Guide to Turkey Guns

Hunter taking aim from his blind with shotgun

For many hunters, the shotgun is as much a part of the turkey hunting experience as the bird itself. For experienced hunters, dialing in the range of variables now available in turkey guns, accessories and ammunition can make the experience that much better. For the new turkey hunter, this same range of variables can be intimidating and make getting the right set up a daunting proposition.

With the goal of breaking down everything you need to know to get from the gun counter to the woods, we here provide the Bass Pro Shops Guide to Turkey Guns. Next stop, turkey hunting!

Turkey Shotguns

We start with three shotgun options that are perfectly suited for the modern, run and gun turkey hunter. These models, provided in the most commonly used varieties of shotgun 12 gauge, 20 gauge and .410 bore, are each relatively short barreled and come equipped with an extended turkey choke.

The short barrels make them easy to carry through the woods and ideal for maneuvering shots in timber or brush. These setups are great for the largely stationary, close-range shots that the turkey woods often present.

Winchester SXP Turkey Hybrid


3" chamber | Pump action | 24" barrel | True Timber Green | X-full Turkey Choke

Optimal Ammunition:

TSS or Lead 2.75" or 3" | Lead # 5 or 7 shot | TSS # 7 or 9 shot


Mossberg 500 Turkey 20 Gauge

Mossberg 500 Turkey Optics-Ready Pump-Action Shotgun with Holosun Micro Dot Sight - 20 Gauge


22" barrel | Holosun red dot sight | Pump action | 3" Chamber | X-full Extended Turkey Choke

Optimal Ammunition:

TSS or lead 2.75" or 3" | Lead # 5 or 7 shot | TSS # 7 or 9 shot


 Mossberg 500 Turkey

Mossberg 500 Turkey Optics-Ready Pump-Action Shotgun with Holosun Micro Dot Sight - .410 Bore


24" barrel | Holosun red dot sight | Pump action | 3" Chamber | X-full Extended Turkey Choke

Optimal Ammunition:

TSS 3" | # 7 or 9 shot

How to Choose an All-Around Shotgun

With their short barrels and red dot sights, the shotguns outlined above are designed specifically for turkey hunting. The same attributes that make them so good for turkey applications, provide some limitations when it comes to wingshooting, sporting clays and waterfowling.

If you’re looking for a single, all-around shotgun that can perform well across a variety of applications, you’ll likely opt for a semi-automatic 12 gauge or 20 gauge with a 26” or 28” barrel. These longer barrels are good for wing and clay shooting—as they help with gathering the momentum necessary to follow through on your aim as you shoot.

Man Holding Shotgun

The gun that is right for you, ultimately depends on your predominant pastime. If you mainly plan to turkey hunt, with a bit of duck and dove hunting thrown in, try the 26” barrel. If, however, wing shooting and sporting clays is your main activity, but you might shoot a turkey or two, try the 28”.

A couple of great options for a high end, do-it-all shotgun are the Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 and the Beretta A 400 Extreme. Either of these guns can handle most any shotgunning application and will provide a great addition to any hunter’s arsenal.

If you go this route, be sure to pick up an extended turkey choke when you buy your shotgun. Different brands of shotgun have different threads, so be sure that your gun and your choke are compatible (your friendly Bass Pro Shops Outfitter can help).

Adapting an Existing Shotgun for Turkey Hunting

Let’s say you already have a shotgun but have never turkey hunted with it. Equipping that .410 bore, 20 gauge or 12 gauge you have in the closet with an extra full turkey choke will make most guns capable of harvesting gobblers.

Explained in its most fundamental terms, a choke is a removable tool used to modify the distribution of a shotgun’s pellets. Chokes are screwed in to the terminal end of your shotgun barrel. As a general rule, you’ll want to match the variety of choke to the shooting application you’re pursuing.

An extra-full choke, like those you will want for turkey hunting, keeps pellet patterns tight at distance, increasing the functional range of a shotgun. A cylinder/skeet choke, on the other hand, produces wide patterns that spread out 25 yards or so. This wider pattern disperses the shotgun’s pellets over a larger area.

What difference does this make? Because of the tight pattern it shoots, it would be considerably harder to hit sporting clays, ducks, or doves with a turkey choke.

Because of the wide patterns and shorter ranges they are made to produce, you don’t want to turkey hunt with a cylinder/skeet choke. The energy of the pellets dissipates at range and is spread out across a wider area, meaning that you’re likely to spray the bird with pellets, but unlikely to kill him humanely.

All modern shotgun barrels are threaded for choke tubes. Like the dimensions of the floor mats in your truck, the choke threads on your shotgun will be different depending on the manufacturer, make and model of the gun.

The most common choke for turkey hunting is the extra full turkey choke. The Cabela’s Turkey Choke is available in all of the most popular manufacturer thread patterns and shotgun sizes. To get the right one, you’ll just need to know the brand and size of your gun. You may not need it, but take note of the barrel width, too.

How to Pattern a Shotgun

No matter the gauge or model you choose, the first step in getting ready to punch your turkey tag lies in patterning your shotgun. Every shotgun shoots different--- even two of the same model, made by the same company, at the same factory on the same day.

Unlike high powered rifles equipped with scopes, you cannot adjust the bead on a shotgun. To determine how your gun shoots, you’ll want to pattern it at 30 yards.

Pick up some paper turkey targets, position yourself at 30 yards and let her rip. The targets replicate the size of a turkey and are equipped with circles that allow you to track how many pellets strike the kill zone.

Hunter's Specialties H.S. Strut Turkey Target Kit
Hunter's Specialties H.S. Strut Turkey Target Kit 

When it comes to patterning, most shooters take one of two options. In either case, the first step is establishing where your gun shoots. Put your beads squarely on the target and shoot.

