My first turkey gun was about as generic as they come, a Mossberg Model 500 pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with a 28-inch barrel and fixed, modified choke. It had a birch stock and shiny blue finish, too shiny for the turkey’s keen eyesight. So I gathered up some ferns and leaves and two cans of spray paint – green and brown – and set to camouflaging it. Much has changed since then.

Nowadays, most major shotgun makers offer several models designed specifically for turkey hunting. You can pick one off the shelf, ready to hunt. Or you can customize what you already have to make it better suited to this specialty sport. What follows are a few things, necessary or otherwise, that make a shotgun a turkey gun.

Let’s start with gauge. Most hunters prefer the 12, which offers far more variety in terms of make, model and ammo choices. A friend of mine from Alabama used to lug around a 10-gauge magnum, which he dubbed “Maggie,” but with the options in chamber and loads available today, that seems largely unnecessary, emphasis on “largely.” Ammo innovations now make the 20-gauge a viable option, and my preferred choice in the fall. Federal Premium Heavyweight TSS Turkey Loads even make the .410 a realistic choice. As for chambering, most 12s now come standard with 3-inch capability, but 3-1/2 gives you more options for heavy turkey loads, and sore shoulders.

Barrel length is worth considering. Longer barrels are designed for holding tighter patterns at long range and offering a better sight plane for wingshooting, neither of which you need. Shorter barrels reduce weight and make your gun more maneuverable in tight cover, and you can make up any different in pattern density with screw-in chokes. The general rule here is: the tighter, the better, and there are plenty of options in stock and after-market, turkey-specific, extra-full choke tubes.

What you choose for sights is largely a matter of personal preference. Some folks prefer a basic front bead. Others add some type of optic, ranging from a simple red dot to a magnified “rifle” scope. The latter offers several advantages, including magnification and a more consistent point of impact. Even if your cheek is not properly aligned with the stock, the cross hairs will be on target.

You don’t need a camouflaged gun, but it helps. Turkeys have some of the keenest eyesight in the animal kingdom and will easily pick out any bright, shiny metallic object. Forget a shiny blued barrel and polished stock. A matte finish will suffice for both, and synthetic stocks are more durable and lighter. If you’re not happy with what you’ve got, you can tape or paint your gun, or have it dipped.

That about covers the basics of building a turkey gun. While certainly not necessary, a sling is a very nice accessory as it allows you to shoulder your gun while traipsing over hill and dale. Beyond that, it all comes down to personal preference and budget. Whether you’re toting and old “boat paddle” or a tricked out turkey tamer, you still have to get them close enough to make the shot.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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