Guns for Turkeys

The smell of spring is in the air, and this means Spring Turkey season!  The sound of an old Tom gobbling from the roost just before day light can really get your blood pumping.  If you have never experienced hunting wild turkeys you owe it to yourself to give it a try at your earliest opportunity.  The wild turkey is a beautiful and challenging animal to hunt.  Not because he’s the smartest thing in the woods, after all there is not a lot room in that little head for a brain, but turkeys have learned that just about everything else in the woods is after them.

So when those sharp eyes see something out of the ordinary, turkeys head for the nearest exit in a hurry.  God only knows which direction this will be!  The turkey’s eyesight is as sharp as a hawk’s to say the least and this is one time where camouflage, any and everything, is a definite must.  Seeing a big Tom in full strut with his wings cupped, feathers all puffed up and tail in full fan is one sight I would not trade for regardless.  The colors of the Rio Grande turkeys, like we have here in Texas, are so striking in the spring they make the birds seem almost unreal.  There are various ways to harvest a bird, shotguns seem to be the most popular however some hunters may prefer a rife and let’s not forget an accurate handgun.

With all the camouflage clothes, face nets, gloves, calls, and decoys you are likely to feel more like a special forces solider than a turkey hunter, this why when choosing a firearm I like to keep it as simple as possible.  In a shotgun any action or model will work just fine and the best all around for turkeys is a 12-gauge, in my opinion.  The 12-gauge has a number of loads to choose from and recoil is tolerable.  The best load, as far as I’m concerned, is a 3” in 4, 5 or 6 shot with 1-¾ oz to 2 oz of shot.  Personally I like the Winchester Supreme Turkey loads with 1-¾ oz of #5 shot.  This load provides good pattern density from my gun out to 30-40 yards.

Shotgun for Turkey Hunting

My pick for a shotgun is a Remington 870 pump-action 12-gauge, 3” chamber with a 21” vent-rib barrel and an extra-full choke.  The gun is lightweight and the shorter barrel means it’s easy to maneuver in cover as well as being fully camouflaged it wears a fiber optic front sight.  I can’t really say the gun being all camo will help kill more turkeys but it looks cool and the main advantage I see is no glare and it does blend in to the cover well.  If you are thinking of using a rifle or handgun to hunt turkey, check your states laws, some states do not allow turkeys to be hunted with any firearm other than a shotgun.  For those states that do allow rifles and/or handguns, there are a number different rim-fire and center-fire cartridges that will do the trick.

My guess is that if you were to look-up “hunting challenge” in the dictionary it would say; try hunting wild turkeys with a handgun, and this is defiantly true.  Chasing after turkeys with a handgun offers its own set of obstacles only a true hand gunner is willing to under take.  Whether you prefer a single-shot pistol or a revolver the name of the game here is patience and above all, shot placement.

Single shot pistols

Single shot pistols such as the T/C Contender or Encore as well as a bolt-action cambered in cartridges such as the 22 Hornet, 221 Fireball, or 223 Remington make fine choices for wild turkey.  When fitted with a quality variable scope these guns are capable of making shots well beyond 100 yards realistic.  The two scopes I like the best are the Leupold 2.5×8 EER and the Burris 3×12 LER.  The high-end magnification of these scopes is a welcome advantage on longer shots.  Match grade or FMJ bullets make good choices for the rounds, but the best load is the one your gun will shoot the most accurate.

Revolvers for Hunting turkeys

Hunting turkeys with a revolver may seem to be the equivalent of charging the gates of hell with a squirt gun, but even that it not impossible if you have faith.  Neither is taking an old Tom with a revolver if you are ready.  Cartridges like the 32 H&R Magnum, 357 magnum, and 41 and 44 Remington Magnums offer the accuracy and plenty of power for a tough gobbler.  The 41 Remington Magnum, or the 44 Remington Magnum may seem like over kill to some people, but I have always said it is wise to beware of any creature who’s eyes and genitals are bigger than it’s brain.  Seriously though, when these rounds are properly loaded they are just as suited for old Tom, as they are that big buck.  A scope is a must and I would consider a 4x the minimum magnification for hunting turkeys.  The Leupold 2.5×8 EER mentioned earlier as well as the Burris 2×7 or the 4x Leupold EER all make fine choices for a scope on a turkey revolver.  In my Smith & Wesson 657, the load I use for turkeys is a Hornady 210-grain XTP hollow-point crimped in place over 7.5-grains of Hodgdon Tite-Group powder.  This load produces about 1100 fps from the 7 ½” barrel and is quite accurate at 50-yards.  Tite-Group is a dirty powder but it produces the accuracy I’m looking for in my 41 magnum.  In the 44 magnum a 200 to 240-grain bullet at around the same velocity is all that is needed.  One of my best loads for the 44 magnum is a 240-grain Hornady XTP pushed along at about 1150 fps with mild dose of AA #7.  Both of these loads are accurate and are pleasant to shoot.

Turkey’s are pretty tough old birds and shot placement is the key no matter what you use for a hunting tool.  The head and neck area are the most venerable area on a turkey.  This is definitely the place to put the density of a shotguns pattern.  This also the best shot placement for a rifle or single shot pistol.  It provides a quick instant kill and does not ruin any of the breast meat.  The area where the feathers meet the head/neck is the spot.  If a revolver is your chosen tool then the precise bullet placement required for a head/neck shot may not be obtainable due a number of factors.  In this case the shot can be placed through the wing into the area at the top of the leg.  This shot can be taken even if the turkey is in full or half strut. This shot takes the vitals and legs, and most important you will not lose any of the precious breast meat.  A little more risky spot is where the wings come to a point on the turkey’s back this requires the hunter to wait for the time when the bird is upright to avoid the chance of the bullet passing through the breast.

Hunting wild turkeys requires determination, patience, and in my case, a lot of luck.  Just when I thing I have it all figured out, well, I don’t.  Either way the spring is a great time hunt wild turkeys.  Enjoying the spring weather and having fun is what it’s all about.

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