Some guns are high and left. Others are low and right. Some are close. The important thing here is to replicate the same shot a few times to establish a consistent pattern.

The first option lies in simply adjusting your aim for where your gun shoots. If your gun shoots 6-inches low, put your beads six inches high.

The second option involves running a variety of brands and sizes of shell through your gun. Pick up four five boxes of ammunition and see which performs best. Once you’ve established the option that flies most true, this will be your go to. It’s important to realize that changing brands and sizes of shotgun shells can impact how your gun shoots.

No matter how you choose to do it, it’s important to pattern your gun before heading into the woods. This is true whether you are shooting a new shotgun off the shelf, an older gun that you’ve never patterned before, or are borrowing your buddy’s gun.

For more tips and tricks on how to pattern a shotgun, check out this article how-pattern-shotgun.

Red Dot Sights

While you may not be able to modify the bead on your shotgun, you can equip your gun with an adjustable red dot sight. Once you get them locked in, red dot sights not only allow you to aim more precisely (especially if you are a new hunter as you become accustomed to your gun or if you plan to take a kid hunting) but they can also make low light shooting easier (it can be hard to see your beads around dawn).

HOLOSUN Technologies Open Reflex Circle Dot Sight
HOLOSUN Technologies Open Reflex Circle Dot Sight

Adjusting your red dot sight can be done the same way you’d dial in a rifle scope. Just adjust your sight to follow your pattern, putting the red dot in the center. Once you’ve got your gun sighted correctly (a hand full of practice shots at 30 yards will be all the proof you’re likely to need), you’re ready for the turkey woods.

Both the 20 gauge and the .410 listed above are sold equipped with a Holosun red dot sight. If you’d like to add one an existing shotgun, you can purchase one and mount it yourself. Before adding a scope, you’ll need to make sure that your shotgun’s receiver is drilled and tapped for a scope base.

How to Choose the Right Shotgun Ammunition

While there exists a multitude brands, sizes, and materials, the effectiveness of a shotgun shell’s ability to harvest turkeys may be distilled into a three-part sequence. To kill a turkey, a shotgun must place enough pellets—travelling at a high enough rate of speed—into the right place (the vital zone) of the bird.

Man carrying turkey he shot

This equation may be accomplished in a number of ways. You can shoot large pellets out of a large gun—shooting #5 shot out of a 12 gauge. You can also shoot small pellets out of a small gun-- #9 TSS shot using a .410.

Determining which ammunition is right for your situation comes down to understanding three primary variables.

Shotshell Size:

The longer the shotshell, the more pellets it will contain. When it comes to a 12 gauge (or when a person of smaller stature is shooting a 20 gauge), the longer the shell the greater the recoil.

A 3.5” 12 gauge shell will contain more pellets and possess more knockdown power than a 3” shell of the same size shot. It will also kick harder.

Shot Size:

Shotgun shells are organized in terms of the size of the shot (pellets) they contain. There is an inverse correlation between the number of the shot and the size of its pellets.

#5 turkey shot is larger than #7 shot. #7 shot is larger than #9. All else being equal, the smaller size shot, the more individual pellets a shell will contain.


Today’s most popular turkey loads can be grouped into two main options: lead and TSS (tungsten super shot). TSS is harder and denser than lead. It is also non-toxic.

While TSS is more expensive than lead shot, it offers increased performance (tighter patterns) and the ability to harvest turkeys with .410s and .20 gauges. Plenty of folks shoot TSS in 12 gauge too.

TSS: A Revolution in Turkey Hunting

In recent years, TSS ammunition has transformed the turkey hunting landscape. Before its advent, the turkey woods were the exclusive province of the 12 gauge (with some 20 and 10 gauges mixed in).

TSS is harder and more dense than lead. It also keeps a tighter pattern for longer distances than lead shot.

TSS Ammunition Image

Why is this important? It comes down to kinetic energy.

The impact of a shotgun’s pellets can be expressed in terms of how much kinetic energy they transfer to a target.  This kinetic energy can be calculated by knowing the mass of projectiles and their velocity when they strike a target.

A group of smaller, denser, more tightly packed objects travelling at a greater speed transfers more energy and creates a larger impact than projectiles that are larger, softer, slower and more loosely patterned. Your high school physics teacher might say it this way— the Translational kinetic energy of an object = .5 mass* velocity squared.

In practical terms, TSS ammunition allows hunters to shoot more tightly packed groups of smaller and denser pellets down range. The result: greater precision and improved killing power across gun size.

Composition Chart for Turkey Shotguns

The following chart lists the most popular options for turkey loads. While these may be the most commonly used, they are certainly not the only options. As you begin your journey into turkey hunting, they do, however, provide a good baseline reference.

12 Gauge

Shotshell Length:

3" or 3.5" | 3" is most common

Shot Composition:

Lead or TSS

Shot Sizes:

Lead #5 | TSS #7 or 9

(Note: Check the chamber size of your shotgun to make sure if can accommodate the ammunition you are purchasing. 3.5" shotshells won't work in a gun with a 3" chamber.)

20 Gauge

Shotshell Length:


Shot Composition:

Lead or TSS

Shot Sizes:

Lead #5 | TSS #7 or 9

(Note: Maximum effective range for most lead shot is 35-40 yards.)

.410 Bore

Shotshell Length:


Shot Composition:


Shot Sizes:

#7 or 9

(Note: While select lead turkey loads do exist in .410 bore, their maximum effective range may be 20 yards or so. For this reason, TSS loads are the most popular for turkey hunters who choose to use a .410.)