Dedicated turkey shotguns did not become popular until the early 2000s. At the time, turkey populations were booming—there were an estimated 7 million birds inhabiting the U.S. and Canada—which ushered in a new era of optics-ready, short-barreled shotguns that catered to turkey hunters.
Truthfully, any shotgun can kill a longbeard. Browning Auto-5s and Winchester Model 12s were used to punch plenty of turkey tags. But, to kill a gobbler, you must aim a shotgun—not swing the barrel like you do on a flushing rooster or cupped up mallard—and specialized turkey guns increase accuracy because they are intentionally modified to be shot like a rifle.
They generally have a short barrel like a rifle and are either drilled and tapped, or come with a Picatinny rail already affixed to the receiver. This allows for scopes and reflex optics to be mounted and extend the range of a shotgun—when you pair it with the proper shotshell—so that you can deliver the payload with precision.
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It’s a daunting task to choose the right shotgun off the rack because you can’t test its accuracy before you buy it. Plus, every gun fits differently. What’s nice about turkey guns, though, is you can mount an optic to most of them, which allows you to fine-tune how the gun shoots. The shotshells’ pattern won’t change dramatically, but the point of impact will with proper sighting in the scope or red dot. So, if the gun feels comfortable when you bring it to your shoulder at the gun counter and has a mounting system, it's likely to shoot well for you.
In terms of functionality, there are manufacturers that have a proven track record for building great turkey guns. The four gun makers I selected all fall into this category. In particular, Mossberg and Remington have done an exemplary job of filling the turkey gun niche and it’s why you see so many veteran turkey hunters taking those respected shotguns afield. Like cars, some shotguns are bound to be lemons, so before you buy, research the return policy. And, if you don’t like the gun, you can always trade it in for something else.
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Remington 870 SPS Super Magnum
Benelli M2 Field
Mossberg SA-28 Tactical Turkey
Stevens 301 Turkey Obsession
The 870 is one of those guns everyone tends to shoot well. Its Express, Wingmaster, and Fieldmaster variants are some of the best-patterning pump shotguns of all-time. The SPS Super Magnum has a thumbhole stock, which is why I give this model a slight edge over the Mossberg 500, another well-built turkey slayer. The thumbhole gives you that extra bit of comfort with the SPS over a straight stock or even pistol grip stock. A 20-inch barrel and 13½-inch length of pull make the gun more maneuverable.
You can also add an optic to the top rail for better accuracy, plus the included turkey/predator extended choke tube will deliver pellet dense patterns beyond 40 yards with lead and tungsten super shot (TSS) loads. Dual action bars, that are nearly impossible to bend or break, run the bolt when you slide the fore-end backwards and forwards. I’ve put my 870s through hell over the years, even dunking a brand-new Fieldmaster in our family fishing pond after tossing a dirt clod in the action to see if it would shoot during a torture test. It ran right through three shells before jamming. All I had to do was disassemble the 870, wipe it down, and it fired right up on the next trigger pull.
Benelli redesigned the M2 this year by changing the shape of the fore-end for a better grip and updating the controls to mirror those of the Super Black Eagle 3. The Italian gunmaker also added a 24-inch barrel option, which was previously only available with the M2 Performance Shop which costs double the price of the Field. You can add a red-dot reflex sight to the M2 by removing the stock with a socket wrench. If you don’t feel comfortable mounting the optic on your own, a gunsmith can do it for you.
This gun comes standard with improved cylinder, modified, and full chokes, so you'll likely need to buy an aftermarket turkey choke to maximize pattern potential. Benelli’s are inertia driven, so the recoil is more stout than if you were shooting a gas gun. They also removed the Comfortech recoil system—interlocking chevrons in the stock that flex when the gun is fired—used in the original model, but there is still a recoil pad affixed to the buttstock. And for turkeys you only need to shoot once, so recoil is less of a factor.
Turkey guns are Mossberg’s specialty, and the Connecticut gunmaker hit the mark again with its first dedicated 28-gauge turkey autoloader. I tested this gun in early 2023 and it printed some phenomenal patterns inside a 10-inch circle with Federal Heavyweight TSS and Apex Ammunition at 40 yards. And, since it’s a gas-driven semi-auto and the charge weight of the Federal and Apex loads were 1 and 1⅜ ounces respectively, the felt recoil was minimal.
A Picatinny rail is included with the SA-28 for mounting an optic, plus a turkey choke comes standard, so you don’t have to look for an aftermarket option. There is also a ghost ring sight affixed to the 22-inch, vent-rib barrel, which I found to be just as accurate as the red-dot sight I used during testing. The pistol grip stock gives you better control of the SA-28 and the swivel studs allow you to attach a sling for an easy carry afield.
In most hunting pursuits I would advise against shooting a .410 as a beginner, unless they pair the Stevens 301 with TSS. It’s an effective killer out to 40 yards. Single-shot, break-actions like this gun are simple to use, but if you pull back the hammer and don’t fire the gun, you need to be especially careful. To return the gun to safe, pull the hammer back slightly, depress the trigger, and ease the hammer forward. If you let go of the hammer too fast, the gun will fire.
The 301 was built with a top rail and I suggest mounting an optic because .410 payloads are much smaller than those in any other gauge. For instance a 3-inch, 13/16-ounce .410 load of No. 9 TSS has 294 pellets compared to the 724 pellets in a 2-ounce 12-gauge No. 9 TSS offering. The 301 includes an extra-full extended choke that screws into the muzzle of the 26-inch barrel. Stevens worked with Federal to optimize the chrome-lined bore to perform with Heavyweight TSS loads.