May 08, 2023
In all my years of turkey hunting, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve carried something other than a 12-gauge. With the popularity of chasing longbeards with sub-gauge guns on the rise over the last decade, I thought it’d be time to give it a go. Today’s more effective shotshells loaded with TSS really extend the range of these sub-gauges. While at SHOT Show this past January, one of the guns that really piqued my interest was the SA-28 from Mossberg. I quickly made it a point to find a way to get my hands on one of these for the coming spring.
Mossberg released the SA-20 and SA-28 Tactical Turkey series in late December of last year. The sub-gauge autoloaders are lightweight, gas-operated, camo-covered in Mossy Oak Greenleaf with a 22-inch barrel. These soft-shooters have a pistol grip, a fiber optic front sight and adjustable Ghost Ring rear sight as well as a Picatinny rail for ease of adding optics, as well as coming readily equipped with an Extended Turkey choke tube.
After receiving the SA-28, I mounted a Burris FastFire 3 reflex optic and headed to the range to test the combo’s capabilities. I first put a few rounds of upland bird loads through the shotgun at 20 yards to ensure the red dot was patterning correctly for point of aim. My initial reaction was how soft the felt recoil was. Next, was to put a few rounds of turkey loads, which would be the Apex Turkey TSS #9s.
I was truly blown away at just how well this sub-gauge and TSS performed, averaging around 140 pellets on a 10-inch piece of paper at 35 yards. This quickly confirmed how effective this gun, choke and load combination would be for my upcoming adventure to California chasing turkeys a month later.
Calling Turkeys in California
Showing up on the central coast of California at the end of March was a nice relief from the long, cold winter in Montana. My buddy Greg McGill invited us to partake in the sunshine and green grass, and he even had strutting turkeys welcome us within an hour of arriving. We got a quick lay of the land, made a plan for the next morning, and grabbed a bite to eat in anticipation for the early alarm to come.
The next morning, we met with Greg an hour before daylight and headed up the hill to get in position to hopefully intercept birds off the roost. Though it was late March, Greg told us how the turkeys seemed to be two weeks behind their normal schedule. That proved to be right, as the birds stayed together in a large flock after flying down, working the hillside until they moved off the property we could hunt.
We continued trying to work the birds, to no avail. Greg suggested we take a ride to another property he has access to and check for other birds to play with. As we walked to hills and ridges of the central coast, I was thankful for the light and nimble SA-28 slung over my shoulder. We covered a few miles and as it often does, the wind started to pick up as the day continued on. We would have to resume our hunt the following day.
With other commitments lined up, we decided to try for midday action on the second day. This was in hopes of letting the large flock do their thing throughout most the morning and potentially find a lonely gobbler on the prowl once hens went to nest. Arriving back at Greg’s, he told us how just an hour earlier he’d seen a strutter and a handful of hens in a field not far away and anticipated that they’d still be close by.
As we made a big loop to potentially intersect the birds, I came onto a high rocky point and struck up the box call. A tom hammered back so loud and close that it was if I should melt into the ground where I stood. Dropping off the rocky point, I started to have a conversation with the tom; the bird would gobble at my calls but seemed to stay put.
After 20 minutes or so of playing this game, and taking note of how it seemed he intended to stay put in his strut zone, it was time for us to make a move. Dropping in elevation and going away from where the tom had last gobbled, I started to circle in hopes of finding a place he’d rather be. Again, this proved the SA-28s worth. As I tippy-toed around, finally easing up to a clearing on my hands and knees I saw the bird strutting on a ridge roughly 60 yards away, with his hens below.
Letting out a series of soft yelps and scratching the leaves, his hens started down the hill towards our position. The gobbler standing at 50-plus yards started to feed and follow. Shouldering the Mossberg, I waited. Over the next few minutes, we watched as the hens were content to slowly feed closer to our position as the boss tom watched from his elevated perch. As his hens got to within 15 yards, he continued on his path.
With Joe and Greg over my shoulder, I prepared them as I felt confident in the range. Settling the red dot on his wattles I pulled the Mossberg’s trigger. The bird backflipped and his hens cackled as they flew. My California Rio was down. Man, this little 28-gauge did great work, with the shot being a touch over 40 yards.