Best Shotgun for Turkey Hunting

Best Shotgun for Turkey Hunting

Choosing a Turkey Hunting Shotgun

I remember as a young man, hunting turkeys in Tennessee. When the 3 inch shotgun shell was either introduced or made it into our little town of Lynchburg. I was shooting what most people shot back then which was a 2 3/4 inch 12 gauge Winchester. The same shotgun I hunted squirrel, quail, rabbit and dove with. I also remember all my friends running to the sporting goods store to get a 3 inch turkey gun. Later I started hearing about the 3 inch magnum. I thought they were crazy, but I must admit those turkey guns looked cool. All camo covered, barrel and all and according to them they were the best shotgun for turkey hunting.  

I was picked on for using my old 12 gauge Winchester turkey gun. It was a shotgun I got from my dad when he passed away. It was my grandfather’s shotgun and I liked using it. Besides that I had never missed a turkey with that old 12 gauge and I had watched several turkeys go free from misses by my friends with those fancy turkey guns with their super tight chokes. The patterns were so tight that they started missing turkeys and here is why.


Back in the day, turkey hunting was big in my hometown. We chased turkey’s the whole season. If one of us limited out they would call for the others. This was before or right around the time when the big fancy turkey guns were getting very popular, but so was turkey hunting.

Before those 3 inch magnums shells and then the 3.5 inch shells we all had 2 3/4 inch shotguns and used them for everything. We might change a choke out here or there between quail, squirrels or dove. My old Winchester had a full choke ands is all I ever used, it’s still in it today. It did well for me. The only thing I would question it on would be quail. By the time turkey hunting was upon us the quail had dwindled down to a point none of us were chasing them anymore.

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So why do you miss with your turkey gun. This is a question I asked my friends many times when they missed several turkeys after getting their turkey shotguns. Here is why. When we were young men running the ridges of Tennessee by morning and crappie fishing by afternoon, we were great turkey callers. Well at least my friends were I never really had to call because they loved to call so much. I always had a great turkey caller getting my bird into range of my 2 3/4 inch Winchester. It was the years of getting turkeys so close that conditioned us to do so with every bird before we shot. Why shoot when the gobbler is still coming?

So, as I continued to harvest my birds as normal my friends started to miss them, something they never had done before. The turkey’s were too close for their big 3 inch magnum turkey guns. The pattern was great from these guns all the way out to 40 yards and even beyond. They never really patterned their turkey guns in closer than like 30 yards, after all if the gun patterns at 30 then it surely patterns at 10 or 15 yards, right? Well yes and no.

The big guns did pattern in that close. The problem is that it was so tight it was almost defeating the purpose of a shotgun. This tight pattern was not as forgiving when the turkey was in close. We learned to get them in close because we were shooting 2 3/4 inch shells. This took a while to figure out and my friends began taking the shot before the turkey got so close. They hardly ever missed after that.   

3 Inch vs 3.5 Inch Shells for Turkey Hunting

There is much debate on 3 inch vs 3.5 inch shells for turkey hunting. I’ve read a lot and have been researching whether to move up to a 3.5 inch shell for turkey hunting. The findings have been almost straight down the middle. Some turkey hunters say the 3 inch shells shoot better and more consistent than the 3.5 inch shells. Others claim the opposite. The one thing I did conclude was that almost all of the pro 3.5 inch shell turkey hunters said they had to try different chokes and shell brands to find the best pattern for their turkey gun.

Personally I don’t like having to buy multiple chokes or ammo if I can help it so this was a check in the 3 inch box for me. I feel I would be better off spending my money on 3 inch TSS not a new gun and chokes. So I will continue to carry my Mossberg 20 Ga into the turkey woods. I have thought about a single 12 Ga to make a lightweight and quiet turkey gun. The rattle of my pump drives me crazy during certain circumstances.


There has been an age old debate over the 12 gauge and the 20 gauge shotgun. When I was young I wanted the 12 gauge but as I age the lighter 20 gauge is better for me. It isn’t that much of a difference on the scale, but it sure seems to be substantial when chasing a big tom turkey two ridges over.

Today, with the introduction of the TSS shotgun shells, the 20 gauge is becoming more and more desired as the best shotgun for turkey hunting. TSS is an abbreviation for tungsten super shot. Tungsten shot is much harder than lead pellets and much more dense. This makes the TSS shot much heavier than lead shot creating tighter patterns making smaller gauges more viable on longer shots. Hence the popularity in the lighter 20 gauge for turkey hunting.

Now there were die hard 20 gauge turkey hunters long before TSS loads came along. I remember this being the case back when I hunted quail and dove in Tennessee. There were people that just preferred the 20 gauge for the weight difference as well as the reduced recoil. To them they could hit with the 20 gauge just as well as they did with a 12.


I see so many turkey hunters debating and bashing others about the use of a scope on a shotgun for turkey hunting. I don’t really understand but I guess it’s like all the other things people argue over. As I get older I am thinking more about putting a scope on my shotgun for turkey hunting. Remember that there are many reasons people do things differently and scoping a turkey shotgun is one of them.

Of course there are those that want their turkey gun to look cool and have plenty good eyesight. To me that’s OK. Whatever gets them in the woods. I will say as I’ve made it my lifelong mission to get more young people in the woods. Our ranks are dwindling. Now back to the bead vs scope on a shotgun for turkey hunting. I will hang on to a bead as long as I can. My first step toward a scope on a turkey gun will be a Truglo bead.  It isn’t the seeing the bead that troubles me it’s seeing the bead and the turkey out there 35 yards. That’s what’s harder than it used to be to get lined up.

I say I will hang on to the bead as long as possible not for nostalgic reasons or to be an old time hard ass I just like simple when I am hunting. I move a lot on public land dragging my guns through some thick stuff. This is the same reason I like my peep sight on my Henry rifle, but it might get a low power scope soon.

Personally I don’t think a scope is needed on a shotgun for turkey hunting. However, there are legitimate reasons to do so. And if some want to use an assault shotgun with fancy sniper scopes and a full bandolier of TSS loads then more power to them, at least they’re hunting.

About Ken McBroom 307 Articles
Ken McBroom is an accomplished outdoor writer and photographer. Growing up in Lynchburg Tennessee allowed him many opportunities afield as a boy and young man. Later in life, after Desert Storm, Ken’s wanderlust took him to Alaska to live and work and experience the last frontier. Married now with two beautiful children, Ken now calls Kentucky home where he continues to communicate our American outdoor traditions and the lifestyle it offers.

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