May 18, 2021
By Jeff Johnston
Sure, any turkey hunter with a modicum of calling skill can lug a rusty Remington 1100 or Winchester Model 12 to the woods and kill a gobbler stone dead. But just because you can tighten an airplane’s Jesus nut with pliers doesn’t mean it’s the best tool for the job. Rather, a specialized shotgun with features purposely chosen for hammering turkeys at previously unheard-of ranges can mean the difference between going home alone and strutting into your garage with a boss gobbler draped over your shoulder. In older days, savvy hunters would assemble dedicated turkey guns using a hodgepodge of parts, such as shortened barrels, custom chokes, optic rails, and sling studs, but now most major shotgun makers offer turkey-specific models that are turnkey, or ready to take to the spring woods right out of the box. Here are a half-dozen of 2021’s best.
Browning Maxus II All-Purpose Hunter
Browning’s original Maxus semiauto is one of the best shotguns ever designed, and the Maxus II improves upon it in several ways. First, with its comfortable stock, overbored barrel, cushy gas action, and new cheekpiece insert, it’s one of the lightest-recoiling 12-gauges available, and that’s significant when shooting turkey loads that can literally recoil as much as an elephant gun. Second, its adjustable buttstock and forend are overmolded with a grippy rubber mate-rial that resists slipping off your knee as you call with your hands. A 26-inch, back-bored barrel with its included extra-full turkey choke delivers terrific, uniform patterns to the extremities of ethical range. What’s more—and not that it’s a huge deal for turkey hunting—but if you’re going to pay this much for a shotgun you’d likely use it for other hunting duties, such as waterfowl, the Maxus features Browning’s Speed Load Plus system that automatically loads a shell into an open chamber when you load a shell into the magazine. It also has a handy magazine cutoff switch to unload and load the chamber without cycling the rounds in the mag. A wonderful trigger, sling studs, Mossy Oak All-Purpose finish, and a classy-yet-indestructible brass front bead and ivory mid make this seven-pound do-all shotty a top-end turkey specialist.
$1,899 | browning.com
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3 Turkey Performance Shop
Benelli USA has made a name for itself in the high-end waterfowl world, and at $3,000 its custom-like turkey blaster isn’t for everyone. Perhaps the finest do-everything shotgun ever made, thanks to its fast inertia action that sends the shell’s excess gas out the bar-rel and not back through the receiver as do most gas-action guns, the SBE line is legendary for its reliability. Add to it a lightweight frame, recoil mitigation technologies, and hunter-friendly features and the wallet-busting cost starts to make more sense. But then Benelli took this vaunted game-getter and sent it to its custom shop with orders for the engineers to return the perfect turkey gun. In doing so, they gave it a pistol-grip stock, a ported barrel, an extended X-full choke, and a red-dot optic and pronounced it the ultimate turkey gun. While some shotguns have cheap pistol-grip stocks that are mainly for show, Benelli borrowed from its tactical M4 shotgun to give hunters a way to control the gun with one hand while working a call with the other. As such, the buttstock is no-nonsense; it provides a great cheek weld that’s key in mitigating recoil from the heaviest 3.5-inch load that this gun can accept. However, in borrowing the pistol grip stock, Benelli had to do away with its ComforTech stock system. To counteract the net increase in felt recoil, engineers ported the barrel. Each gun is tested and tuned at the factory with Federal Premium ammunition and shipped with a test target. Finally, Benelli teamed with Burris to include its FastFire II red-dot optic to help ensure this ultra-tight pattern actually hits the turkey’s beak. If you’re looking for a true long-range turkey gun regardless of cost, this is it.
$3,099 | benelliusa.com
Savage Renegauge Turkey Bottomland
Perhaps the most positive thing to come out of 2020 was a new high-end shotgun from the value-rifle maker Savage. The Renegauge is a gas-action hunting gun with much emphasis placed on a stock to maximize fit and the shooting experience. This means the gun shoots where you look and won’t beat you up doing so, thanks to its heft of nearly eight pounds, an inherently cushy gas action, a recoil spring in the stock and on the mag tube, and a pillow-like cheekpiece and recoil pad. The Renegauge’s dual short-stroke piston action called DRIV (Dual Regulating Inline Valve) siphons off excess gas used to strike the pistons so that it cycles its 3-inch chamber by using only as much gas as needed and not sending it to your shoulder. All told, it’s one of the lightest-recoiling 12 gauges going.
The Renegauge Turkey has a fluted, 24-inch barrel so it’s easier to wield in the woods and a stock that’s adjustable for LOP, cast, and drop. Perhaps even more valuable, the gun’s comb insert can be replaced with one owning the perfect height to align the shooter’s eye with either the gun’s included fiber-optic sights or an optic. It comes with an ex-tended turkey choke among others and a retro Mossy Oak Bottomland finish. Time will tell if the American public accepts this rather futuristic-looking shotgun, but what I do know is that turkeys will hate it.
