felgenhauer is a freelance writer in St. Louis, Mo., whose passion for the outdoors is non-stop. After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, he went on to pursue a career in gunsmithing. Soon afterward, he began putting his expertise of firearms into written form. 

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