Sub-Gauge Shotguns for Turkey Hunting

I had been contorted into the shape of a pretzel for almost an hour. The gobbler I was calling took his time coming in. He appeared from the left, on my off side. Once there, he stopped and put on a strutting display that seemed to go on forever. Time stood still, and the heavy 12 gauge I was pointing in the wrong direction was getting heavier by the second. After what seemed like two eternities, the turkey inched over to where I could get a bead on him. At the shot the 3-inch magnum turkey load did its best to knock my hat off. I got the turkey, but I also got a shiner from the receiver of the shotgun planted on my cheekbone.

The wild turkey is one tough bird. Weighing 20 pounds and more, it has thick, tough bones and a covering of feathers like a suit of armor. The head and neck are the gobbler’s Achilles’ heel. The brain pan, vertebrae, and carotid artery are all found here, so this is where the turkey hunter wants to concentrate his shotgun pellets.

My question is: Do you need a 12 gauge to anchor your turkeys? Maybe not.

The past few years have seen a resurgence in the sub-gauges for many shotgun applications, and this includes turkey hunting. A smaller, lighter, more elegant shotgun with a lot less recoil has an appeal for many hunters. The advantages for younger and lady shooters are obvious. Hopefully, the days of handing a kid or a new shooter Granddad’s 12 gauge and laughing when it kicks them like an Army mule are over.

The Oddball: .410

The .410 shotgun has always been an enigma in the shotgun world. The .410 is a caliber, not a gauge, and nobody can agree whether it is an ideal kid’s shotgun or should be left to the experts. Had the .410 been named by the method used for other shotguns, the .410 would have been a 67 gauge. The .410 has been a traditional choice as the first shotgun for young shooters. Whether that’s a good choice depends on with whom you agree. While the .410 is undoubtedly light in recoil and easy on the ears, many argue the diminutive shotshell doesn’t contain enough pellets to offer the shooter much chance of hitting something. Also, some believe the .410 does not deliver enough force and velocity to adequately take even small game. Meanwhile, a small army of shooters takes squirrels, rabbits, doves, and other game with it.

Everyone’s Darling: 28 Gauge

While the .410 is sometimes eyed with suspicion by many shotgunners, the 28 seems to be the darling of the sub-gauges. The bore of a 28-gauge shotgun measures .550 inch compared to .729 inch for the 12 gauge—better than the .410 but not much better. It is, however, enough to make a difference, and with today’s modern loads and the hunter making the effort to work his turkey in close, the 28 gauge is certainly capable of downing the king of game birds.

Asking a group of shotgunners simply to name the sub-gauge shotguns may be a bit like asking your group at deer camp what’s the best caliber rifle for whitetails. Many will say it’s anything 20 gauge and smaller. Some argue the 20 gauge is not included. Others will proclaim the merits of the 16 gauge. In the end, it’s the shotgun and load that suits you best.

Browning BPS Field

Browning BPS Field

The Browning BPS (Browning Pump Shotgun) is a proven performer that has stood the test of time. The BPS Field has a classic look with a satin-finished walnut stock and a matte blued barrel with a ventilated rib. This shotgun has a 3-inch chamber and top tang safety. Unique to the BPS is its bottom feed and ejection port. Shells are loaded and ejected from the bottom, and combined with the top tang safety, this gun is truly ambidextrous. It’s chambered in 16 and 28 gauge and .410 for the sub-gauge fans. $600;

CZ-USA Drake

CZ-USA Drake

At a trim six pounds, the CZ-USA Drake is an over/under shotgun that is a delight to carry. Built on a one-piece CNC-cut receiver, the Drake has a single selectable trigger and robust extractors to lift spent shells. The Drake can be had in 12, 20, and 28 gauges or .410 bore—all fitted with Turkish walnut furniture with sharp laser-cut checkering that sticks them in the hand. With 28-inch barrels and five interchangeable chokes (except for the .410, which has fixed Improved Cylinder/Modified barrels), the Drake ships in a protective plastic hard case. It’s a lot of over/under for the money. $702;

Remington 870 Express .410

Remington 870 Express .410

The wood and matte finish of the Remington 870 Express make it less expensive than the standard model. Some time ago the .410 bore was dropped from the Express line, but it’s back now. The 870 Express .410 has a 25-inch barrel, fixed Modified Rem choke, vent rib with a bead sight, and 14-inch length of pull. It weighs a mere 5.75 pounds. The shotgun has a 4+1 shell capacity and matte black oxide finish on the barrel and receiver. $551;

TriStar Viper G2 .410 Camo

TriStar Viper G2 .410 Camo

If you’re looking for a moderately priced .410 semiauto shotgun for turkeys, the TriStar Viper G2 may be a slam dunk. It’s gas-operated with a 3-inch chamber that allows you to shoot everything from light target loads to heavy waterfowl. The choke system uses Beretta/Benelli Mobil threads and includes three choke tubes (Improved Cylinder, Modified, Full). The durable injection-molded stock and forearm are coated with Soft Touch finish, which offers a good grip. The camo pattern is Realtree Max-5. The gun is backed by a five-year mechanical warranty. $640;

Mossberg SA-28 All-Purpose Field

Mossberg SA-28 All-Purpose Field

This autoloader performs well above its class, thanks to a proven gas-operated system that reliably cycles sub-gauge shells. Because excess gases are vented, the SA-28 is also easier on the hunter’s shoulder despite weighing a feather-like 6.5 pounds. The Turkish walnut is almost too nice to drag through the turkey woods, but at this price point, you don’t have to worry about treating it with kids gloves. This lithe, little 28-gauge does come with set of five choke tubes, but consider investing in an aftermarket choke dedicated to gobblers for the best performance. A bantam model is also available as the perfect introduction for youth shooters. $675;

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