$1,549 | savagearms.com
Winchester SXP NWTF Turkey Hunter
A good pump gun has some advantages over a semiauto for turkey hunting. After all, if you need fast follow-up shots, then something has gone “bad wrong.” A pump is inherently lighter/easier to carry, is more reliable (especially if you’re one of those guys who rarely cleans a shotgun), and is notably less expensive. As such, Winchester’s SXP NWTF (National Wild Turkey Foundation) Turkey Hunter may be the perfect turkey cannon.
First, the SXP is known for its reliability, and it’s as fast as pumps come, thanks to its spring-loaded rotary bolt assembly that initiates cycling. Parts are black-chrome finished, so it’s silky smooth to operate. It has an excellent In-Flex recoil pad and is tapped for a scope, which is a good thing because if I had one complaint about the SXP Turkey Hunter, it’s the rather flimsy aftermarket sights. I’ve actually had these sights cost me a big Kansas tom because they got whacked out of zero. The SXP model I prefer is the 20-gauge version. Weighing a shade over six pounds and wearing a 24-inch barrel, it’s wonderful to carry, yet with its back-bored barrel, X-full extended choke tube, and 3-inch chamber, it’ll drop any bearded bird on earth at 50 yards. It’s dipped in a Mossy Oak finish, wears sling studs, and is overmolded in a rubbery material. Best yet, a portion of its very affordable cost goes to NWTF for conservation of the birds we love—and love to shoot.
$519 | winchesterguns.com
The Sub-Gauge Revolution
There’s a trend happening right now among avid turkey hunters: the use of small gauges, such as 28 gauge and .410 bore. Why? First, some guys have returned to the original thrill of hunting turkeys, which is to call them in tight, thereby increasing the challenge. The other is a rapid advancement in ammunition such as Federal’s TSS tungsten load that is 56 percent denser than lead; it has made using a .410 bore for turkeys less of a stunt and more of a serious, low-recoil, sporty tool for gobblers at moderate ranges. Always quick to oblige trends, some gun manufacturers have introduced specialized, sub-gauge guns. If you do go this route, diligently pattern your gun and find out its limitations, because a 12 gauge it is not. Here are a couple of new sub-gauge turkey snuffers.
Mossberg International SA-410 Turkey
This full-size sub-gauge ain’t your grand-kiddie’s peashooter. Rather, it’s a 4+1 semiautomatic shotgun like any other except it’s chambered in .410 (28 and 20 gauge are also available). It’s got a 26-inch full-choke barrel to maximize the little shell’s velocity and therefore downrange energy. Atop its aluminum receiver is a rail for mounting an optic, another feature meant to maximize the efficiency of such a cute little payload. If you don’t prefer an optic, you’re covered via its factory ghost-ring-style mid-sight and fiber-optic front bead. But what’s most satisfying about the SA-410? It weighs less than 6.5 pounds, so it feels like you’re waving a magic turkey wand when what you’re actually doing is surgically delivering a small, albeit lethal, swarm of No. 6 pellets to a gobbler's chops. Although some hunters might call it a novelty gun, there’s something about a semiauto .410 for adults that’s just cool.
$781 | mossberg.com
Savage Stevens 301 Turkey XP
Another specialized turkey gun for sub-gunners extends the self-handicap even further with its single-shot .410 bore. Savage's break-action 301 Turkey XP man-dates you must not only get close, but also better make one shot count, and that’s exactly why some turkey masters love it. Make no mistake, this isn’t a gun for youth hunters, as they’d be better served with a 20-gauge pump. But that’s not to say that the delightful-to-carry, five-pound 301 XP isn’t capable of taking turkeys at surprising ranges—there’s just less room for error. Though it may look like a youth model, this isn’t a kiddie-sized shotgun. With a TSS-optimized 26-inch barrel, extended extra-full choke tube, and a red-dot optic to pinpoint its pattern, it can be effective at ranges never imagined from a .410. While it comes with a 1x30 red dot sight, I find this large optic slightly ridiculous considering the tiny mini-red dots that are available. But what’s the 301’s best attribute? You can buy it for around $200, making it one of the least-expensive turn-key turkey guns in existence.
Plenty of turkey hunters are now mounting optics on their guns for two main reasons: They’re more accurate, and they remind hunters to keep their head down on the stock so they can see through the scope—preventing misses borne out of excitement. While red-dot optics are popular for their full field of view, traditional magnified scopes are preferred by others because they enhance the “aim small, miss small” principle, and they don’t rely on batteries that can crap out at crunch time. If you decide to go with an optic, resist going too cheap. Shotguns exert incredible recoil that can destroy lesser-made optics and end your hunt. Here are a few good examples worth considering.
Red Dot Sights:
The Essentials Gear Box.
Our editors have hand-picked these essential pieces of gear to make you a more successful hunter when you hit the game trails this season.