Your Next Turkey Gun Should be a Remington 870

Your Next Turkey Gun Should be a Remington 870
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Specialized turkey shotguns have become widely popular in recent decades. Turkey shotguns are essentially field models built with shorter barrels, drilled and tapped for an optic mounting system, and sometimes outfitted with a pistol grip to improve steadiness. They are a fine addition to any gun closet if you punch multiple tags each spring and can afford such a luxury.

At the same time, very few—if any—turkey-specific shotguns produce superior patterns to a standard shotgun equipped with a turkey choke and the right load. If you can’t afford or don’t want to spend money on a shotgun you dust off once a year, an old-school pump you already own (or find for cheap on the used market) is an excellent option this turkey season.

The Remington 870 Platform

I bought the Remington 870 Fieldmaster a few years ago after Rem Arms, which owns Remington shotguns, rifles, and pistols, discontinued the Express, a price-point variant of the Wingmaster. I’ve taken many 870s afield, and almost all of them have patterned lead and non-toxic shot incredibly well. The Fieldmaster, based on the same platform as the Express and Wingmaster, is drilled and tapped, but only a few previous 870 variants include the same feature. If you find a used Wingmaster or Express and want to add an optic for turkey hunting, a gunsmith can drill and tap it for you. A scope saddle (an aftermarket mounting system) can also be attached through the pins holding the trigger group in place.

This winter, I decided to forgo buying a specialized turkey gun. Instead, I turned the 12-gauge Fieldmaster into one, mounting a Picatinny rail, adding a Leupold Delta Point Pro red dot sight, and swapping the stock full choke for a Carlson’s Longbeard XR with a .660 constriction. The Delta Point Pro costs $350, so if you don’t want to buy it, just go with an aftermarket turkey choke—the 870 will still be plenty accurate. However, a red-dot sight is a great investment if you’re a whitetail deer hunter in the Midwest or want to use your turkey gun to pull double duty for home defense.

Patterning with Red Dots

I shot multiple turkey-specific lead and tungsten super shot (TSS) loads through the Fieldmaster at 40 yards to gauge how well the 870 patterned when coupled with the Carlson’s choke. But before delving into how the platform performed, let’s talk about the right and wrong way to pattern a shotgun when using an optic.

Do not mount the optic before shooting the gun on paper because the optic likely isn’t sighted in to the middle of the pattern. If your gun comes with an optic pre-mounted, remove it. Be sure to use a piece of butcher paper (at least 35” by 35”), not a turkey target, for initial pattern work. Butcher paper is large enough to show where most of the pellets in the payload are impacting. A small turkey target will not do that. Shoot the load you plan to hunt with at 40 yards (this yardage is the industry standard set by the Sporting Arms Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute or “SAAMI”).

The results tell you what the gun, load, and choke can produce downrange. Shotgun experts recommend ten shots to verify the gun’s point of impact, but you probably don’t have the cash to burn on that many TSS loads. And I will tell you from experience that shooting ten two-ounce shotshells in a row from a 7-pound pump is no picnic. My recommendation is to shoot enough to feel confident in the pattern.

Now it’s time to mount the optic. The pattern will likely not impact the same place on your first shot. It may hit high, low, left, or right. You will need to adjust the windage and elevation of the optic to dial it in. Once that’s done, you can feel confident in your hold point when a turkey struts into range.

Patterns do vary from shotshell to shotshell. Don’t sight in a shotgun for one manufacturer’s TSS offering and expect another manufacturer’s load to impact in the same spot. Switching shot sizes can affect impact points, too. Pick one load and stick with it.

The Pattern Process

It’s impossible to pattern every turkey shotshell on the market, so I limited my test to three TSS loads—Hevi-Shot Hevi-18, Fiocchi Golden Turkey, and Salt Creek Cold Turkey—and a lead load—Winchester Longbeard XR. I shot each load five times from 40 yards on butcher paper. I found the pattern's center, drew a 10” circle around it, and counted the pellet holes, recording pattern average and best pattern. The results are in the table below.

Shot Type Length Shot Size Charge Weight Total Pellet Count 5-Shot Avg. Best Pattern Pattern %
Hevi-18 3" 9 2-oz 717 194 204 27%
Fiocchi Golden Turkey 3" 9 1⅝-oz 583 148 154 25%
Salt Creek 3" 9 2-oz 717 196 203 27%
Longbeard XR 3" 5 1¾-oz 301 121 125 40%

By pattern percentage (the five-shot average divided by total pellet count), the 870 favored Longbeard XR over every other shotshell. But, Hevi-18 and Salt Creek put the most pellets inside the 10-inch circle, which they should since their payloads are the heaviest and have the smallest, most dense TSS pellets. There was a slight pattern percentage dropoff with Fiocchi, but different shotgun and choke combinations favor certain loads over others. I’ve seen Fiocchi print more than 200 pellets inside a 10” circle in previous tests from another model shotgun and choke.

Longbeard XR has been one of the most consistent performers in my testing. It patterns between 40% to 46%, an incredible feat for any turkey load at 40 yards, making it one of the best values for your dollar.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of a Pump Shotgun

The Remington 870 is an ideal shotgun for turkey hunters because of its accuracy and manageable carry weight (7.1 pounds). A pump shotgun is also nice to take into the turkey woods because you control how the gun feeds each shell. So, if a turkey comes into shotgun range and the shotshell doesn’t fire for some reason, you can slowly slide the fore-end back, eject the dud, and load a fresh round. It’s also less likely a pump will jam if you whiff on the first shot and need a second to anchor that longbeard. Break-actions with recoil-activated triggers will not allow you to shoot the second shell if the first misfires, and auto-loaders are more prone to jam than pumps.

Recoil is not pleasant with the 870. Break-action and pump shotguns have nowhere to displace the energy created by the accelerant in the shotshell, so almost all of it goes directly into your shoulder and cheek. For instance, Hevi-18 produces 66.4 foot/pounds of felt recoil through the 870, more than double a conventional 1-ounce target load with a muzzle velocity of 1,300 fps. But that’s the price you pay with many turkey loads.

Fortunately, you’re only shooting once (hopefully) on a turkey hunt, so you’ll only get stung that one time. And if recoil is an issue, consider moving down to a smaller gauge, like a 20 or even 28. Those payloads are significantly lighter. Just be sure to pair the ammo with a heavy gun to lessen felt recoil.

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